Men Of Affairs
( Originally Published 1913 )
ALMOST from the first years of her existence America has been known chiefly as a commercial nation, as a nation noted for her men of affairs, rather than for her artists and men of letters. Which is to say that the life of the Republic has been practical rather than artistic, and it is only of late years, except for a sporadic instance here and there, that any genuine artistic impulse has made itself felt.
This is not a cause of reproach. Given the circumstances, it was inevitable that America should develop first on her commercial side. Here was a great continent, stretching thousands of miles to the westward, waiting for man's occupancy. Millions of acres of plain and woodland awaited development. There were cities to found and rivers to bridge and roads to make and soil to till and gold to dig before America could think of writing poetry or painting pictures. Think—it is only three centuries since Jamestown was founded; only a century and a quarter since we became a nation—a mere handbreadth of time when compared with the long centuries of English or French or Italian history. We have al-ready said that for art historic background is necessary ; a background of achievement and tradition. Such a background we are just achieving. Besides, during our first century, there were such great deeds of conquest and development to be done that they challenged our strongest men. Great fortunes were made, as a matter of course, and Europe witnessed the unique spectacle of men, born in poverty and obscurity, rising to be captains of the world. It is this which has never ceased to shock the European sense of the fitness of things—that the poor boy of yesterday may be the millionaire of to-morrow and take his place with the greatest of the nation. It is the story of a few such boys which will be told in this chapter.
First is the man who financed the Revolution and who to a large extent made possible its successful termination—Robert Morris. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1734, he came to this country with his father at the age of thirteen, and a place was soon found for him. in the counting-house of Charles Willing, a wealthy merchant of Philadelphia. By his diligence and activity, as well as unusual intelligence, he grew in favor and confidence, until, upon the death of the elder Willing, he was taken into partnership by the latter's son, and by the opening of the Revolution, the firm of Willing & Morris was one of the largest and most prosperous in Philadelphia.
Of English birth, and bound to England by the ties of business, Morris was nevertheless opposed to the stamp-act and was one of those who, in 1765, signed an agreement to import nothing further from England until the act was repealed. He was, however, opposed to independence, and, as a member of the Continental Congress, voted on July 1, 1776, against the Declaration. Three days later he declined to vote, but when the Declaration was adopted, he signed it, and threw in his fortunes unreservedly with his new country. His services were more than valuable—they were indispensable. As a member of the Committee of Ways and Means, he backed the government's credit with his own. Without his aid, the last campaigns of the war would have been impossible. It was he who supplied General Green with munitions of war for the great campaign of the south, and shortly afterwards raised a million and a half on his own notes to assist Washington in the movement which resulted in the capture of Cornwallis at Yorktown. A year later, when the financial situation of the government had become desperate, he organized the Bank of North America to assist in financing it. For three years, he acted as superintendent of finance, with complete control of the monetary affairs of the country. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention, and when the new government was organized, Washington asked him to accept the treasury port-folio, but he declined, suggesting instead Alexander Hamilton. That was not the least of his services to America, for Hamilton was preeminently the man. for the place.
It was the striking irony of fate that the man who had controlled the finances of a nation and by his personal exertions saved it from bankruptcy. should himself die in a debtor's prison ; yet such was the case. A series of unfortunate land speculations swept away his wealth and rained his credit; he found himself unable to meet his obligations and was seized by his creditors and thrown into prison, where he remained for some years, and where death found him in 1806.
So Robert Morris was not one of the founders of great fortunes. Turn we to the earliest and perhaps most successful of these, John Jacob Astor, the very type of the astute, large-minded, and far-sighted financier. Born at Waldorf, Germany, in 1763, the on of a poor butcher in whose shop he worked until sixteen years of age, there was nothing in his life or circumstances to indicate the future which lay be-fore him. One of his brothers, however, had come to America and settled at New York, and young John Astor resolved to join him in the land of opportunity. At the age of twenty, he was able to do so, bringing with him some musical instruments to sell on commission, but a chance acquaintance which he made on shipboard changed the whole course of his life.
This acquaintance was that of a furrier, who told young Astor of the great profits to be made by buying furs from the Indians and selling them to the large dealers. Perhaps he exaggerated the profits of the business; at any rate, he fired the ambition of his hearer, and the latter decided to enter the fur business without delay. Upon landing in New York, therefore, he at once secured a position in the shop of a Quaker furrier, and after learning all the de-tails of the business, opened a shop of his own.
Perhaps no one ever worked harder in establishing a business than John Jacob Astor did. Early and late he was at his shop, except when absent on. long and arduous purchasing expeditions into the wilderness. More than that, he possessed admirable business judgment, so that, after fifteen years of work, he had succeeded in accumulating a fortune of a quarter of a million dollars. With careful and sagacious management, the business prospered so that Astor was soon able to send his furs to Europe in his own vessels, and bring back European goods. And about this time, he began working on a grandiose and. picturesque enterprise.
The English Hudson Bay Company, established many years before, with hundreds of trappers and traders and scores of trading-posts, controlled the rich fur business of Canada and the northwest. We have seen how, years after the events which we are now narrating, the agents of the company tried to-save Oregon for England and how Marcus Whitman foiled them. Astor's plan, in outline, was to render American trade independent of the Hudson Bay Company by establishing a chain of trading-posts from the great lakes to the Pacific, to plant a central depot at the mouth of the Columbia river, and to acquire one of the Sandwich Islands and establish a line of vessels between the western coast of America and the ports of Japan, China and India. Surely a man who could conceive a plan like that was something more than a mere trader, and Astor proceeded at once to carry it into effect.
Two expeditions were sent out, one by land and one by sea, to open up intercourse with the Indians of the Pacific coast, and the settlement of Astoria was planted at the mouth of the Columbia river. Whether Astor would have been able to carry out the remainder of his plan is purely problematical, for before he had it fairly under way, the war of 1812 began, and he was forced to abandon the enterprise. The story of this far-reaching project has been told by Washington Irving in his " Astoria." Until his death, he continued to enlarge and increase his business, and left a fortune estimated at twenty millions of dollars.
The Astor plan of investment is one of the safest, most sagacious in the world. Practically all of his profits were invested by John Jacob Astor in real estate, outside the compact portion of the city of New York. As the city grew out to his holdings, he would improve them, rent or sell them, and re-invest further out. In this way the growth of the city marked also the growth of his fortune, and this plan of investment has been followed by his descendants to the present day, until they have become by far the most important owners of real estate in New York City. His son, William B. Astor, gave his life to the preservation and growth of the vast property he inherited, and at his death had more than doubled it, dividing an estate of $45,000,000 between his two sons.
Not that the whole thought of these two men was money-getting, for their public gifts were numerous and important. The most noteworthy was the Astor library, founded by John Jacob Astor at the suggestion of Washington Irving, and largely added to by his son, the total amount of the Astor donations to it exceeding a million dollars. But they stand as two types of sagacious and hard-headed business men, to whom money-making and the still more difficult art of money-keeping was an instinctive accomplishment.
The second great American fortune was that founded by Cornelius Vanderbilt, as remarkable and picturesque a character as this country ever produced. Born on Staten Island in 1794, the son of a farmer in moderate circumstances, the boy soon developed a remarkable talent for trade. His father owned a sail-boat, in which he conveyed his produce across the bay to the New York markets, and the boy soon learned to manage this and was intrusted with these daily trips. When he was sixteen years old, he bought a boat of his own, in which he ferried passengers across the bay, and two years later he was owner of two boats and captain of a third. This was the beginning of the great fleet of steamers, sloops and schooners which he built up for the navigation of the shores of New York bay and the Hudson rivers which won him the title of " Commodore," which clung to him all his life. Before he was forty years old, he had accumulated a fortune of half a million dollars, and was ready for those great financial operations which marked his later life.
The discovery of gold in California led him to establish a passenger line by way of Lake Nicaragua which netted him ten millions in ten years; he established a fast line of passenger steamships between New York and Havre ; and finally was attracted to railway development as a field of enterprise destined to win large returns. In the course of a few years he had secured control of both the Hudson River and New York Central roads, and brought both of them to the highest state of efficiency, and after consolidating them, extended the system to Chicago by the purchase of the Lake Shore, the Canada Southern and. Michigan Central. He built a great terminal in New York City, and made the system so profitable that, from it, and a series of fortunate speculations, he accumulated a fortune of $100,000,000, practically all of which he bequeathed to his eldest son, William Henry. One million was also given for the establishment of Vanderbilt University at Nashville, Tennessee.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, for many years, had a very poor opinion of his son's financial ability, and giving him a small farm on Staten Island, left him to shift for himself. Everyone has read of the incident which changed this opinion. William needed some fertilizer for his farm, and asked his father to give him a load of manure from his stables. His father told him to go ahead and take a load, and William thereupon brought a great scow up to the pier near the stables, proceeded to load it, and when his father protested, pointed out that he had not specified the kind of load, but that he had meant a scow-load. This bit of sharp practice pleased his father, and, shortly afterwards, the great success with which he managed the Staten Island Railroad, as receiver, established him in his father's confidence. He continued and extended his father's policy of railway in-vestment, and added to the great fortune which had been left him, and which still remains one of the greatest in America, though it has been split up among the different branches of the Vanderbilt family. William himself distributed about two millions in various benevolent and public enterprises, one of the queerest of which was the removal of one of " Cleopatra's Needles " from Egypt to Central Park, New York City, at a cost of over a hundred thousand dollars.
In the business world of New York City, half a century ago, no name was more prominent than that of A. T. Stewart, whose success as a merchant was one of the most astonishing features of the time. Born near Belfast, Ireland, in 1803, Stewart was a descendant. from one of those hardy and thrifty Scotch-Irish, whom we have had occasion to mention before. His father was a farmer, but died while the son was still at school, and at the age of twenty the latter came to New York, and after looking over the field, opened a small store on lower Broadway, with a sleeping apartment for himself in the rear.
Such was the beginning of the greatest dry-goods business this country ever saw. It increased by leaps and bounds, for Stewart seems to have had a. sort of instinctive genius for the business. He was continually moving to larger and larger quarters, and in 1862, built on Broadway a store which was at that time the largest in the world, and which, even in this day of mammoth structures, commands attention. Its cost was nearly three millions, a colossal sum for those days ; two thousand people were employed in it and it cost a million a year to run. But it brought a tremendous return, and its owner soon became one of the wealthiest men in New York.
He wanted more than wealth—he hungered for political and social honors which were never fully his. He had made a large contribution to the fund of $100,000 presented by the merchants of New York to General Grant, and in 1869, Grant appointed him secretary of the treasury. The senate refused to confirm the appointment, on the ground that the law excluded from that office anyone interested in the importation of merchandise. Grant sent to the senate a message recommending that this law be repealed, but the senate refused; and Stewart thereupon offered to place his business in the hands of trustees and devote its entire- profits to charity during his term of office; but still the senate refused, and the nomination was withdrawn. It was a bitter blow to Stewart, nor was his fight for social prominence much more fortunate. As his last stake, as it were, he began the erection of a great marble palace on Fifth Avenue, designed to cost a million and to be the finest private residence in the world, but he died before it was completed.
One of the great industries of the country is that of sugar refining, and it is inseparably connected with the name of Havemeyer, for to the Havemeyers is due its development and its formation into a socalled trust, which practically controls the market, and which has won great wealth for its organizers. The ancestor of the Havemeyers was a thrifty German who came to this country in the latter part of the eighteenth century, and, after engaging in various pursuits, opened a little sugar refinery in New York City, which soon brought him a comfortable income. There, in 1804, William Frederick Havemeyer was born, and after a careful education, entered the refinery, gained a thorough knowledge of the business and, in 1828 succeeded to it, having as a partner his cousin, Frederick Christian Havemeyer. These two men developed the business in a wonderful manner, installing new machinery, in-venting new processes, which reduced the manufacturing cost, acquiring possession of other plants and securing government support in the shape of a protective tariff, which made a naturally profitable business doubly so, and netted its owners many mil-lions.
William Frederick Havemeyer found time, in the intervals of running his business, to take a prominent part in New York politics. He was mayor of the city from 1845 to 1851, and again in 1873, dying before the last term was finished.
As far as possible removed from Havemeyer's humdrum existence was that of Phineas Taylor Barnum, the greatest showman the world has ever seen, the originator of the great travelling circus, the exploiter of Tom Thumb and Jenny Lind, the owner of Jumbo, the most famous elephant that ever lived, whose name has passed into the English language as a synonym for bigness.
Barnum was born at Bethel, Connecticut, in 1810. His father was an inn-keeper and died when the boy was fifteen years old, leaving no property. He tried his hand at store-keeping, and failed ; ran a news-paper, and was imprisoned for libel, and finally reached New York at about the end of his resources and looking around for something to do. That was in 1834, and by accident he hit upon his real vocation.
A man by the name of R. W. Lindsay was exhibiting through the country an old negro woman named Joice Heth, advertising her as being 161 years old, and as having been the nurse of George Washington. Barnum went to see her and found her an extraordinary-looking object. He has himself told how he was impressed by her.
" Joice Heth," he says, " was certainly a remarkable curiosity, and she looked as though she might have been far older than her age as advertised. She was apparently in good health and spirits, but from age or disease, or both, was unable to change her position; she could move one arm at will, but her lower limbs could not be straightened; her left arm lay across her breast and she could not remove it; the fingers of her left hand were drawn down so as nearly to close it, and were fixed; the nails on that hand were almost four inches long and extended above her wrist; her head was covered with a thick bush of gray hair; but she was toothless and totally blind, and her eyes had sunk so deeply in the sockets as to have disappeared altogether. Nevertheless she was pert and sociable. and would talk as long as people would converse with her. She was quite garrulous about ' dear little George,' at whose birth she declared she was present, having been at the time a slave of Elizabeth Atwood, a half-sister of Augustine Washington, the father of George Washington. As nurse, she put the first clothes on the infant, and she claimed to have raised him."
Barnum was so impressed. by this extraordinary object, that he bought her for a thousand dollars, putting his last cent into the venture and borrowing what he lacked_ He proceeded to advertise her with characteristic energy, and great crowds thronged to see her, so that his receipts sometimes ran as high as $1,500 a week. However, the old woman died within a year, and a post-mortem examination showed that she was. really only about eighty years old.
But Barnum had found his vocation, that of showman, and after a few unsuccessful ventures, bought scudder's American Museum, in New York City, and started out on a brilliant career. It is interesting to note that the museum which Barnum purchased consisted in part of the curios collected years before by Charles and Rembrandt Peale. Barnum added to it, was indefatigable in securing curiosities, really created the art of modern advertising, and it was his proudest boast that no one ever left the museum without having got his money's worth. He was one of the first to realize that the best possible advertisement is a pleased customer, and he tried honestly to keep his museum supplied with every novelty. The public soon came to appreciate this, and perhaps his greatest asset was public confidence in his promises. People came to believe that when Barnum advertised a thing, he really had it. But the most fortunate day in all his life was that November day of 1842, when he discovered at Bridgeport, Connecticut, the midget whose real name was Charles S. Stratton, but who was to become world-famous as General Tom Thumb.
The story of Tom Thumb's success reads like a romance. He was quite young when Barnum got him, and the showman took great pains with his education and training, for he wanted the midget to appear a finished man of the world. He became a great public favorite, toured America and Europe, was introduced to kings and princes and made a great for-tune for himself and his exhibitor. Barnum struck the apogee of his fortunes when he discovered another midget, Lavinia Warren, who achieved a success scarcely less than Tom Thumb's. Indeed, she and the General fell in love with each other and were married at Grace Church, and as General and Mrs. Tom Thumb were perhaps the greatest drawing cards in the world. Another triumph of his career was his engagement of Jenny Lind for a series of one hundred concerts, at a salary of a thousand dollars a night, the receipts of the tour being over seven hundred thousand dollars.
Barnum had many ups and downs, which he met with an invincible optimism. His museum burned down and he rebuilt it, but it soon burned down again. It was then that the idea occurred to him to establish a travelling museum, exhibiting under a tent, and it was this idea which developed into " The Greatest Show on Earth." It really was the greatest and its owner never spared money in his endeavor to keep it so. Large-hearted, benevolent, a true entertainer, he will always occupy a bright place in the memory of the American public.
Perhaps no name in the history of America was ever more closely connected in the public mind with money-making for its own sake than that of Russell Sage. It will be surprising news to many, who knew him only as a money-lender on a large scale, that he started out on a public career, as alderman, county treasurer, and finally as member of congress for two terms, from 1853 to 1857. He was the first person to advocate, on the floor of congress, the purchase of Mount Vernon by the government. His career on Wall street began shortly after that, at first in a small way; but before his death, he had developed into the greatest individual money-lender in the world.
That was his whole life. He took no part in any political or charitable movement ; he had no interest in art, and he lived in the simplest manner. He used his wealth, not to procure enjoyment for himself or other people, but to procure more wealth. Ile was saving to the point of miserliness; he got the utmost he could out of his money; he never took a vacation—and dying, at the age of ninety, left a fortune of many millions. He had no children and the whole fortune went to his wife. She at once proceeded to bestow it in carefully-considered benevolences, so that the Sage millions are to benefit humanity, after all. In fact, it is doubtful if any other for-tune, amassed by a single man, will, in the end, do so much good in the world as will this of Russell Sage, for Mrs. Sage is devoting it to what may be called scientific charity, which has for its object the universal betterment of mankind.
Mrs. Sage, who thus becomes one of the world's great philanthropists, was Margaret Olivia Slocum, of Syracuse, New York, and was married to Mr. Sage in 1869. She was of a family in only moderate circumstances, and was a school teacher previous to her marriage. The turn of the wheel made her the wealthiest woman in the world, and she proceeded without delay to the carrying out of the immense benevolent enterprises which she had doubtless long meditated.
The name of Cyrus West Field is so closely associated with his supreme achievement, the laying of the first Atlantic cable, that we are apt to forget that he was in the beginning a manufacturer and had amassed a considerable fortune before his attention was called to the possibility of linking Europe to America by a telegraph line laid on the bottom of the Atlantic. It was under A. T. Stewart that Field received his mercantile training, having gone to New York in 1834, at the age of fifteen, from his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and entering Stewart's employ as a clerk.
He was an apt pupil, and before he was of age, owned an establishment of his own for the manufacture and sale of paper. In this business, in the course of a dozen years, he had amassed a fortune so considerable that he was able to retire from active charge of it, and to spend his time in travel. It was in 1853 that the project of carrying a telegraph line across the Atlantic ocean suggested itself to him during a conversation with his brother, who was interested in building a line across Newfoundland. The more he considered and investigated the project, the more feasible it seemed, and he proceeded to organize the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company, himself taking one fourth of the capital stock, and interesting such other capitalists as Peter Cooper, Moses Taylor, Chandler White and Marshall Roberts.
But the project which had appeared simple enough in theory and on paper, proved extremely difficult of execution. If Field could have foreseen the thirteen years of constant anxiety which awaited him, he would no doubt have hesitated to undertake it. It looked, at first, as though success would crown his efforts almost at the outset, for in 1858, the laying of a cable was completed, and for some days, messages were sent from one continent to the other. Then the signals began to grow fainter and fainter, until they became imperceptible, supposedly from the water of the ocean penetrating the cable covering.
At any rate, the work had to be done all over again, with little money on hand, and the coming of the Civil War helped to make further progress impossible. Field visited Europe more than twenty times in the effort to raise money for the enterprise and to keep it before the public, but it was not until 1865 that another effort to lay the cable could be made. The " Great Eastern," the largest ship in the world, was secured, and began paying out the cable ; but twelve hundred miles from shore the cable parted and could not be regained, although every effort was made to grapple it. So the vessel had to put back to England, and Field was confronted with the heart-breaking task of raising even more money. He succeeded in doing so, and in 1866, another expedition started out with a new cable. This time, it met with no serious misadventure, and on July 27, telegraphic communication was re-established between England and America, and has never since been interrupted.
That cable was the first of the hundreds which now encircle the globe. Congress presented the bold adventurer with a gold medal and the thanks of the nation ; John Bright pronounced him " the Columbus of modern times, who, by his cable, has moored the New World alongside of the Old "; the Paris ex-position of 1867 gave him the grand medal, the highest prize it had to bestow; and he received votes of thanks and medals and presents from all parts of the world.
In 1884, two other cables were laid across the Atlantic by John W. Mackay and James Gordon Bennett, whose private property they remained. Mackay had had an adventurous career, and was destined to be the founder of another of those great American fortunes which are the wonder and admiration of Europe. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1831, his father being another of those sturdy Scotch-Irish of whom we have already had occasion to speak. He was brought to New York at the age of nine; but his father died a short time thereafter and the boy was thrown practically upon his own resources.
When gold was discovered in California in 1849, Mackay joined the crowd that rushed to the new El Dorado, and for several years, he lived a typical miner's life, roughing it in the camps, but gaining little except a thorough knowledge of mining. In 1860, some guiding spirit led him eastward to Nevada ; his fortunes there steadily improved, until he became one of the leading men in the settlement, and in 1872, he made one of the most famous and romantic discoveries in mining history, that of the famous Comstock lode, on a ledge of rock high in the Sierras, under which Virginia City now nestles. So rich in silver was this great ledge of rock and its enormous production added so greatly to the world's supply of silver that the market price fell to a point where such countries as India and China, whose currency was on a silver basis, were seriously embarrassed to maintain values. From one mine alone over $150,000,000 was taken out. Mackay devoted him-self personally to the superintendence of the mines, working in the lower levels with his men, who idolized him.
Let us turn for a moment to the career of another great fortune-builder, the man who was, perhaps, the greatest freebooter the American financial world ever saw, who made his money by destroying rather than building up, and whose wealth finally killed him—Jay Gould. Let us see if we can get some sort of idea of the personality of this extraordinary man.
Born in 1836, a farmer's boy, with only such education as he could pick up, he managed to find time to study surveying, and for two or three years was engaged in making surveys of various New York counties. While thus engaged, he fell in with a wealthy and eccentric individual named Zadock Pratt, who sent him to the western part of the state to select a site for a tannery. He was soon doing a large lumbering business, first with Pratt and then in his own name ; but he sold out just before the panic of 1857, and soon after entered upon that career of speculation in New York City which, in the end, made him the best-hated man in America.
Picture the man, small, only five feet six inches in height, with sallow skin and jet black whiskers, his eyes dark and piercing, his whole personality, as one observer put it, " reminiscent of the spider." His reputation was that of an unscrupulous and immoral rascal, who would not hesitate to sacrifice his best friends, if need be. His war against Cornelius Vanderbilt for control of the Erie was one of his typical operations—a war which, when he saw he was losing, he won by issuing $5,000,000 worth of fraudulent stock. There was never any question. about the criminality of this proceeding, and Gould was forced to flee to New Jersey, where he spent millions in corrupting courts and legislatures—millions, not taken from his own pocket, but from the treasury of the Erie, of which he had control. He was ousted, at last, but not until he had added $62,-000,000 to the indebtedness of the road, of which amount it was asserted Gould had pocketed $12,-000,000.
The culminating feature of his career was his attempt to corner gold, which brought about the famous Black Friday panic of 1869. The scheme, one of the most daring ever attempted by any operator, came near success. Gould is said to have bribed the brother-in-law of President Grant and to have persuaded the President himself not to release any of the government supply of gold. He then succeeded in driving the price up to 162 1/2, when suddenly the bubble burst. Gould, himself, had been warned and succeeded in getting away with his immense profits, covering himself at the expense of his associates, an act of treachery unprecedented even in the stock market.
These were only two of the remarkable operations which he engineered, and which need not be given in detail here. The net result was a fortune of some seventy million dollars, and a reputation for duplicity such as perhaps no man in America ever had before. It is only fair to Gould to say, however, that he accomplished merely what most stock gamblers would like to accomplish, if they could, and that out-side of finance, he seems to have been an estimable man, faithful to his wife, devoted to his children, and passionately fond of flowers. He made no gifts of any consequence to charity during his life, nor did he make a single benevolent bequest in his will ; but one of his children, Helen Miller Gould, has more than atoned for this by practically devoting her life and her fortune to charitable work. It is doubtful if there is a better-loved woman in America to-day than Helen Gould, who has shown so notably how a life may be consecrated to good works.
The great marble palace which A. T. Stewart built on Broadway, in New York City, to house his business, and which was, at the time, the largest building in the world devoted to a retail business, is now occupied by another great merchant, who, starting from a beginning even smaller than Stewart's, has built up a business many times as great. Sohn Wanamaker, whatever the growth of the country may be hereafter, will always remain one of America's most representative and most successful men of affairs—both representative and successful because his business has rested from the first on the principle of honest dealing, of making satisfied customers—in a word, upon the altogether modern principle of " your money back, if you want it."
John Wanamaker was born in Philadelphia in 1838, a poor boy with his way to make in the world. He received his education in the common schools, and at the age of fourteen, entered upon his business career as an errand boy in a book store. From that, he got a clerkship in a clothing store, and for some years acted as salesman, until he could save enough money to start a little store of his own. This he was able to do in 1861, in partnership with a man named Nathan Brown, and ten years later, he was sole owner of a prosperous and growing business. It was at about this time that an idea occurred to him which was destined to revolutionize the retail business of the larger cities of the country.
The idea was simply this : In the great cities, most shoppers have to travel a considerable distance to get to the business centre, and must there waste time and energy going from one. store to another to make their purchases. Why not, then, combine all the representative retail businesses into one store, so that the shopper could make all purchases under a single roof, pay for them all at once, and have them all delivered at the same time? Moreover, why could not one great business be conducted more cheaply, and so undersell, the small ones, since a single executive staff would do for it, rent, delivery cost, and a hundred other fixed charges would be reduced, to say nothing of the advantages of large buying, and the advertising which every department would get from all the rest ? The idea grew into a carefully-formulated plan, and 1876 saw the start of the great Wanamaker department store, perhaps the most famous retail business in the 'world.
Its tremendous success is an old story now, and it has found hundreds of imitators. Twenty years after the opening of the Philadelphia store, another was opened in New York in the old Stewart building, to which another building, four times as large, has recently been added. Wanamaker from the first firmly believed in P. T. Barnum's old adage that " A satisfied customer is the best advertisement," and he made every effort to see that none left the Wanamaker stores unsatisfied. He also made it a rule that no visitor to his store should ever be urged to buy anything; that every article of merchandise should be exactly as represented, and that any purchase might be returned and the purchase money would be refunded without question. A s a result, Wanamaker got a reputation for fair dealing which proved his greatest asset, one would think that the management of such a business would fully occupy any man, but Wanamaker found time for many public and benevolent interests. He founded, in 1858, the Bethany Sunday School, which has grown into perhaps the largest in the world and of which he has always been superintendent; he has taken part in many movements for civic reform, and from 1889 to 1893 was postmaster general of the United States, He reorganized the service; set in motion the rural delivery system, the greatest single improvement in its service the department has ever made; and tried to secure a postal telegraph, a postal savings-bank, a parcels post and one-cent letter postage. He was the first official to regard the service as a business pure and simple, and if the reforms he suggested had been carried out, the United States postoffice would now be a model for the world.
The greatest banker and financier in America at the present day is undoubtedly J. Pierpont Morgan, who, however, is known not so well for the millions he has accumulated as for the other millions he has spent in collecting rare objects of art, until he has become the possessor of a collection surpassing any ever possessed by another private individual. That much of this will one day be bequeathed by its owner to the public there can be little doubt.
J. Pierpont Morgan is of a family of bankers. His father, Junius Spencer Morgan, was for many years a partner in the great London banking house of George Peabody & Co., and on the retirement of Mr. Peabody, succeeded him as the head of the business. There was never any doubt of the son's vocation. Born in 1837, and carefully educated, he entered the banking house of Duncan, Sherman & Co. at the age of twenty, and from that time, rose steadily, until he became the head of the greatest banking house in the country. He has been largely concerned in the reorganization of railways and the consolidation of industrial properties, and the magnitude of some of his operations is fairly astounding. During the Cleveland administration, he floated a national bond issue of $62,000,000; he marketed the securities of the United States Steel Corporation, with a capitalization of $1,100,000,000 ; he secured American subscriptions aggregating $50,000,000 for the British war loan of 1901; he controls over fifty thou-sand miles of railway, and his interests extend into practically every great financial enterprise in America. He has given large sums of money for public enterprises in New York City, among them a million and a half for a great lying-in hospital. He built the " Columbia," which twice defeated the " Sham-rock " in the races for the America's cup, and he has made many valuable gifts to the various museums and libraries of New York City. The power he wields is enormous, but he wields it wisely and legitimately, winning the respect, as well as the admiration of men.
The greatest work of American men of affairs during the past half century has been the upbuilding and extension of the railroad system of the country. The railroad mileage of the United States at the present time is over three hundred and twenty-five thousand; the total cost of the railroad equipment of the country reaches fourteen billion dollars and the yearly earnings average over two and a half billions. They employ over a million and a half men, whose wages average three million dollars a day—and, it may be added, they kill or injure nearly ninety thou-sand. But that is a detail. With this vast development of the railroad business the names of some half dozen men are so closely connected that the great systems of the country are generally known as the Hill lines, the Harriman lines, the Vanderbilt lines, the Gould lines, and so on. Of these men we shall try to tell something briefly here.
We have already related how Cornelius Vanderbilt secured control of the New York Central and Hudson River roads, and added to these until he had secured an entrance into Chicago ; and how his son, William Henry Vanderbilt, added to this system until it became, and still remains, one of the strongest in the country. We have told, too, of Jay Gould's ideas of railroad management, which seem to have been to get the most out of it for Jay Gould. But when Jay Gould died, he was caught, as it were, with thousands of miles of railroads on his hands. He left four sons, George Gould, Edwin Gould, Howard Gould and Frank Gould, of whom George is the only one that really counts. But he, with a real genius for railroad building, has developed the Gould lines into a great system stretching from Buffalo and Pittsburgh southwestward to Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, Denver, Ogden, St. Louis, New Orleans, Galveston and away out to El Paso. These lines have played a most important part in the development of the great Southwest, and it is said that George Gould is already blazing a way to the Atlantic seaboard, as an outlet for the mighty freight traffic which his lines control.
No man connected with railroad building in this country has had a more interesting or adventurous career than James J. Hill. Born on a little Canadian farm in 1838, descended from the hardy Scotch-Irish of whom we have spoken so often, his father died when he was fifteen years, and he was left to his own resources. He found work as a wood-chopper, and one day, while he was chopping down a tree a traveler stopped at the house to take dinner, hitching his horse to the gate. The boy noticed that it was tired and fagged and carried it a bucket of water. This attention pleased the traveler, and as he drove away, tossed the boy a Minnesota newspaper, remarking, " Go out there, young man. That country needs youngsters of your spirit."
The boy read the paper with its glowing accounts of the new country, and the next morning, walking to the tree he had been cutting he hit it one last lick for luck, and announced, " I've chopped my last tree." That tree, it is said, bears today a great placard with the words, " The last tree chopped by James J. Hill." It was the last one, for a day or two later the boy started for St. Paul. He brought with him to the United States the lusty body, frugal instincts and good principles of his Scotch-Irish ancestry, and, in addition to those, a self-confidence and sureness of judgment destined to take him far.
He got employment as a shipping clerk in a steam-boat office in St. Paul, and so took his first lessons in transportation problems. Pretty soon he was agent for a steamboat line, then he established a fuel and transportation business on his own account and managed it so well that by 1873, he had accumulated a fortune of a hundred thousand dollars. There was Minnesota at the time a little railroad called the St. Paul & Pacific. It started at St. Paul, but it stopped after it had got only a few hundred miles toward the Pacific. Hill decided to buy it. The price was half a million, so he tramped back to Canada and persuaded the bank of Montreal to let him have the $400,000 he needed. That was surely one of the most wonderful feats of a wonderful career. The directors of the bank were severely criticised; men laughed at his purchase, pointing out that the road had never paid, and prophesying that it never would pay.
Yet that Jim Crow road was the foundation of the Great Northern system, the Hill line, stretching across Dakota and Montana to Puget Sound. Every man who went into the enterprise with Hill now owns his stock in it as a free gift, for in the intervening years, the cost has been returned to him in the shape of dividends and bonuses. It has never failed to pay regular dividends, and has, perhaps, won public confidence more surely than any other in the country. For James J. Hill has kept faith in the smallest detail with every man who ever entrusted a dollar to his hands. The loyalty of the employes of the Great Northern has passed into a proverb, " Once a Hill man, always a Hill man," and it is true. He knows his road as few other men do. Before he bought the St. Paul & Pacific, he traveled over the route in an ox-cart, studying not only the road, but the people along the way—there weren't many—and the resources of the country. Before he extended his line to the Pacific, he went the whole distance on foot and horseback.
People laughed at him when he announced that he was going to extend his line to the Pacific. No line had ever been built across the continent without a great subsidy from the government—to secure a subsidy was always the first step; besides, it was believed that the country through which the Great Northern was to extend would not even grow wheat, and the new road was promptly dubbed " Hill's Folly." But in 1893, his line reached the Pacific. A few years later, the owners of the great Northern Pacific were begging him to manage that road, too. For he had created business for his road—a great market in the Orient to fill his west-bound freight cars, and a great market in the eastern United States for Puget Sound lumber to fill his east-bound cars. For re-member no railroad can make money unless, after it has hauled a loaded car from one end of the line to the other, it can find another load to put in that same car to haul back again. Hill supplied the business and his story is the wonderful story of the development of the Great Northwest.
Which brings us to the Napoleon of the railroad world, E. H. Harriman. America has never seen an-other quite like him. When the panic of 1901 was at its height and the financial world seemed trembling in ruins about his head, he refused to break the corner, as he might have done, but sat watching the tape, cool, quiet and calculating, while men failed, banks tottered, and his own associates begged him to yield, For the ambition of this man knew no limitation. His kingdom must stretch from sea to sea and from the lakes to the gulf.
His kingdom lay to the south of Hill's, for he ruled the Union Pacific, and between the two men there was ceaseless war. Physically and mentally they were as far apart as two men could be. Hill is a large man, with massive head and brow, and his eyes are steady and cool and brown, his lips full and sensitive, his whole personality bespeaking force and decision. Quite different was Harriman; a small, ordinary looking man, with glasses and a scraggy mustache, giving the impression of nervous force rather than of power ; an irritable man, easily angered ; a fighter clear through, but fighting sometimes when peace were wiser—that was Harriman.
Harriman was born at Hempstead, Long Island, the son of a clergyman with a large family and a small income. The boy was renowned chiefly for his daily fights and for his aversion to study. At the age of fourteen, he was put to work in a broker's office in Wall street, at eighteen he had a partnership, at twenty-two he bought a seat on the stock exchange, and pretty soon entered the railroad field by getting control of the Illinois Central. He at once inaugurated a new policy. Before that time, the prevailing idea of railroad management was to run a road as cheaply as possible and pay big dividends. Harriman's idea was that the biggest dividends would be secured in the end by making a good road, and he proceeded to carry the idea out by putting his road in the very pink of condition. And it paid.
That was the beginning. His great coup was the rebuilding of the -Union Pacific. A railroad with 7,500 miles of track, a giant crushed by its own weight, it had gone into a receivership in the panic of 1893. For five years it stayed there, despite the utmost efforts of the giants of finance to lift it out. Then Harriman got possession of it, and taking an engine and a car, turned the train backward and, running in the day time only, went over the road mile by mile. He decided that the road must be made a good road, and he told his executive committee that he needed for his immediate necessities one hundred millions of dollars !
Well, he got the money and he got good men and went to work. The result was soon apparent. Earnings grew, business increased, and the company's credit improved. Never before in the history of railroading had there been such daring rebuilding. The line was levelled down to a maximum grade of forty-one feet to a mile; two hundred and forty-seven feet were scaled off the top of the Great Divide; millions of cubic yards of dirt and stone were blasted out and moved ; tunnels were drilled ; and, finally, when the Southern Pacific, too, was acquired, a trestle twenty-three miles long was built across Great Salt Lake, through water thirty feet deep, taking rail-road trains farther from land than they had ever yet been run, and shortening the road forty-four miles. And the result? The gross earnings have risen to over $170,000,000 a year, and $28,000,000 a year are distributed in dividends. Truly a transformation from the old water-logged road which Harriman took over.
He had his reverses—he attempted to get hold of the Northern Pacific, but it slipped through his fingers; the Burlington was cut out from under his guns, and so was the Rock Island. James J. Hill outgeneraled him more than once, and he was never able to " get back " at Hill effectively.
With Harriman we shall close this chapter on men of affairs. Many others might have been noted. In fact, none of the great industries of the country has been built up except by inspired work. Armour and Cudahy and Swift made the packing business ; Marshall Field built up a business in Chicago rivalling Wanamaker's ; August Belmont, William C. Whitney, Levi Leiter, Robert Goelet, Pierre Lorillard, and a hundred others, amassed great fortunes. Yet there was nothing in their career different to those of the men already considered in this chapter. They had a genius for money-making. Each in some special field; but, beyond that, they did few memorable things. And so we need not pause longer over them here, except to remark that it is, in the main, to such men as these, that America owes her great material prosperity.
MORRIS, ROBERT. Born at Liverpool, England, January 20, 1734; came to America, 1747, and settled at Philadelphia; delegate to Continental Congress, 1775--78; gave his credit to assist in financing Revolution and elected superintendent of finance, 1781; organized Bank of North America, 1781; member of Constitutional Convention, 1787; United States senator, 1789--95; died in debtor's prison at Philadelphia, May 8, 1806.
ASTOR, JOHN JACOB. Born at Waldorf, Germany, July 17, 1763; came to America, 1783, and settled' at New York City; founded Astoria, at mouth of Columbia River, 1811; died at New York City, March 29, 1848.
VANDERBILT, CORNELIUS. Born near Stapleton, Staten Island, New York, May 27, 1794; became chief owner Harlem railroad, 1863, and of Hudson River and New York Central roads soon afterwards; died at New York City, January 4, 1877.
STEWART, ALEXANDER TURNEY. Born near Belfast, Ireland, October 12, 1803; came to America, 1823, and established drygoods business at New York City ; died there April 10, 1876.
BARNUM, PHINEAS TAYLOR. Born at Bethel, Connecticut, July 5, 1810; opened Barnum's Museum in New York City, 1841; managed Jenny Lind's concert tour, 1850–51; established " Greatest Show on Earth," 1871; died at Bridgeport, Connecticut, April 7, 1891
SAGE, RUSSELL. Born in Oneida County, New York, August 4, 1816; member of Congress, 1853–57; established himself as broker and money-lender in New York City, 1863; died there, July 22, 1906.
FIELD, CYRUS WEST. Born at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, November 30, 1819; in paper business in New York, 1840-53, retiring with a fortune; organized New York, Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company, 1854; Atlantic Telegraph Company, 1856; laid Atlantic cable, 1866; first message over it, July 29; died at New York City, July 12, 1892.
MACKAY, JOHN WILLIAM. Born at Dublin, Ireland, November 28, 1831; came with parents to America, 1840; went to California, 1850; discovered Bonanza mines, 1872; died, July 20, 1902.
GOULD, JAY. Born at Roxbury, New York, May 27, 1836; established himself as broker in New York City, 1859; notorious for manipulations of various railroad and other securities; and for "Black Friday"; died at New York City, December 2, 1892.
WANAMAKER, JOHN. Born at Philadelphia, July 11, 1838; established clothing house of Wanamaker & Brown, 1861; established department store in Philadelphia, 1876, and in New York City, 1896; Postmaster-General, 1889–93; founded Bethany Sunday School, 1858; president Philadelphia Y. M. C. A., 1870–83.
MORGAN, JOHN PIERPONT. Born at Hartford, Connecticut, April 17, 1837; entered banking business, 1857, and developed present firm of J. P. Morgan & Co., largest private bankers of the United States.
HILL, JAMES J. Born near Guelph, Ontario, September 16, 1838; removed to Minnesota, 1856; entered transportation business; general manager St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Ry. Co., 1879—82; president since 1883; built Great Northern, with steamship connection with Japan and China, 1883—93; president of Great Northern system since 1893.
HARRIMAN, EDWARD HENRY. Born at Hempstead, Long Island; entered Wall Street as clerk at age of fourteen; entered New York Stock Exchange eight years later; was president and chairman of the board of directors of the Union Pacific, Oregon Short Time, Southern Pacific, Texas & New Orleans, and many other great railway systems; died near New York City, September 9, 1909.