LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF THE GREAT, VOLUME 11
Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Businessmen
New York 1916.
ROBERT OWEN JAMES OLIVER STEPHEN GIRARD MAYER A. ROTHSCHILD PHILIP D. ARMOUR JOHN J. ASTOR PETER COOPER ANDREW CARNEGIE GEORGE PEABODY A. T. STEWART H. H. ROGERS JAMES J. HILL
I have always expended to the last shilling my surplus wealth in promoting this great and good cause of industrial betterment. The right-reverend prelate is greatly deceived when he says that I have squandered my wealth in profligacy and luxury. I have never expended a pound in either; all my habits are habits of temperance in all things, and I challenge the right-reverend prelate and all his abettors to prove the contrary, and I will give him and them the means of following me through every stage and month of my life.
—Robert Owen, in Speech before the House of Lords
In Germany, the land of philosophy, when the savants sail into a sea of doubt, some one sets up the cry, "Back to Kant!"
In America, when professed democracy grows ambitious and evolves a lust for power, men say, "Back to Jefferson!"
In business, when employer forgets employee and both forget their better manhood, we say, "Back to Robert Owen!"
We will not go back to Robert Owen: we will go on to Robert Owen, for his philosophy is still in the vanguard.
Robert Owen was a businessman. His first intent was to attain a practical success. He produced the article, and sold it at a profit.
In this operation of taking raw material and manufacturing it into forms of use and beauty—from the time the seed was planted in the ground on up to the consumer who purchased the finished fabric and wove it—Owen believed that all should profit—all should be made happier by every transaction.
That is to say, Robert Owen believed that a business transaction where both sides do not make money is immoral.
There is a legal maxim still cited in the courts—"Caveat emptor"—let the buyer beware.
For this maxim Robert Owen had no respect. He scorned the thought of selling a man something the man did not want, or of selling an article for anything except exactly what it was, or of exacting a price for it, by hook or crook, beyond its value.
Robert Owen believed in himself, and in his product, and he believed in the people. He was a democratic optimist. He had faith in the demos; and the reason was that his estimate of the people was formed by seeing into his own heart. He realized that he was a part of the people, and he knew that he wanted nothing for himself which the world could not have on the same terms. He looked into the calm depths of his own heart and saw that he hated tyranny, pretense, vice, hypocrisy, extravagance and untruth. He knew in the silence of his own soul that he loved harmony, health, industry, reciprocity, truth and helpfulness. His desire was to benefit mankind, and to help himself by helping others.
Therefore he concluded that, the source of all life being the same, he was but a sample of the average man, and all men would, if not intimidated and repressed, desire what he desired.
When physically depressed, through lack of diversified exercise, bad air or wrong conditions, he realized that his mind was apt to be at war, not only with its best self, but with any person who chanced to be near. From this he argued that all departures in society were occasioned by wrong physical conditions, and in order to get a full and free expression of the Divine Mind, of which we are all reflectors or mediums, our bodies must have a right environment.
To get this right environment became the chief business and study of his life.
To think that a man who always considers "the other fellow" should be a great success in a business way is to us more or less of a paradox. "Keep your eye on Number One," we advise the youth intent on success. "Take care of yourself," say the bucolic Solons when we start on a little journey. And "Self-preservation is the first law of life," voice the wise ones.
And yet we know that the man who thinks only of himself acquires the distrust of the whole community. He sets in motion forces that work against him, and has thereby created a handicap that blocks him at every step.
Robert Owen was one of those quiet, wise men who win the confidence of men, and thereby siphon to themselves all good things. That the psychology of success should have been known to this man in Seventeen Hundred Ninety, we might call miraculous, were it not for the fact that the miraculous is always the natural.
Those were troublous times when Robert Owen entered trade. The French Revolution was on, and its fires lit up the intellectual sky of the whole world. The Colonies had been lost to England; it was a time of tumult in Threadneedle Street; the armies of the world were lying on their arms awaiting orders. And out of this great unrest emerged Robert Owen, handsome, intelligent, honest, filled with a holy zeal to help himself by helping humanity.
Robert Owen was born in the village of Newtown, Wales, in Seventeen Hundred Seventy-one. After being away from his native village for many years, he returned, as did Shakespeare and as have so many successful men, and again made the place of his boyhood the home of his old age. Owen died in the house in which he was born. His body was buried in the same grave where sleeps the dust of his father and his mother. During the eighty-seven years of his life he accomplished many things and taught the world lessons which it has not yet memorized.
In point of time, Robert Owen seems to have been the world's first Businessman. Private business was to him a public trust. He was a creator, a builder, an economist, an educator, a humanitarian. He got his education from his work, at his work, and strove throughout his long life to make it possible for others to do the same.
He believed in the Divinity of Business. He anticipated Emerson by saying, "Commerce consists in making things for people who need them, and carrying them from where they are plentiful to where they are wanted."
Every economist should be a humanitarian; and every humanitarian should be an economist. Charles Dickens, writing in Eighteen Hundred Sixty, puts forth Scrooge, Carker and Bumball as economists. When Dickens wanted to picture ideal businessmen, he gave us the Cheeryble brothers—men with soft hearts, giving pennies to all beggars, shillings to poor widows, and coal and loaves of bread to families living in rickety tenements. The Dickens idea of betterment was the priestly plan of dole. Dickens did not know that indiscriminate almsgiving pauperizes humanity, and never did he supply the world a glimpse of a man like Robert Owen, whose charity was something more than palliation.
Robert Owen was born in decent poverty, of parents who knew the simple, beautiful and necessary virtues of industry, sobriety and economy. Where this son got his hunger for books and his restless desire for achievement we do not know. He was a business genius, and from genius of any kind no hovel is immune.
He was sent to London at the age of ten, to learn the saddler's trade; at twelve he graduated from making wax-ends, blacking leather and greasing harness and took a position as salesman in the same business.
From this he was induced to become a salesman for a haberdasher. He had charm of manner—fluidity, sympathy and health. At seventeen he asked to be paid a commission on sales instead of a salary, and on this basis he saved a hundred pounds in a year.
At eighteen a customer told him of a wonderful invention—a machine that was run by steam—for spinning cotton into yarn. Robert was familiar with the old process of making woolen yarn on a spinning-wheel by hand—his mother did it and had taught him and his brothers and sisters how.
Cotton was just coming in, since the close of "George Washington's Rebellion." Watt had watched his mother's teakettle to a good purpose. Here were two big things destined to revolutionize trade: the use of cotton in place of flax or wool, and steam-power instead of human muscle. Robert Owen resigned his clerkship and invested all of his earnings in three mule spinning-machines. Then he bought cotton on credit.
He learned the business, and the first year made three hundred pounds.
Seeing an advertisement in the paper for an experienced superintendent of a cotton mill, he followed his intuitions, hunted out the advertiser, a Mr. Drinkwater, and asked for the place.
Mr. Drinkwater looked at the beardless stripling, smiled and explained that he wanted a man, not a boy—a man who could take charge of a mill at Manchester, employing five hundred hands.
Robert Owen stood his ground.
What would he work for?
Three hundred pounds a year.
Bosh! Boys of nineteen could be had for fifty pounds a year.
"But not boys like me," said Robert Owen, earnestly. Then he explained to Mr. Drinkwater his position—that he had a little mill of his own and had made three hundred pounds the first year. But he wanted to get into a larger field with men of capital.
Mr. Drinkwater was interested. Looking up the facts he found them to be exactly as stated. He hired the youth at his own price and also bought all of young Mr. Owen's machinery and stock, raw and made up.
Robert Owen, aged nineteen, went at once to Manchester and took charge of the mill. His business was to buy and install new machinery, hire all help, fix wages, buy the raw material, and manufacture and sell the product.
For six weeks he did not give a single order, hire a new man, nor discharge an old one. He silently studied the situation. He worked with the men—made friends with them, and recorded memoranda of his ideas. He was the first one at the factory in the morning—the last to leave it at night.
After six weeks he began to act.
The first year's profit was twenty per cent on the investment, against five for the year before.
Drinkwater paid him four hundred pounds instead of three, and proposed it should be five hundred for the next year. A contract was drawn up, running for five years, giving Owen a salary, and also a percentage after sales mounted above a certain sum.
Robert Owen was now twenty years of age. He was sole superintendent of the mill. The owner lived at London and had been up just once—this after Owen had been in his new position for three months. Drinkwater saw various improvements made in the plant—the place was orderly, tidy, cleanly, and the workers were not complaining, although Owen was crowding out the work.
Owen was on friendly terms with his people, visiting them in their homes. He had organized a day-school for the smaller children and a night-school for the older ones who worked in the mills. His friendliness, good-cheer and enthusiasm were contagious. The place was prosperous.
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Just here let us make a digression and inspect the peculiar conditions of the time.
It was a period of transition—the old was dying, the new was being born. Both experiences were painful.
There was a rapid displacement of hand labor. One machine did the work of ten or more persons. What were these people who were thrown out, to do? Adjust themselves to the new conditions, you say. True, but many could not. They starved, grew sick, ate their hearts out in useless complaining.
Only a few years before, and the spinning of flax and wool was exclusively a home industry. Every cottage had its spinning-wheel and loom. There was a garden, a cow, a pig, poultry and fruits and flowers. The whole household worked, and the wheel and loom were never idle while it was light. The family worked in relays.
It was a very happy and prosperous time. Life was simple and natural. There was constant labor, but it was diversified. The large flocks of sheep, raised chiefly for wool, made mutton cheap. Everything was home-made. People made things for themselves, and if they acquired a superior skill they supplied their neighbors, or exchanged products with them. As the manufacturing was done in the homes, there was no crowding of population. The factory boarding-house and the tenement were yet to come.
This was the condition up to Seventeen Hundred Seventy. From then until Seventeen Hundred Ninety was the time of transition. By Seventeen Hundred Ninety, mills were erected wherever there was water-power, and the village artisans were moving to the towns to work in the mills.
For the young men and women it was an alluring life. The old way gave them no time to themselves—there was the cow to milk, the pigs and poultry to care for, or the garden making insistent demands. Now they worked at certain hours for certain wages, and rested. Tenements took the place of cottages, and the "public," with its smiling barkeep, was always right at the corner.
Hargreaves, Arkwright, Watt and Eli Whitney had worked a revolution more far-reaching than did Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre and Marat.
Here creeps in an item interesting to our friends who revel in syntax and prosody. Any machine or apparatus for lifting has been called a "jack" since the days of Shakespeare. The jack was the bearer of bundles, a lifter, a puller, a worker. Any coarse bit of mechanism was called a jack, and is yet. In most factories there are testing-jacks, gearing-jacks, lifting-jacks. Falstaff tells of a jack-of-all-trades. The jack was anything strong, patient and serviceable.
When Hargreaves, the Lancashire carpenter, invented his spinning-machine, a village wit called it a "jenny." The machine was fine, delicate, subtle, and as spinning was a woman's business anyway, the new machine was parsed in the feminine gender.
Soon the new invention took on a heavier and stronger form, and its persistency suggested to some other merry bucolic a new variation and it was called a "mule." The word stuck, and the mule-spinner is with us wherever cotton is spun.
The discovery that coal was valuable for fuel followed the invention of the steam-engine.
When things are needed we dig down and find them, or reach up and secure them. You could not run a steamship, except along a river with well-wooded banks, any more than you could run an automobile with coal.
The dealing in coal, or "coals" as our English cousins still use the word, began in Eighteen Hundred Nineteen. That was the year the first steamship, the "Savannah," crossed the ocean. She ran from Savannah to London. Her time was twenty-five days. She burned four hundred fifty tons of coal, or about two-thirds of her entire carrying capacity. Robert Fulton had been running his steamer "Clermont" on the Hudson in Eighteen Hundred Seven, but there were wooding-stations every twenty miles.
It was argued in the House of Commons that no steamship could ever cross the Atlantic with steam, alone, as a propelling power. And even as it was being mathematically proved, the whistle of the "Savannah" drowned the voice of the orator.
But the "Savannah" also carried sail, and so the doubters still held the floor. An iron boat with no sails that could cross the Atlantic in five days was a miracle that no optimist had foreseen—much less, dared prophesy.
The new conditions almost threatened to depopulate the rural districts. Farmers forsook the soil. The uncertainty of a crop was replaced with the certainty of a given wage. Children could tend the spinning-jennies as well as men. There was a demand for child labor. Any poor man with a big family counted himself rich. Many a man who could not find a job at a man's wage quit work and was supported by his wife and children. To rear a family became a paying enterprise.
Various mill-owners adopted children or took them under the apprentice system, agreeing to teach them the trade. Girls and boys from orphan asylums and workhouses were secured and held as practical slaves. They were herded in sheep-sheds, where they slept on straw and were fed in troughs. They were worked in two shifts, night and day, so the straw was never really cold. They worked twelve hours, slept eight, and one hour was allowed for meals. Their clothing was not removed except on Saturday. Any alteration in the business life of a people is fraught with great danger.
Recklessness, greed and brutality at such a time are rife.
Almost all workingmen of forty or over were out of work. Naturally, employers hired only the young, the active, the athletic. These made more money than they were used to making, so they spent it lavishly and foolishly. It was a prosperous time, yet, strangely enough, prosperity brought starvation to thousands. Family life in many instances was destroyed, and thus were built those long rows of houses, all alike, with no mark of individuality—no yard, no flowers, no gardens—that still in places mar the landscape in factory towns.
Pretty girls went to the towns to work in the mills, and thus lost home ties. Later they drifted to London. Drunkenness increased.
In Seventeen Hundred Ninety-six, there was formed the Manchester Board of Health. Its intent was to guard the interests of factory-workers. Its desire was to insure light, ventilation and sanitary conveniences for the workers. Beyond this it did not seek to go.
The mill superintendents lifted a howl. They talked about interference, and depriving the poor people of the right to labor. They declared it was all a private matter between themselves and the workers—a matter of contract.
Robert Owen, it seems, was the first factory superintendent to invite inspection of his plant. He worked with the Board of Health, not against it. He refused to employ children under ten years of age, and although there was a tax on windows, he supplied plenty of light and also fresh air. So great was the ignorance of the workers that they regarded the Factory Laws as an infringement on their rights. The greed and foolish fears of the mill-owners prompted them to put out the good old argument that a man's children were his own, and that for the State to dictate to him where they should work, when and how, was a species of tyranny. Work was good for children! Let them run the streets? Never!
It is a curious thing to note that when Senator Albert J. Beveridge endeavored to have a Federal Bill passed at Washington, in Nineteen Hundred Seven, the arguments he had to meet and answer were those which Robert Owen and Sir Robert Peel were obliged to answer in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-five.
When a man who worked a hundred orphans fourteen hours a day, boys and girls of from six to twelve, was accused of cruelty, he defended himself by saying, "If I doesn't work 'em all the time 'cept when they sleep and eat, they will learn to play, and then never work." This argument was repeated by many fond parents as conclusive.
The stress of the times—having many machines in one building, all run by one motor power, the necessity of buying raw material in quantities, the expense of finding a market—all these combined to force the invention of a very curious economic expediency. It was called a Joint Stock Company. From a man and his wife and his children making things at home, we get two or three men going into partnership and hiring a few of their neighbors at day wages.
Then we get the system of "shareholding," with hundreds or thousands of people as partners in a manufacturing enterprise which they never visit.
The people who owned the shares were the ones who owned the tools. Very naturally, they wanted and expected dividends for the use of the tools. That was all they wanted—dividends. The manager of the mill held his position only through his ability to make the venture bring returns. The people who owned the shares or the tools, never saw the people who used the tools. A great gulf lay between them. For the wrongs and injustices visited upon the workers no one person was to blame. The fault was shifted. Everybody justified himself. And then came the saying, "Corporations have no souls."
Robert Owen was manager of a mill, yet he saw the misery, the ignorance and the mental indifference that resulted from the factory system. He, too, must produce dividends, but the desire of his heart was also to mitigate the lot of the workers.
Books were written by good men picturing the evils of the factory system. Comparisons were made between the old and the new, in which the hideousness of the new was etched in biting phrase. Some tried to turn the dial backward and revive the cottage industries, as did Ruskin a little later. "A Dream of John Ball" was anticipated, and many sighed for "the good old times."
But among the many philosophers and philanthropists who wrestled with the problem, Robert Owen seems to have stood alone in the belief that success lay in going on, and not in turning back. He set himself to making the new condition tolerable and prophesied a day when out of the smoke and din of strife would emerge a condition that would make for health, happiness and prosperity such as this tired old world never has seen. Robert Owen was England's first Socialist.
Very naturally he was called a dreamer. Some called him an infidel and the enemy of society.
Very many now call him a seer and a prophet.
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In Robert Owen's day cotton yarn was packaged and sold in five-pound bundles. These packages were made up in hanks of a given number of yards. One hundred twenty counts to a package was fixed upon as "par," or "standard count." If the thread was very fine, of course more hanks were required to make up the five pounds. The price ranged up or down, below or above the one-hundred-twenty mark. That is, if a package contained two hundred forty hanks, its value was just double what it would have been if merely standard.
Robert Owen knew fabrics before he began to spin.
First, he was a salesman. Second, he made the things he could sell.
The one supremely difficult thing in business is salesmanship. Goods can be manufactured on formula, but it takes a man to sell. He who can sell is a success—others may be.
The only men who succeed in dictating the policy of the house are those in the Sales Department—that is, those who are on the side of income, not of expense.
The man with a "secret process" of manufacture always imparts his secret, sooner or later; but the salesman does not impart his secret, because he can't. It is not transferable. It is a matter of personality. Not only does the salesman have to know his goods, but he must know the buyer—he must know humanity.
And humanity was the raw stock in which Robert Owen dealt. Robert Owen never tried to increase his sales by decreasing his price. His product was always higher than standard. "Anybody can cut prices," he said, "but it takes brains to make a better article." He focused on fineness.
And soon buyers were coming to him. A finer article meant a finer trade. And now, on each package of yarn that Owen sent out, he placed a label that read thus, "This package was made under the supervision of Robert Owen." Thus his name gradually became a synonym for quality.
Among other curious ideas held by Owen was that to make finer goods you must have a finer quality of workman. To produce this finer type of person now became his dream.
Mr. Drinkwater smiled at the idea and emphasized "dividends."
Now Mr. Drinkwater had a son-in-law who looked in on things once a month, signed his voucher and went away fox-hunting. He thought he was helping run the mill. This man grew jealous of the young manager and suggested that Drinkwater increase the boy's pay and buy off the percentage clause in the contract, so as to keep the youngster from getting megalocephalia.
Drinkwater asked Owen what he would take for the contract, and Owen handed it to him and said, "Nothing." It gave him a chance to get out into a larger field. Drinkwater never thought of the value of that little Robert Owen label. No wise employer should ever allow a thing like that.
Owen had won both name and fame among the merchants, and he now engaged with several mills to superintend their output and sell their goods with his label on each package. In other words, he was a Manufacturers' Broker. From a five-hundred-pound-a-year man he had grown to be worth two thousand pounds a year.
No mill owned him. He was free—he was making money. The dream of human betterment was still in his heart.
On one of his trips to Glasgow to sell goods, he met a daughter of David Dale, a mill-owner who was in active competition with him. Dale made a fine yarn, too.
The girl had heard of Owen: they met as enemies—a very good way to begin an acquaintance. It was Nature's old, old game of stamen, pistil and pollen, that fertilizes the world of business, betterment and beauty. They quarreled.
"You are the man who puts your name on the package?"
"And yet you own no mill!"
"Never mind. You certainly are proud of your name."
"I am—wouldn't you be?"
"Not of yours."
Then they stared at each other in defiance. To relieve the tension, Mr. Owen proposed a stroll. They took a walk through the park and discovered that they both were interested in Social Reform. David Dale owned the mills at New Lanark—a most picturesque site. He was trying to carry on a big business, so as to make money and help the workers. He was doing neither, because his investment in the plant had consumed too much of his working capital.
They discussed the issue until eleven forty-five by the clock.
The girl knew business and knew Society. The latter she had no use for.
The next day they met again, and quite accidentally found themselves engaged, neither of 'em knew how.
It was very embarrassing! How could they break the news to Papa Dale?
They devised a way. It was this: Robert Owen was to go and offer to buy Mr. Dale's mills.
Owen went over to Lanark and called on Mr. Dale, and told him he wanted to buy his business. Mr. Dale looked at the boy, and smiled. Owen was twenty-seven, but appeared twenty, being beardless, slight and fair-haired.
The youth said he could get all the money that was needed. They sparred for a time—neither side naming figures. It being about noontime, Mr. Dale asked young Mr. Owen to go over to his house to lunch. Mr. Dale was a widower, but his daughter kept the house. Mr. Dale introduced Mr. Owen to Miss Dale.
The young folks played their parts with a coolness that would have delighted John Drew, and would have been suspicious to anybody but a fussy old mill-owner.
Finally as the crumbs were being brushed from the rich man's table, Mr. Dale fixed on the sum of sixty thousand pounds for his property.
Owen was satisfied and named as terms three thousand pounds and interest each year for twenty years, touching the young lady's toe with his own under the table.
Mr. Dale agreed. Mr. Owen had the money to make the first payment. The papers were drawn up. The deal was closed—all but the difficult part. This was done by rushing the enemy in his library, after a good meal. "It keeps the business in the family, you see," said the girl on her knees, pouting prettily.
The point was gained, and when Robert Owen, a few weeks later, came to New Lanark to take possession of the property, he did as much for the girl. So they were married and lived happily ever afterward.
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Robert Owen took up his work at New Lanark with all the enthusiasm that hope, youth and love could bring to bear.
Mr. Dale had carried the flag as far to the front as he thought it could be safely carried—that is to say, as far as he was able to carry it.
Owen had his work cut out for him. The workers were mostly Lowland Scotch and spoke in an almost different language from Owen. They looked upon him with suspicion. The place had been sold, and they had gone with it—how were they to be treated? Were wages to be lowered and hours extended? Probably.
Pilfering had been reduced to a system, and to get the start of the soft-hearted owner was considered smart.
Mr. Dale had tried to have a school, and to this end had hired an elderly Irishman, who gave hard lessons and a taste of the birch to children who had exhausted themselves in the mills and had no zest for learning. Mr. Dale had taken on more than two hundred pauper children from the workhouses and these were a sore trial to him.
Owen's first move was to reduce the working-hours from twelve to ten hours. Indeed, he was the first mill-owner to adopt the ten-hour plan. He improved the sanitary arrangements, put in shower-baths and took a personal interest in the diet of his little wards, often dining with them.
A special school-building was erected at a cost of thirty thousand dollars. This was both a day and a night school. It also took children of one year old and over, in order to relieve mothers who worked in the mills. The "little mothers," often only four or five years old, took care of babies a year old and younger, all day.
Owen instructed his teachers never to scold or to punish by inflicting physical pain. His was the first school in Christendom to abolish the rod.
His plan anticipated the Kindergarten and the Creche. He called mothers' meetings, and tried to show the uselessness of scolding and beating, because to do these things was really to teach the children to do them. He abolished the sale of strong drink in New Lanark. Model houses were erected, gardens planted, and prizes given for the raising of flowers.
In order not to pauperize his people, Owen had them pay a slight tuition for the care of the children, and there was a small tax levied to buy flower-seeds. In the school-building was a dance-hall and an auditorium.
At one time the supply of raw cotton was cut off for four months. During this time Owen paid his people full wages, insisted that they should all, old and young, go to school for two hours a day, and also work two hours a day at tree-planting, grading and gardening. During this period of idleness he paid out seven thousand pounds in wages. This was done to keep the workmen from wandering away.
It need not be imagined that Owen did not have other cares besides those of social betterment. Much of the machinery in the mills was worn and becoming obsolete. To replace this he borrowed a hundred thousand dollars. Then he reorganized his business as a stock company and sold shares to several London merchants with whom he dealt. He interested Jeremy Bentham, the great jurist and humanitarian, and Bentham proved his faith by buying stock in the New Lanark Company.
Joseph Lancaster, the Quaker, a mill-owner and philanthropist, did the same.
Owen paid a dividend of five per cent on his shares. A surplus was also set aside to pay dividends in case of a setback, but beyond this the money was invested in bettering the environment of his people.
New Lanark had been running fourteen years under Owen's management. It had attracted the attention of the civilized world. The Grand Duke Nicholas, afterwards the Czar, spent a month with Owen studying his methods. The Dukes of Kent, Sussex, Bedford and Portland; the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Bishops of London, Peterborough and Carlisle; the Marquis of Huntly; Lords Grosvenor, Carnarvon, Granville, Westmoreland, Shaftesbury and Manners; General Sir Thomas Dyce and General Brown; Ricardo, De Crespigny, Wilberforce, Joseph Butterworth and Sir Francis Baring—all visited New Lanark. Writers, preachers, doctors, in fact almost every man of intellect and worth in the Kingdom, knew of Robert Owen and his wonderful work at New Lanark. Sir Robert Peel had been to New Lanark and had gone back home and issued an official bulletin inviting mill-owners to study and pattern after the system.
The House of Commons asked Owen to appear and explain his plan for abolishing poverty from the Kingdom. He was invited to lecture in many cities. He issued a general call to all mill-owners in the Kingdom to co-operate with him in banishing ignorance and poverty.
But to a great degree Owen worked alone and New Lanark was a curiosity. Most mill towns had long rows of dingy tenements, all alike, guiltless of paint, with not a flower bed or tree to mitigate the unloveliness of the scene. Down there in the dirt and squalor lived the working-folks; while away up on the hillside, surrounded by a vast park, with stables, kennels and conservatories, resided the owner.
Owen lived with his people. And the one hundred fifty acres that made up the village of New Lanark contained a happy, healthy and prosperous population of about two thousand people.
There was neither pauperism nor disease, neither gamblers nor drunkards. All worked and all went to school.
It was an object-lesson of thrift and beauty.
Visitors came from all over Europe—often hundreds a day.
Why could not this example be extended indefinitely so that hundreds of such villages should grow instead of only one? There could, there can and there will be, but the people must evolve their own ideal environment and not have to have it supplied for them.
By Owen's strength of purpose he kept the village ideal, but he failed to evolve an ideal people. All around were unideal surroundings, and the people came and went. Strong drink was to be had only a few miles away. To have an ideal village, it must be located in an ideal country.
Owen called on the clergy to unite with him in bringing about an ideal material environment. He said that good water, sewerage and trees and flowers worked a better spiritual condition. They replied by calling him a materialist. He admitted that he worked for a material good. His followers added to his troubles by comparing his work with that of the clergy round about, where vice, poverty and strong drink grouped themselves about a steeple upon which was a cross of gold to which labor was nailed—a simile to be used later by a great orator, with profit.
Owen was a Unitarian, with a Quaker bias. Any clergyman was welcome to come to New Lanark—it was a free platform. A few preachers accepted the invitation, with the intent to convert Robert Owen to their particular cause. New Lanark was pointed out all over England as a godless town. The bishops issued a general address to all rectors and curates warning them against "any system of morals that does away with God and His Son, Jesus Christ, fixing its salvation on flowerbeds and ragged schools."
New Lanark was making money because it was producing goods the world wanted. But its workers were tabu in respectable society, and priestly hands were held aloft in pretended horror whenever the name of Robert Owen, or the word "Socialism," was used.
Owen refused to employ child labor, and issued a book directing the attention of society to this deadly traffic in human beings. The parents, the clergy and the other mill-owners combined against him, and he was denounced by press and pulpit.
He began to look around for a better environment for an ideal community. His gaze was turned toward America.
* * * * *
Robert Owen's plan for abolishing vice and poverty was simply to set the people to work under ideal conditions, and then allow them time enough for recreation and mental exercise, so that thrift might follow farming. In reply to the argument that the workman should evolve his own standard of life, independent of his employer, Owen said that the mill with its vast aggregation of hands was an artificial condition. The invention, ingenuity and enterprise that evolved the mill were exceptional. The operators for the most part lacked this constructive genius, the proof of which lay in the very fact that they were operators.
To take advantage of their limitations, disrupt their natural and accustomed mode of life, and then throw the blame back upon them for not evolving a new and better environment, was neither reasonable nor right.
The same constructive genius that built the mill and operated it should be actively interested in the welfare of the people who worked in the mill.
To this end there should be an ideal village adjacent to every great mill. This village should afford at least half an acre of ground for every family. In the way of economy, one building should house a thousand people. It should be built in the form of a parallelogram and contain co-operative kitchens, dining-rooms, libraries, art-galleries and gymnasia. It should be, in fact, a great University, not unlike the great collection of schools at Oxford or Cambridge. All would be workers—all would be students.
The villages should be under the general supervision of the government, in order to secure stability and permanency. If the mill management failed, the government should continue the business, because even if the government lost money in the venture, at times, this was better than always to be building jails, prisons, insane asylums, almshouses and hospitals.
In sections where there were no mills or factories, the government would construct both mills and villages, to the intent that idleness and ignorance might be without excuse. To this end Owen would ask all landowners, or holders of estates of a thousand acres or more, to set apart one-tenth of their land for ideal villages and co-operative mills to be managed by the government.
As proof that his plans were feasible, Owen pointed to New Lanark and invited investigation.
Among others who answered the invitation was Henry Hase, cashier of the Bank of England. Hase reported that New Lanark had the look of a place that had taken a century to evolve, and in his mind the nation could not do better than to follow the example of Owen. He then added, "If the clergy, nobility and mill-owners will adopt the general scientific method proposed by Mr. Owen for the abolition of poverty, ignorance and crime, it will be the greatest step of progress ever seen in the history of the world."
In proposing that the clergy, nobility and mill-owners should unite for the good of mankind, Mr. Hase was not guilty of subtle humor or ironical suggestion. He was an honest and sincere man who had been exposed to the contagious enthusiasm of Mr. Owen.
Owen was fifty-seven years of age, practical man that he was, before he realized that the clergy, the nobility and the rich mill-owners had already entered into an unconscious pact to let mankind go to Gehenna—just so long as the honors, emoluments and dividends were preserved. That is to say, the solicitation of the Church is not and never has been for the welfare of the people; it is for the welfare of the Church for which churchmen fight. All persecution turns on this point.
If the stability of the Church is threatened, the Churchmen awake and cry, "To Arms!" In this respect the Church, the nobility and vested capital have everything in common—they want perpetuity and security. They seek safety. All of the big joint-stock companies had in their directorates members of the nobility and the clergy. The bishops held vast estates—they were Lords.
Robert Owen did not represent either the Church or the nobility. He was a very exceptional and unique product; he was a workingman who had become a philanthropic capitalist. He was a lover of humanity, filled with a holy zeal to better the condition of the laborer.
* * * * *
The mills at New Lanark were making money, but the shareholders in London were not satisfied with their dividends. They considered Owen's plans for educating the workingman chimerical. In one respect they knew that Owen was sane: he could take the raw stock and produce the quality of goods that had a market value. He had trained up a valuable and skilled force of foremen and workers. Things were prosperous and would be much more so if Owen would only cease dreaming dreams and devote himself to the commercial end of the game.
If he would not do this, then he must buy their stock or sell them a controlling interest of his own.
He chose the latter.
In Eighteen Hundred Twenty-five, when he was fifty-five years old, he sailed for America. He gave lectures in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington on his new order of economics. He was listened to with profound attention. At Washington he was the guest of the President, and on invitation addressed a joint session of the Senate and the House, setting forth his arguments for Socialism.
The Moravians at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had founded their colony as early as Seventeen Hundred Twenty. The Zoarites, the Economites, the Separatists, the Shakers and the Rappites had been in existence and maintained successful communities for a score of years.
Robert Owen visited these various colonies and saw that they were all prosperous. There was neither sickness, vice, poverty, drunkenness nor disease to be found among them. He became more and more convinced that the demands of an advancing civilization would certainly be co-operative in nature. Chance might unhorse the individual, but with a community the element of chance was eliminated. He laid it down as a maxim, evolved from his study, observation and experience, that the community that exists for three years is a success. That no industrial community had ever endured for three years, save as it was founded on a religious concept, was a fact that he overlooked. Also, he failed to see that the second generation of communists did not coalesce, and as a result that thirty-three years was the age limit for even a successful community; and that, if it still survived, it was because it was reorganized under a strong and dominant leadership.
Communists or Socialists are of two classes: those who wish to give and those who wish to get. When fifty-one per cent of the people in a community are filled with a desire to give, Socialism will be a success.
Perhaps the most successful social experiment in America was the Oneida Community, but next to this was the Harmonyites, founded by George Rapp. The Harmonyites founded Harmony, Indiana, in Eighteen Hundred Fourteen. They moved from Pennsylvania and had been located at their present site for eleven years. They owned thirty thousand acres of splendid land at the junction of the Wabash and Ohio Rivers. They had built more than a hundred houses, and had barns, stores, a church, a hall, a sawmill, a hotel and a woolen-factory.
Now when Owen went to Pittsburgh, he floated down the Ohio to Cincinnati and then on to Harmony. He was graciously received and was delighted with all he saw and heard.
Owen saw the success of the woolen-mill, and declared that to bring cotton up by steamboat from the South would be easy. He would found cotton-mills, and here New Lanark should bloom again, only on an increased scale.
Would the Rappites sell?
Yes; they wanted to move back to Pennsylvania, where there were other groups of similar faith.
Their place, they figured, was worth two hundred fifty thousand dollars. Owen made an offer of one hundred fifty thousand dollars, which to his surprise was quietly accepted. It was a quick deal.
The Rappites moved out, and the Owenites moved in.
Just across the Ohio River they founded the town of Owensboro.
Then Owen went back to England and sent over about three hundred of his people, including his own son, Robert Dale Owen.
Robert Owen had large interests in England, and New Harmony on the banks of the Wabash was incidental. Robert Dale Owen was then twenty-five years old. He was a philosopher, not an economist, and since the place lacked a business head, dissensions arose. Let some one else tell how quickly a community can evaporate when it lacks the cement of religious oneness:
For the first few weeks, all entered into the new system with a will. Service was the order of the day. Men who seldom or never before labored with their hands devoted themselves to agriculture and the mechanical arts with a zeal which was at least commendable, though not always well directed. Ministers of the gospel guided the plow and called swine to their corn instead of sinners to repentance, and let patience have her perfect work over an unruly yoke of oxen. Merchants exchanged the yardstick for the rake or pitchfork; and all appeared to labor cheerfully for the common weal. Among the women there was even more apparent self-sacrifice. Those who had seldom seen the inside of their own kitchens went into that of the common eating-house (formerly a hotel) and made themselves useful among pots and kettles. Refined young ladies who had been waited upon all their lives took turns in waiting upon others at the table. And several times a week all parties who chose, mingled in the social dance in the great dining-hall.
But notwithstanding the apparent heartiness and cordiality of this auspicious opening, it was in the social atmosphere of the Community that the first cloud arose. Self-love was a spirit which could not be exorcised. It whispered to the lowly maidens, whose former position in society had cultivated the spirit of meekness, "Thou art as good as the formerly rich and fortunate; insist upon your equality." It reminded the former favorites of society of their lost superiority, and despite all rules tinctured their words and actions with "airs" and conceit. Similar thoughts and feelings soon arose among the men; and though not so soon exhibited they were none the less deep and strong. Suffice it to say, that at the end of three months—three months!—the leading minds in the Community were compelled to acknowledge to one another that the social life of the Community could not be bounded by a single circle. They therefore acquiesced, though reluctantly, to its division into many. But they still hoped, and many of them no doubt believed, that though social equality was a failure, community of property was not. Whether the law of mine and thine is natural or incidental in human character, it soon began to develop its sway. The industrious, the skilful and the strong saw the product of their labor enjoyed by the indolent, the unskilled and the improvident; and self-love rose against benevolence. A band of musicians thought their brassy harmony was as necessary to the common happiness as bread and meat, and declined to enter the harvest-field or the workshop. A lecturer upon natural science insisted upon talking while others worked. Mechanics, whose single day's labor brought two dollars into the common stock, insisted that they should in justice work only half as long as the agriculturist, whose day's work brought but one.
Of course, for a while, these jealousies were concealed, but soon they began to be expressed. It was useless to remind all parties that the common labor of all ministered to the prosperity of the Community. Individual happiness was the law of Nature and it could not be obliterated. And before a single year had passed, this law had scattered the members of that society which had come together so earnestly and under such favorable circumstances, and driven them back into the selfish world from which they came.
The writer of this sketch has since heard the history of that eventful year reviewed with honesty and earnestness by the best men and most intelligent parties of that unfortunate social experiment. They admitted the favorable circumstances which surrounded its commencement; the intelligence, devotion and earnestness which were brought to the cause by its projectors, and its final total failure. And they rested ever after in the belief that man, though disposed to philanthropy, is essentially selfish, and a community of social equality and common property is an impossibility.
* * * * *
The loss of two hundred thousand dollars did not dampen the ardor of Robert Owen. He paid up the debts of New Harmony, had the property surveyed and subdivided, and then deeded it to his children and immediate relatives and a few of the "staunch friends who have such a lavish and unwise faith in my wisdom"—to use his own expression.
To give work to the unemployed of England now became his immediate solicitation. He was sixty years old when he inaugurated his first co-operative store, which in fact is the parent of our modern Department-Store.
In this store he proposed to buy any useful article or product which any man might make or produce, figuring on cost of the raw material and sixpence an hour for labor. This labor was to be paid for in Labor Script, receivable in payment for anything the man might want to buy. Here we get the Labor Exchange. Owen proposed that the Government should set delinquent men to work, instead of sending them to prison. Any man who would work, no matter what he had done, should be made free. The Government would then pay the man in Labor-Exchange Script. Of course, if the Government guaranteed the script, it was real money; otherwise, it was wildcat money, subject to fluctuation and depreciation. Very naturally, the Government refused to guarantee this script, or to invest in the co-operative stores. To make the script valuable, it had to be issued in the form of a note, redeemable in gold at a certain time.
The stores were started, and many idle men found work in building mills and starting various industries. Three years passed, and some of the script became due. It was found to be largely held by saloonkeepers who had accepted it at half-price. Efforts had been constantly made to hurt Owen's standing and depreciate the market value of this currency.
The Labor Exchange that had issued the script was a corporation, and Robert Owen was not individually liable, but he stepped into the breach and paid every penny out of his own purse, saying, "No man shall ever say that he lost money by following my plans."
Next he founded the co-operative village of Harmony or Queenswood. The same general plan that he had followed at New Lanark was here carried out, save that he endeavored to have the mill owned by the workers instead of by outside capital.
Through his very able leadership, this new venture continued for ten years and was indeed a school and a workshop. The workers had gardens, flowers, books. There were debates, classes, and much intellectual exercise that struck sparks from heads that were once punk. John Tyndall was one of the teachers and also a worker in this mill. Let the fact stand out that Owen discovered Tyndall—a great, divinely human nautilus—and sent him sailing down the tides of Time.
At eighty years of age, Owen appeared before the House of Commons and read a paper which he had spent a year in preparing, "The Abolition of Poverty and Crime." He held the Government responsible for both, and said that until the ruling class took up the reform idea and quit their policy of palliation, society would wander in the wilderness. To gain the Promised Land we must all move together in a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." He was listened to with profound respect and a vote of thanks tendered him; but his speech never reached the public printer.
Robert Dale Owen became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and for several years was a member of Congress, and at the time of the death of his father was our minister to Italy, having been appointed by President Pierce.
He was in England at the time of the passing of Robert Owen, and announced the fact to the family at New Harmony, Indiana, in the following letter:
Newtown, Wales, November 17th, 1858.
It is all over. Our dear father passed away this morning, at a quarter before seven, as quietly and gently as if he had been falling asleep. There was not the least struggle, not the contraction of a limb or a muscle, not an expression of pain on his face. His breathing stopped so gradually that, even as I held his hand, I could scarcely tell the moment when he no longer lived. His last words, distinctly pronounced about twenty minutes before his death, were: "Relief has come."
The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest.
—Proverbs xx: 4
You benefit yourself only as you benefit humanity.
James Oliver was born in Roxburyshire, Scotland, August the Twenty-eighth, Eighteen Hundred Twenty-three. He died March the Second, Nineteen Hundred Eight. He was the youngest of a brood of eight—six boys and two girls.
He was "the last run of shad," to use the phrase of Theodore Parker, who had a similar honor. Just why the youngest should eclipse the rest, as occasionally happens, is explained by Doctor Tilden on the hypothesis that a mother gives this last little surprise party an amount of love and tenderness not vouchsafed the rest.
Let the philosophers philosophize—we deal with facts, not theories, and no one will deny that James Oliver was a very potent, human and stubborn fact. He was Scotch.
His father was a shepherd on a landed estate, where the noses of the sheep grew sharp that they might feed between the stones. The family was very poor, but poverty in the Old World grows into a habit, and so the Olivers did not suffer. They huddled close for warmth in their little cottage and were grateful for parritch and shelter.
In Eighteen Hundred Thirty, the oldest boy, John, filled with the spirit of unrest, tied up all of his earthly goods in a red handkerchief and came to America.
He found work at a dollar a day, and wrote glowing letters home of a country where no one picked up fagots for fires, but where forests were actually in the way. He also said he ate at his employer's table, and they had meat three times a week. Of course he had meat three times a day, but he didn't want to run the risk of being placed in the Ananias Club by telling the truth.
A little later, Andrew and Jane, the next in point of age, came too, and slipped at once into money-making jobs, piling up wealth at the rate of three dollars a week.
When three of a brood have gone from the home nest, they pull hard on the heartstrings of the mother. Women, at the last, have more courage than men—when they have.
Partnerships are very seldom equal partnerships—one takes the lead. In this case the gray mare was the better horse, and James Oliver got his initiative from his mother.
"We are all going to America," the mother would say.
And then the worthy shepherd-man would give a hundred and fifty reasons why it was impossible.
He had become pot-bound. Fear and inertia had him by the foot. He was too old to try to do anything but care for sheep, he pleaded.
And persistently, as she knitted furiously, the mother would repeat, "We are all going to America!"
Little Jamie was eleven years old. He was a swart and sandy little Scot, with freckles, a full-moon face and a head of tousled hair that defied the comb.
"We are all going to America," echoed Jamie—"we are going to America to make our fortunes."
John, Andrew and Jane had sent back real money—they must have earned it. All the debts were cleaned up, and the things they had borrowed were returned. The mother took charge and sold all the little surplus belongings, and the day came when they locked the door of the old stone cottage and took the key to the landlord in his big house and left it.
They rode away in a kind neighbor's cart, bound for the sea-coast. Everybody cried but Jamie. It was glorious to go away—such wonderful things could be seen all along the route.
They took passage in a sailing-ship crowded with emigrants. It was a stormy trip. Everybody was sick. Several died, and there were burials at sea, when the plank was tilted and the body slid into the yeasty deep.
Jamie got into trouble once by asking how the dead man could ever be found when it came Judgment-Day. And also the captain got after him with a rope's end because he scrambled upon the quarter-deck when the mate went aft. The disposition to take charge was even then germinating; and he asked more questions than ten men could answer.
Once when the hatches were battened down, and the angry waves washed the deck, and the elder Oliver prophesied that all were soon going to Davy Jones' locker, Jamie reported that the sailors on deck were swearing, and all took courage.
The storm blew over, as storms usually do, and the friendly shores of America came in sight.
There were prayer-meetings on deck, and songs of thanksgiving were sung as the ship tacked slowly up the Narrows.
Some of our ancestors landed at Jamestown, some at Plymouth Rock, and some at Castle Garden. If the last named had less to boast of in way of ancestry, they had fewer follies to explain away than either of the others. They may have fallen on their knees, but they did not fall on the aborigines. They were for the most part friendly, kind and full of the right spirit—the spirit of helpfulness.
At Castle Garden, one man gave Jamie an orange and another man gave him a kick. He never forgot either, and would undoubtedly have paid both parties back, if he had met them in later life.
There was a trip to Albany on a steamboat, the first our friends had ever seen. It burned wood, and stopped every few miles for fuel. They ate brown bread and oatmeal, and at New York bought some smoked bear's meat and venison. At Albany an Indian sold them sassafras for tea, also some dried blackberries—it was a regular feast.
At Albany there was a wonderful invention, a railroad. The coaches ran up the hill without horses or an engine, and the father explained that it wasn't a miracle either. A long rope ran around a big wheel at the top of the hill, and there was a car that ran down the hill as another one ran up.
The railroad extended to Schenectady—sixteen miles away—and the trip was made in less than half a day if the weather was good. There they transferred to a canal-boat. They had no money to pay for a stateroom, and so camped on deck—it was lots of fun. Jamie then and there decided that some day he would be the captain of a fast packet on a raging canal. His fond hope was never realized.
After the cooped-up quarters on the ocean the smoothness and freedom of the Erie Canal were heavenly. They saw birds and squirrels, and once caught a glimpse of a wolf. At Montezuma they changed canal-boats, because the craft they were on went through to Buffalo, and they wished to go to Geneva, where John, Andrew and Jane were getting rich.
Two miles out of Geneva the boat slowed up, a plank was run out and all went ashore. John worked for a farmer a mile away. They found him. And in the dusty road another prayer-meeting was held when everybody kneeled and thanked God that the long journey was ended. Paterfamilias had predicted they would never arrive, but he was wrong.
The next day they saw Andrew and Jane, and tears of joy were rained down everybody's back. Now for the first time they had plenty to eat—meat every meal, potatoes, onions and corn on the ear. There is no corn in Scotland, and Jamie thought that corn on the ear was merely a new way of cooking beans. He cleaned off the cob and then sent the stick back to have it refilled.
America was a wonderful country, and Brother John had not really told half the truth about it. Jamie got a job at fifty cents a week with board. Fifty cents was a great deal more than half a dollar—I guess so! He would have been paid more only the farmer said he was a greenhorn and couldn't speak English. Jamie inwardly resented and denied both accusations, but kept silent for fear he might lose his job. His only sorrow was that he could see his mother only once a week. His chief care was as to what he should do with his money.
* * * * *
In the Fall of Eighteen Hundred Thirty-six, there were several Scotch families going from Geneva to the "Far West"—that is to say, Indiana. The Oliver family was induced to go, too, because in Indiana the Government was giving farms to any one who would live on them and hold them down.
They settled first in Lagrange County, and later moved to Mishawaka, Saint Joseph County, where Andrew Oliver had taken up his abode. Mishawaka was a thriving little city, made so largely by the fact that iron-ore—bog-iron—was being found thereabouts. The town was on the Saint Joseph River, right on the line of transportation, and boats were poled down and up, clear to Lake Michigan. It was much easier and cheaper to pole a boat than to drive a wagon through the woods and across the muddy prairies. Mishawaka was going to be a great city—everybody said so.
There was a good log schoolhouse at Mishawaka, kept by a worthy man by the name of Merrifield, who knew how to use the birch. Here James went to school for just one Winter—that was his entire schooling, although he was a student and a learner to the day of his death.
The elder Oliver fell sick of chills and fever. He sort of languished for the hills of bonny Scotland. He could not adapt himself to pioneer life, and in the Fall of Eighteen Hundred Thirty-seven, he died. This was the end of a school education for James—he had to go to work earning money. He became the little father of the family, which James J. Hill says is the luckiest thing that can happen to a boy. He hired out for six dollars a month, and at the end of every month took five dollars home to his mother.
Jamie was fourteen, and could do a man's work at almost anything. "He has a man's appetite at least," said the farmer's wife, for he took dinner with the man he worked for. He soon proved he could do a man's work, too. This man had a pole-boat on the river, and James was given a chance to try his seamanship. He might have settled down for life as a poleman, but he saw little chance for promotion, and he wanted to work at something that would fit him for a better job. Then the worst about life on the river was that each poleman was paid a portion of his wages in whisky, and the rivermen seemed intent on drinking the stills dry. James had not only a strong desire to be decent, but liked also to be with decent people.
Now, in Mishawaka there were some very fine folks—the family of Joseph Doty, for instance. The Dotys lived in a two-story house and had a picket fence. James had dug a ditch for Mr. Doty, and split out shingles for a roof for the Doty barn. At such times he got his dinner at Doty's, for it was the rule then that you always had to feed your help, no matter who they were, just as you feed the threshers and harvesters and silo-men now.
About this time, James began to put bear's grease on his unruly shock of yellow hair, and tried to part it and bring it down in a nice smooth pat on the side. That's a sure sign!
The few who noticed the change said it was all on account of Susan Doty. Once when Susan passed the johnnycake to James, he emptied the whole plate in his lap, to his eternal shame and the joy of the whole town, which soon heard of it through a talkative hired man who was present and laughed uproariously—as hired men are apt to do.
James once heard Susan say that she didn't like rivermen, and that is probably the reason James quit the river, but he didn't tell her so—not then at least.
He got a job in the iron-mill and learned to smelt iron, and he became a pretty good molder, too. Then the hard times came on, and the iron-mill shut down. But there was a cooper's shop in town, and James was already very handy with a drawshave in getting out staves. Most of the men worked by the day, but he asked to work by the piece. They humored him, and he made over two dollars a day.
Joseph Doty was a subscriber to "Gleason's Pictorial" and "Godey's Lady's Book." They also had bound copies of "Poor Richard's Almanac" and "The Spectator," with nearly forty other books. James Oliver read them all—with Susan's help.
Then something terrible happened! The young folks suddenly discovered that they were very much in love with each other. The Doty family saw it too, and disapproved.
The Dotys were English, but as the family had been in America for a century, that made a big difference.
Susan was the handsomest and smartest girl in town—everybody said so. She seemed much older than James Oliver, but the fact was they were of the same age. The Doty family objected to the match, but Doty the Elder one day dropped a hint that if that young Oliver owned a house to take his wife to, he might consider the matter.
The news reached Oliver. He knew of a man who wanted to sell his house, as he was going to move to a town called Fort Dearborn—now known as Chicago—which had recently been incorporated and had nearly a thousand inhabitants. The house was a well-built cottage—not very large, but big enough for two. It was a slab house, with a mud chimney and a nice floor of pounded blue clay. It had two rooms, a cupboard across the corner, a loft to store things in, and forty wooden pegs to hang things on.
Oliver offered the man eighteen dollars for the mansion, cash down. The offer was accepted, the money paid and the receipt was duly shown to Joseph Doty, Esquire.
And so James and Susan were married, on May Thirtieth, Eighteen Hundred Forty-four, and all Mishawaka gave them a "shower." To say that they lived happily ever afterward would be trite, but also it would be true.
* * * * *
James Oliver was thirty-two years old before he really struck his pace. He had worked at the cooper's trade, at molding and at farming.
His eighteen-dollar house at Mishawaka had transformed itself into one worth a thousand, fully paid for. The God's half-acre had become a quarter-section.
His wife had beauty and competence—two things which do not always go together. She was industrious, economical, intelligent and ambitious. She was a helpmeet in all that the word implies. The man whose heart is at rest is the only one who can win. Jealousy gnaws. Doubt disrupts. But love and faith mean sanity, strength, usefulness and length of days. The man who succeeds is the one who is helped by a good woman.
Two children had come to them. These were Joseph D. and Josephine. Napoleon was always a hero to James Oliver—his courage, initiative and welling sense of power, more than his actual deeds, were the attraction. The Empress Josephine was a better woman than Napoleon was a man, contended Susan. Susan was right and James acknowledged it, so the girl baby was named Josephine. The boy was named Joseph, in honor of his grandfather Doty, who had passed away, but who, before his passing, had come to see that Nature was nearer right than he had been.
Children should exercise great care in the selection of their parents. Very, very few children are ever dowered with a love that makes for strength of head, hand and heart, as were these.
In Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five, James Oliver was over at South Bend, a town that had started up a few miles down the river from Mishawaka, and accidentally met a man who wanted to sell his one-fourth interest in a foundry. He would sell at absolutely inventory value. They made an inventory and the one-fourth came to just eighty-eight dollars and ninety-six cents. Oliver had a hundred dollars in his pocket, and paid the man at once.
Cast-iron plows formed one item of this little foundry's work. Oliver, being a farmer, knew plows—and he knew that there was not a good plow in the world. Where others saw and accepted, he rebelled. He insisted that an approximately perfect plow could be made. He realized that a good plow should stay in the ground without wearing out the man at the handles.
The man who hasn't been jerked up astride of the plow-handles or been flung into the furrow by a balky plow has never had his vocabulary tested.
Oliver had a theory that the plow should be as light in weight as was consistent with endurance and good work, and that a moldboard should scour, so as to turn the soil with a singing sound; then the share, or cutting edge, must be made separate from the moldboard, so as to be easily and cheaply replaced. A plow could be made that needn't be fought to keep it furrow-wise.
Without tiring the reader with mechanical details, let the fact be stated that after twelve years of experimenting—planning, dreaming, thinking, working, striving, often perplexed, disappointed and ridiculed—James Oliver perfected his Chilled Plow. He had a moldboard nearly as bright as a diamond and about as hard, one that "sang" at its work. Instead of a dead pull, "it sort of sails through the soil," a surprised farmer said. To be exact, it reduced the draft on the team from twenty per cent to one-half, depending upon the nature of the soil. It was the difference between pulling a low-wheeled lumber-wagon and riding in a buggy.
From this on, the business grew slowly, steadily, surely. James Oliver anticipated that other plow-wise Scot, Andrew Carnegie, who said, "Young man, put all of your eggs in one basket and then watch the basket." On this policy has the Oliver Chilled-Plow Works been built up and maintained, until the plant now covers seventy-five acres, with a floor space of over thirty acres and a capacity of more than half a million plows a year. The enterprise supplies bread and butter to more than twenty thousand mouths, and is without a serious rival in its chosen field.
If the horse tribe could speak, it would arise and whinny paeans to the name of Oliver, joining in the chorus of farmers. For a moldboard that always scours gives a peace to a farmer like unto that given to a prima donna by a dress that fits in the back.
* * * * *
While James Oliver was not a distinctively religious man, yet many passages of Scripture that he had learned at his mother's knee clung to him through his long life and leaped easily to his tongue. One of his favorite and oft-quoted verses was this from Isaiah, "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
The Big Idea of chilled metal for the moldboard of a plow, probably had its germ in the mind of James Oliver from this very passage of Scripture.
"When Cincinnatus left his plow in the field to go in defense of his country, his excuse was the only one that could pardon such a breach," he once said.
Oliver hated war. His bent was for the peaceful arts; for that which would give fruits and flowers and better homes for the people; for love, joy and all that makes for the good of women and children and those who have lived long. James Oliver loved old people and he loved children. He realized that the awful burdens and woes of war fall on the innocent and the helpless. And so the business of converting sword metal into plow metal made an appeal to him. Being a metal-worker and knowing much of the history of the metals, he knew of the "Toledo blade"—that secret and marvelous invention with its tremendous strength, keen cutting edge and lightness. To make a moldboard as finely tempered in its way as a "Toledo blade" was his ambition.
He used to declare that the secret of the sword-makers of old Toledo in Spain was his secret, too. Whether this was absolutely true is not for us to question; perhaps a little egotism in a man of this character should be allowable.
Cast-iron plows, as well as the steel plows of that date, were very heavy, wore out rapidly—the metal being soft—and didn't "scour," except in the purer sands and gravels. The share and moldboard quickly accumulated soil, increased the "draft," forced the plow out of the ground, destroyed the regularity of the furrows, killed the horses, and ruined the temper of the farmer. Every few minutes the plowman had to scrape off the soil from the moldboard with his boot-heel or stick or paddle.
When a local rival fitted out a plow with a leather pocket tacked on to his plow-beam, and offered to give a paddle with every plow, James Oliver laughed aloud. "I give no paddles, because I do not believe in them, either for punishment or plow use—my plows and my children do not need paddles," was his remark.
The one particular thing—the Big Idea—in the Oliver Plow was the chilled moldboard. Chilling the iron, by having a compartment of water adjoining the casting-clay, gives a temper to the metal that can be attained in no other way. To produce a chilled moldboard was the one particular achievement of James Oliver. Others had tried it, but the sudden cooling of the metal had caused the moldboard to warp and lose its shape, and all good plowmen know that a moldboard has to have a form as exact in its way as the back of a violin, otherwise it simply pushes its way through the ground, gathering soil and rubbish in front of it, until horses, lines, lash and cuss words drop in despair, and give it up. The desirable and necessary thing was to preserve the exact and delicate shape of the moldboard so that it would scour as bright as a new silver dollar in any soil, rolling and tossing the dirt from it.
An Oliver moldboard has little checkerboard lines across it. These come from marks in the mold, made to allow the gas to escape when the metal is chilled, and thus all warping and twisting is prevented.
Morse, in inventing the telegraph-key, worked out his miracle of dot and dash in a single night. The thought came to him that electricity flowed in a continuous current, and that by breaking or intercepting this current, a flash of light could be made or a lever moved. Then these breaks in the current could stand for letters or words. It was a very simple proposition, so simple that men marveled that no one had ever thought of it before.
Watt's discovery of the expansive power of steam was made in watching the cover of his mother's teakettle vibrate.
Gutenberg's invention of printing from movable type, Arkwright with his spinning-jenny, and Eli Whitney with his cotton-gin, worked on mechanical principles that were very simple—after they were explained. Exactly so!
Oliver's invention was a simple one, but tremendously effective. When we consider that one-half of our population is farmers, and that sixty per cent of the annual wealth of the world is the production of men who follow the fresh furrow, we see how mighty and far-reaching is an invention that lightens labor, as this most efficient tool certainly does.
Accidentally, I found an interesting item on page two hundred seventy-six of the Senate Report of the Forty-fifth Congress. Mr. Coffin, statistician, was testifying as an expert on the value of patents to the people. Mr. Coffin says, "My estimate is that for a single year, if all of the farmers in the United States had used the Oliver Chilled Plows, instead of the regular steel or iron plow, the saving in labor would have totaled the sum of forty-five million dollars."
When the papers announced the passing of James Oliver some of them stated that he was "probably the richest man in Indiana." This fact, of itself, would not make him worthy of the world's special attention. There are two things we want to know about a very rich man: First, how did he get his wealth? Second, what is he doing with it? But the fact that wealth was not the end or aim of this man, that riches came to him merely as an incident of human service, and that his wealth was used in giving employment to a vast army of workmen, makes the name of Oliver one that merits our remembrance.
James Oliver worked for one thing and got another. We lose that for which we clutch. The hot attempt to secure a thing sets in motion an opposition which defeats us. All the beautiful rewards of life come by indirection, and are the incidental results of simply doing our work up to our highest and best. The striker, with a lust for more money and shorter hours, the party who wears the face off the clock, and the man with a continual eye on the pay-envelope, all have their reward—and it is mighty small. Nemesis with her barrel-stave lies in wait for them around the corner. They get what is coming to them.
* * * * *
The Oliver fortune is founded on reciprocity. James Oliver was a farmer—in fact, it was the joke of his friends to say that he took as much pride in his farming as in his manufacturing. Mr. Oliver considered himself a farmer, and regarded every farmer as a brother or partner to himself. "I am a partner of the farmer, and the farmer is a partner of Nature," he used to say. He always looked forward to the time when he would go back to the farm and earn his living by tilling the soil.
He studied the wants of the farmer, knew the value of good roads, of fertilizers and drainage, and would argue long and vigorously as to the saving in plowing with three horses instead of two, or on the use of mules versus horses. He had positive views as to the value of Clydesdales compared with Percherons.
So did he love the Clydes that for many years he drove a half-breed, shaggy-legged and flat-tailed plow-horse to a buggy, and used to declare that all a good Clyde really needed was patience in training to make him a racehorse. He used to declare the horse he drove could trot very fast—"if I would let him out." Unhappily he never let him out, but the suspicion was that the speed-limit of the honest nag was about six miles an hour, with the driver working his passage.
Ayrshire cattle always caught his eye, and he would stop farmers in the field and interrogate them as to their success in cattle-breeding. When told that his love for Ayrshire cattle was only a prejudice on account of his love for Robert Burns, who was born at Ayr, he would say, "A mon's a mon for a' that."
He declared that great men and great animals always came from the same soil, and where you could produce good horses and cattle you could grow great men.
Mr. Oliver loved trees, and liked to plant them himself and encouraged boys to plant them.
For music he cared little, yet during the Seventies and the Eighties he had a way of buying "Mason and Hamlin" organs, and sending them as Christmas presents to some of his farmer friends where there were growing girls. "A sewing-machine, a Mason and Hamlin organ, and an Oliver Plow form a trinity of necessities for a farmer," he once said.
When Orange Judd first began to issue his "Rural American," the enterprise received the hearty interest and support of Mr. Oliver and he subscribed for hundreds of copies.
He thought that farmers should be the most intelligent, the most healthy and the happiest people on earth—nothing was too good for a farmer. "Your businessmen are only middlemen—the farmer digs his wealth out of the ground," he used to say.
He quoted Brigham Young's advice to the Mormons: "Raise food-products and feed the miners and you will all get rich. But if you mine for gold and silver, a very few will get rich, and the most of you will die poor."
* * * * *
So there is the point: James Oliver was more interested in industrialism than in finance. His interest in humanity arose out of his desire to benefit humanity, and not for a wish to exploit it.
If that is not a great lesson for the young, as well as for the old, then write me down as a soused gurnet.
The gentle art of four-flushing was absolutely beyond his ken. He was like those South-Sea Islanders told of by Robert Louis Stevenson, who didn't know enough to lie until after the missionaries came, when they partially overcame the disability.
James Oliver didn't know enough to lie. He knew only one way to do business, and that was the simple, frank, honest and direct way. The shibboleth of that great New York politician, "Find your sucker, play your sucker, land your sucker, and then beat it," would have been to him hopeless Choctaw.
His ambition was to make a better plow than any other living man could make, and then sell it at a price the farmer could afford to pay. His own personal profit was a secondary matter. In fact, at board-meetings, when ways and means were under discussion, he would break in and display a moldboard, a colter or a new clevis, with a letter from Farmer John Johnson of Jones' Crossroads, as to its efficiency. Then when the board did not wax enthusiastic over his new toy, he would slide out and forget to come back. His heart was set on making a better tool at less expense to the consumer, than the world had ever seen. Thus would he lessen labor and increase production. So besides great talent he had a unique simplicity, which often supplied smiles for his friends.
James Oliver had a sort of warm feeling for every man who had ever held the handles of an Oliver Plow—he regarded such a one as belonging to the great family of Olivers. He believed that success depended upon supplying a commodity that made the buyer a friend; and heaven, to him, was a vast County Fair, largely attended by farmers, where exhibitions of plowing were important items on the program. Streets paved with gold were no lure for him.
In various ways he resembled William Morris, who, when asked what was his greatest ambition, answered, "I hope to make a perfect blue," and the dye on his hands attested his endeavors in this line.
Both were workingmen and delighted in the society of toilers. They lived like poor men, and wore the garb of mechanics. Neither had any use for the cards, curds and custards of what is called polite society. They hated hypocrisy, sham, pretense, and scorned the soft, the warm, the pleasant, the luxurious. They liked stormy weather, the sweep of the wind, the splash of the rain and the creak of cordage. They gloried in difficulties, reveled in the opposition of things, and smiled at the tug of inertia. In their natures was a granitic outcrop that defied failure. It was the Anglo-Saxon, with a goodly cross of the Norse, that gave them this disdain of danger, and made levitation in their natures the supreme thing—not gravitation.
The stubbornness of the Scot is an inheritance from his Norse forebears, who discovered America five hundred years before Columbus turned the trick. These men were well called the "Wolves of the Sea." About the year One Thousand, a troop of them sailed up the Seine in their rude but staunch ships. The people on the shore, seeing these strange giants, their yellow hair flying in the wind, called to them, "Where are you from, and who are your masters?"
And the defiant answer rang back over the waters, "We are from the round world, and we call no man master."
James Oliver called no man master. Yet with him, the violent had given way to the psychic and mental. His battleground was the world of ideas. The love of freedom he imbibed with his mother's milk. It was the thing that prompted their leaving Scotland.
James Oliver had the defect of his qualities. He was essentially Cromwellian. He too would have said, "Take away that bauble!" He did not look outside of himself for help. Emerson's essay on "Self-Reliance" made small impression upon him, because he had the thing of which Emerson wrote. His strength came from within, not from without. And it was this dominant note of self-reliance which made him seem indifferent to the strong men of his own town and vicinity. It was not a contempt for strong men: it was only the natural indifference of one who called no man master.
He was a big body himself, big in brain, big in initiative, big in self-sufficiency.
He could do without men; and there lies the paradox—if you would have friends you must be able to do without them.
James Oliver had a host of personal friends, and he also had a goodly list of enemies, for a man of his temperament does not trim ship. He was a good hater. He hugged his enemies to his heart with hoops of steel, and at times they inspired him as soft and mawkish concession never could. And well could he say, "A little more grape, Captain Bragg."
Also, "We love him for the enemies he made." He had a beautiful disdain for society—society in its Smart-Set sense. He used to say, "In order to get into heaven you have to be good and you have to be dead, but in order to get into society you do not have to be either."
Exclusion and caste were abhorrent to him.
Oliver gave all, and doing so he won all in the way of fame and fortune that the world has to offer. His was a full, free, happy and useful life.
Across the sky in letters of light I would write these words of James Oliver: TO BENEFIT YOURSELF, YOU MUST BENEFIT HUMANITY.
* * * * *
Zangwill has written it down in fadeless ink that Scotland has produced three bad things: Scotch humor, Scotch religion and Scotch whisky. James Oliver had use for only one of the commodities just named—and that was humor.
Through his cosmos ran a silver thread of quiet chuckle that added light to his life and endeared him to thousands. Laughter is the solvent for most of our ills! All of his own personal religion—and he had a deal of it—was never saved up for Sunday; he used it in his business. But James Oliver was a Scotchman, and this being so, the fires of his theological nature were merely banked. When Death was at the door an hour before his passing, this hardy son of heath and heather, of bog and fen and bleak North Wind, roused himself from stupor, and in his deep, impressive voice, soon to be stilled forever, startled the attendants with the stern order, "Let us pray!" Then he repeated slowly the Lord's Prayer, and with the word "Amen" sank back upon his pillow to arise no more.
For the occasional drunken workman, he had terms of pity and sentences of scorn in alternation. At such times the Scotch bur would come to his lips, and the blood of his ancestors would tangle his tongue. One of his clerks once said to me, "As long as Mr. James talks United States, I am not alarmed, but when he begins to roll it out with a bur on his tongue, as if his mouth were full of hot mush, I am scared to death."
* * * * *
In Eighteen Hundred Ninety-three, James Oliver spent several months at the Chicago Exposition. He was one of the World's-Fair Commissioners.
Hundreds of people shook hands with him daily. He was a commanding figure, with personality plus. No one ever asked him, any more than they did old Doctor Johnson, "Sir, are you anybody in particular?" He was somebody in particular, all over and all of the time.
That story about how the stevedores on the docks in Liverpool turned and looked at Daniel Webster and said, "There goes the King of America," has been related of James Oliver. He was a commanding figure, with the face and front of a man in whom there was no parley. He was a good man to agree with. In any emergency, even up to his eightieth year, he would have at once taken charge of affairs by divine right. His voice was the voice of command.
So there at Chicago he was always the center of an admiring group. He was Exhibit A of the Oliver Plow Works Exhibition and yet he never realized it. One day, when he was in a particularly happy mood, and the Scotch bur was delightfully apparent, as it was when he was either very angry or very happy, an elderly woman pushed her way through the throng and seizing the hand that ruled the Oliver Plow Works in both of her own, said in ecstatic tones: "Oh! it is such a joy to see you again. Twenty years ago I used to hear you preach every Sunday!"
For once James Oliver was undone. He hesitated, stammered and then exclaimed in flat contradiction, "Madam, you never heard me preach!"
"Why, aren't you Robert Collyer—the Reverend Robert Collyer?"
"Not I, madam. My name is Oliver, and I make plows," was the proud reply.
That night Oliver asked his trusted helper, Captain Nicar, this question: "I say, Nicar, who is this man Collyer—that woman was the third person within a week who mistook me for that preacher. I don't look like a dominie, do I, Captain?"
And then Captain Nicar explained what Mr. Oliver had known, but which had temporarily slipped his mind—that Robert Collyer was a very great preacher, a Unitarian who had graduated out of orthodoxy, and who in his youth had been a blacksmith.
"Why didn't he stay a blacksmith, if he was a good one, and let it go at that?"
But this Nicar couldn't answer. However, the very next day Robert Collyer came along, piloted by Marshall Field, and Oliver had an opportunity to put the question to the man himself.
Robert Collyer was much impressed by Mr. Oliver, and Mr. Oliver declared that Mr. Collyer was not to blame for his looks. And so they shook hands.
Collyer was at Chicago to attend the Parliament of Religions. This department of the great Exposition had not before especially appealed to Oliver—machinery was his bent. But now he forgot plows long enough to go and hear Robert Collyer speak on "Why I Am a Unitarian."
After the address Mr. Oliver said to Mr. Collyer, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Unitarian."
"Had you taken to the pulpit, you would have made a great preacher, Mr. Oliver," said Mr. Collyer. "And if you had stuck to your bellows and forge, you might have been a great plow-maker," replied Mr. Oliver—"and it's lucky for me you didn't."
"Which is no pleasantry," replied Mr. Collyer, "for if I had made plows I should, like you, have made only the best."
The Oliver Exhibit at the great Fair was a kind of meeting-place for a group of such choice spirits as Philip D. Armour, Sam Allerton, Clark E. Carr and Joseph Medill; and then David Swing, Robert Collyer, Doctor Frank Gunsaulus and 'Gene Field were added to the coterie. 'Gene Field's column of "Sharps and Flats" used to get the benefit of the persiflage.
Collyer and Oliver were born the same year—Eighteen Hundred Twenty-three. Both had the same magnificent health, the same high hope and courage that never falters, and either would have succeeded in anything into which he might have turned his energies.
Chance made Oliver a mechanic and an inventor. He evolved the industrial side of his nature. Chance also lifted Collyer out of a blacksmith-shop and tossed him into the pulpit.
Collyer was born in Yorkshire, but his ancestors were Scotch. Oliver's mother's name was Irving, and the Irvings appear in the Collyer pedigree, tracing to Edward Irving, that strong and earnest preacher who played such a part in influencing Tammas the Titan, of Ecclefechan. Whether Oliver and Collyer ever followed up their spiritual relationship to see whether it was a blood-tie, I do not know: probably not, since both, like all superbly strong men, have a beautiful indifference to climbing genealogical trees.
I once heard Robert Collyer speak in a sermon of James Oliver as "a transplanted thistle evolved into a beautiful flower," and "the man of many manly virtues."
Seemingly Mr. Collyer was unconscious of the fact that, in describing Mr. Oliver, he was picturing himself. Industry, economy, the love of fresh air, the enjoyment of the early morning, the hatred of laziness, shiftlessness, sharp practise and all that savors of graft, grab and get-by-any-means—these characteristics were strong in both. And surely Robert Collyer was right: if the world ever produces a race of noble men, that race will be founded on the simple virtues, upon which there is neither caveat nor copyright—the virtues possessed by James Oliver in such a rare degree.
* * * * *
George H. Daniels, of the New York Central Railroad, and James Oliver were close personal friends. Both were graduates of the University of Hard Knocks; both loved their Alma Mater.
When Daniels printed that literary trifle, "A Message to Garcia," he sent five thousand copies to Oliver, who gave one to every man in his factory.
Daniels was one of the Illini, and had held the handles of an Oliver Plow. He had seen the great business of the Olivers at South Bend evolve. Oliver admired Daniels, as he did any man who could do big things in a big way. Daniels had an exhibition of locomotives and passenger-cars at the Chicago Exposition, and personally spent much time there. Among the very interesting items in the New York Central's exhibit was the locomotive that once ran from Albany to Schenectady, when that streak of scrap-iron rust, sixteen miles long, constituted the whole of the New York Central Railroad; and this locomotive, the "De Witt Clinton," had been the entire motor equipment, save two good mules used for switching purposes.
It was during the Exposition that Oliver incidentally told Daniels about how he had been mistaken for the Reverend Robert Collyer.
"I can sympathize with you," said Daniels; "for the plague of my life is a preacher who looks like me. Only last week I was stopped on the street by a man who wanted me to go to his house and perform a marriage-ceremony."
"And you punched his ticket?" asked Oliver.
"No, I accepted, and sent for the sky-pilot to do the job, and the happy couple never knew of the break."
The man who so closely resembled Daniels was the Reverend Doctor Thomas R. Slicer of Buffalo, an eminent clergyman now in New York City. Besides other points of resemblance, the one thing that marked them as twins was a beautiful red chin-whisker, about the color of an Irish setter. Once Daniels challenged the reverend gentleman to toss up to see who should sacrifice the lilacs. Doctor Slicer got tails, but lost his nerve before he reached the barber's, and so still clings to his beauty-mark.
Doctor Slicer was once going through the Grand Central Station when he was approached by a man who struck him for a pass to Niagara Falls.
"I regret," said the preacher, "that I can not issue you a pass to Niagara Falls; all I can do is to give you a pass to Paradise."
"Which," said Mr. Oliver, when Mr. Daniels told him the story, "which was only a preacher's way of telling the man to go to hades. You and I, George, express ourselves much more simply."
* * * * *
It will not do to make James Oliver out a religious man in a sectarian sense. He did, however, have a great abiding faith in the Supreme Intelligence in which we are bathed and of which we are a part. He saw the wisdom and goodness of the Creator on every hand. He loved Nature—the birds in the hedgerows and the flowers in the field. He gloried in the sunrise, and probably saw the sun rise more times than any other man in Indiana.
"The morning is full of perfume," he used to say. And so it is, but most of us need to be so informed.
He believed most of all in his own mission and in his own divinity. Therefore he prized good health, and looked upon sickness and sick people with a touch of scorn. He reverenced the laws of health as God's laws, and so he would not put an enemy in his mouth to steal away his brains. He used no tobacco, was wedded to the daily cold bath, and was a regular amphibian for splashing. He had a system of calisthenics which he followed as religiously as the Mohammedan prays to the East. The pasteboard proclivity was not one of his accomplishments.
But a few months before his death he was missed one day at the works. His son thought he would drive out to his farm and see if he were there. He was there all right, and had just one hundred twenty-seven men, by actual count, digging a ditch and laying out a road.
James Oliver wasn't a man given to explanations, apologies or excuses. His working motto usually was that of the Reverend Doctor Jowett of Baliol, "Never explain, never apologize—get the thing done, and let them howl!"
But on this occasion, anticipating a gentle reproach from his son for his extravagance, he said: "All right, Joe, all right. You see I've been postponing this tarnashun job for twenty years, and I thought I'd just take hold and clean it up, because I knew you never would!"
He was let off with a warning, but Joseph had to go behind the barn and laugh.
One thing that was as much gratification to Mr. Oliver as making the road was the sense of motion, action, bustle and doing things. He delighted in looking after a rush job, and often took charge of "the boys" personally.
For the men who made the plows, his regard was as great as for those who used them. He moved among the men as one of them, and while his discipline never relaxed, he was always approachable and ready to advise even with the most lowly. His sense of justice and his consideration are shown in the fact that in all the long years that the Oliver Plow Works existed, it has never once been defendant in a lawsuit in its home county, damage or otherwise.
Thousands of men have been employed and accidents have occasionally happened, but the unfortunate man and his family have always been cared for. Indeed, the Olivers carry a pension-roll for the benefit of widows, orphans and old people, the extent of which is known only to the confidential cashier. They do not proclaim their charities with a brass band.
James Oliver thought that a man should live so as to be useful all of his days. Getting old was to him a bad habit. He did not believe in retiring from business, either to have a good time or because you were old and bughouse. "Use your faculties and you will keep them," he used to repeat again and again. He agreed with Herbert Spencer that men have softening of the brain because they have failed to use that organ.
And certainly he proved his theories, for he, himself, was sane and sensible to the day of his death. Yet when certain of his helpers, bowed beneath the weight of years and life's vicissitudes, would become weak and needful of care, he would say, "Well, old John has done us good work, and we must look after him." And he did.
He would have denied that he was either charitable or philanthropic; but the fact was that the Golden Rule was a part of his business policy, and beneath his brusk outside, there beat a very warm and generous heart.
When the financial panic of Eighteen Hundred Ninety-three struck the country, and dealers were canceling their orders and everybody was shortening sail, the Olivers kept right along manufacturing, and stored their product.
Never have they laid off labor on account of hard times. Never have they even shortened hours or pay. This is a record, I believe, equaled by no big manufacturing concern in America.
In October, Nineteen Hundred Seven, when workmen were being laid off on every hand, the Olivers simply started in and increased their area for the storage of surplus product. They had faith that the tide would turn, and this faith was founded on the experience of forty years and more in business. Said James Oliver, "Man's first business was to till the soil; his last business will be to till the soil; I help the farmer to do his work, and for my product there will always be a demand."