Nelson Morris was born in Chicago in 1891 to a meatpacking family. He was 20 and working in the family business, Morris and Co., when the company put a plant at 124 S. Jefferson St. in Spokane in 1911. When he went off to Europe to fight in World War I, Morris was placed in charge of a refrigeration plant in France. He stayed for a few years afterward, learning to fly airplanes and marrying a French actress.
Returning home, Morris took over the family business. He merged with another industry leader, Armour, around 1925 and became an executive with the new company, enjoying a life of luxury and international travel. He loved to fly and twice crossed the Atlantic on the Graf Zeppelin, an airship. He told his brother, “This is the most interesting experience I have ever had in my life.”
In 1937, Morris boarded another airship, the Hindenburg, in Paris with business partner Bert Dolan for a flight to New Jersey. The flight was uneventful until the docking in Lakehurst, when they felt an explosion and the hydrogen-filled airship was engulfed in flame, its tail sinking to the earth. Morris, separated from Dolan, pushed aside red-hot iron frames, which broke “like paper,” and crawled out. Dolan didn’t make it. Recovering with only burned hands, which he hid with gloves, Morris provided for Dolan’s wife and children the rest of their lives.
Morris and his French wife, Blanche, donated to the Red Cross and the French Resistance during World War II. Blanche taught French to American troops headed to D-Day. The couple became noted philanthropists in Chicago and Miami. Nelson died in 1955, Blanche in 1983.
After the Morris Co. left the downtown Spokane building, M&J Packing Co. and Pacific Packing and Storage used it for cold storage and wholesale meat distribution. Pacific was a predecessor of the current Pacific Pak Ice plant, which took over in 1969.
Writer Jesse Tinsley is on vacation. This piece originally ran Oct. 12, 2015. A new “Then and Now” will appear Sept. 2.