The Candle Manufactory

As thousands of students and teachers begin the classes of a new school year today (at least here in the South, at least many of the private, Christian schools), a passing comment that my pastor made in his Sunday sermon set me to thinking. He referred to the Christian school as “a candle factory.” And my mind, attuned as it is to historical topics, immediately returned to the “good old days” of colonial times when the only source of light was homemade candles. At first, I thought it ironic that he should use colonial candle making and the word factory together, but I later took some time to do a little research on the candle-making process and realized that the term is, indeed, appropriate.

Colonial-era families did not generally have ready access to commercially made candles. Oh, they could order some from Europe–if they were wealthy enough–but most colonists weren’t wealthy, so they had to “make do,” making their own candles on-site. They usually did that in the fall, simultaneously with the annual slaughter of animals because candles were most often made from rendered animal fat. (Some people made candles from bayberries or beeswax, but they were much more expensive because the raw materials were not as readily available.) Making candles from fat was a rigorous, time-consuming task. And since the average home needed an estimated 400 or so candles for the year, it was quite a large operation; the colonial homestead, in fact, became a factory for a time.

First, chunks of animal fat were cut into small pieces and placed into a large pot over a roaring fire to be melted. Small pieces of fat melted faster than large pieces. (A mixture of half sheep fat and half beef fat usually was used, but hog fat was sometimes used, although it produced candles that smoked badly and stank to high heaven.) The liquefied fat, called tallow, was first skimmed and then poured through a fine sieve to remove any impurities.

 

Next, the wicks, which were made of two or three strands of twisted cotton, were strung from straight sticks called broches and dipped into the hot tallow two or three times and then set aside on a rack to drain until the tallow had hardened. They were dipped again, and again set aside to harden. Each time, the candle-to-be became larger and larger. This process was repeated several times–as often as it took to get candles of the desired size. The bigger the candle desired, the more dippings were necessary. The last time they were dipped and drained, the candles were “necked,” immersed deeper into the tallow, beyond the depth of all previous dippings, until all the previously hardened tallow was covered.

Before the candles could be used, however, their bottoms were passed over a hot metal plate to melt them flat so they would sit upright on a candlestick. The wick was then cut to the desired length, and the finished candles were stored in a cool place to await use.

Some people, called chandlers, made their living making candles. Many of them were like itinerant factories, traveling from place to place and making and selling their wares. A few set up permanent factories. Many families, however, continued to make their own candles, but they often built molds to make the whole process go faster and to ensure uniformity of size and shape for their candles.

Now if you’re still with me, you might be wondering what this process has to do with the beginning of school. Remember, my pastor had commented that the Christian school was a candle factory. Following that analogy, we readily see that in each grade, the children (our candles-in-process) are “dipped” into the “tallow” of their studies, be it reading, math, science, history, Bible, foreign languages, or whatever. Each year, they grow a bit larger in their knowledge and ability. Finally, upon completion of their senior year, they are ready to “commence” the thing for which they have been so painstakingly made: to be lights in the darkness.

In Matthew 5:14, Christ said, “Ye are the light of the world.” He went on to say that people don’t light a candle or lamp to hide it under an obstruction or shade (He used the word bushel). Rather, He commanded, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (v. 16).

Christian education is in the business of making candles that will shine God’s light into this dark world. Our prayer should be that our schools are able to do that task thoroughly and well, approaching each grade level with the understanding that it is only one step in the process toward achieving that ultimate goal, so that we graduate students who are ready, willing, and able to let their light shine. This process is a difficult, time-consuming, and often thankless job, so be sure to pray for not only the students but also the teachers as they perform their great service. And, as the saying goes, “If you can read this, thank a teacher!”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Thoughts on Starting School Again

After having my wife at home all summer vacation, I’ve been going through withdrawal this week as she’s been attending teacher in-service training in preparation for starting another school year. While she’s been away, I’ve tried to busy myself with a writing project that deals with education. Those two facts have set my mind to thinking about school. I have mixed feelings. Having spent 19 years in the classroom myself and another 11 years as a textbook author, I sort of miss the classroom. But then I see all the preparations my wife has to do and all the meetings she has to attend, some lasting past my bedtime, and I reconsider!

That said, in this blog post, I just want to offer some quotations, food for thought about education. Enjoy!

_______________________________

“Learning is life’s greatest game–it is not work.

Learning is a dessert–it is not a vegetable.

Learning is a reward–it is not a punishment.

Learning is a pleasure–it is not a chore.

Learning is a privilege–it is not a denial.”

(Ladies Home Journal, May 1963)

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play IS serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

(Fred Rogers)

“A parent gives life, but a parent gives no more. A murderer takes life, but his deed stops there. A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

(Henry Adams)

“There are three great questions which in life we have over and over again to answer. Is it right or wrong? Is it true or false? Is it beautiful or ugly? Our education ought to help us to answer these questions.”

John Lubbock

And my favorite:

“I am firm in my believe that a teacher lives on and on through his students. I will live if my teaching is inspirational, good, and stands firm for good values and character training. Tell me how can good teaching ever die? Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

(Jesse Stuart)

Summarizing the Exemplars

For the past eight posts, I have focused attention on six men whom I have called exemplars. I offered summary biographies of J.C. Penney, John Wanamaker, Webb C. Ball, George Washington Carver, James J. Hill, and W. Clement Stone. In each brief biographical sketch, I emphasized certain personal characteristics that enabled them to achieve great things. Each of those people excelled in a different field or calling, from retail sales to railroad building and improvement to scientific experimentation to insurance sales and motivational speaking and writing. Yet, they all shared certain qualities that made their respective achievements possible.

 

 

 

Each of these men overcame seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adversities, things that would have prevented lesser men. Sometimes it was the loss or absence of parents at a young age. In other instances, it was poverty or lack of a formal education. Many of these men faced nay-sayers, skeptics, people who believed they could not succeed, people who sought government favors that would give them an advantage over their competitors.

Each of these men, however, also had a dream, or a vision, and a determination to do what was required to make their dreams reality. But they each determined that in the pursuit of his dream he would not violate his fellowman. Rather, he would serve his fellows, achieving his goals by helping others achieve what they needed or wanted. He would treat others as he wanted others to treat him.

Each of these men exhibited a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to sweat, to get his hands dirty, to work hard and put in long hours to further his plan to achieve his dream. He did not expect easy or quick success but was patient and persistent in pursuing his goals.

Each of these men also recognized that he needed the help of others–employees and partners–to bring his dream to fruition; therefore, he treated his associates well and sought to help them improve themselves. Whether those associates were retail sales clerks, line crewmen, newsboys, insurance agents, or students, each of these men sought to make others’ success and growth one of his major objectives, knowing that if that happened he, too, would succeed.

But perhaps most importantly, each of these men was a man of faith in God, some to a greater degree than others, but men of faith nonetheless. Each man realized that true wealth and success are not to be found in this life but in that which is to come. Although many of these men did achieve great wealth, they knew that there was more to life than material things. And they became philanthropists, giving to great causes that helped others. One–Carver–never gained wealth. Yet, he was truly a wealthy man and gave what he had–himself, his time, his knowledge.

Just as Jesus Christ taught His disciples when they argued about which of them would be considered the greatest in His kingdom, each of these exemplars knew that his ultimate success depended on his being a servant to others, not a lord over them, even though he was the boss. Christ said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). As Matthew recorded the incident, Christ said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11-12).

These characteristics are what made these men great exemplars. They are the qualities that made America great as a nation. They are the qualities that must be predominant in American society if America is to remain great. And they are the qualities that will always produce greatness of personal character.

An exemplar is someone whose life is worthy of being followed and imitated. Each of the men we surveyed over the past several weeks exhibited qualities worth developing and practicing: honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, faith, perseverance, determination, etc. May each of our lives reflect those same qualities. And may we become exemplars in our own right–whatever be our calling or field of endeavor–for someone else.

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus Christ was more than a mere exemplar or great teacher whom we should strive to emulate. He is God, the Savior who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He offers Himself as such to every individual. And each individual must make a decision to accept or reject Him as Savior and Lord. No matter how many fine qualities of character one possesses, no matter how hard he works or how lofty his ideals and goals, if he has not faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he is not worthy of being followed. To follow such an one is to be deceived and disappointed in the most important part of life–the soul. Christ stated it so clearly and succinctly: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26)

The great question that everyone throughout history has had to answer–and the question that each of us today must answer–is the ages-old question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

THINK!

I first saw W. Clement Stone when I was a junior or senior in college and attended a meeting of the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) meeting where he was the featured speaker. He was there at the request of Dr. Walter Fremont, the Dean of the School of Education and one of the teachers who most influenced my teaching career.

Stone lived and taught what he and Napoleon Hill called success through a positive mental attitude (PMA), which closely resembled Dr. Fremont’s trademark positive faith attitude (PFA). So strongly did Fremont believe in PMA, or PFA, that several weeks before Stone’s guest appearance before the ACT, he had distributed to all his upper-level education majors a copy of Stone and Hill’s book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. I devoured the book in a matter of days, my nose stuck in its pages when I should have been studying for my classes.

There’s a derogatory statement that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” But that was neither Stone nor Fremont. In teaching a positive attitude, both men lived what they taught.  They were living exemplars of their philosophy. (I summarized how Fremont did it in an earlier post on this blog. See the post of June 29, 2017.)

Stone was born on May 4, 1902. His father died when Stone was only 3 years old, leaving his family in debt. His mother, a dressmaker, could hardly make ends meet, so Stone got a job hawking Examiner newspapers on the streets of Chicago when he was 6. But he quickly realized that if he was to make a profit in competition with the numerous older and bigger newsboys, he’d have to find some other way than on the street corners. He decided to try selling papers to the patrons of fine restaurants. After all, they had the money, they were not busy with anything else and might enjoy reading the paper while they dined, and no other newsboys were selling there.

The first time he tried to sell in a restaurant, he sold only one paper before the manager angrily tossed him out. He waited until the manager was busy with an influx of customers and reentered the restaurant. That time, he sold three papers before being kicked out. Undeterred, he persisted in entering that and other restaurants, selling more papers each time. Although the managers were all perturbed with him and perplexed as to how to end his intrusions, the patrons loved him. They admired his “politeness, charm, and persistence,” and they finally convinced the managers to allow him to sell there regularly. So successful was he that he hired several smaller boys to sell for him, always doing so politely. By the time Stone was 13, he owned his own newsstand.

When Stone was 16, he dropped out of school and moved with his mother to Detroit, where he helped his mother run an insurance agency. With only $100, he started his own agency, the Combined Insurance Company, at the age of 20, and by 1930, he had 1,000 agents working for him. He had a strong desire to succeed, and his thinking was heavily influenced by his reading habit. He read the rags-to-riches books by Horatio Alger (pictured below a sampling of his books) and was always reading books aimed at self-improvement. And he practiced what he learned from those books. He was strongly convinced that one’s success or failure depended on his attitude. By 1979, his company’s assets topped $1 billion.

But Stone was also convinced that one’s success depended on living by the Golden Rule (not unlike J.C. Penney, whose life was covered in an earlier blog post, too) and carried an obligation to help others succeed. He began helping others through his motivational speaking and writing and his philanthropic endeavors, giving millions of dollars to educational and religious causes.

When Stone spoke to the ACT members the night I heard him, I was at the hall before the doors opened. I got an aisle seat about two rows back on the left side facing the stage. A few minutes before the program was to begin, a distinguished-looking gentleman in a dark suit and a large black bow-tie and sporting a pencil-thin black moustache sat down in the front row seat diagonally across the aisle from me. I immediately recognized W. Clement Stone from the photo on the dust jacket of his book. I could have stretched forward and across the aisle and touched him, but I dared not. My heart raced with anticipation of his speech.

Dr. Fremont opened the meeting and introduced Stone, and, amid polite applause (I don’t think most of the attendees in the standing-room-only crowd realized who their guest speaker was), Stone made his way with firm, determined steps to the podium.

After offering a brief thank-you to Dr. Fremont for his invitation to speak and his introduction of him, Stone launched calmly and without notes into his speech about how we could be successful teachers upon graduation. It probably lasted no more than 20 minutes, but I remember only two things that he said.

First, he explained what he called his “R2A2 Principle”: Recognize, Relate, Assimilate, and Apply. Then, near the conclusion, he said, “The real key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to. . . .”

Here he paused, as though waiting for our ears and minds to catch up with his deep statement. Finally, he finished: “think.”

He paused again before repeating his statement: “The key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to think!”

He stood starkly immovable and stared out at the faces before him. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

“Think!” he repeated. Then he turned slowly from the podium and strode with measured tread across the platform, and with every step he said, “Think!” He stepped slowly and deliberately down the two steps off the platform and across the front of the hall to his seat near me, still repeating with each step, “Think! Think! Think!” As he plopped elegantly into the seat, he called out a final time, “THINK!”

After what seemed like a long time, during which the audience sat in stunned silence and Stone stared straight ahead, the place erupted in thunderous applause.

AT the time, I left disappointed, let down, unfulfilled. I had taken valuable time from my busy schedule to hear this great, successful man, and that’s all he had to say? But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized the truth of what Stone said that night.

Stone was basing his philosophy on what he often called “the world’s greatest self-help book,” the Bible. He believed, as Proverbs 23:7 states, “As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Fill your heart and mind with good, positive, faith-filled thoughts, and you will produce good, positive, faith-building words and deeds that will produce a truly successful life, no matter what your calling.

As I’ve read and studied Stone’s philosophy over the years, I haven’t always agreed with him on everything, and I’ve seen many people use his principles to pursue  pure materialism and teach a heretical “health-and-wealth gospel” that is not the true gospel of the Bible. But as a teacher, I used–and continue to use–his R2A2 Principle and continually try to encourage and motivate my mind and spirit with his PMA and Dr. Fremont’s PFA ideas.

Stone died on September 4, 2002, at the age of 100. He had overcome early hardships, developed a vision and set goals for achieving it, practiced habits of hard work, survived the Depression, built a business empire, motivated others to succeed, and gave millions of dollars to worthy causes. He left a wife, a son (one of three children), 12 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. And he left the rest of us an example. But when I hear his name, my first thought is that single word that in my mind defined W. Clement Stone: “THINK!”

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

His Time Saved Lives

Sometimes a man takes the initiative and makes history. At other times, other people thrust a responsibility on someone and he makes history by fulfilling that responsibility and doing it well. The subject of today’s blog was of the latter sort.

The catalyst for Webb’s claim to fame was a tragedy. But Webb learned from that tragedy and acted upon what he learned, and his actions led to the saving of untold lives. Webb was just a small businessman, a jeweler, who was called upon to do a job. But he took that assignment seriously, and, because he did, people escaped tragedies similar to the one that resulted in his getting the assignment in the first place.

On April 19, 1891, in Kipton, Ohio, a train wreck occurred in which eight people were killed. Investigators pieced together the chain of events and searched for the cause.

Two trains, one a fast mail train and the other an accommodation train (a local that stops at nearly every station along a line and therefore moves slowly), were approaching each other on the same track. The accommodation train was ordered to run onto a siding at Kipton to let the fast mail go through on the mainline. Earlier, the engineer of the accommodation train had dropped his watch in a puddle, and, unknown to him, it had stopped for four minutes. But while he was washing it off, it had restarted, but it had lost four minutes. When the engineer received the order to go onto a siding, he had looked at his watch, which indicated that he had seven minutes to get his train onto the siding. In reality, he had only three minutes. The last few cars of the accommodation were still on the mainline when the fast mail, which was right on time, slammed into them at full speed. Both engineers and the people in the mail car were killed.

Investigators and the Superintendent of the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan Railway sought out Webb and asked him to find a way to avoid future such accidents. But why would a railroad approach a jeweler to solve a railroad problem?

Webb, who had grown up on a farm, had earned a reputation as a hard worker and a reliable watch man during an apprenticeship with a local jeweler and as business manager for the Deuber Watch Manufacturing Company. Then he had opened his own small retail jewelry and watch shop, and it grew into a modestly successful business. That’s when the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan contacted him following the Kipton tragedy.

For the next four months after that, he investigated the details surrounding the Kipton train wreck. He learned that it was common for engineers’ and conductors’ watches to disagree. Station clocks often showed yet a different time. Webb’s solution was to standardize the timepieces of everyone working for the railroad–from the engineer to the conductors to the station masters and yard workers. Every person’s watch and every station clock must read the same identical time at all times.

Webb established a list of minimum requirements for every timepiece and recommended that every timepiece be approved and inspected regularly. The “official” time was to be determined by the U.S. Naval Observatory, which sent out the correct time every 24 hours. All timepieces used by the railroad were to be accurate, guaranteed not to lose or gain more than 30 seconds over a two-week period. Unreliable timepieces were either to be repaired to meet the standards or replaced by timepieces that did.

The railroad liked Webb’s ideas and mandated that they be followed. And they named Webb C. Ball to be the Chief Time Inspector for the railroad. So successful was Ball’s time requirement that other railroads began adopting his standard too. It became known as railroad standard time. The job was so demanding, however, that Ball subcontracted the job to local jewelers throughout the railroads’ service areas. He also contracted with various watch makers–including Elgin, Hamilton, and Waltham–to manufacture the necessary works that would meet his exacting standards. He then set those works into his own cases, which were marked with his company’s name: Ball Watch Company.

The new standard led to the widespread use of the phrase “Get on the Ball!” If anyone wanted to know the exact time, he asked for “railroad time.” Now users of the railroads could depend on the printed timetables to be accurate and realistic. But most importantly, safety on railroads improved dramatically.

There’s no way of knowing how many accidents the accuracy of Ball’s watches prevented or how many lives were saved because the railroads were using standard railroad time. But it all was possible because one man was conscientious about his work, demanding high standards of himself, his workers, and the companies who contracted to do work for him. The work ethic of this exemplar holds important lessons for us all, especially the youth of our nation.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

 

 

Without Government Funds, No Strings!

“Build it, and they will come.”

This statement often is cited as mere wishful thinking. All business people, especially those intent on growing their businesses, know that a market must exist and want what is about to be offered. So they would say that James was getting his cart before his horse.

But James wasn’t your typical businessman. While other businessmen were coveting and clamoring for help from the government to start or expand their businesses, James was relying on common-sense business principles: self-reliance, saving, hard work, persistence, and visionary thinking. When hard economic times came, the other businesses went bankrupt, but James’s thrived because he founded it on those principles.

Journalists and historians hail the building of the first transcontinental railroad, praising the work of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads and their linkup at Promontory Point. Somewhat less enthusiastically (unless they have a socialistic, anti-capitalistic bent, in which case their treatment is avid) they relate the corruption involved in those and other railroad enterprises of the era. But they are strangely silent when it comes to James’s venture into the railroad industry.

James J. Hill was born on September 16, 1838, in Eramosa, Ontario, Canada. He wanted to be a sea captain, but he lost an eye in a childhood playing accident. Then he was forced to drop out of school after only nine years of formal education when his father died. He was forced to take a job as a bookkeeper for a steamboat company instead. But in that job he began to learn the various aspects of the freight transportation and transfer industry. He saved his money and eventually started his own transportation company. He also began buying struggling and bankrupt businesses, restoring them to profitability, and then reselling them for even greater profits.

After years of careful research, he and some other investors bought a number of failing small railroads, strengthened and even expanded their operations, reinvesting profits back into them. He soon became president of the company, the Great Northern Railroad. Between 1883 and 1889, he extended the line from eastern Minnesota eastward to Chicago and westward to Montana. By 1893, it reached Seattle, completing yet another transcontinental railroad.

But Hill’s line was vastly different. First, Hill was hands-on in his company’s operations. He himself rode by horseback, scouting out the best route. “What we want,” he said, “is the best possible line, shortest distance, lowest grades, and least curvature we can build.” The other transcontinentals didn’t worry about such things. They were paid to finish quickly and were paid by the mile; quality and cost didn’t matter.

Second, Hill encouraged immediate settlement of the areas through which his line ran. He bought tracts of farmland from the government and then sold them cheaply to hard-working immigrants from Northern Europe. He encouraged agricultural experiments, even setting up model farms and introducing pure-bred cattle, and taught the settlers how to produce more and better crops. Then he offered reasonable freight service to get their goods to eastern markets. He knew that if the settlers profited, he would profit too.

Perhaps most importantly and the factor that made his railroad the most radical then and now, he built his line without any help from the government, the first and only such transcontinental railroad to do so. He neither sought nor received government grants or subsidies. Whereas all of the other railroads did demand government help and ended up going bankrupt, Hill’s line thrived. “Those who got federal aid,” Folsom wrote, “ended up being hung by the strings that were attached to it.”

In 1880, Hill’s company was worth $728,000, and it increased in value to $25 million in 1885. By Hill’s death in 1916, his net worth was about $56 million (equivalent to $2.5 billion today). His wife inherited more than $16 million; each of his ten children got $4 million.

But more people than his family benefited from Hill’s hard work and business wisdom. He gave large sums to advance conservation, agricultural and livestock experimentation, libraries, and educational institutions, including a seminary. These causes were in addition to the thousands of individual farmers and other small businessmen who were aided in making a life for themselves in the rugged wilderness of America’s borderland with Canada. “It has always been our policy,” Hill declared, “to hold up the hand of the man who is cultivating the land.” And he set them a fine example for how to succeed: “Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work.” That’s what Hill said were the elements of success.

But Hill recognized the danger of not only government “help” but also the desire of both some people to get “something for nothing” and of politicians to manipulate that desire for their own empowerment. He warned, “The wealth of the country, its capital, its credit, must be saved from the predatory poor as well as the predatory rich, but above all from the predatory politician.”

Recommended reading: Burton Folsom, The Myth of the Robber Barons (Young America’s Foundation, 2010) and Uncle Sam Can’t Count (Broadside, 2014); and Thomas DiLorenzo, How Capitalism Saved America (Three Rivers Press, 2004).

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

Wanamaker’s Enduring Legacy

Over the past several weeks, I have shared with you the stories of a number of exemplars who earned their living, gained great wealth, and served both their fellowmen and their God through their work. In the two most recent posts, I shared a little about a young man named John who revolutionized the way retail business was conducted, treated customers fairly and courteously, and retained good employees by helping to meet their current and future needs. That young man was John Wanamaker.

One thing about Wanamaker was that he was “never content to stop with what he had achieved. His eye and thought was always ahead.” His success and philanthropy resulted in his being voted the most popular man in Philadelphia. His character was impeccable, leading to his being suggested for several political offices, but he declined them all–until President Benjamin Harrison nominated him Postmaster General in 1899. As Postmaster, he worked to improve mail delivery across the nation and around the world. Two of his most successful innovations were Rural Free Delivery and parcel post service.

Wanamaker later participated in Pennsylvania state politics. He was so appalled at corruption in state government that he dedicated himself to reform, helping elect seventy-five reformers to the legislature and breaking the hold of the political machines.

John Wanamaker’s life has been summarized as “tireless twenties, thrilling thirties, fiery forties, fearless fifties, serious sixties, sober seventies.” He valued time and made the most of it.

Wanamaker died of heart failure on December 12, 1922. Fifteen thousand people attended his funeral. His pallbearers included the governor of Pennsylvania, the majors of Philadelphia and New York, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Thomas Edison. He was buried in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. A memorial tablet at Bethany Collegiate Church, where he started a Sunday school class for boys, states his secret: “Thinking, trying, toiling, and trusting in God is all of my biography.”

Wanamaker’s life is proof that honesty, dedication, and hard work can produce business success. More importantly, it shows that one can practice godliness and live out one’s higher calling in even a “secular” occupation. As he himself said, “The chief difference between man and man is not in birth, good looks, or opportunities. It is in what they do and the way they do it. A man with a purpose, who never stops following his star, makes his goal; and the other man, whose wishbone is where his backbone belongs, seldom fails to get anywhere but into the bed of indolence.”

(All direct quotes in this and the previous posts on Wanamaker are from The Romantic Rise of a Great American by Russell H. Conwell, Harper & Row Publishers, 1924.)

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

Customers and Employees First

Imagine a store that not only provides a variety of quality products and efficient service but also offers employees a bank, a school, a library, a gymnasium, medical care–and a weekly prayer meeting.

Is this a modern business experimenting with new ideas to retain employees? No, it was a late nineteenth- to early twentieth-century business that was far ahead of its time. (In fact, at least the prayer meeting part would be considered politically incorrect today and possibly even lead to law suits!) These innovations were the brainchildren of John, the young businessman whom I introduced in the previous blog post (“A Revolutionary Retailer”).

People conducted business differently in John’s early days than they do today. Retail stores usually specialized in only one or two types of products and had no set business hours. Clerks received no formal training. Clerks and customers haggled over the price of everything. Identical items might have several different prices. People expected merchants to try to cheat them. Merchants always made customers feel inferior; shopping was seldom pleasurable. A dissatisfied customer could not return a product for refund or exchange. The business motto of the day was caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware.”

But John changed all that–and more. He instituted set hours and stayed until the last customer was served. He hired only the best staff and then trained them extensively in customer service. He marked prices clearly, and identical items had one price, eliminating haggling. He made customers feel important, and shopping became enjoyable. “Courtesy is the one coin you can never have too much of or be stingy with,” he instructed his employees. If a customer was dissatisfied for any reason and could show his receipt, John guaranteed a cash refund.

Moreover, John’s store was the first to have electricity, telephones, elevators, and telegraph service. He pioneered home delivery and telephone ordering. He introduced the use of pneumatic tubes whereby clerks in the various departments could send cash and receive change quickly. He offered the best products; when he couldn’t do so, he hired craftsmen or built factories to make them himself. He conducted special sales. He even built a restaurant inside his store.

John informed his customers through continuous and aggressive advertising. He once admitted, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” He read the papers daily, looking for good writers and artists whose work he liked, then he hired them to produce effective ads for him.

He introduced numerous benefits for his employees and their families, including vacations, pensions, bonuses, health care, life insurance, paid training, and extra pay for additional education. He scheduled public concerts, authors’ lectures, art and historical exhibits, and other forms of entertainment and education–all conducted inside his tore during store hours. He had the world’s largest organ built and installed in his store.

In short, John made work rewarding for his employees and shopping pleasurable for his customers. “When a customer enters my store,” John said, “forget me. He is king.” In return, they made him a success. But that success was a mere by-product of an even greater purpose that drove his revolutionary business.

In the next post, I will share more of this great exemplar’s legacy, which extended far beyond his retail operations, and let you in on what he considered the secrets of his success.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

A Revolutionary Retailer

John, the first of six children in his family, was a sickly child. Although he enjoyed reading and learning and going to school, he dropped out of school at fourteen to work for $1.25 a week as an errand boy for a Philadelphia publisher. He soon quit that job to become a stock boy in a clothing store–for $2.50 a week. During that time, he not only learned a lot about selling clothing but also wrote, edited, published, and distributed a little newspaper called Everybody’s Journal. It was designed for “young men who wish to rise in the world,” which was exactly what he intended to do.

When John was eighteen, he became a salesman for Joseph Bennett, a pioneer in ready-to-wear clothing. John impressed Bennett and advanced quickly. The two of them often talked about business and John’s future. Bennett recalled John’s saying that he planned to become a great merchant. But one day John asked his boss for a substantial raise, and Bennett refused. John calmly told him that he would quit and open his own store nearby.

Like all other businessmen, John wanted to make money, but that wasn’t the most important thing to him. A deeply religious man, John saw “every day [as] an opportunity to obey his religious convictions” and thereby please his Maker. He also wanted to “be of value to others besides himself.” He once said that his mission in life was “to do a full day’s work every day int he year, and to use its product for the uplifting and bettering of my fellow-men.”

John got this philosophy from his parents, who gave him his religious instruction. His father, who worked in a brickyard, set an example of hard work and frugality. His mother was a godly woman who taught her children to love God and read His Word. John especially recalled her teaching him “diligence, without which no man need ever hope to succeed in business or any other legitimate profession.”

Shortly after quitting his employment with Bennett, John was walking down the street when he heard music coming from a church as he passed it. He went in, listened to the choir, and gave his heart to Christ. From that day, he served a higher purpose.

In 1861, when John was twenty-three, he and his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown, opened a store on the corner of Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia. Through vision, determination, and hard work, they brought about a revolution in retail sales. John had an uncanny ability to foresee trends. Many people thought he was crazy to do some of the things he did with his business, but they worked, and soon other business were following his example. He realized that to be in the forefront of the industry, he needed to see the “fundamental needs of the people before the people themselves were consciously aware of these needs.” Based on this uncanny ability and his willingness to take on risks, he introduced new products, and customers rewarded his intuition by buying them. He also introduced new ways to care for and reward his employees, and they, in turn, worked hard for him and helped him earn great profits. By 1872, his store was the largest in the nation.

John’s story is so impressive that it can’t be told or even summarized in one short blog post. Stay tuned for subsequent posts in which I will share more about this amazing entrepreneur’s successes and example.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

He Cut His Teeth on the Golden Rule

Although JCP is currently going through some tough times and people associate it with declining, often gang- and crime-plagued malls, such was not always the case. And it was not always known by the bland, nondescript monicker JCP. What originally made the company different from the modern company was the life, philosophy, and influence of one man: James Cash Penney.

Humble Beginnings

Penney was the seventh of twelve children born to a poor farmer/Baptist preacher and his wife near Hamilton, Missouri, on September 16, 1875. His parents wasted no time instilling in him their life values: love of God, honor, hard work, self-discipline, self-reliance, respect for learning, and the need to treat others as they themselves wanted to be treated.

Because money was scarce and his parents wanted him to learn its value, Penney began working when he was only eight. With money he earned, he bought his own clothes. He raised and sold livestock.  When he graduated high school, while continuing to work the farm, Penney got a job as a clerk in J.M. Hale and Brothers dry goods store. Just as he seemed to be learning the ropes of selling, he contracted tuberculosis and doctors advised him to move to a drier climate. He relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he quickly got a job in another dry goods store. Saving his money, he also opened a butcher shop, but it failed because Penney refused to treat one influential customer differently from his other customers.

Expansion

The following year, Penney accepted a job working for Callahan and Johnson, owners of a small chain of dry goods stores named the Golden Rule Store. The partners liked Penney’s honesty and work ethic, and they soon asked him to go to Wyoming to open a new store. Penney did so and soon used his savings to buy into their partnership and open his own Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, on April 14, 1902. He and his wife and baby lived in the store’s attic. (Interestingly, Penney’s store was located beside a saloon, a business the very antithesis of everything he believed in.)

Penney operated his store on several principles that demonstrated his philosophy of life and business: high-quality products offered at fair prices on a “cash-only” basis and proper treatment of both customers and employees, whom he called “associates,” a radical concept for the time but common practice among retail stores today. Soon, he had three stores in Wyoming. By 1907, Callahan and Johnson had sold the entire business to Penney.

Penney’s goal was not to have simply a chain of stores but “a chain of good men,” so he hired and trained associates carefully, ensuring that they worked according to his principles. By 1912, he had 34 Golden Rule stores, and their combined sales exceeded $2 million. He changed the name to J.C. Penney Company and moved the headquarters to New York, where he could be closer to the manufacturers of the goods his stores offered. But he continued to operate them by the Golden Rule. The company motto was “Honor, Confidence, Service, and Cooperation.” By 1924, he had opened his 500th store.

Griefs

But Penney faced his share of trials like everyone else. He eventually overcame his TB. But his first wife died of pneumonia in 1910. He remarried, but his second wife also died in 1923. He married yet again, and that marriage lasted until Penney’s death in 1971.

Despite one grief after another, Penney continued steadfast and used the profits from his business to help his fellowman. He established farms to raise pure-bred Guernsey and Angus cows to ensure pure milk and meat for the public. He started a retirement community for preachers. He spoke widely and wrote numerous books and pamphlets to encourage people, especially youngsters, to work hard, live clean, exercise initiative, and treat others as they would want to be treated.

When I was a child and my parents took me with them to shop at the J. C. Penney store in Knoxville, Tennessee, I stared in awe at the huge portrait of Penney that greeted us as we came through the main entrance. It hang in a prominent position over the escalator that descended from the second floor. To me, he looked so calm, quiet, confident, and dignified, and even as a child I knew that he was successful. There was something different about him and his business. And I knew that my parents enjoyed shopping there.

Legacy

Penney died in New York on February 12, 1971, and was buried in a Bronx cemetery, but what a legacy he left! For many years, the store remained the same. But in recent years, it has changed. The name, the logo (several times), the policies, the atmosphere. We seldom shop there any more. Apparently, many others also have gone elsewhere because the company is struggling today. I wonder if it’s because they’ve lost the vision and rejected the philosophy of the founder. The company would do well to review his principles and make adjustments as necessary.

Here are a few things that this exemplar said that both businesses and individuals could benefit from.

  • “I do not believe in excuses. I believe in hard work as the prime solvent of life’s problems.”
  • “I never trust an executive who tends to pass the buck. Nor would I want to deal with him as a customer or a supplier.”
  • “It is always the start that requires the greatest effort.”
  • “Responsibilities are given to him on whom trust rests. Responsibility is always a sign of trust.”
  • “I cannot remember a time when the Golden Rule was not my motto and precept, the torch that guided my footsteps.”
  • “Success will always be measured by the extent to which we serve the buying public.”
  • “It is the service we are not obliged to give that people value most.”
  • “A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fer from the competition.”
  • “There is in everyone more latent than developed ability; far more unused than used power.”
  • “Men are not great or small because of their material possessions. They are great or small because of what they are.”
  • “Determine to do some thinking for yourself. Don’t live entirely upon the thoughts of others. Don’t be an automaton.”
  • “We get real results only in proportion to the real values we give.”
  • “I believe a man is better anchored who has a belief in the Supreme Being.”

Recommended Reading: J.C. Penney, Fifty Years with the Golden Rule (Harper & Brothers, 1950) and Orlando Tibbets, The Spiritual Journey of J. C. Penney (Rutledge Books, 1999).

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]