|H. H. Rogers|
“Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Businessmen”
The Roycrofters. East Aurora, NY, 1909.
One proof that H. H. Rogers was a personage and not a person lies in the fact that he was seldom mentioned in moderate language. Lawson passed him a few choice tributes; Ida Tarbell tarred him with her literary stick; Upton Sinclair declared he was this and that; Professor Herren averred that he bore no likeness whatever to Tolstoy – and he might also have added, neither did he resemble Francis of Assisi or Simeon Stylites. Those who did not like him usually pictured him by recounting what he was not. My endeavor in this sketch will be simply to tell what he was.
Henry Huddleston Rogers was a very human individual. He was born in the village of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, in the year Eighteen Hundred Forty. He died in New York City in Nineteen Hundred Nine, in his seventieth year. He was the typical American, and his career was the ideal one to which we are always pointing our growing youth. His fault, if fault it may be, was that he succeeded too well. Success is a hard thing to forgive. Personality repels as well as attracts.
The life of H. H. Rogers was the complete American romance. He lived the part – and he looked it. He did not require a make-up. The sub-cortex was not for him, and even the liars never dared to say he was a hypocrite. H. H. Rogers had personality. Men turned to gaze at him on the street; women glanced, and then hastily looked, unnecessarily hard, the other way; children stared.
The man was tall, lithe, strong, graceful, commanding. His jaw was the jaw of courage; his chin meant purpose; his nose symboled intellect, poise and power; his brow spelled brain. He was a handsome man, and he was not wholly unaware of the fact. In him was the pride of the North American Indian, and a little of the reserve of the savage. His silence was always eloquent, and in it was neither stupidity nor vacuity. With friends he was witty, affable, generous, lovable. In business negotiation he was rapid, direct, incisive; or smooth, plausible and convincing-all depending upon the man with whom he was dealing. He often did to others what they were trying to do to him, and he did it first. He had the splendid ability to say “No” when he should, a thing many good men can not do. At such times his mouth would shut like a steel trap and his blue eyes would send the thermometer below zero. No one could play horse with H. H. Rogers. He, himself, was always in the saddle.
The power of the man was more manifest with men than with women, yet he was always admired by women, but more on account of his austerity than his effort to please. He was not given to flattery; yet he was quick to commend. He had in him something of the dash that existed when knighthood was in flower. To the great of the earth, H. H. Rogers never bowed the knee. He never shunned an encounter, save with weakness, greed and stupidity. He met every difficulty, every obstacle, unafraid and unabashed. Even death to him was only a passing event – death for him had no sting, nor the grave a victory. He prepared for his passing, looking after every detail, as he had planned trips to Europe. Jauntily, jokingly, bravely, tremendously busy, keenly alive to beauty and friendship, deciding great issues offhand, facing friend or foe, the moments of relaxation chinked in with religious emotion and a glowing love for humanity – he lived, and so he died.
An executive has been described as a man who decides quickly, and is sometimes right. H. H. Rogers was the ideal executive. He did not decide until the evidence was all in; he listened, weighed, sifted, sorted and then decided. And when his decision was made the case was closed.
Big men, who are doing big things that have never been done before, act on this basis, otherwise they would be ironed out to the average, and their dreams would evaporate like the morning mist. The one thing about the dreams of H. H. Rogers is that he made them come true.
Give me neither poverty nor riches,” said the philosopher. The parents of H. H. Rogers were neither rich nor poor. They had enough, but there was never a surfeit. They were of straight New England stock. Of his four great-grand-fathers, three fought in the Revolutionary War.
According to Thomas Carlyle, respectable people were those who kept a gig. In some towns the credential is that the family shall employ a “hired girl.” In Fairhaven the condition was that you should have a washer-woman one day in the week. The soapy wash-water was saved for scrubbing purposes —this was in Massachusetts—and if the man of the house occasionally smoked a pipe he was requested to blow the smoke on the plants in the south windows, so as to kill the vermin. Nothing was wasted.
The child born into such a family where industry and economy are prized, unless he is a mental defective and a physical cripple, will be sure to thrive.
The father had made one trip in a whaler. He was gone three years and got a one-hundred-and-forty-seventh part of the catch. The oil market was on a slump, and so the net result for the father of a millionaire-to-be was ninety-five dollars and twenty cents. This happy father was a grocer, and later a clerk to a broker in whale-oil. Pater had the New England virtues to such a degree that they kept him poor. He was cautious, plus – To make, you have to spend: to grow a crop, you have to plant the seed. Here’s where you plunge – it is a gamble, a bet on the seed versus the eternal cussedness of things. It’s you against the chances of a crop. If the drought comes, or the flood, or the chinch-bug, or the brown-tailed moth, you may find yourself floundering in the mulligatawney.
Aside from that one cruise to the whaling-grounds, Rogers Pere played the game of life near home and close to shore. The easy ways of the villagers are shown by a story Mr. Rogers used to tell about a good neighbor of his-a second mate on a whaler. The bark was weighing anchor and about to sail. The worthy mate tarried at a barroom over in New Bedford. “Ain’t you going home to kiss your wife good-by’?” some one asked. And the answer was: “What ‘s the use? I ‘m only going to be gone two years.
Half of Fairhaven was made up of fishermen, and the rest were widows and the usual village contingent. The widows were the washerwomen.
Those who had the price hired a washerwoman one day in the week. This was not so much because the mother herself could not do the work, as it was to give work to the needy and prove the Jeffersonian idea of equality. The wash-lady was always seated with the family at table, and besides her wage was presented with a pie, a pumpkin, or some outgrown garment. Thus were the Christian virtues liberated. Where the gray mare is the better horse, her mate always lets up a bit on his whiffletree and she draws most of the load. It was so here. The mother planned for the household. She was the economist, bursar and disburser. She was a member of the Congregational Church, with a liberal bias, which believed in “endless consequences,” but not in “endless punishment.” Later the family evolved into Unitarians by the easy process of natural selection. The father said grace, and the mother led in family prayers. She had ideas of her own and expressed them. The family took the Boston “Weekly Congregationalist” and the Bedford “Weekly Standard.” In the household there was a bookcase of nearly a hundred volumes. It was the most complete library in town, with the exception of that of the minister.
The house where H. H. Rogers was born still stands. Its frame was made in Sixteen Hundred Ninety-mortised, tenoned and pinned. In the garret the rafters show the loving marks of the broadax-to swing which musical instrument with grace and effectiveness is now a lost art.
How short is the life of man! Here a babe was born, who lived his infancy, youth, manhood; who achieved as one in a million; who died: yet the house of his birth -old at the time-still stubbornly stands as if to make mock of our ambitions. A hundred years ago Fairhaven had a dozen men or more who, with an auger, an adz, a broadax and a drawshave, could build a boat or a house warranted to outlast the owner.
I had tea in this house where H. H. Rogers was born and where his boyhood days were spent. I fetched an armful of wood for the housewife, and would have brought a bucket of water for her from the pump, only the pump is now out of commission, having been replaced by the newfangled waterworks presented to the town by a Standard Oil magnate. Here Henry Rogers brought chips in a wheelbarrow from the shipyard on baking-days: here he hoed the garden and helped his mother fasten up the flaming, flaring hollyhocks against the house with strips of old sailcloth and tacks.
There were errands to look after, and usually a pig, and sometimes two, that accumulated adipose on purslane and lamb’s-quarters, with surplus clams for dessert, also quahaugs to preserve the poetic unities. Then there came a time when the family kept a cow, which was pastured on the common, the herd being looked after by a man who had fought valiantly in the War of Eighteen Hundred Twelve, and who used to tell the boys about it, fighting the battles over with crutch and cane.
In the Winter the ice sometimes froze solid clean across Buzzards Bay. The active and hustling boys had skates made by the village blacksmith. Henry Rogers had two pair, and used to loan one pair out for two cents an hour. Boys who had no skates and could not beg or borrow and who had but one cent could sometimes get one skate for a while and thus glide gracefully on one foot. There was good fishing through the ice, only it was awful cold work and not much pay, for fish could hardly be given away. In the Summer there were clams to dig, blueberries to gather, and pond-lilies had a value – I guess so! Then in the early Spring folks raked up their yards and made bonfires of the Winter’s debris. Henry Rogers did these odd jobs and religiously took his money home to his mother, who placed it in the upper right-hand corner of a bureau drawer. The village school was kept by an Irishman who had attended Harvard. He believed in the classics and the efficacy of the ferrule, and doted on Latin, which he also used as a punishment. Henry Rogers was alive and alert and was diplomatic enough to manage the Milesian pedagogue without his ever knowing it. The lessons were easy to him – he absorbed in the mass. Besides that, his mother helped nights by the light of a whale-oil lamp, for her boy was going to grow up to be a schoolteacher or possibly a minister, who knows!
Out in Illinois, when the wanderlust used to catch the evolving youth, who was neither a boy nor a man, he ran away and went Out West. In New England the same lad would have shipped before the mast, and let his parents guess where he was-their due punishment for lack of appreciation.
To grow up on the coast and hear the tales of the seafaring men who have gone down to the sea in ships, is to catch it sooner or later. At fifteen Henry Rogers caught it, and was duly recorded to go on a whaler. Luckily his mother got word of it, and canceled the deal. About then, good fortune arrived in the form of Opportunity. The young man who peddled the New Bedford “Standard” wanted to dispose of his route.
Henry bought the route and advised with his mother afterward, only to find that she had sent the seller to him. Honors were even. His business was to deliver the papers with precision. Later he took on the Boston papers, also. This is what gave rise to the story that Henry Rogers was a newsboy.
He was a newsboy, but he was a newsboy extraordinary. He took orders for advertisements for the “Standard,” and was also the Fairhaven correspondent, supplying the news as to who was visiting whom; giving names of good citizens who were shingling their chicken-houses, and mentioning those enjoying poor health. Whether the news did anybody any good or not matters little- the boy was learning to write. In after-years he used to refer to this period of his life as his “newspaper career.” Superstitious persons have been agitated about that word “Standard,” and how it should have ominously come into the life of H. H. Rogers at this early time.
When the railroad came in, Henry got a job as assistant baggageman. The conductorship was in sight – twenty years away, but promised positively by a kind relative – when something else appeared on the horizon, and a good job was exchanged for a better one. An enterprising Boston man had established a chain of grocery-stores along the coast, and was monopolizing the business or bidding fair to do so. By buying for many stores, he could buy cheaper than any other one man could. But the main point of the plan was the idea of going to the home, taking the order and delivering the goods. Before that, if you wanted things you went to the store, selected them and carried them home. To have asked the storekeeper to deliver the goods to your house would have given that gentleman heart-failure. He did mighty well to carry in stock the things that people needed. But here was a revolutionary method-a new deal. Henry Rogers’ father said it was initiative gone mad, and would last only a few weeks. Henry Rogers’ mother said otherwise, and Henry agreed with her. He had clerked in his father’s grocery, and so knew something of the business. Moreover, he knew the people-he knew every family in Fairhaven by name, and almost every one for six miles around as well.
He started in at three dollars a week, taking orders and driving the delivery-wagon. In six months his pay was five dollars a week and a commission. In a year he was making twenty dollars a week. He was only eighteen – slim, tall, bronzed and strong. He could carry a hundred pounds on his shoulder. The people along the route liked him: he was cheerful and accommodating. Not only did he deliver the things. but he put them away in cellar, barn, closet, garret or cupboard. He did not only what he was paid to do, but more. He anticipated Ali Baba, who said, “Folks who never do any more than they get paid for, never get paid for anything more than they do.” It was the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine, and Henry Rogers was making money. He owned his route, and the manager of the stores was talking about making him assistant superintendent. Had he stuck to his job he might have become a partner in the great firm of Cobb, Bates and Yerxa, and put Bates to the bad. It would have then been Cobb, Rogers and Yerxa and later, H. H. Rogers, Dealer in Staple and Fancy Groceries. But something happened about this time that shook New Bedford to its center, and gave Fair-haven a thrill.
Whale-oil was whale-oil then, and whale-oil and New Bedford were synonymous. Now, a man out in Pennsylvania had bored down into the ground and struck a reservoir. A sort of spouting sperm-whale! But with this important difference: whales spout sea-water, while this gusher spouted whale-oil, or something just as good.
The year Eighteen Hundred fifty-nine is an unforgettable date – a date that ushers in the Great American Renaissance, in which we now live. Three very important events occurred that year. One was the hanging of Old John Brown, who was fifty-nine years old, and thus not so very old. This event made a tremendous stir in Fairhaven, just as it did everywhere, especially in rural districts. The second great event that happened in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine was the publication of a book by a man born in Eighteen Hundred Nine, the same year that Lincoln was horn. The man’s name was Charles Darwin, and his book was “The Origin of Species.” His volume was to do for the theological world what John Brown’s raid did for American politics. The third great event that occurred in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine was when a man by the name of Edwin L. Drake, Colonel by grace, bored a welland struck “rock-oil” at Titusville, Pennsylvania.
At that time “rock-oil” or “coal-oil” was no new thing. It had been found floating on the water of streams in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. There were rumors that some one in digging for salt had tapped a reservoir of oil that actually flowed a stream. There were oil-springs around Titusville and along Oil Creek. The oil ran down on the water and was skimmed off by men in boats. Several men were making modest fortunes by bottling the stuff and selling it as medicine. In England it was sold as “American Natural Oil,” and used for a liniment. The Indians had used it, and the world has a way of looking to aborigines for medicine, even if not for health. Spiritualistic mediums and doctors bank heavily on Indians. This natural oil was known to be combustible. Out of doors it helped the campfire. But if burned indoors it made a horrible smoke and a smell to conjure with. Up to that time whale-oil mostly had been used for illuminating and lubricating purposes. But whale-oil was getting too high for plain people. It looked as if there were a “whale trust.” Some one sent a bottle of this ” natural ” oil down to Professor Silliman of Yale to have it analyzed. Professor Silliman reported that the oil had great possibilities if refined, both as a luminant and as a lubricant.
To refine it, a good man who ran a whisky-still tried his plan of the worm that never dies, with the oil. The vapor condensed and was caught in the form of an oil that was nearly white. This oil burned with a steady flame, if protected by a lamp-chimney.
Rock-oil in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-eight was worth twenty dollars a barrel. Lumbermen out of a job turned skimmers, and often collected a barrel a day, becoming as it were members of the cult known as the Predatory Rich.
This is what tempted Colonel Drake to bore his well, and see if he might possibly strike the vein that was making the skimmers turn octopi. It took Drake nearly a year to drill his well. He met with various obstacles and difficulties, but on August Twenty-second, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine, that neck of the woods was electrified by the news that Drake’s Folly was gushing rock-oil.
Soon there were various men busily boring all round the neighborhood, with the aid of spring-poles and other rude devices. Several struck it rich, but many had their labor for their pains. One man was getting sixty-five barrels a day and selling the oil for eighteen dollars a barrel.
The trouble was to transport the oil. Barrels were selling for five dollars each, and there were no tanks. This was a lumber country, with no railroads within a hundred miles. One enterprising man went down to Pittsburgh and bought a raft-load of barrels, which he towed up the Allegheny River to the mouth of Oil Creek. Then for ten dollars a day he hired farmers with teams to take the barrels to Titusville and fill them and bring them back. The oil was floated down to Pittsburgh and sold at a big profit. Stills were made to refine the oil, which was sold to the consumer at seventy-five cents a gallon. The heavy refuse-oils were thrown away.
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty began the making of lampchimneys, a most profitable industry. The chimneys sold for fifty cents each, and with the aid of Sir Isaac Newton’s invention did not long survive life’s rude vicissitudes.
Men were crowding into the oil country, lured by the tales of enormous fortunes and rich finds. No one could say what you might discover by digging down into the ground. One man claimed to have struck a vein of oyster-soup. And anyway he sold oyster-soup over his counter at a dollar a dish. Gas-gushers were lighted and burned without compunction as to waste. Gamblers were working overtime.
The first railroad into the oil country came from Pittsburgh, and was met with fight and defiance by the Amalgamated Brotherhood of Teamsters, who saw their business fading away. The farmers, too, opposed the railroad, as they figured that it meant an end to horse-flesh, except as an edible. But the opposition wore itself out, and the railroads replaced its ripped-up rails, and did business on its grass-grown right of way and streaks of rust.
The second railroad came from Cleveland, which city was a natural distributing-point to the vast consuming territory lying along the Great Lakes.
John D. Rockefeller, a clerk in a Cleveland commission-house, became interested in the oil business in Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two. He was then twenty-three years old, and had five hundred dollars in the bank saved from his wages. He put this money into a refining-still at Titusville, with several partners, all workingmen.
John peddled the product and became expert on pure white” and “straw color.” He also saw that a part of the so-called refuse could be re-treated and made into a product that was valuable for lubricating purposes.
Other men about the same time made a like discovery. It was soon found that refined oil could not be shipped with profit; the barrels often had to be left in the sunshine or exposed to the weather, and transportation facilities were very uncertain. The still was then torn out and removed to Cleveland.
The oil business was a most hazardous one. Crude oil had dropped from twenty dollars a barrel to fifty cents a barrel. No one knew the value of oil, for no one knew the extent of the supply. An empty barrel was worth two dollars, and the crude oil to fill it could be bought for less than half that.
At twenty-one, two voices were calling to Henry Rogers: love of country and business ambition. The war was coming and New England patriotism burned deep in the Rogers heart. But this young man knew that he had a genius for trade. He was a salesman-that is to say, he was a diplomat and an adept in the management of people. Where and how could he use his talent best? When Sumter was fired upon, it meant that no ship flying the Stars and Stripes was safe. The grim aspect of war came home to New Bedford with a reeling shock, when news arrived that a whaler, homeward bound, had been captured, towed into Charleston Harbor, and the ship and cargo confiscated. It was a blow of surprise to the captain and sailors on this ship, too, for they had been out three years and knew nothing of what was going on at home. Then certain Southern privateers got lists of the New England whale-ships that were out, and lay in wait for them as whalers lie in wait for the leviathan.
Prices of whale-oil soared like balloons. New England ships at home tied up close or else were pressed into government service. The high price of oil fanned the flame of speculation in Pennsylvania.
Henry H. Rogers was twenty-one. It was a pivotal point in his life. He was in love with the daughter of the captain of a whaler. They were neighbors and had been schoolmates together. Henry talked it over with Abbie Gifford – it was war or the oil-fields of Pennsylvania! And love had its way, just as it usually has. The ayes had it, and with nearly a thousand dollars of hard-earned savings he went to the oil-fields. At that time most of the crude oil was shipped to tidewater and there refined. In the refining process, only twenty-five per cent of the product was saved; seventy-five per cent being thrown away as worthless. It struck young Rogers that the refining should be done at the wells, and the freight on that seventy-five per cent saved. To that end he entered into a partnership with Charles Ellis, and erected a refinery between Titusville and Oil City.
Rogers learned by doing. He was a practical refiner, and soon became a scientific one. The first year he and Ellis divided thirty thousand dollars between them. In the Fall of Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, when he went back to Fairhaven to claim his bride, Rogers was regarded as a rich man. His cruise to Pennsylvania had netted him as much as half a dozen whales. The bride and groom returned at once to Pennsylvania and the simple life. Henry and Abbie lived in a oneroomed shack on the banks of Oil Creek. It was love in a cottage all right, with an absolute lack of everything that is supposed to make up civilization. It wasn’t exactly hardship, for nothing is really hardship to lovers in their twenties but separation. Still they thought, talked and dreamed of the bluefish, the blueberries, the blue waters, and the sea-breezes of Fairhaven. About this time, Charles Pratt of Brooklyn, a dealer and refiner of oils, appeared upon the horizon. Pratt had bought whale-oil of Ellis in Fairhaven. Pratt now contracted for the entire output of Rogers and Ellis at a fixed price. All went well for a few months, when crude suddenly took a skyward turn, owing to the manipulation of speculators. Rogers and Ellis had no wells and were at the mercy of the wolves. They struggled on, trying to live up to their contract with Pratt, but soon their surplus was wiped out, and they found themselves in debt to Pratt to the tune of several thousand dollars.
Rogers went on to New York and saw Pratt, personally assuming the obligation of taking care of the deficit. Ellis disappeared in the mist.
The manly ways of Rogers so impressed Pratt that he decided he needed just such a man in his business. A bargain was struck, and Rogers went to work for Pratt. The first task of young Rogers was to go to Pennsylvania and straighten out the affairs of the Pennsylvania Salt Company, of which Pratt was chief owner. The work was so well done that Pratt made Rogers foreman of his Brooklyn refinery.
It was twenty-five dollars a week, with a promise of a partnership if sales ran over fifty thousand dollars a year ~ How Henry Rogers moved steadily from foreman to manager, and then superintendent of Pratt’s Astral
Oil Refinery, is one of the fairy-tales of America. Pratt finally gave Rogers an interest in the business, and Rogers got along on his twenty-five dollars a week, although the books showed he was making ten thousand dollars a year. He worked like a pack-mule. His wife brought his meals to the “works,” and often he would sleep but three hours a night, as he could snatch the time, rolled up in a blanket by the side of a still. Then comes John D. Rockefeller from Cleveland, with his plans of co-operation and consolidation. Pratt talked it over with Rogers, and they decided that the combination would steady the commercial sails and give ballast to the ship. They named their own terms. The Rockefellers sneezed, and then coughed. The next day John D. Rockefeller came back and quietly accepted the offer exactly as Rogers had formulated it.
The terms were stiff, but Rockefeller, a few years later, got even with the slightly arrogant Rogers by passing him this: “I would have paid you and Pratt twice as much if you had demanded it.” “Which you are perfectly safe in saying now since the past is a dry hole.” And they shook hands solemnly. Rockefeller ordered a glass of milk and Rogers took ginger-ale.
Rockefeller was only one year older than Rogers, but seemed twenty. John D. Rockefeller was always old and always discreet; he never lost his temper; he was warranted non-explosive from childhood. Henry Rogers at times was spiritual benzine.
In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-two there were twenty-six separate oil-refineries in Cleveland. Refined oil sold to the consumer for twenty cents a gallon; and much of it was of an unsafe and uncertain quality-it was what you might call erratic. Some of the refineries were poorly equipped, and fire was a factor that made the owners sit up nights when they should have been asleep. Insurance was out of the question.
One of these concerns was the Acme Oil Company, of which John D. Archbold was President. Its capital was forty thousand dollars, some of which had been paid in, in cash. William Rockefeller was at the head of still another company; and John D. Rockefeller, brother of William, and two years older, had an interest in three more concerns.
Outbidding each other for supplies, hiring each other’s men, with a production made up of a multiplicity of grades, made the business one of chaotic uncertainty. The rule was “dog eat dog.”
Then it was that John D. Rockefeller conceived the idea of combining all the companies in Cleveland and as many elsewhere as possible, under the name of The Standard Oil Company. The corporation was duly formed with a capital of one million dollars. The Pratt Oil Company, with principal works in Brooklyn, but a branch in Cleveland, was one of the twenty concerns that were absorbed. The stocks of the various concerns were taken up and paid for in Standard Oil certificates. And so it happened that Henry H. Rogers, aged thirty-two, found himself worth a hundred thousand dollars, not in cash, but in shares that were supposed to be worth par, and should pay, if rightly managed, seven or eight per cent. He was one of the directors in the new company.
It was an enviable position for any young man. Of course there were the wiseheimers then as now, and statements were made that The Pratt Oil Company had been pushed to the wall, and would shortly have its neck wrung by John D. Rockefeller and have to start all over. But these prophets knew neither Rockefeller nor Rogers, and much less the resources and wants of the world. In very truth, neither the brothers Rockefeller, Rogers, nor Archbold, nor any one of that score of men who formed The Standard Oil Company, ever anticipated, even in their wildest dreams, the possibilities in the business. The growth of America in men and money has been a thing unguessed and unprophesied. Thomas Jefferson seemed to have had a more prophetic eye than any one else, but he never imagined the railroads, pipe-lines, sky-scrapers, iron steamships, telegraphs, telephones, nor the use of electricity and concrete. He did, however, see our public-school system and he said that “by the year Nineteen Hundred the United States will have a population of fifty million people.” This is why he made that real-estate deal with Napoleon. which most Americans of the time thought a had bargain. Rogers had great hope and an exuberant imagination, but the most he saw for himself was an income of five thousand dollars a year, and a good house, unencumbered, with a library and a guest-room. In addition, he expected to own a horse and buggy. He would take care of the horse himself, and wash the buggy, also grease the axles. In fact, his thoughts were on flowers, books, education, and on cultivating his mental acreage.
John D. Rockefeller was sorely beset by business burdens. The Standard Oil Company had moved its head-quarters to New York City, where its business was largely exporting. The brothers Rockefeller found themselves swamped under a mass of detail. Power flows to the men who can shoulder it, and burdens go to those who can carry them.
Here was a business without precedent, and all growing beyond human thought. To meet the issues as they arise the men at the head must grow with the business. Rogers could make decisions, and he had strength like silken fiber. He could bend, but never break. His health was perfect; his mind was fluid; he was alive and alert to all new methods and plans; he had great good-cheer, and was of a kind to meet men and mold them. He set a pace which only the very strong could follow, but which inspired all. John D. Rockefeller worked himself to a physical finish, twenty years ago; and his mantle fell by divine right on “H. H.” with John D. Archbold as understudy.
Since John D. Rockefeller slipped out from under the burden of active management of The Standard Oil Company, about the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty-eight, the business has more than quadrupled.
John D. Rockefeller never got mad, and Rogers and Archbold made it a rule never to get mad at the same time. When the stress and strife began to cause Rockefeller to lose his hair and his appetite, he once pulled down his long upper lip and placidly bewailed his inability to take a vacation. Like many another good man, he thought his presence was a necessity to the business.
“Go on with you,” said H. H.; “am I not here? Then there is Archbold – he is always Johnny on the spot.” Rockefeller smiled a sphinx-like smile, as near as he ever came to indulging in a laugh, and mosied out of the room. That night he went up to the Catskills. The next day a telegram came from Rockefeller addressed to “Johnny-on-the-Spot, Twenty-six Broadway.” The message was carried directly to John D. Archbold, without question, and duly receipted for.
Since then the phrase has become almost a classic; but few people there be who know that it was Rogers who launched it, or who generally are aware that the original charter member of the On-the-Spot Club was Johnny Archbold.
H. H. Rogers was a trail-maker, and as a matter of course was not understanded of the people who hug close to the friendly backlog and talk of other days and the times that were.
Rogers was an economist – perhaps the greatest economist of his time. And an economist deals with conditions, not theories; facts, not fancies.
A few years ago, all retail grocers sold kerosene. The kerosene-can with its spud on the spout was a house-hold sign. Moreover, we not only had kerosene in the can, but we had it on the loaf of bread, and on almost everything that came from the grocer’s. For, if the can did not leak, it sweat, and the oil of gladness was on the hands and clothes of the clerk. The grocers lifted no howl when the handling of kerosene was taken out of their hands. In truth, they were never so happy, as kerosene was hazardous to handle and entailed little profit-the stuff was that cheap! Besides that, a barrel of forty-two gallons measured out to the user about thirty-eight gallons. Loaded into cars, bumped out, lying in the sun on station-platforms, it always and forever hunted the crevices. Schemes were devised to line the inside of barrels with rosin, but always the stuff stole forth to freedom. Freight, cartage, leakage, cooperage and return of barrels meant loss of temper, trade and dolodocci. Realizing all these things, H. H. Rogers, aided by his able major-general, John D. Archbold, revolutionized the trade.
The man who now handles your kerosene does not handle your sugar. He is a specialist.
In every town in America of more than one thousand people is a Standard Oil agency. The oil is delivered from tank-cars into iron tanks. From there it is piped into tank-wagons. This wagon comes to your door, and the gentlemanly agent sees that your little household tank is kept filled. All you have to do is to turn a faucet. Aye, in this pleasant village of East Aurora is a Standard Oil agent who will fill your lamp and trim the wick, provided you buy your lamps, chimneys and wicks of him.
And this service is Standard Oil Service – it extends from Halifax to San Diego; from New Orleans to Hudson Bay. In very truth, it covers the world. This service, with prohibition in the South, has ruined the cooper’s trade, the trade that introduced H. M. Flagler into the Standard Oil Company.
The investment in cooperage used in the oil business has shrunk from a hundred millions to less than five millions, while the traffic in oil has doubled.
And the germ of this service to the consumer came from the time when Henry Rogers worked a grocery route for a co-operative concern that cut out the expensive middleman and instead focused on a faultless service to the consumer.
The name “petroleum” is Latin. The word has been in use since the time of Pliny, who lived neighbor to Paul in Rome, when the Apostle abided in his own hired house, awaiting trial under an indictment for saying things about the Established Religion.
Until within sixty years, the world thought that petroleum was one simple substance. Now we find it is a thousand, mixed and fused and blended in the crucible of Time.
Science sifts, separates, dissolves, analyzes, classifies. The perfumes gathered by the tendrils of violet and rose, in their divine desire for expression, are found in petroleum. Aye, the colors and all the delicate tints of petal, of stamen and of pistil. are in this substance stored in the dark recesses of the earth.
Petroleum has yielded up over two thousand distinct substances, wooed by the loving, eager caress of the chemist. All the elements that go to make up the earth are there. Hundreds of articles used in commerce and in our daily lives are gotten from petroleum. To secure these in a form fit for daily use was the tireless task of Henry H. Rogers. Not by his own hands, of course, for life is too short for that, but the universities of the round world have been called upon for their men of brains.
Rogers’ business was to discover men. This is a phase of the history of The Standard Oil Company that has not yet been written but which is of vastly greater importance than the motions of well-meaning but non-producing attorneys, whose mental processes are dry holes.”
” Science is classification,” said Aristotle to his bad boy pupil, Alexander, three hundred forty years before Christ. “Science is commonsense classified,” said Herbert Spencer. “Science eliminates the worthless and the useless and then makes use of it in something else,” said Thomas A. Edison.
H. Rogers utilized the worthless; and the dividends of The Standard Oil Company are largely a result of cashing-in by-products. Rogers not only rendered waste products valuable, but he utilized human energies, often to the great surprise of the owner.
That gentle Tarbell slant to the effect that “even the elevator-boys in The Standard Oil offices are hired with an idea of their development,” is a great compliment to a man who was not only a great businessman, but a great teacher. And all influential men are teachers – whether they know it or not. Perhaps we are all teachers – of good or ill – I really do not know. But the pedagogic instinct was strong in Rogers. He barely escaped a professorship. He built schoolhouses, and if he had had time he would have taught in them. He looked at any boy, not for what he was, but for what he might become. He analyzed every man, not for what he was, but for what he might have been, or what he would be. Humanity was Rogers’ raw stock, not petroleum. And his success hinged on bringing humanity to bear on petroleum, or, if you please, by mixing brains with rock-oil, somewhat as Horace Greeley advised the farmer to mix brains with his compost.
In judging a man we must in justice to ourselves ask, What effect has this man’s life, taken as a whole, had on the world?”
To lift out samples here and there and hold them up does not give us the man, any more than a sample brick gives you a view of the house. And viewing the life of Rogers for years, from the time he saw the light of a whale-oil lamp in Fairhaven, to the man as we behold him now, we must acknowledge his initiative and his power. He gave profitable work to millions. He directly made homes and comforts possible for thousands upon thousands. He helped the young, without number, to find themselves in their work and at their work. In a material way he added vast millions to the wealth of the world by the utilization of products which were considered worthless.
He gloried in the fresh air, in the blasts of Winter, or in the zephyrs of Spring. The expanse of heaving, tossing ice was just as beautiful to him as the smooth flow of Hendrick Hudson’s waters, as they hasten to the sea. The storied ” Twenty-six Broadway” is no den of ogres, no gambling-resort of dark and devious ways. It is simply an office-building, full of busy men and women-workers who waste neither time nor money. You will find there no figureheads, no gold lace, no pomps and ceremonies. If you have business there, you locate your man without challenge. All is free, open, simple and direct.
On the top floor is a restaurant, where all lunch in a common, fraternal way, jolly and jocund, as becomes men who carry big burdens.
The place is democratic to a fault, for the controlling spirits of Twenty-six Broadway are men who have come by a rocky road, having conquered great difficulties, overcome great obstacles, and while often thirsting for human sympathy have nevertheless been able to do without it.
Success is apt to sour, for it begets an opposition that is often cruel and unjust. Reorganization gives the demagogue his chance; and often his literary lyddite strikes close.
But Rogers was great enough to know that the penalty of success must be paid. He took his medicine, and smiled.
Time was when a millionaire was a man worth a million dollars. But
that day is past.
Next, a millionaire was a man who made a million dollars a year. That, too, is obsolete. The millionaire now is the man who spends a million dollars a year. In this new and select class, a class which does not exist outside of America, H. H. Rogers was a charter member.
He was a royal gentleman,” said Booker T. Washington to me. “When I was in need, I held H. H. Rogers in reserve until all others failed me, then I went to him and frankly told my needs. He always heard me through, and then told me to state the figure. He never failed me.
Rogers gave with a lavish hand, but few of his benefactions, comparatively, were known. The newspapers have made much of his throwing a hawser toMark Twain and towing the Humorist off a financial sand-bar. Also, we have heard how he gave Helen Keller to the world; for without the help of H. H. Rogers that wonderful woman would still be like unto the eyeless fish in the Mammoth Cave. As it is, her soul radiates an inward light and science stands uncovered. But there were very many other persons and institutions that received very tangible benefits from the hands of H. H. Rogers.
One method he had of giving help to ambitious young men was to invest in stock in companies that were not quite strong enough financially to weather a gale. And very often these were very bad investments. Had Rogers stuck to Standard oil his fortune would have been double what it was. But for the money he aid not much care – he played the game.
Mr. Rogers was too wise to give to individuals. He knew that mortal tendency referred to by Saint Andre de Ligereaux as “Hubbard’s Law,” or the Law of Altruistic Injury. This law provides that whenever you do for a person a service which he is able and should do for himself, you work him a wrong instead of a benefit.
Rogers sought to give opportunity, not things. When he invested a million dollars in a tack-factory in Fairhaven, it was with intent to supply employment to every man or woman, or boy or girl, in Fairhaven, who desired work.
He wanted to make poverty inexcusable. Yet he realized that there were cases where age and disease had sapped the person’s powers, and to such he gave by stealth, or through friends whom he loved and trusted. Mrs. P. Winsor, of Fairhaven, for instance, worked days and months overtime on the bidding of Mr. Rogers, caring for emergency cases, where girls and boys were struggling to get an education and care for aged parents and invalid brothers and sisters; or where Fate had been unkind and God, seemingly, had forgot.
Houses were painted, mortgages were lifted, taxes paid, monuments erected, roadways laid out, books furnished, trees planted, ditches dug, bathrooms installed, swamps drained, bridges built, in hundreds of instances.
This is not philanthropy of a high order, perhaps, but Rogers hated both the words “charitable” and “philanthropic” as applied to himself. All he claimed to be was a businessman who paid his debts and who tried to make others pay theirs. The people he helped were the people he knew, or had known, and they were folks who had helped him. He never forgot a benefit-nor a wrong. He was a very human individual. To give to a person where the account is not balanced by a mutual service is, probably, to add an enemy to your list. You have uncovered the weakness of your man – he is an incompetent – and he will never forgive you for making the discovery.
When H. H. Rogers paid off Mark Twain’s indebtedness to the tune of ninety thousand dollars, he did not scratch a poet and find an ingrate. What he actually discovered was a philosopher and a prophet without a grouch.
Somewhere I have said that there were only two men in America who could be safely endowed. One is Luther Burbank and the other Booker T. Washington. These men have been made the world their debtors. They are impersonal men-sort of human media through which Deity is creating. They ask for nothing they give everything. Mark Twain belongs in the same select list. The difference between Mark Twain and Luther Burbank is this: Mark hoes his spiritual acreage in bed, while Luther Burbank works in the garden. Luther produces spineless cacti, while Mark gives spineless men a vertebra. Mark makes us laugh, in order that he may make us think. The last time I saw H. H. Rogers was in his office at Twenty-six Broadway. Out through a half-doorway, leading into a private conference-room. I saw a man stretched out on a sofa asleep. A great shock of white hair spread out over the pillow that held his head; and Huck Finn snores of peace, in rhythmic measures, filled the room.
Mr. Rogers noticed my glance in the direction of the Morpheus music. He smiled and said, “It ‘s only Mark – he’s taking a little well-earned rest – he was born tired, you know.”
If Mark Twain were not a rich man himself, rich in mines of truth, fields of uncut fun, and argosies sailing great spiritual seas, coming into port laden with commonsense, he would long since have turned on his benefactor and nailed his hide on the barn – door of obliquity. As it is, Mark takes his own, just as Socrates did from Mr. and Mrs. Pericles. Aye, or as did Bronson Alcott, who once ran his wheelbarrow into the well-kept garden of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Orphic One was loading up with potatoes, peas, beans and one big yellow pumpkin. when he glanced around and saw the man who wrote “Self-Reliance” gazing at him seriously and steadily over the garden-wall. The author of the author of “Little Women” winced, but bracing up, gave back stare for stare, and in a voice flavored with resentment and defiance said, ” I need them!”
And the owner of the garden grew abashed before that virtuous gaze, murmured apologies, and retreated in good order.
And Mark Twain used to explain it thus: “You see, it is like this: Rogers furnishes the plans and I foot the bills.” And this was all there was about it. Only a big man can take his own without abasement. Mark Twain has made two grins grow where there was only a growl before. I don’t care where he gets his vegetables-nor where he takes a well-earned nap – and neither does he.
The average millionaire believes in education, because he has heard the commodity highly recommended in the newspapers. Usually he is a man who has not had college advantages, and so he is filled with the fallacy that he has dropped something out of his life. We idealize the things that are not ours. H. H. Rogers was an exception – he was at home in any company. He took little on faith. He analyzed things for himself. And his opinion was that the old-line colleges tended to destroy individuality and smother initiative. He believed that the High School was the key to the situation, and to carry the youth beyond this was to run the risk of working his ruin. The boy who leaves the High School at seventeen, and enters actual business, stands a much better chance of success than does the youth who comes out of college at twenty-one, with the world yet before him.” he said.
He himself was one of the first class that graduated from the old Fairhaven Grammar School. He realized that his success in life came largely from the mental ammunition that he had gotten there, and from the fact that he made a quick use of his knowledge. Yet he realized that the old Fairhaven High or Grammar School was not a model institution. “It has a maximum of discipline and a minimum of inspiration,” he used to say. The changing order of education found a quick response in his heart. He never brooded over his lack of advantages. On the other hand, he used often to refer to the fact that his childhood was ideal. But all around he saw children whose surroundings were not ideal, and these he longed to benefit and bless. And so in Eighteen Hundred Eighty, when he was forty years of age, he built a Grammar Manual-Training School and presented it to the town. It was called the Rogers School. Such a gift to a town is enough to work the local immortality of the giver. But the end was not yet. In a few years, Rogers – or Mrs. Rogers, to be exact – presented to the village a Town Hall, beautiful and complete, at a cost of something over two hundred fifty thousand dollars. Next came the Millicent Public Library, in memory of a beloved daughter.
When his mother passed away, as a memorial to her he built a church and presented it to the Unitarian denomination. It is probably the most complete and artistic church in America. Its cost was a million dollars. The Fairhaven Waterworks System was a present from Mr. Rogers. And lastly was the Fairhaven High School, as fair and fine an edifice, and as completely equipped, as genius married to money could supply. The only rival this school has in America is the Stout High School in Menominee, Wisconsin, which is also the gift of an individual. No municipality in the world has ever erected and completed so good a school – the taxpayers would not allow it. Into our schoolteaching go the cheese-paring policies of the average villager.
In truth, George Bernard Shaw avers that we are a nation of villagers.
The big deeds of the world are always done by individuals. One-man power is the only thing that counts. The altruistic millionaire is a necessity of progress – he does magnificent things. which the many will not and can not do. So we find the model town of Fairhaven molded and fashioned by her First Citizen. Everywhere are the marks of his personality, and the tangible signs of his good taste.
The only political office to which Henry H. Rogers ever aspired was that of Street Commissioner of Fair-haven. He filled the office to the satisfaction of his constituents, and drew his stipend of three dollars a day for several years. Good roads was his hobby. Next to this came tree-planting and flowers. His dream was to have the earth transformed into a vast flower-garden and park and given to the people.
His last item of public work was an object-lesson as to what the engineering skill of man can do. He took a great bog or swamp that lay to the north of the village and was used as a village dumping-ground. He drained this tract, filled in with gravel, and then earth, and transformed it into a public park of marvelous beauty. The last great business effort of H. H. Rogers was the building of the Virginian Railroad. This road connects the great coal-fields of West Virginia with tidewater. The route is four hundred forty-three miles long. By this line a thousand million dollars’ worth of coal is made available to the world,” said a great engineer to me. And then he added, “It will take twenty years, however, to prove fully the truth of H. H. Rogers’ prophetic vision.” This was the herculean task of a man in his thirtie~not for one approaching his seventieth milestone.
But Rogers built this road alone. He constructed and equipped it in a style so complete that it has set a pace in railroading. You who know the history of railroads realize that the first thing is to get the line through. Two streaks of rust, a teakettle, and a right of way make a railroad. This allows you to list your bonds. But H. H. Rogers had neither bonds nor stock for sale. What other man ever put forty millions of money and his lifeblood into a railroad? Was the work worth the price? It were vain to ask. The work is done, the man is dead; and that his death was hastened by the work no one can doubt.
Rogers had the invincible heart of youth. He died as he had lived, always and forever in the thick of the fight. He had that American trinity of virtues, pluck, push and perseverance. Courage, endurance, energy, initiative, ambition, industry, good-cheer, sympathy and wonderful executive ability were his attributes.