“The physical industries of this world have two relations in them: one to the actor, and one to the public. Honest business is more really a contribution to the public than it is to the manager of the business himself. Although it seems to the man, and generally to the community, that the active business man is a self-seeker, and although his motive may be self-aggrandizement, yet, in point of fact, no man ever manages a legitimate business in this life, that he is not doing a thousand-fold more for other men than he is trying to do even for himself. For, in the economy of God’s providence, every right and well organized business is a beneficence and not a selfishness. And not less is it so because the merchant, the mechanic, the publisher, the artist, think merely of their profit. They are in fact working more for others than they are for themselves.”
HENRY WARD BEECHER.
The chief glory of America is, that it is the country in which genius and industry find their speediest and surest reward. Fame and fortune are here open to all who are willing to work for them. Neither class distinctions nor social prejudices, neither differences of birth, religion, nor ideas, can prevent the man of true merit from winning the just reward of his labors in this favored land. We are emphatically a nation of self-made men, and it is to the labors of this worthy class that our marvelous national prosperity is due.
This being the case, it is but natural that there should be manifested by our people a very decided desire to know the history of those who have risen to the front rank of their respective callings. Men are naturally cheered and encouraged by the success of others, and those who are worthy of a similar reward will not fail to learn valuable lessons from the examples of the men who have preceded them.
With the hope of gratifying this laudable desire for information, and encouraging those who are still struggling in the lists of fame and fortune, I offer this book to the reader. I have sought to tell simply and truthfully the story of the trials and triumphs of our self-made men, to show how they overcame where others failed, and to offer the record of their lives as models worthy of the imitation of the young men of our country. No one can hope to succeed in life merely by the force of his own genius, any more than he can hope to live without exerting some degree of influence for good or evil upon the community in which his lot is cast. Success in life is not the effect of accident or of chance: it is the result of the intelligent application of certain fixed principles to the affairs of every day. Each man must make this application according to the circumstances by which he is surrounded, and he can derive no greater assistance or encouragement in this undertaking than by informing himself how other men of acknowledged merit have succeeded in the same departments of the world’s industry. That this is true is shown by the fact that many of the most eminent men attribute their great achievements to the encouragement with which the perusal of the biographies of others inspired them at critical periods of their careers. It is believed that the narrations embraced in these pages afford ample instruction and entertainment to the young, as well as food for earnest reflection on the part of those who are safely advanced upon their pathway to success, and that they will prove interesting to all classes of intelligent readers.
Some explanation is due to the reader respecting the title that has been chosen for the work. The term “Great Fortunes” is not used here to designate pecuniary success exclusively. A few of the men whose lives are herein recorded never amassed great wealth. Yet they achieved the highest success in their vocations, and their lives are so full of interest and instruction that this work must have been incomplete and unsatisfactory had they been passed over in silence. The aim of the writer has been to present the histories of those who have won the highest fame and achieved the greatest good in their respective callings, whether that success has brought them riches or not, and above all, of those whose labors have not only opened the way to fortune for themselves, but also for others, and have thus conferred lasting benefits upon their country.
In short, I have sought to make this work the story of the _Genius of America_, believing as I do that he whose achievements have contributed to the increase of the national wealth, the development of the national resources, and the elevation of the national character, though he himself be poor in purse, has indeed won a great fortune, of which no reverse can ever deprive him.
J.D. McC., JR.
NEW YORK, 24th October, 1870. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
CONSTERNATION AT SIGHT OF FULTON’S MONSTER (Frontispiece)
FILIAL DEVOTION SHAPES A GREAT CAREER CARTWRIGHT CALLING UP THE DEVIL PORTRAIT OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE JEFFERSON, AS RIP VAN WINKLE PRESCRIBING AT THE BREAKFAST-TABLE “PRESIDENT LINCOLN HAS BEEN MURDERED!”
The fog in the Delaware—News of the war—Alarm of the French skipper—A narrow escape from capture—Arrival of Girard in Philadelphia—Early history of Stephen Girard—An unhappy childhood—Goes to sea—Is licensed to command—Becomes a trader in Philadelphia—Marries Mary Lum—Unfortunate issue of the marriage—Capture of Philadelphia by the British—Early commercial life of Stephen Girard—How he earned his first money, and the use he made of it—Aid from St. Domingo—His rigid attention to business—Thoroughness of his knowledge—One of his letters of instructions—His subordinates required to obey orders though they ruin him—Anecdote of Girard and one of his captains—His promptness and fidelity in business—He never breaks his word—How he lost five hundred dollars—Buys the old Bank of the United States and becomes a banker—Cuts down the salaries of his clerks—Refuses his watchman an overcoat—Indifference to his employes—Contrast between his personal and business habits—His liberality in financial operations—He subscribes for the entire Government loan in 1814, and enables the United States to carry on the war—His generosity toward the Government—The suspension of specie payments—Financial troubles—How Girard saved his own notes—His public spirit—How he made half a million of dollars on a captured ship—Personal characteristics—Why he valued money—His ambition—His infidelity—Causes of the defects of his character—A favorable view—Heroic conduct of Stephen Girard during the prevalence of the yellow fever in Philadelphia—The Good Samaritan—He practices medicine, and congratulates himself that he has killed none of his patients—His industry—Visit of Mr. Baring to Mr. Girard—A curious reception—Failing health and death of Stephen Girard—His will—His noble bequests—Establishment of Girard College.
JOHN JACOB ASTOR.
Legitimate business the field of success—Reasons for claiming Astor as
an American—Birth and early life—Religious training—The village of
Waldorf—Poverty—The jolly butcher—Young Astor’s repugnance to his
father’s trade—Unhappy at home—Loses his mother—His desire to
emigrate to the “New Land”—Leaves home—His voyage down the
Rhine—Reaches London and enters the service of his brother—His efforts
to prepare for emigration—Learns to speak English—Peace between the
United States and Great Britain—The road to the “New Land” open—Astor
sets out for America—His first ventures in commerce—The voyage—How he
proposed to save his Sunday clothes—Arrival in the Chesapeake—The
ice-blockade—Astor makes a friend—The fur trader’s story—Astor sees
the way to fortune—Reaches New York—His first situation—Learning the
business—His method of proceeding—An example to young men—His capacity
for business operations—He is promoted—His journeys to Canada, and their results—Sets up in business for himself—The fur trade of North America—A survey of the field of Astor’s operations—His capital—His tramps into the wilderness in search of furs—Predictions as to the future settlement of the country—His first consignment to England—His marriage—A good wife—Improvement in his prospects—Buys his first ship—The secret of his success—Close attention to business—His economical habits—His indorsement disputed by a bank clerk—Statements of the profits on furs—He engages in the Chinese trade—How the Government aided the early China traders—Amount made by Astor in his legitimate business—His real estate operations—His foresight and courage—How eight thousand dollars yielded eighty thousand—His real estate in the City of New York—Purchases the half of Putnam County—The Roger and Mary Morris estate controversy—Astor wins his suit, and makes half a million of dollars—Astor’s scheme of colonization—A grand enterprise—Settlement of Astoria—Betrayed by his agents, and the scheme brought to failure—Astor withdraws from active business—His boyhood’s vow and its fulfillment—Builds the Astor House—His voyage to Europe—The return—The troubles of a millionaire—The great man seasick—A curious draft—The last years of his life—His fondness for literary men—His death and burial—His will—Opposite views of his character—How his refusal to buy a chronometer cost him seventy thousand dollars—He remembers an old friend—His gift of a lease—His humor—“William has a rich father.”
ALEXANDER T. STEWART.
Birth and early life—Becomes his grandfather’s ward—Designed for the ministry—A change in his plans—Comes to America—Teaches school in New York—Becomes a dry goods merchant—Receives a legacy—His first importation—How he began business—An energetic trader—His sample lots and their history—Success of his enterprise—He begins by encouraging honesty in trade—Wins a name for reliability—The system of selling at one price—Inaugurates the “selling off at cost” feature—His courage in business—How he raised the money to meet his note—Improvement in his business—He enlarges his store—As an inducement to the ladies, employs for clerks handsome young men—The crisis of 1837--Stewart comes out of it a rich man—How he did so—Builds his lower store—Predictions of failure—The result—Compels the Government to purchase goods from him—His foresight and liberality—Charged with superstition—Lucky and unlucky persons—Story of the old apple woman—Remarks at the opening of the St. Nicholas Hotel—Reasons of Stewart’s success—A hard worker—How he receives visitors—Running the gauntlet—How he gets rid of troublesome persons—Estimate of Mr. Stewart’s real estate in New York—His new residence—His benevolence—Aid for Ireland, and free passages to America—Home for women—Political sentiments—Mr. Stewart’s appointment as Secretary of the Treasury—Feeling of the country—The retail store of A.T. Stewart & Co.—A palace of glass and iron—Internal arrangements—The managers and salesmen—List of sales—Wages given—Visitors—The principal salesroom—The parcel department—The wagons and stables—Extravagant purchases—Mr. Stewart’s supervision of the upper store—The system of buying—The foreign agencies—Statement of the duties paid each day—Personal appearance of Mr. Stewart.
The Lawrence family—A poor boy—Early education—Delicate health—Obtains a situation at Dunstable—Returns to Groton—Becomes Mr.
Brazer’s apprentice—The variety store—An amateur doctor—Importance of
Groton in “old times”—Responsibility of young Lawrence—Is put in
charge of the business—High character—Drunkenness the curse of New
England—Lawrence resolves to abstain from liquors and tobacco—His
self-command—Completes his apprenticeship—Visits Boston—An unexpected
offer—Enters into business in Boston—Is offered a partnership, but declines it—His sagacity justified—Begins business for himself—Commercial importance of Boston—Aid from his father—A narrow escape—lesson for life—Amos Lawrence’s method of doing business---An example for young men—His business habits—He leaves nothing unfinished over Sunday—Avoids speculation—His views upon the subject—Introduces double entry in book-keeping into Boston—His liberality to his debtors—Does not allow his business to master him—Property gained by some kinds of sacrifices not worth having—Forms a partnership with his brother Abbott—Business of the firm—They engage in manufactures—Safe business principles—A noble letter—Political opinions—His charities—Statement of his donations—Requests that no public acknowledgment of his gifts be made—Character as a merchant and a man—Advice to his son—His religious character—Loss of his health—His patience and resignation—The model American merchant.
ANDREW V. STOUT.
Early struggles—Acquires an education—Undertakes the support of his family—The boy teacher—Hard work—Is made instructor of Latin—A trying position—How he conquered his difficulties—Is made principal of a public school—His first business ventures—Engages in the building of houses—His platform of integrity—His success—A great mistake—He indorses a note—The consequence of a false step—Liberal action of the bank—Mr. Stout resolves to accept no accommodation—Pays the notes, and loses twenty-three thousand dollars—Establishes himself as a wholesale boot and shoe dealer—Enters the dry goods trade—Close attention to business—His system and its success—Organization of the Shoe and Leather Bank of New York—Mr. Stout is made Vice President, and subsequently President—Character as a citizen—Is made City Chamberlain—Generosity to the police force—Interest in church affairs—Kindness to the poor—Encouragement which his career affords others.
The largest building in the United States—The Chickering piano
factory—Birth of Jonas Chickering—Early love of music—Is apprenticed
to a cabinet-maker—Is employed to repair a piano—Succeeds in the
undertaking—Consequence of this success—Becomes a piano-maker—Removes
to Boston—Is employed as a journeyman—The labor of his life—His patience and skill—Is known as the best workman in the establishment—History of the piano—Chickering’s first discovery—His hope of success based on intelligence—Becomes a master of the theory of sound—His studies and their result—Makes an improvement in the framing of pianos—Invents the circular scale for square pianos—Generously makes his invention free—A noble gift to the world—His business operations—Increase in the demand for his instruments—Death of Captain Mackay—Mr. Chickering undertakes the sole charge of his affairs—Fears of his friends—Magnitude of the business—The lawyer’s question answered—The mortgages paid—Rapid success of Mr. Chickering—His varied duties—Sharp competition—A bogus Chickering—How a Boston bank lost his custom—His independence in business—His character as a merchant—Trains his sons to succeed him in business—The result of his efforts—The present house of Chickering & Sons—Destruction of the factory—Offers of aid—Mr. Chickering’s kindness to his workmen—Sets to work to re-establish his business—The new factory begun—Sudden death of Mr. Chickering.
The grape interest of the United States—Growing demand for American wines—Instrumentality of Mr. Longworth in producing this success—Early life of Mr. Longworth—Apprenticed to a shoemaker—Removes to South Carolina—Returns to Newark and studies law—Removes to Cincinnati—Admitted to the bar—His first case—Is paid in whisky stills, and trades them for lands which make his fortune—Rapid growth of Cincinnati—The oldest native inhabitant of Chicago—Longworth’s investments in real estate—Immense profits realized by him—His experiments in wine growing—History of the Catawba grape—Longworth decides to cultivate it entirely—His efforts to promote the grape culture in the Ohio Valley—Offers a market for all the grape juice that can be brought to him—The result of his labors seen in the Ohio vineyards of to-day—His wine cellars—Amount of wine made annually by him—The process used—How “Sparkling Catawba” is made—Longworth’s experiments with strawberries—His liberality—Gift of land to the Observatory—His challenge to a grumbler—Estimate of his character—His eccentricities—His generosity to his tenants—How he made money by helping others to grow rich—His politics—How he subscribed one hundred dollars to elect Clay—His hatred of vagabondage—His stone quarry—How he provided it with laborers—His system of helping the poor—Is charged with stinginess—The “devil’s poor”—Personal appearance—The “Hard-times” overcoat—Charity to a millionaire—Death of Mr. Longworth.
Birth and parentage—Early education—His first lessons in business—An apprentice in a country store—Youthful ambition—A desire for change—The visit to Post Mills—Removal to Newburyport—Reasons for his attachment to that place—His first patron—Peabody goes south—A soldier in the War of 1812-15--A young merchant—A change of prospects—A partner in the house of Riggs & Peabody—Peabody’s business capacity—An irregular banker—His reputation as a business man—Promising opening of a brilliant career—Retirement of Mr. Riggs—Growth of the business—A branch house in London—Mr. Peabody saves the credit of the State of Maryland—Tribute from Edward Everett—Success in London—A model American merchant—Establishment of the house of George Peabody & Co.—The Fourth of July dinner—The exhibition of 1851--Patriotism of Mr. Peabody—How he saved the United States from humiliation—Admission of the “London Times”—Mr. Peabody’s business habits—His economy—Adventure with a conductor—Finds a conscientious hackman—Personal simplicity—Visits to the United States—His munificent donations—His last visit—Returns to London and dies—Honors paid to his memory—The funeral ceremonies—His burial at Peabody—Statement of his donations and bequests—His example encouraging to the young.
Staten Island seventy-six years ago—The establishment of the Staten Island ferry—Birth of Cornelius Vanderbilt—His boyhood—Defective education—A famous rider—His early reputation for firmness—Superintends the removal of a ship’s cargo at the age of twelve—How he pawned a horse—Becomes a boatman—How he bought his boat—A disastrous voyage—His life as a boatman—His economy and industry—Earns three thousand dollars—The alarm at Fort Richmond—Vanderbilt’s perilous voyage for aid for the forts—His marriage—His first contract—How he supplied the harbor defenses—Builds his first schooner—His winter voyages—Becomes a steamboat captain—His foresight—Leases the hotel at New Brunswick—The dangers of navigating the New York waters—The steamboat war—How Captain Vanderbilt eluded the sheriff—Becomes manager of the steamboat line—Declines an increase of salary—Only wants to carry his point—Refuses to buy Mr. Gibbons’s interest in the steamboat company, and builds his own boat—Narrow escape from ruin—Final triumph—Systematic management of his vessels—How he ruined the “Collins Line”—The “North Star”—Becomes a railroad director—How he foiled a plan to ruin him—dishonest legislature—Vanderbilt’s triumph—His gift to the Government—His office in New York—Vanderbilt in business hours—Personal characteristics—Love for horses—His family.
Birth-place—Birth and parentage—A farmer’s boy—Goes to New York to seek his fortune—Becomes a cattle drover—Leases the Bull’s Head Tavern—His energy and success in his business—Brings the first western cattle to New York—Helps a friend to build a steamboat—The fight with Vanderbilt—Drew buys out his friend, and becomes a steamboat owner—Vanderbilt endeavors to discourage him—He perseveres—His success—Formation of the “People’s Line” on the Hudson River—The floating palaces—Forms a partnership with George Law, and establishes the Stonington line—Opening of the Hudson River Railway—Drew’s foresight—Room enough for the locomotive and the steamboat—Buys out the Champlain Company—Causes of his success as a steamboat manager—Becomes a banker—His success in Wall Street—Indorses the acceptances of the Erie Railway Company—His courage and calmness in the panic of 1857--He saves “Erie” from ruin—Elected a director of the Erie Road—Is made Treasurer—His interest in the road—His operations in Wall Street—His farm in Putnam County—Joins the Methodist Church—His liberality—Builds a church in New York—Founds the Drew Theological Seminary—Estimate of his wealth—His family—Personal appearance.
JAMES B. EADS.
Birth—Childhood—Fondness for machinery—Early mechanical skill—Constructs a steam engine at the age of nine years—His work-shop—Death of his father—Works his way to St. Louis—Sells apples on the streets—Finds employment and a friend—Efforts to improve—Becomes a clerk on a Mississippi steamer—Undertakes the recovery of wrecked steamboats—Success of his undertaking—Offers to remove the obstacles to the navigation of the Mississippi—Failure of his health—Retires from business—Breaking out of the war—Summoned to Washington—His plan for the defense of the western rivers—Associated with Captain Rodgers in the purchase of gunboats—His first contract with the Government—Undertakes to build seven ironclads in sixty-five days—Magnitude of the undertaking—His promptness—Builds other gunboats during the war—The gunboat fleet at Forts Henry and Donelson the private property of Mr. Eads—Excellence of the vessels built by him—A model contractor—Residence in St. Louis.
CYRUS W. FIELD.
Birth—Parentage—Early education—Goes to New York in search of
employment—Obtains a clerkship in a city house, and in a few years
becomes a partner—A rich man at thirty-four—Retires from
business—Travels in South America—Meets Mr. Gisborne—Plan of the
it—Conceives the idea of a telegraph across the Atlantic
Ocean—Correspondence with Lieut. Maury and Prof. Morse—The scheme
pronounced practicable—Mr. Field secures the co-operation of four New
York capitalists—Organization of the New York, Newfoundland, and London
Telegraph Company—Building of the line from New York to St. John’s—A herculean task—The Governmental ocean surveys of the United States and England—Efforts to secure aid in England—Liberal action of the Government—Organization of the Atlantic Telegraph Company—A hard-won success in America—Passage of the bill by Congress—The first attempt to lay the cable—The expedition of 1857--The telegraph fleet—Scenes on board—Loss of the cable—Failure of the expedition—Difficulties remedied—The new “paying-out” machinery—The expedition of 1858--The second attempt to lay the cable—Dangerous storm—Failures—Loss of the cable—The third attempt—The cable laid successfully—Messages across the Atlantic—Celebrations in England and the United States—The signals cease—The cable a failure—Discouraging state of affairs—Courage of Mr. Field—Generous offer of the British Government—Fresh soundings—Investigations of the Telegraph Board—Efforts of Mr. Field to raise new capital—Purchase of the Great Eastern—The fourth attempt to lay the cable—Expedition of 1865--Voyage of the Great Eastern—Loss of the cable—Efforts to recover it unsuccessful—What the expedition demonstrated—Efforts to raise more capital—They are pronounced illegal—The new company—The fifth attempt to lay the cable—Voyage of the Great Eastern—The cable laid at last—Fishing up and splicing the cable of 1865--The final triumph—Credit due to Mr. Field.