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


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.┬áSo 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]