Joshua Coffin Chase (1858-1948)
Chase & Company
Freeze of 1894 & 1895
Earl Fruit Company
United Fruit Company
Interstate Commerce Commission
Hoover European Relief Campaign
Florida Citrus Exchange
Joshua Coffin Chase was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, on September 23, 1858, to Edwin T. Chase and Lucia Coffin Chase. He attended Philadelphia Central High School and graduated in 1878. He then began working in Philadelphia, and later New York City, as an accountant and as a salesman.
In 1884 his brother Sydney successfully urged Chase to move to Sanford, Florida. Together they started the business Chase & Co., where they sold fire insurance and fertilizer. As the company expanded, Joshua and his brother began to acquire citrus groves. They set out to grow, process and market their own produce and experienced great success in this venture. Together the brothers began to acquire citrus packinghouses around the region.
On February 24, 1892, Joshua married Sarah Jane Whitner of Fort Reed, Florida. Together they had two children, Franklin and John Chase. The year 1894 proved to be a very bad year for Joshua: he suffered the death of his wife and the widespread destruction of his citrus groves during the severe frosts of 1894 and 1895. Chase & Co. suffered great losses in all facets of their enterprises. Like most growers, the Chase brothers turned to the cultivation of celery while their groves recovered.
While his brother continued to revive their business, Joshua moved to California to become the manager of the Earl Fruit Company. Later, he moved to St. Louis to manage United Fruit Company. While working with the fruit and vegetable industries in other states, he learned new ways of managing Florida citrus.
By 1904, the citrus industry in Florida had recovered, and Joshua moved back to Florida to establish a branch office of Chase & Co. in Jacksonville. He also undertook a restructuring of Chase & Co. to make their business more efficient. On May 24, 1904 he married Mary Justice Lee of Philadelphia. Together they would have one daughter, Cecelia Justice Chase.
From his new office in Jacksonville, Chase became highly involved in the sales and shipping of fruit and vegetables across the state. The brothers became very involved with railroads, with Sydney developing new rail-lines to help with the transportation of citrus. Among Joshua’s greatest achievements is the effort he put into reducing freight rates on Florida fruits and vegetables. He is recognized as being the first to actively work at reducing the freight rates. His efforts culminated in the Interstate Commerce Commission’s decision to force lower freight rates on Florida produce in 1907. During World War I Joshua was selected to be the Jacksonville Manager of the Hoover European Relief Campaign, designed to send aide to a war ravaged Europe.
The 1920’s saw Chase & Co. facing conflicts with the newly formed Florida Citrus Exchange. Despite the disagreements between the two organizations, Joshua became the president of the exchange in 1930 and 1931.
Later in his life, Joshua and his wife moved to Winter Park, Florida, establishing themselves in an area that became known as “Millionaire’s Row.” He also became highly involved in philanthropic efforts, joining with his brother to become major supporters of Rollins College. Joshua also supported the Florida Historical Society, of which he was later president. He was also a president of the Southern Historical Association and served as the director for the Children’s Home Society of Florida. Both Joshua and Sydney were made Honorary Members of the Florida State Horticultural Society in 1939.
After the death of his brother in 1941, Joshua continued to run Chase & Co. until his passing in 1949. Chase & Co. was well-known for never failing to make their payroll for fifty-six years, a fact which was largely attributable to Joshua Chase’s talents as an accountant. Chase & Co. is still in operation today under the name of Sunniland, although the Chase family is no longer involved.