Agriculturalist, civic leader. Wannamaker was born on September 12, 1851, at Poplar Spring, Orangeburg District (now Calhoun County). He was the son of John Jacob Wannamaker and his second wife, Mary Salley. The Wannamakers were substantial planters and slaveowners. Educated at home by private tutors, Wannamaker earned a bachelor of arts from Wofford College in 1872. He married Martha Duncan on January 31, 1878, with whom he eventually had eight children.
After graduating from Wofford, Wannamaker assumed management of his father’s farming interests. In 1873 he established his own property, Aeolian Hill Farm, near St. Matthews. Wannamaker was keenly interested in agricultural improvement, and he applied his considerable resources to agrarian research and innovation. He practiced crop rotation, scientific livestock breeding, and seed development. Dismayed that many farmers stubbornly continued to grow cotton for ruinously low prices, Wannamaker sought to break the tradition of dependence on the old staple. In the 1930s he experimented with soybeans, seeking to develop a seed stock suitable to South Carolina soils and climate.
A leading advocate of comprehensive agricultural education, Wannamaker lobbied for the establishment of an agricultural college in South Carolina. When Thomas Green Clemson bequeathed his land to the state for that purpose in 1888, Wannamaker was appointed one of seven lifetime trustees of Clemson College. He eventually served as chairman.
During World War I, Wannamaker headed several bond drives to finance the war effort. He was active in community affairs and served his church in several capacities. Wannamaker died at Aeolian Hill Farm on March 5, 1935. He was buried in St. Paul’s Methodist Church cemetery in St. Matthews.
“J. E. Wannamaker Dies at Home.” Columbia State, March 6, 1935, pp. 1, 3. Snowden, Yates, ed. History of South Carolina. 5 vols. Chicago: Lewis, 1920.
Wallace, David Duncan. The History of South Carolina. 4 vols. New York: American Historical Society, 1934.