Joe Werthan

Industrialist and philanthropist Joe Werthan entered the modest family business, Werthan and Company, in 1908. It dealt in scrap metal and the accumulation, reconditioning, and distribution of burlap bags to grain elevators and feed mills. In 1911 Werthan married Sadie Mai Bogatsky and their only child, Howard, was born in 1913.

Joe Werthan and his older brother Morris became the principals in Werthan Bag Company and after the death of their father engaged primarily in the production and distribution of new burlap and cotton bags. After 1918 the Werthans purchased the defunct Marathon Motor Works and converted this facility to a bag factory. In 1928 they acquired the textile bag plant, cotton mill, bleachery, and finishing plant of the Morgan & Hamilton Company.

Werthan also entered the local real estate business, acquiring residential and commercial properties. He established Warioto Farms in Williamson County for breeding, raising, and training three- and five-gaited show horses. This property still remains in the family.

Werthan acquired two colonial mansions and a frame cottage on Elliston Place, which he converted to The Joe Werthan Service Center, a 250-bed facility for servicemen passing through Nashville during World War II. Funded entirely by Werthan, the facility provided beds, meals, and recreation to many of an estimated one million servicemen undergoing training in Middle Tennessee. Many friends and associates provided volunteer support.

In 1945 Werthan, his son, and two nephews established the Werthan Foundation to provide financial support to agencies in the fields of health, welfare, education, and similar endeavors. In 1951 the Werthan Foundation established the Joe and Morris Werthan Professorship in Experimental Medicine at Vanderbilt University. Werthan and his son Howard also cofounded the Joe and Howard Werthan Foundation, with similar purposes to the earlier organization. When Werthan, his wife, and his son all died during the mid-1960s, the charter of the Joe and Howard Werthan Foundation was terminated, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center became the main beneficiary of the remaining funds. A contribution of $600,000 provided for an addition–named the Joe and Howard Werthan Building–to the Medical Center’s facilities.

Suggested Reading

Don H. Doyle, Nashville in the New South, 1880-1930 (1985)

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Joe Werthan
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018