Henry Copperthite was born in 1847 in Antigua, the British West Indies, to James and Mary Catherine Copperthite, indentured servants from Scotland. His family ultimately gained their freedom and settled in Meriden, Connecticut, where other Copperthites resided since the 1700s. In 1861, when Henry was 14, he enlisted in the Union army and served as a wagon driver for the 79th Highlanders of New York in the Civil War.
After the war, Henry returned to Connecticut where he put his highly prized wagon-driving skills to work for a pie maker. He also became a firefighter with the New Haven Steamer Company No. 5 where he drove a horse-drawn wagon.
Copperthite wanted to do more than drive a wagon, however, and spent time apprenticing and learning the baking trade. Over the next 20 years Henry learned everything about the baking business from food storage and sanitation to marketing. In 1870, Copperthite and his new wife, Johanna O’Neil, visited West Washington (now Georgetown), Virginia, and vowed to move there one day.
Mr. Copperthite Goes to Washington
Fifteen years later, in 1885, Copperthite and his wife moved from Connecticut to Georgetown with “a wagon, a horse and $3.50 to their names.” Henry started to bake pies and turn a profit, and in 1887 started the H. Copperthite Pie Baking Company with partner and investor, T. S. Smith. A decade later, they were millionaires.
The Connecticut ~ Copperthite Pie Company was baking more than 50,000 pies a day in Washington, DC, with numerous factories in the area. Henry then purchased the bakery in Hartford, Connecticut, where he once was a wagon driver and apprentice. His business soon expanded out from Washington and Hartford, with factories popping up in Baltimore, Richmond, Memphis, and Omaha. By 1900, the company had purchased thousands of acres of land for dairy and fruit and vegetable farming, and also accumulated a fleet of 230 wagons for delivering pies throughout the Washington area. Connecticut ~ Copperthite pies proved extremely popular and the company even sold pies to congressional offices and to the White House.
More Than Just the Connecticut ~ Copperthite Pie Company
Henry Copperthite did more than just make pies for the masses. He was an inventor and held 22 patents, including those for a pie safe to keep fresh pies warm and a device that allowed for communications between railroad cars. He was also a founding member of the Potomac Savings Bank and provided much-needed loans to working-class people during difficult times.
He created a summer get-away as a respite from the busy city and had horse stables, racetracks, hotels, and shopping that attracted summer guests from near and far. Copperthite also gave generously to animal rights charities and protective services for children.
Copperthite died suddenly at his daughter’s home in 1925 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. In 1959, his company was sold to the Ward Baking Company, which became affiliated with Hostess Brands. Recently descendants of Henry Copperthite worked to successfully resurrect the pie business in Georgetown, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.