John Tomlinson Brush (1845-1912)
John Tomlinson Brush is known for his involvement in professional baseball of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but he was also an amateur cartoonist and a humorist. Born on June 15, 1845, in Clintonville, New York, Brush was orphaned by age four and ran away from his grandparents' home at seventeen. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War and ran clothing stores in New York State before coming to Indianapolis in 1875. The new arrival immediately drew the attention of Circle City residents by placing advertisements in the newspaper asking an enigmatic question: "When?" After asking the question for several weeks (as well as "Where?" and "What?"), Brush opened the When Clothing Store on North Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis in March 1875. An outlet for a New York-based wholesale house, the store boasted a gas flame in front, balconies, a courtyard, cast iron balustrades, and a band shell in which the When Band gave concerts. The store proved such a success that other stores followed Brush's lead. There was another When Store in Worthington, Indiana, and a Why Store in both Worthington and Muncie. By the way, The Why Store survives today in the name of a band from Muncie. They had a hit with their single, "Lack of Water," many years ago.
John T. Brush was an innovative advertiser and promoter of his business. His newspaper ads included humor, weather reports, and lighthearted poetry. He got involved in baseball as a promotion as well, building a ballpark in 1882 for the hometown Indianapolis Hoosiers. That team soon folded, so Brush brought in the Saint Louis Maroons as replacements in 1887. Brush's trading in baseball clubs continued until he acquired the New York Giants in 1902-1903. He held that team until his death.
Brush suffered from ill health, aggravated by a car accident in 1912. Not long after his New York Giants lost the World Series that year, Brush was on his way to California to recuperate when he died in his private train car near Louisiana, Missouri, on November 26, 1912. His body was returned to Indianapolis for a funeral attended by hundreds, including baseball executives and players. Brush is honored today by the John T. Brush Stairway at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, built in 1913 and still holding up after nearly a century of foot traffic.