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 pćans 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."
* * * * * * *
James Oliver had no fear of death. He had an abiding faith that the Power that cared for him here would never desert him there. He looked upon death as being as natural as life and probably just as good. For the quibbles of theology he had small patience. "Live right here--wait, and we shall know," he used to say.
When his wife died, in Nineteen Hundred Two, he bore the blow like a Spartan. Fifty-eight years had they journeyed together. She was a woman of great good sense, and a very handsome woman, even in her old age. Her husband had always depended on her, telling her his plans and thus clarifying them in his own mind. They were companions, friends, chums, lovers--man and wife. After her death he redoubled his activities, and fought valiantly to keep from depressing the household with the grief that was gnawing at his heart.
A year passed, and one day he said to his son, "Joe, I do miss your mother awfully--but then, I'll not have to endure this loneliness forever!"
And this was as near a sign of weakness as he ever showed.
James Oliver was a successful man, but it was not always smooth sailing. In the early days, the Plow Plant caught fire at night and was absolutely consumed. Returning home at three o'clock in the morning, exhausted, and with clothing wet and frozen in a sheet of ice, this man, sorely kicked by an unkind Fate, turned a chair over on the floor before the fireplace, and reclining on it there with eyes closed, endeavored to forget the trying scenes of the night.
Mrs. Oliver had made coffee and prepared a simple breakfast for the tired man. But rest was never for her or her family when there was pressing work demanding attention. "James, why are you wasting time? Drink this coffee, put on these dry clothes and go at once before daylight and order lumber and brick so the men can begin at seven o'clock to rebuild. We have orders to fill!" And the man arousing himself obeyed the command. At seven o'clock the lumber was on the ground and the men were at work preparing to rebuild.
James Oliver was a man of courage, but his patience, persistency and unfaltering faith were largely the reflection of his wife's soul and brain. When seventy years of age, a neighbor once dropped in for a little visit, and in conversation referred to Mr. Oliver's being a rich man.
"Yes," said this kindly old Spartan, "yes, they say I am rich, but if I didn't have a dollar, I would still be rich--with a wife like that!" and he pointed to his partner of nearly half a century.
Mrs. Oliver smiled and said chidingly, "Now, James!"
But he continued, "I say, mother, if we did not have a dollar, we could still earn our living with our hands at just plain hard work, couldn't we?"
And the old lady (who really was never old) replied, "Yes, James, we could still earn our living with our hands, and we would not be miserable over it, either." Near the close of his wonderful career, Pericles said, "I have caused no one to wear crape." The Honorable Marvin Campbell, in a speech at South Bend, once quoted this remark of the man who built the City of Athens and added, "Not only can we pay James Oliver the compliment of saying that he never caused any one to wear crape, but no one ever lost money by investing in either his goods or his enterprises, and moreover no one ever associated with him who did not prosper and grow wiser and better through the association."
A few weeks before his passing, some one told him this little story of Tolstoy's: A priest, seeing a peasant plowing, approached him and said, "If you knew you were to die tonight, how would you spend the rest of the day?"
And the peasant promptly answered, "I would plow."
It seems the priest thought the man would answer, "In confession," or "In prayer," or "At church." The priest heard the answer in surprise. He thought a moment, and then replied, "My friend, you have given the wisest answer a man can possibly make, for to plow is to pray, since the prayer of honest labor is always answered."
The story impressed Mr. Oliver. He told it to several people, and then made a personal application of it, thus, "If I knew I were to die tonight, I would make plows today."