Robert B. Griffith

ROBERT B. GRIFFITH.  In the extensive financial interests of Grand Forks, North Dakota, the gentleman above named takes a leading part.  He has been identified with the growth of that city and locality for many years and is one of the best known business men of the state.  Mr. Griffith was born at Welland, Ontario, Canada, December 24, 1856.

The parents of our subject, James and Ellen (Randall) Griffith, are natives of Canada and the family originally came from Wales.  The father was for many years engaged in business in Canada, and in 1883 came to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he now resides.

Our subject was reared in Canada and received a liberal high-school education there and was then employed with L. G. Carter, of Port Colborne, ten years in the dry goods and clothing business.  He came to Grand Forks, North Dakota, November 2, 1881, and established a general merchandise business in this city on a limited scale and now operates one of the largest department stores of the Northwest and the annual business amounts to three hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars.  He is a stockholder of the Union National Bank and also of the Northwest Fire & Marine Insurance Company.  He employs from sixty to seventy-five people and was the founder and is still proprietor of the Ontario Store, the largest department store of the Dakotas.

Our subject was married, in 1885, to Miss Minnie Webster, a native of Minnesota.  The family consists of two children, Paul and Pearl.  Mr. Griffith is an active worker in church and temperance affairs and is a member of the Y. M. C. A.  He is president of the North Dakota Enforcement League, is a gentleman of sterling qualities, honest and energetic and is an influence for good in his community.  He is firm in his adherence to the right and is highly esteemed in the city in which he has spent so many years of his life.

Compendium of History and Biography of North Dakota
Geo. A. Ogle & Co., Chicago
Page 316


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Robert B. Griffith, president of the Robert B. Griffith Company, has throughout his business career displayed a spirit of initiative that has resulted in steady progress, bringing him into close and prominent connection with some of the most important commercial, industrial and financial interests of Grand Forks and of the state.  He was born in Welland county, Ontario, Canada, December 24, 1856, a son of James and Ellen (Randall) Griffith.  The father, a native of Ontario, resided in Canada until 1885, when he removed with his family to North Dakota, establishing his home in Grand Forks, where he engaged in business with his son.  He afterward removed to Pasadena, California, and there retired from active business life, making his home in that city of flowers and sunshine until death called him in 1911, when he was eighty-one years of age.  His wife had passed away in 1909 at the age of seventy-two years.  They were the parents of twelve children, of whom five died in infancy.

Robert B. Griffith, the second in order of birth, spent his early life in Ontario, where he attended the public schools, and after leaving high school he turned his attention to mercantile pursuits, with which he was connected in Ontario for a decade.  On the expiration of that period he came to North Dakota and established his present business in Grand Forks on the 2d of November, 1881.  His business has enjoyed a remarkable growth.  He had but one clerk in the beginning and at present his employees number about one hundred.  He has always conducted a department store, carrying a large general line of goods, and his establishment is thoroughly modern in its equipment and in the character of the stock handled.  His progressiveness, his initiative and his enterprise have made his establishment a standard of commercial activity in North Dakota.  His business interests, however, cover a still broader scope, for he has become an official factor in the development and control of many interests of importance.  He is now president of the Grand Forks Street Railway Company and a director of the First National Bank.  He is also interested in the agricultural development of the state and is the owner of much valuable farming property.

Even these are but phases of his activity, for along many lines which have contributed to the material expansion and moral development of the community he has been equally active.  He is a director of the Commercial Club, of which he was formerly president, and

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at one time he was alderman of Grand Forks but could never be induced to accept other public office.  He has, however, studied the questions which are to the statesman and man of affairs of the greatest import and significance and has cooperated heartily in many well defined projects to improve economic and sociological conditions.  For many years he has been the president of the North Dakota Enforcement League.  He is a most active worker in the Baptist church and for the past thirty years has been superintendent of the Sunday school.  He is likewise the president of the North Dakota Baptist state convention and still his interests broaden into other lines, for he is a member of the Fortnightly Club, a literary organization, and of the Franklin Club, a social organization.

In September, 1885, Mr. Griffith married Minnie C. Webster, of Grand Forks, and they had four children.  Paul B., a graduate of the University of North Dakota and now in business with his father, married Maude Begg and they have a son, Robert B.  Marion died at the age of nine months, Earl Webster at the age of three years and Margaret Pearl when six years of age.  Later they adopted a daughter, Faith, who is now attending school.

From a comparatively humble position in the business world Robert B. Griffith has steadily worked his way upward through his own efforts and is today not only one of the best known and leading merchants of Grand Forks but one of the most prominent business men of the state.  Wealth has come to him but its attainment has been by no means the end and aim of his life.  While interested in most of the important business enterprises of Grand Forks, in which he has official control, he has regarded this as but one phase of existence, never excluding his active participation in and support of the other vital interests which are of significant value to society at the present time.  The subjective and objective forces of life are in him well balanced, making him cognizant of his own capabilities and powers, while at the same time he thoroughly understands his duties and his obligations.

North Dakota History and People
Volume III
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, 1917


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R. B. Griffith, Pioneer Merchant, Dies

Civic Leader Opened Store 53 Years Ago
Death Closes Career of Active Grand Forks Citizen
Was Born in Ontario
Was Charter Member of Baptist Church; Led State Groups

R. B. Griffith, for more than a half century a prominent merchant and civic leader in Grand Forks, died at 10 P. M. Saturday (October 27, 1934) at his home, 525 South Sixth street.  He was 77 years old.

Until a few days before his death, Mr. Griffith had been active since partially recovering from a heart ailment which first afflicted him seriously nearly two years ago.

Early last week his condition again became serious and physicians reported him gravely ill Friday.  As recently as last Sunday, he had attended services in the First Baptist church, of which he was one of the founders more than 50 years ago.

Funeral services have been set tentatively for 2:30 P. M. Monday at the Baptist church.  The body will lie in state at the church Monday from noon until 2:15 P. M.

For 53 years, Mr. Griffith was a leader in the business, social, religious and civic affairs of Grand Forks.  He was president of the R. B. Griffith Co.

He came to North Dakota in 1881, intending to open a store in the new town of Larimore.  Upon his arrival there, however, he found that the railroad had not yet reached that community.  He had ordered a merchandise stock of about $3,500 which was on the way.

He returned to Grand Forks, rented a frame building on DeMers avenue, and opened his store for business October 28, 1881, after painting his own sign.  The first day’s business grossed $17.80.

From that small beginning arose the Ontario store and the R. B. Griffith Co., for many years one

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of the outstanding mercantile establishments of North Dakota.  Increased business required larger quarters and in the summer of 1884, the store was moved to the Twamley building on the corner of Third street and DeMers avenue.  The present four-story building was constructed in 1905. 

Mr. Griffith was born at Welland, Ontario, December 24, 1856.  As a youth he attended the Woodstock academy at Port Colborne, intending to study for the ministry.  When an epidemic of scarlet fever caused the closing of the academy, he entered the employ of L. G. Carter and rose to a junior partnership.  When the business was sold he started for Dakota territory.

Shortly after opening the Ontario store he was married to Miss Minnie Webster in 1885.

After his arrival in Grand Forks, Mr. Griffith became interested in many other lines in addition to his mercantile business.  He was identified with practically every civic enterprise and business venture.

Was Prominent Churchman.

A charter member of the First Baptist church, Mr. Griffith was prominent in its activities and the work of the Baptist church in the state, holding numerous offices in both organizations.

He was prominent also in the prohibition and temperance movement, serving as president of the North Dakota Enforcement league and holding memberships in other similar organizations.  He took a prominent part in the building of the Y. M. C. A. in Grand Forks.

In business he was a director of numerous corporations.  He was an early member of the Grand Forks Commercial club, serving as president one term and on the board of directors for numerous years.

Active Until Recently.

Of abstemious habits, Mr. Griffith remained active in business affairs almost to the time of his death.  In recent years he had shifted much of the responsibility of the store to the shoulders of his son, Paul B. Griffith, but until shortly before his death he was a familiar figure in the store.

Besides his wife and son, Mr. Griffith leaves two sisters, Mrs. Fred Cathro of Bismarck and Mrs. Ada Weeks of Pasadena; and two brothers, Tom Griffith of Grand Forks and Dr. A. R. Griffith of Montreal.  Mrs. Faith Crothers, now of Hollywood, Calif., lived at the Griffith home throughout her childhood.

The R. B. Griffith company store will be closed all day Monday as a tribute to its founder.

Grand Forks Herald
Sunday, October 28, 1934
Volume 53, Number 319


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