William Harper Pew was born at Dodgeville, Ohio, in 1883, the only child of John O. and L. Jeannette Pew. His father later became a prominent steel manufacturer as president, of Youngstown Iron and Steel Company, located at Youngstown, where the family lived on a farm at Ravenna. William received his public and high school education at Youngstown. At an early age he showed a strong fondness for the farm and the animals of the farm. His father and mother, refined and truly cultured city folks, did not try to change William's desire to be a livestock farmer. They encouraged it by sending him to the Ohio State University to study agriculture. Following the advice of Horace Greeley, "Young man go West", "Bill" Pew left The Ohio State University to become a student at Iowa State College, an institution known the world over for its practical livestock instructional work.
"Bill" Pew, a member of one of the best known social fraternities at Ohio State, did not seek fraternity life at the Iowa State College. On the contrary he applied for a chance to live in the swine barns and help care for the college hogs. He got the job and made good in a big way. Dean Curtiss took a real interest in this new and different type of city boy- the boy who wanted to work, to earn and to learn, not just dance, spend money and have a good time at college. This was the beginning of a most genuine and lasting friendship between Charles F. Curtiss, Dean of Agriculture, and "Bill" Pew, later to become one of America's most prominent and beloved live stockmen.
There were other young men at the Iowa State College who were the equal of "Bill" Pew in brilliancy, but none his superior in honesty of purpose and in the diligent pursuit of each and every task assigned him. He distinguished by being a tireless worker, but always an unselfish one. His motto always was service to humanity and not personal gain.
Graduating from Iowa State College in 1907 with a degree in animal husbandry, he was selected to head the Animal Husbandry Department of the New Hampshire State College. In 1909 he returned to Iowa State College as a professor; in 1912 he was named to head the Department of Animal Husbandry. He was known as a very able administrator.
In 1918 he resigned his college job and established his father's farm at Ravenna, Ohio, as Ravendale Farm, where he rose to top breeder status in Shorthorn cattle and Poland China hogs. His herd of Shorthorns was ranked as one of the best in America. "Bill" was recognized as one of America's best livestock judges and he judged all classes and breeds of livestock at state, national and international shows, including the International Livestock Exposition at Chicago. At the Philadelphia Exposition in 1926 he was one of the livestock judges. His genial manner and sincere attitude made a most favorable impression upon those present at this great stock show. Among those interested and impressed by this dynamic young man was that genial New York banker and Dutchess County land owner, Mr. Oakleigh Thorne, and W. Alan McGregor, who had already started an Aberdeen-Angus herd on his Briarcliff Farm. This breed was originally bred by William McCombie who, about 1830, crossed the early Angus and the early Aberdeen cattle of his region in Scotland after taking over his father's farm, to become what historians have called the "master builder" of the Aberdeen Angus breed.1 Thorne and McGregor desired to build up a real herd by truly constructive breeding work. Thorne's ambition was to exhibit cattle of his own breeding. He was so favorably impressed with "Bill" Pew's ability in live stock production lines that he made a deal with "Bill" to go to Briarcliff Farms, Pine Plains, Dutchess County, New York. Briarcliff Farms consisted of over 5,000 acres of land and a herd of 1,000 head of purebred Aberdeen Angus at the time. Later he became the active Manager and Director of this great breeding establishment. He was a popular manager and came to be considered one of the greatest promoters of the Angus breed. This excellent herd, the largest Aberdeen Angus herd in the country, showed both a Grand Champion steer in 1931 and in 1933.
Pew is known as the promoter who started eighteen Angus herds in Dutchess County, New York, founded the Dutchess County 4-H beef club, and sold labeled Briarcliff Angus beef. He was a director of the American Angus Association and a beloved leader of his community. His portrait was hung at the Saddle and Sirloin Club in 1937.
"Bill's" nine years at Briarcliff Farm was the period of his greatest usefulness. He early recognized the importance of developing a beef cattle interest in New York and the adjoining states. He approached this important job in a very methodical way. As an ex-college man he readily appreciated the importance of interesting the boys and girls in beef cattle production work. He helped organize and soon became the leader of the 4-H Club Baby Beef work in New York and the adjacent states. He interested the various State Fair officials and the managers of the great Eastern States Exposition in this work, thus good classifications with liberal premiums were provided at these shows for Baby Beef exhibits. This was just the beginning for "Bill" Pew. He traveled all over the district from early morning till late in the night getting boys and girls to agree to feed steers. Then he worked more long hours to help these young folks secure desirable calves to feed for this work. While he loved the "bonnie blacks", he was not an extreme breed partisan. He could see the good in each of the other beef breeds. He cooperated with the other breeders in order that each boy and girl might be able to select a calf from the beef of his or her liking. He was big enough and broadminded enough to appreciate the fact that a broad beef interest and outlet would benefit each and every producer of beef cattle.
Each of his three children were 4-H Club Baby Beef members. They made most creditable records. They were always taught to make their own selections, do their own breeding thus stand on their own feet. No judge at the Springfield or any show was ever informed by "Bill" Pew that he had a boy or girl showing a calf in the show. He wanted any honors that came to his children to be deservedly and fairly won.
Through these Club shows he created a real interest in the Eastern Cities for home grown beef. More buyers attended these show sales than were to be seen at similar show sales in any other section of America. The prices paid for the Grand Champion Steer and the general average prices for all the steers sold were higher than those obtained at other 4-H Club shows. Thus the whole program tended to develop a new, larger and better interest in beef cattle production throughout the Eastern States. In nine short years, the name "Briarcliff" became a household word all over America and also in Scotland where the Aberdeen Angus cattle first saw the light of day. These results were obtained by following very carefully worked out breeding plans. In every case sires and dams were carefully mated, always with the hope of producing a better male or female than had been produced to date.
In demand as a judge of beef cattle and draft horses at the leading livesstock shows of the country, Pew judged Shorthorns at the American Royal, Aberdeen Angus at the International, draft horses at the National Belgian Show and at the International, as well as many of the leading state and district fairs.
He and his wife Nellie Florentina Whithead, whom he married in 1910 at her home at South Berwick, Maine, raised three children. "Bill" Pew died unexpectedly.
File information, Iowa State University Archives. Most of this information came from a journal article, "Bill" Pew, Your Friend and Mine by W. J. Kennedy, Iowa State College, Head (1902-1912), Animal Husbandry, who recruited Pew as a faculty member. Source of this article, dated "11-35", is unknown, appearing in a journal following Pew's unexpected death.