Thanks to Mrs. Sarah Clendineng of the Cattermole Library of Fort Madison, where this original is deposited, for her kindness in providing the copies.
Walter A. Sheaffer was born in Bloomfield, Davis County, Iowa, on July 27, 1867. His father, Jacob Sheaffer, moved to Bloomfield from Ottumwa, Iowa, after returning from California Gulch in 1854 and entered the jewelry business. At that time in Bloomfield, which was only a small town of several hundred people. He was of Holland-Dutch ancestry and his people came from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He married Anna Eliza Wanton. There were five children born to this union, of which only two remain: Mrs. E. T. Matthews of Grand Junction Colorado and W. A. Sheaffer.
Jacob R. Sheaffer in the early days of Davis County was a very successful merchant and acquired considerable means and also very successful in a local insurance company. But through the efforts of outsiders, they were induced to unite with the Great Western Insurance Company of Chicago. In 1871 when the Chicago Fire occurred, it wiped out all their resources and them doubly liable. Then the panic of 1873 came and forced him to dispose of his jewelry store and everything else he had in order to pay his debts in full, which he did. He later, in 1880, borrowed money to start in the jewelry business again.
These circumstances made it necessary for me to begin work very early in life i did not completely finish high school. My first job, as a devil in a printing office, paid me one dollar a week. From there, when I was about twelve years of age, I entered a grocery store, earning $7.20 a month for the summer vacation. Out of the $21.60 earned during the summer, I saved $19.00 to buy clothes for the next winter.
The next summer I started a peanut stand for myself and made in the neighborhood of $75.00 a month from it. Having piled up this considerable amount of money, it my first experience in prosperity. I spent money rather freely the next winter, only to find that money did not last me through the winter. This was a lesson I never forgot. In the future after I had this experience, I always managed to save and have something ahead, even if it was ever so small.
Father had taken a young nephew, who was an orphan boy, into the jewelry store to help manage the business. Therefore, I sought a job in Centerville, lowa, and stayed there about a year or more, at which time I went and worked for an uncle in Unionville, Missouri, and left father and the nephew to run the business.
In 1888, as the jewelry business was not succeeding, father sent for and asked me to come home to help him bring the business out of debt. We made a survey of our sales. At this time or at some time during this period, Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck first brought out their catalogs. We kept a sales book which showed the cost and selling price of every article we sold. In the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs the items which affected our business the most were a 7 jewel Elgin watch, a 15 jewel Waltham watch, a Seth Thomas clock, a set of 1847 Rocers knives and forks, and a wedding ring. We found that their prices on these items were as low as we could buy them for, and they constituted about 70% of our sales.
As Davis County had only sixteen thousand people in it. As the town of Bloomfield at this time had a population of only two thousand people who were mostly all retired farmers; as there were more catalogs in the homes than bibles (for every home contained one bible but had two catalogs); and as there were in the two catalogs a 7 jewel Elgin watch priced at 4.25 which cost us $4.25 in the silverine case, a 15 jewel Waltham priced at $5.25 which cost us $5.25, and a set of Rogers knives and forks priced at $3.25 which actually cost us $3.25, it was rather a dismal picture and our chances of success seemed to be very slim.
It was just at that time that the Hamilton Watch Company came out with a splendid line of watches which they did not sell to the mail order houses. We took the Hamilton 17 jewel watches and we marked them $14,00 and $16.00 in a silverine case and on up to $45.00 in gold-filled cases. But we had to do something to meet the mail order prices; so, the 7 jewel Elgin watch which cost us $4.25 we marked $3.95, or 30 cents below cost; the 15 jewel Waltham watch which cost us $5.25 we marked $4.95, or 30 cents below cost; and the set of 1847 Rogers knives and forks which cost us $3.25 we marked $2.95.
We then had Holmes and Edwards make us a nickel-silver knife and fork silver plated, which would not turn black on the edges like a silver knife plated on steel. We sold this knife and fork for $5.00, a price at which we could make a fair profit. I believe it was among the first nickel-silver knives silver plated on the market. But as they were much better and would wear much better than a silver knife plated on steel, we were giving the customer his money’s worth.
We took and thumbed down the pages of watches in the Sears Roebuck and the Montgomery Ward catalogs and advertised that we undersold the mail order houses. We instructed the salespeople in the store not to urge the better watch on the customer, but to answer his questions thoroughly and honestly and it would create a desire in the customer’s mind for the better watch. These Hamilton watches were regulated very fine, as we saw that they were all running perfectly.
We then put ten of them in a Dennison tray holding 12 watches. The two front center spaces we left for the $3.95 and the $4.95 Elgin and Waltham watches. We tried to use at that time the profit-sharing plan and psychology in selling. We were sure in presenting these $14 and $16 Hamilton watches that they would be the best for the customer, and it would be the best for the store to sell.
When a young farmer would come in and ask to see one of the $3.95 watches, we never took the $3.95 watch out of the case and laid it on the plush pad on the showcase. Instead, we took out the tray of 12 watches and then tock the watch he called for out of the tray and then laid it on the plush pad in front of it. This psychology made either the sale of a better watch or the loss of it; for if we had adopted the plan of taking the $3.95 watch out of the case and laying it on the tray and then reached down in the case and got a $14 watch out which hadn’t been called for, then even the farmer boy would say to himself: «He expects to sell me the $14 watch, but I will show him that he won’t.» But by reaching down and taking out the tray of 12 watches and taking the $3.95 watch out and laying it on the pad, we left the other 11 watches right there for him to look at. Doing this helped to create a desire for the better watches and made it much easier to make the sale of the higher-priced watch. The salespeople in the store received extra remuneration whenever they sold the higher-priced watch that we made a profit on and which better for the customer to buy.
We never allowed the salespeople to take the Hamilton watch out of the tray nor to present it to the customer until the customer first asked about it. Generally, the customer would look at the $3.95 watch and then he would ask about the $4.95 watch. Pretty soon in all cases he would pick up one of the nicer $14 or $16 Hamilton watches and ask about it, When he was told the price, I never saw one of them hold the watch but drop it and put it back into the tray and say it too high . The answer would be: «It might be the cheapest in the long run.» Then we would go back to the $3.95 watch and start just as though we expected to sell that watch to the customer.
We would open the case and show the customer the inside movement and explain it to him. Then he would ask: -«How long do you guarantee this watch?»
We would tell him: “0ne year.”
Then he would say: «How long do you guarantee the $4.95 watch?»
The answer would be: “One year.
Then he would say: “How long do you guarantee the Hamilton watch?”
We told him: «Three years.”
The customer would ask: “Why do you guarantee the Hamilton watch three years and guarantee these other watches only one year?».
We said: Because the guarantee has to be based on the amount of trouble that we go to on the watch. We don’t have to go to as much trouble on the Hamilton watch in three years as we do on the 7 and 15 jewel watches in one year.»
The question then would be: «What is the difference between the watches? That was, of course, the question we wanted him to ask, for it gave us an opportunity to answer and explain the difference between the watches.
We would explain that in the 7 jewel there was no patented pinion. In those days the cheapest watches had none and if the main spring broke it would likely break the cogs in the wheels and injure the watch. But the 17-jewel watch had a patented pinion and if the main spring broke, the pinion unscrewed and released the strain on the cogs and did not injure the watch. We explained that on the 17 jewel watch the jewels were in a setting and if a jewel got broken, by loosening a couple of screws it could be pushed out and a new one inserted without injury to the watch. Tn the 15 jewels watch the jewels were in a flange and the flange might be injured when replacing the jewels. Also, the 17-jewel watch had a Breguet hair spring.
After presenting these convincing arguments. to the customer, we generally did sell the $14 or the $16 watch instead of the $3.95 or the $4.95 watch. We had not urged the higher-priced watch on the customer but had simply answered his questions. We did not stop here, as we knew that this 17-jewel watch would either bring us more sales by being a perfect time-keeper and by being thoroughly regulated or would lose us a sale.
We said to the young man after he had bought one of these Hamilton watches: «Now, your family will object when you go home at your having paid this mach for a watch.» He said: «Yes, I will catch the devil when I go home.» We asked: «Your father has one of the cheaper watches?». «Yes». Then we gave him a little case opener with a shield on it so that he could not injure the movement in opening the case.
We told him got home to wait until dinner time when the family were all together before he said anything about the watch. When the family began to criticize him for purchasing this watch, we told him to take cut his watch and lay it on the table and then take his father’s watch and set it with the watch he had just bought at the jeweler’s, telling his father that the watch had been set and thoroughly regulated at the store. Then he was to open his watch and his father’s watch and explain to the family, as we had explained to him at the store, aIl the differences between these two watches.
Then we asked him the first time he and his father came to town to come into the store and see now their watches were running, As a rule, in two or three weeks the father and son would come into the store and pull out their watches to compare time. We never needed to ask any questions because in every case the father would be frowning, and the boy would be all smiles. Then when we stepped up to greet them, we found that the father’s watch was many minutes off from the correct time and the boy´s watch would be right on the correct time. As a rule, it wouldn’t be many months before the father would come into the store to buy himself one of these better timekeepers -often in a gold-filled case-.
By taking care in selecting a fine watch for the customer to buy and regulating it thoroughly so that it would keep perfect time, and by taking the pains to follow through and explain to the boy so that he could be a salesman for us with the rest of his family, allowed us to fill this small county full of these fine watches while we were offering cheap 7 and 15 jewel watches at 30 cents below cost, or less than the catalog houses were offering then for. Thus, by first selecting every item we sold that best the customer to buy and then charging a fair profit for it, we were enabled to pay off the mortgage on the Store and get our business in better shape.
In February 1888 I married Nellie Davis. To this union were born two children, both of whom are now living; C. R. Sheaffer, who is now President of the W. Sheaffer Pen Company; and Clementine Waldron whose husband is vice-president and general sales manager of the W. A. Sheaffer Pen Company.
After the marriage in 1888, I found that the expense of two families was quite a strain on a small jewelry store in a town of two thousand and in a county in which there were only sixteen thousand people. (I find on looking up the matter that today there are five thousand less people in this county than there were 50 years ago, or only a little over eleven thousand people.) In order to make some money and keep up the increased expense of sending the family to college, we took on the piano and organ business. We could do so with the same amount of rent and it really a benefit to both businesses.
For instance, people were hesitant about going into a piano store and looking at a piano before they were ready to buy because they knew that the piano man very anxious to sell and he would come out and bother them about buying before they were ready. By putting the pianos in the center of the store and the jewelry and silverware on the sides, when the customer would come in to look at some jewelry or to have his watch repaired, the family would look at the pianos thinking it wouldn’t be noticed; but we had one of the salespeople in the store always taking down their names and what type of piano they liked best.
And so while I could work at the bench nearly all day and conduct the jewelry business in the day time, I would have the help load up a piano about four or five o’clock in the evening and then I would start to go to the home of one of these prospects. Very frequently by twelve or one o’clock in the morning I could have the piano sold and be back home; but, of course, there were exceptions, as we had no automobiles in those days – not even a dashboard on the wagon. We would have to sit up on a high seat right in the front to have room in the long wagon to hold the piano firmly. Very frequently in the daytime the roads would thaw and the cracks of the horses’ hooves would take the roads very rough and then it would freeze at night. I could get out in the country before the freezing started at night, but if I didn’t make a sale I had to haul the piano hack to t0hT1, In order to keep warm, I would have to walk by the side of the wagon and be sometimes 15 or 20 miles in the country. Those were the days that if we could have had paved roads and the automobile and truck, it would have been a great blessing. But by combining the two businesses, one being run in the daytime and the other at night, we were enabled to make the business succeed.
There were many peculiar incidents connected with this piano business. As this county small in population and in size, it would not pay to have over one piano company in the county, for there was not
enough business for two concerns. Therefore, frequently another firm would come in and when we would take a piano to a house, they would follow us and put one in also and it made competition very keen and very hard and Virtually took the profit out of the business. But we used psychology in selling pianos just the sa.me as we did in selling watches and always tried to keep the customer or the prospective buyer in the right frame of mind.
We nearly always found that it the best psychology to talk to the man and his wife together, for almost invariably the farmer would want more corn, more land, and more livestock and didn’t care for any musical instruments, while the wife and the daughter were very anxious to have a piano or an organ. Therefore, if we talked to the farmer only and allowed him to talk to the family, he could present arguments to them to keep them from urging him to buy it. So, we made it a rule to talk to the man and his family together so that we could answer the arguments so far as we could that the farmer put up. But before we talked to a farmer, we invariably tried to put him in the right frame of mind.
If we went to a farmer and he was husking corn, we would agree to husk corn for one or two hours if he would agree to talk with us for that same length of time. We would start right in and help him and that would put him in a good frame of mind. If he was harvesting, we would help him harvest; or the man I had with me would take the place of the I wanted to sell to.
I remember a young man by the name of John Ethel (who later became senator in Iowa and one of the prominent citizens) when he came to me for a job. He wanted to sell pianos and he could play a piano or an organ very well indeed. We made it a rule to play the type of music we thought was best suited to the farmer we called on. If we saw a violin hanging on the wall, he would play some jigs or from the surroundings he might have to play sacred music to get the best results.
After hiring this young man, I remember the first time I took him out to a farmer who was shocking cats and there were lots of ragweed in them and it in the latter part of July and they were very heavy. I said to the young man who had on a high collar: “You
will have to shock oats while talk to Mr. Schlagle.” I saw the young man go down the field and throw off his coat and vest; and down the field a little farther, he took off his collar and opened his shirt. After he had shocked oats for about an hour, Mr. Schlagle said; «If you had told me when you first came that you wanted to sell me an organ – if you had told me that – I would have told you then that I didn’t want an organ. The young man looked downhearted. I persuaded Mr. Schlagle to let me leave the organ until we could take it to someplace else in the neighborhood, and we went home.
In a week or two we came back, and Mr. Schlagle was stacking hay. I said to the young man “You will have to get up on the stack in Mr. Schlagle’s place or I won’t t be able to talk to him.” So up on the stack Mr. Ethel went. 1 noticed the boys who were driving the horses began to speed up a little to smother the fellow on the stack. In about an hour’s time I had sold Mr. Schlagle the organ. After the young man got down off the stack and we started back to town, he said to me : «Do you have to do this every time? I said: ‘*We have to do whatever is necessary to sell the instruments’ But he was a young man with lots of determination and he stayed with us for a great many years.
A peculiar incident happened one time when we went over to the rough pare of the country where we saw a violin on the wall of the farmhouse where we were calling. The young man supposed he would have to play some jigs and he rattled off one jig after another, but I looked at the man and saw that he wasn’t pleased at all. I could see that something wrong. Not being able to play anything but just one .1fttIe doleful chord, I asked the young ra.an to set himself down and let me play a little. This offended him and he left the house. I knew then that the man was religious and didn’t like jigs very well, so I played this doleful chord and the remarked: «Now I can tell something how that Organ sounds. As I had only one chord to play, I had to repeat it a few times, but with the effect that I sold the instrument.
The young man waited to get it back on me and he didn’t have to wait long. Out in another part of the county a farmer who well-to-do, but he of a peculiar nature and lived off on a side road. There was only one farmer who lived beyond him down this lane, a Hr. Hartwick. This farmer, D. Hockersmith, had a woodpile at the front of the house in the Iane and his farm was across the road. Invariably when anyone went up this lane, they were going to either his house or to Mr. Hartwick’ s.
We decided to go out and try to sell D. Hockersmith. As we approached his house, out came D. Hockersmith and his wife whom he called Tillie. We persuaded him to let us put this organ in his house to show it to him. Being still in business with my father (which partnership lasted for over 30 years) and Mr. Hockersmith having a great deal of regard for father bore a very splendid reputation in the community, he listened to our arguments on the organ; but his invariable answer would be: «‘That organ sounds pretty good, but I guess I won ‘t buy it Young Ethel thought he would make one last supreme effort to sell this organ and he got up and said: “Mr. Hockersmith, you know the firm of Sheaffer & Son is very reliable firm. They have been in business here in Davis county for a great many years. Their word is just as good as their bond. You would take no risk in buying this instrument.” Mr. Hockersmith listened and said: “Yes sir, I have known Mr. Sheaffer for many years. I have had many dealings with him. He’s a very reliable man. i would take hr. Sheaffer is word for anything, that is, the old gentleman. ‘l Ethel at that remark fell over backwards and gave up a yell and said: «Let’s load up the organ.» We loaded it up and he felt that he even with me for that time when he failed to sell an organ by playing jigs and I made the sale by playing my one doleful chord.
But I had resolved that someday I was going to sell Hockersmith an organ. About a year from that time I loaded up a very fine organ, one much higher priced than the nne we had had in his house before, and I asked my daughter, Mrs. Waldron who single at that time if she would want to go to the country and if she could keep still and not say anything and wonder at what I trying Co dos and she agreed. The top of these organs was unscrewed, and the back of the top was strapped to the back of the organ and canvass covered them so we could haul them.
I started up this lane and began to drive very slowly, for there only one place I could go besides D. Hockersmith and that Hartwick ‘s. If Hockersmith thought I coming to sell him this organ, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sell him; and if he didn’t come out to the road as he generally did when I went by, my cake would be dough. As I got near the house, there no sign of Hockersmith or his wife coming to the woodpile and I had pulled the team up so that they were just barely moving. My daughter wanted to know what the matter and I was had to remind her of her promise not to say anything. We were just in front of the house and almost past when out came D. Hockersmith and Tillie.
He said: «Hello, Mr. Sheaffer Where are you going? Up to Harvick’s?” I said: “I am going in that direction.” He came on out
in the road and, of course, I willingly stopped to him. He said, “What kind of an organ have you there?» I told him it was a very fine one. He and Tillie became interested. He asked me the price of the instrument which still on the wagon. I told him there was no need to price it, for Mr. Hartwick the only fanner in this neighborhood able to buy one that fine and i had had an organ in his house much cheaper in price and he wouldn’t buy it. He raised up the canvass and saw how beautiful it and the plush lining in the top and he commented on it to his wife and again asked me to tell him the price. I insisted there no need. He asked me if I would not set it in the house so that he could see it. I said that it too fine an instrument to be putting in and out of houses and that if put it in a house it would be sold. He said he could not tell how it would sound. Finally, while Tillie played the pedals on the organ and while he lifted the canvass and pressed down one key at a time, he suggested to his wife that it sounded rather good, and she agreed. He insisted again that I tell him the price. I told him it $125 and the other that I had had in his house $75. He and Tillie went into consultation and felt that he did not want Mr. Hartwick to have the finest organ in the neighborhood. He told me to put it in the house and that he would take it. This one of the most peculiar sales I have ever made.
As I had stated before, there were so few people in the county that we had to fight extremely hard to keep out competitors. But later, a couple of young men by the name of Kincartt and O’Neill came in and they were both fine young fellows and very good salesmen. At this same time, we had a Mr. W. L. Saunders -a brither in law- in the business, who was quite a good salesman, was got into some laughable situations which seemed profoundly serious at that time.
Kincartt and O’Neill would put a piano in a house and that we would go and put one in, too. Then everyone would present his and ten the good qualities of his instrument as against the other. Generally, the music teacher in the neighborhood would be asked to decide the matter and many times expected some remuneration for the decision or a reward of some kind. It was not a very wholesome situation.
I remember that after we had beaten these young men eight or ten times in different deals, they laid a trap for us. One of. the young men had an aunt by the name of Lunsford lived in a small town in the southern part of the county and who wanted to buy a piano. They placed one of their Davenport and Tracy pianos (which one of the makes they sold at that time) in the house and got word to us through sone friend of the fact, knowing that we would take one of our pianos and put it in beside their piano in order to try to beat them in the sale not knowing that the matter already decided that they would buy the Davenport and Tracy piano. The whole community was invited in to hear the arguments. This was done in order to make us feel pretty bad about our defeat. We fell into the trap very readily but took a piano we thought would show up better. There were two forms of pin blocks used in pianos. The piano they were selling generally was the open pin block; so, we used one metal plate, for we felt it would us the best of the argument.
First one side would have their chance to speak and then the other. We soon noticed, however, that when our competitors made a point, the whole crowd would cheer. They were undoubtedly in the house of their friends and their friends in great numbers had been invited there to help the plan through. They did not even bring their piano wagon, nor were they prepared to take their piano away, but came instead in a buggy (as there were no automobiles in those days). We made on final argument and finally Mr. Lunsford was an uncle by marriage but only as it the wife who the blood relation, got up and announced they had decided to buy the Davenport and Tracy piano. Everybody cheered.
As our team was out in the barn, I said: «Mr. Lunsford, would you be kind enough to help us with our team?” He graciously said he would. Our thought in that was if we got bin out in the barn we would make a last desperate effort and as he would be by himself an as he was not a blood relation, it our only hope. We got him out the bam and showed him how much extra he paying for his piano when it was no better and not even as good as ours, just on account of his wife is being a blood relative of one of the salesmen. We put up such a strong one argument and made such a good price that before we left the barn, we had his note for our piano. When we came into the house and he announced his decision to buy our piano, there was consternation in the opponent’s camp. It was not understandable to them, but we graciously loaned the two boys our piano wagon and we road home in their buggy.
A little later there was a jewelry buyer at Milton, Iowa, by the name of Adkins who wanted to purchase a piano. Kincartt and O’ Neill went down and fixed the deal with the music teacher who was also assistant cashier in the bank in this little town. My brother-in-law came to visit me, and we had been so successful that I took him along and in iced him to see how we could lick the other fellows. When we got down to the scene of action, I found that the job had been set up against us and t at my brother- in-law surely had the laugh on me. We sent Mr. Saunders up to see the young lady to convince her we had the best piano, but to no a ail p ‘I sent hi-ill back the second time and he got a little peeved because h said it wouldn’t be doing any good. But while he was gone, I went to Mr. Adkins and frankly told him what had happened. I said: “Mr. Adkins if you would like to save $75 on your piano instead of paying it for somebody to decide the thing for you, you can save $75 if you buy this piano right new and then we can go in and go through this early tonight.. After the music teacher has played both pianos, you just get up and announce yourself that you have decided to buy the Lakeside piano because you think it has the best tone.”
Like the time before, the whole community was invited in to hear us get a good licking. The music teacher in playing the Davenport and Tracy piano played very lovely, but not so with our piano. But as we had the note for our piano and after the music teacher got though playing, Mr. Adkins got up and announced: “We have decided to buy the Lakeside piano because it has the best tone and we think it is the best piano.” Well, naturally, the crowd was dumbfounded and our competitor were stunned. When we left the house, they sought us out and said, well, boys, we are through. The only thing is we will leave the county and quit, but we want to know how you did it. Just tell us how you this.” That incident ended the keenest competition that I have ever had, even down to the present day.
There is many a small town in this country which has young me who are keen merchants and wonderful salesman. If they could only be placed in the right positions; it would be a great benefit to them and to the concerns that they would go with.
At the time we had the piano and jewelry store, I had an uncle by the name Tom Walton who was a horse buyer and made his headquarters in our store. He and a liveryman by the name of Doke shipped their horses to W.P. Hall, the biggest horse buyer in the world, at Lancaster, Missouri. Well, of course, I did not feel any too good about being cheated on this horse. I never said anything to my uncle about it, who was a very fine square man and helped me a great deal; but I knew of a horse trader there in the county who was a nephew of Tom Walton by the name Bobby McGowan. So, I sent for Bobby and said: “Bobby, this is the heaviest horse you ever saw. What will you give me for it?” He said, “I will give you ten cord of wood.” A cord of wood in this little town at that time was worth $10. I said, “Bobby, you have bought a horse.”
Since Bobby a horse trader, he knew of a way to fix this horse up temporarily so the heaves wouldn’t be noticed. He would hitch him to the rig and drive around the public square every once in a while. One day when he had him hitched up (this horse being a very fine-looking animaI), Doke and Walton, the horse buyers, happened to spy him, and as I had failed to say anything about it, they had begun to dicker with Bobby. Bobby told them he would take $150 for the horse.
Finally, they offered him $125. Bobby said: “Uncle Tommy, as long as you are in the family, I will let you have him. He is worth more money.» When they came driving this heavy horse and he had sold him to my best friend, I felt pretty bad; but it too late then to correct the mistake.
At a later time, Mr. Doke still bought horses for W. P. Hall. While he was a fine man, he was a horse trader. We kept our team of horses and our piano wagon in his livery barn in Bloomfield, Iowa. We were both Masons and good friends, but I never depended on him for my judgment on horses, for Uncle Tom Walton was thoroughly honest and my fiend and was my friend and I always took his judgment. This is the same man that Bobby McCowan loaded the heavy horse on to.
After the partnership had been dissolved of Doke and Walton, Doke came in and said to me one day: «Why don’t you let me horses for you. I buy my watches and diamonds and things from you. I take your word for them and I have always found it good, I you just as fairly on anything and any horses you want to have treated me. ‘l I didn’t say anything, but still expected to depend upon Uncle Tom.
One day, Mr. Saunders traded for a horse that would go on the market i n fine shape. His wind good, but he would become over- heated if he worked too much and for that reason we couldn’t use him because our driving on the wagon very hard work. It happened that Uncle Tom out of town and Doke knowing that, persuaded Saunders to trade him this horse which would go on the market for a gray family horse called “Possum”. Why Mr. Saunders traded without consulting me, I could not understand, but he did, When Uncle Tom came home and Saunders told him he had traded for «Possum, he said: «Doke knew Possum moon eyed. With the hard work on that wagon, the horse will be blind in 30 days. He has cheated you badly.»
As Doke had made such statements to me about how honestly he would treat me, I made up my mind, instead of turning the other 1 would get even with him some day, as that about the meanest trick I had served on me for a long time. So, I told Saunders to say nothing about it, but to wait until an opportunity came; when an opportunity came, if it three, four, or five years, that we would land on Doke.
One day about three years afterwards, he came into the jewelry store and said: “I believe I have found a horse out here that we can fix up and sell to Doke. I can buy him for $5. He is a big fine horse, but he kind of goes on the bias when he runs.” I said: «Well, George Goode and Harris are two good horsemen and they live out in that neighborhood and I will get my wagon and go out and we will see this horse.” In talking to George Goode and Mr. Harris, they said that if this horse were taken up and fed and curried, his bad point would be hardly noticeable in him and his wind good. We gave $5 for the horse and brought him in. When we got him in as good a shape as possible, we waited our time.
As Doke was then the leading horse buyer in the town of Bloomfield, Iowa, whenever outside buyer would come in, he would bid up the price and make it pretty tough for the other buyer in order to drive him out. Right by the jewelry store a livery barn owned by Mac Wise. By the papers we noticed that a buyer by the name of Wisecarver of Fairfield, Iowa, would be down to buy horses on a Saturday. We took this horse and put him in Mac Wise’s livery stable, but instructed Mac that he could not sell the horse to Wisecarver but to get the best price Wisecarver would make and that we would guarantee the wind of the horse. Doke had seen this horse out in a little lot several tineas and he knew about he was, but of course he had never looked at him very closely.
Wisecarver came to town and offered us $130 for this horse, as his wind good. I told Mac Wise to let Doke have an opportunity to make a bid. (Now even the livery barn owner had not noticed a thing wrong with this horse.) He said: “Doke offers only $130 for this horse and I think we ought to sell him to Wisecarver because he made the best offer.” I said: «No, Doke is a home buyer and you let Doke have this horse. Now you know that the bank is only one-half block away from your livery barn. When you guarantee the wind of this horse and Doke will look at him and you won’t have to wind him because his wind is good, as soon as Duke
writes the check for this horse you hike to the bank and get it cashed because when he backs this horse out of the stall he may fall down.” Mac Wise made a beeline to the bank and got his $130. Sure enough, the horse went down when it was backed out of the stall.
As long as I lived there, he was one of the best friends I ever had, but he never mentioned the fact again that the horse fell down when he backed him out of the stall. I gave some of the money from the sale of the horse to Mac Wise and a great portion of it to Saunders. I actually lost money on the deal, but at least we got even With Doke. It never purposes to allow anybody to treat me any better than I would treat them in return. I never did go much for turning the other cheek.
In this Little town we had a group of men: Charlie Fortune, John Burgess, Frank Travis, and later Harry Burchett and sometime Harvey Leech; but there were five or six of us who went fishing together the week after the Fourth of July for 24 consecutive years. John Burgess my competitor in the jewelry business, and he made it so hard for me that i had to stay pretty close; for he really a splendid salesman and a good mixer and just as hard and keen a competitor -as I ever had in the jewelry business. In fact, he was equal to the competition, and more so, than we had with Kincartt and O’Neill in the piano business. Our plan was to fight pretty hard for 51 weeks in the year and then go fishing for the other week and talk very frankly to one another. I learned to become very fond of him and to respect him very much and specially to respect his ability to gain the good will to his friends.
There also came later into the crowd Sol Lorenz, who was a furniture man and a very likeable fellow. Later when I traded for a jewelry store in Fort Madison, Sol Lorenz became to be our most persistent fishermen.
One day when we had gone down to Hr. Brewster’s club house on the river and had been there for a day or two, Sol Lorenz put in his entire time almost standing out in the sun -not even in the shade – on the bank of the river and fished continuously. Sol fished for two or three days and had not caught a fish. I knew of a fish market about four miles from the camp. Sol fished ail morning and cane in for his lunch and then went back in the afternoon. About three o ‘clock when I knew the fishermen would be in with their catch, I went down to the fish and bought a fine string of live fish and strung them on a rope. Out in front of the club house the water was only two feet deep as it back water from the Keokuk dam, I put these fish. Then I went out and threw two hooks and lines in the water without any bait on (for there not any fishing in two feet of water). Once in a while I would pull my pole out as if I were catching a fish. Sol was several homered yards away across a point and kept looking around and seeing me pull my pole out. About five o ‘clock he sauntered over and came there and asked me how my luck. These fish began to flop in the water, and he went down by the edge of the water and pulled up this string of fish, and he said he did not understand wily he could not catch any. I told him the trouble of it that he didn’t know how to fish.
After we had fished for a few minutes, I told him had better take the fish in and cook them for dinner. I told him to watch my lines and be patient and wait just a little longer, which he did. About seven o’clock dinner ready. Sol had stood there patiently and. watched all the lines without a single bite. When he came into the house, he said he couldn’t understand it, for the minute he came to a place the fish quit biting. I said I would take him out some day and teach him how to catch fish. When he found out what had happened, which was sometime later, he really felt that he had had quite a joke played on him.
At this writing there are only three of the original crowd left – it has been now, I think, nearly 40 years ago – and they are Frank Travis, Harry Burchett, and myself.
Living in this little town where there was virtually no fishing and having gone fishing so many years, we would start out in a long spring wagon that would hold our crowd. Then we had another spring wagon that would carry our tents and our cooking equipment, for in those days it was rather handy. We had a sleeping tent which we put up very solidly and always ditched it and prepared it for a storm and drove the stakes deep. We also had a canopy top screened in what was our sitting
room, and then another tent that we had for our kitchen. Once in a while we would get a pretty severe storm which would blow down our canopy and sometimes our kitchen; but we paid particular attention to our sleeping tent and always cut brush and had hay and grass for our bed so we were up high enough inside of the tent that no matter how hard it rained we were fairly comfortable.
In those days we crossed the state line from Iowa into Missouri. But this season the Missouri authorities had passed a law against Iowa fishermen coming down without a license, about which we knew nothing. There were about seven of us in the crowd that year. Along in the evening after we had had quite – a heavy rain, we saw two men coming toward our camp in a buggy. We had taken one of the natives from that part of the country along with us and he said: “There comes the sheriff and the constable!” Our equipment and things were out in sight and there no chance to conceal them. We were very cordial to them, but they insisted that we go to the county seat with them which was about 30 miles away. We asked how they were going to take us. They said they would use our teams and spring wagons. We told them that our horses were worn out and could not make the trip; that it would be impossible for to use our teams because the horses had been driven very hard that day. We gave them a drink or two a piece, but the sheriff a little cautious. After the constable had had a few drinks, he was perfectly willing to let us off, but the sheriff insisted that we go to the county seat. We finally made a compromise that we would send two of our men to the county seat with them in the buggy.
We sent Frank Travis, who was court reporter for Judge Eichelberger who judge of the court house in Bloomfield, Iowa. In Lancaster, Missouri, just across the line in the next county, Judge Shelton presided there. Judge Shelton and Judge Eichelberger were very great friends and Judge Eichelberger thought a great deal of Frank Travis, his reporter, and Travis also knew Judge Shelton very well. So, when Judge Shelton saw young Travis, he let us all off, although we had pulled up stakes and were ready to leave. But it interfered with our fishing trip a little that year.
There was very little fishing aw und Bloomfield except a little creek called Fox River. So, having gone away on fishing trips for eight or ten years without bringing home any fish (as we -generally cooked and ate our fish while away on the trip), the community began to kid us
a little about our ability to catch any fish. So, the next year we took along a hoop net and set it in the Sheridan River and were fortunate enough to catch a 37-pound catfish. This we packed in ice and shipped it home to a jewelry store in which I was interested and we had the fish dished out to the community and cut in slices. This restored our reputation as fishermen.
We also took a seine along and seined in a lake near there and caught quite a sizeable string of fish. We wanted our reputation as fishermen restored fully, so we strung these fish on a long line and the native of that part of the country who went along with us and who only about five feet tall placed behind these fish. Naturally, the fish showed up as big as the man and it looked like an enormous catch. From that time on our reputation as fishermen above par and we were not required to bother bringing any fish home thereafter.
On these fishing trips each one had his duties to perform, and there plenty to do about keeping a fishing cup in good shape. It fell my lot to do the cooking. I found that it was not as necessary to have the food cooked so good as it to have the men very hungry before they sat down to a meal. So, I sometimes would delay the meal a little until they got pretty hungry and no matter how I cooked things they always tasted good to the men. Because of this psychological method of handling the cooking, my reputation advanced a little.
Many jokes, of course, were played on the different members at different times. I had cleaned a rabbit that didn’t look any too good to me at one time and from then on it impossible for me to eat any more rabbit. I had often spoken about my not liking rabbit. One day while we were out hunti.ng, the boys killed nine young squirrels and one young rabbit which about the size of the squirrel. They cooked the meal that day and put this young rabbit, which virtually the same size as the s squirrels, in the skillet with the nine squirrels and cooked with them in the sa.me skillet would make it look and taste a good deal like squirrel. The men took special pains to give me the rabbit and I bragged how splendid it , not discovering until 1 could see the boys wink at one another that I had been the victim of a practical joke; but at the same time the rabbit did taste good and the joke put over in very neat shape.
Also, in our jewelry store we sold sewing machines. In order to sell them you had to know how to ruffle, tuck, and bind, I bad to become quite a skillful operator and I took the time and pains to do these things. One day I sold a sewing machine Co Columbus Goode. He had a 160-acre farm and I supposed, of course, I would not have no trouble in getting my money. He was deeply religious and couldn’t help thinking but what the sale a good one. But after I had sold him this machine, I found out that his farm was mortgaged for almost as much as it was worth. He came i n one day and feeling quite religious and said he wanted to do everything to pay his debts, He told me he had some nice Mgs or shoats and if I would come out to his farm, I could take my choice of them. I got a lumber wagon and hired a team and drove ten miles to his farm. When I got there his religion had cooled off and as he had not expected rue to come, all he would give me were four runty pigs. I took the pigs back to town. After feeding them and taking good care of them and as it was a good year and the price of pork being good, I got the money out of my sewing machine.
I had other experience with mortgaged farms. I sold a famer an organ for $95 and found out later that Will Stoeckel, who had a mortgage on nearly all the fames in that part of the country, also had a mortgage on this farm. As Will and I played in the band together and were very great personal friends, I didn’t think about it. I said to Will: ‘I have sold So and So an organ and I have his note for it.” He said: Il l am the only man who can collect it.” I said: “I suppose you are.” He said: “I will give you 50 cents on the dollar for the note,» That, of course, took all my profit and a good deal besides away; but as I had no other way of collecting it, I took his offer.
There came a time a little later when I thought it was pretty tough that Will Stoeckel was hard-boiled, but he said he never let friendships interfere with his business. A little later I had occasion to sell an organ to another person who had a mortgage held by Will. I said to Will: “I haven’ t sold this organ yet, and before I sell it I want to know that you will give me for this note.” He said: «As you have not sold it, I will give you 95 cents on the dollar.” I went out and sold the organ and cashed the note for 5% discount.
A little later I had occasion to buy my first home, a five-room house for which I gave $460 and a colt that I had. Will Stoeckel had a mortgage on this home for $200 bearing 10% semi-annual interest, which the prevailing rate in those days. As interest at the rate of 10% semi-annually would double in seven years with compound interest, I wanted to get this mortgage paid; so I went to Stoeckel and told him that I wanted to pay the mortgage, He said: “Your mortgage has two years yet to run.” Now Stoeckel was a very wealthy man in those days and I just about as poor as anyone could be. Stoeckel said: “I will cancel that mortgage, but you will have to pay the annual interest for the two years yet to run.” Fortunately, I had enough money to do it and I paid the mortgage and the interest. He repeated to me again: “l never let friendships interfere with my business.”
A great many years later after I had moved to Fort Madison and the tough times came after 1929, Stoeckel got in a tough financial condition and it looked as though they were going to clean him up. He and his wife made a trip to Fort Madison and they were very cordial and all. After we had given him and his wife a nice dinner and had treated him royally, he took me to one side in one of the upstairs rooms of home and told me what his mission. He said he going to go broke, but I could save him if I would go his security for $50,000 with a Chicago bank. I had an opportunity then to remind that “I never let friendships interfere with business”, and I did not go his security. However, he did weather the storm and at the time this is being written, he is still in business and I understand is being successful. But I can hardly believe that the Stoeckel philosophy of friendships in business is correct. There should be some tempering and some justice in all transactions.
In those early days when selling organs and pianos, many circumstances came up that are hardly believable. As I have explained before, we had this long wagon that half longer or maybe twice as long as the average spri.ng wagon. I had sold a piano to a Miss Mae Stockberger and to deliver it on a certain day. We had all forgotten that there to be a big circus in Centerville, Iowa, which about 15 miles away from where this piano to be delivered. When I went to the home, the family had gone to the circus and the whole neighborhood apparently had gone to the circus also. I searched all over but could find no one to help me unload the piano. As it was in the morning and I had either to wait until late at night after they got home from the circus, I decided to unload the piano myself. The piano was quite large and probably weighed about one thousand pounds, and I wondered how it could be done. In those days we had rail fences. I build a rail pen under the back axles and took the back wheels off. Then I pulled out a rail at a time until finally I let the back end of the wagon down onto the front
porch and slid the piano out and got it in the house myself. When the family came home, they found their piano delivered in good shape. Of course, I had the advantage of having to lift only one end at a which I could do as I used to it, but it shows that if you keep at a thing diligently you can overcome many obstacles which seen to master. Of course, after the piano out of the wagon, I had to pry up the back axle and put the rails under it again in order to put the wheels on.
In the spring of the year when the roads got muddy, you would have some pretty tough experiences. I remember once of taking a team of horses out and as the roads were muddy, I didn’t think they had to be rough shod. After had gotten out between 15 and 20 miles from home and had failed to sell anybody the instrument which was on the wagon, I started back and vent through the timber. In the timber, ice was still left on the ground and these horses were shod. Before I could get out, they had broken their harness and had caught themselves in it. It was begining to get dark and as I a good was from home, the natural tendency to get home as soon as possible after I got out of the timber. But when I was about four miles from home, I saw Work Clark´s house lighted up. I remembered that he didn’t have an organ. I was pretty discouraged, and I went in and nade a fight. In less than an hour had sold the organ. After I made the sale they got me some dinner and by the time I got started home, itwaspretty late. But it shows that it pays never to give up, but to make another effort. After all of thatlong discouraging day and the harness being all tied up and the horses in bad shape, the sale finally made, and everything seemed much brighter for me. It is impossible to realize in these days of roads and enclosed trucks the hardships and the slow mode of going; where it took me sixteen hours to reach a place in those days, a person now could reach it in an hour easily.
There came a time, however, when the two families were growing up and had to attend school that it seemed almost impossible to send the different ones to college and make enough money to keep up decent living expenses, as in those days even living expenses were gradually increasing. The writer sold his little home, for which he gave $460 and a colt, for $750 cash. This money was turned back into the business although it was made personally by me on the outside. I then bought a home from my grandfather, Ira D. Walton, for $10 monthly payments. I paid this out and traded this property to J. T. Walton for his property of eight acres out on the east side of tow, I went into the breeding of pure-bred Light Brahma chickens and was quite successful, winning many prizes and selling some of the chickens for as high as $20 a piece. My flock had grown so good that when I found out that I either had to give up the jewelry and piano business or the chicken business, I sold my last 200 chickens, or what would be called the culls, for $2 a piece. While the house was a fair-sized one, still it wasn’t modern as I didn’t have the money to modernize it, I began to look for a way to get it in shape to trade it for a farm. I bought 1,000 peach trees and as I could not afford to hire them set out, I set most of them out at night by lantern light. When they came into bearing, I traded to a man by the name of James Varner for a 188-acre farm.
Mr. Varner was a very lazy farmer and had only 40 acres of meadow. He had allowed the brush to grow around the edge of the meadow until he mowed only about ten acres in the center of this meadow. This was a rolling farm and covered with hazel—brush, ‘The house had never been painted and it wasn’t in a very presentable appearance to get much money out of it, I took the farm in at $20 an acre, but by the different trades I had made, the farm had cost me very little. But how to get the farm in shape in order to sell it, was a problem. Having an uncle, J. T. Walton, who knew quite a bit about sheep, I had him go with me to buy a flock of sheep, we fenced this 188-acre farm into 40-acre fields. I hired a young man by the name of Charles Fox who was a hard worker, but had never managed to make any money, I had to buy him two milk cows, a team of horses, and plows and harrows. He would cut this brush off a 40-acre field right down to the ground and then we would turn the entire flock of sheep into the field and they would eat the sprouts as they came up and kill the roots. When this was done several times, the blue grass would come up naturally. After the sheep had eaten the sprouts own pretty closely, we turned them into the pasture and in this way kept them in good shape. By keeping up this process we cleaned all the brush off the farm and had 188 acres of native blue grass pasture. The wool and the lambs in the meantime paid Mr. Fox out and when I sold the farm, he had a flock of sheep, his horses, his cows, and was out of debt.
Then the question was how to find some way to sell or trade this farm for a jewelry store, as I wanted to get into a larger place where I could make a living for the two families and by having two stores (it looked Like it might be done), I was reading the Key Stone, a jewelers journal published in Philadelphia, and saw that there was a jewelry store for sale. I answered the ad and told the man that I was long on farms but short on jewelry stores; and if he would like to trade his jewelry store for a farm that we might make a trade, It happened that this man was M. L. Bowen who had a nice jewelry store in Fort Madison, Iowa, Mr. Bowen wrote me and asked me how much I wanted for my farm,
As I had never traded a farm, I went to my supposed friend, Stoeckel, who was trading farms for goods all the time, and asked him what I should ask for this farm in a trade. He said I should ask $75 an acre, I said: “The farm isn’t worth $75 an acre.» He said: «You didn’t ask me what the farm was worth. You asked me what you should ask for a farm in a trade, You will find if you will trade for a store of jewelry, you will have to pay a plenty good price for a lot of old junk which isn’t worth anything and you had better have your farm priced high enough,» I finally gained enough courage to ask $65 an acre for this farm. To Mr. Bowen wrote/a banker in Bloomfield, Iowa, where I was living at that time, and asked him what the farm was really worth. The banker knew I owned this farm and that I wanted to make a trade. He never consulted me about answering Bowen, but just voluntarily wrote Bowen that the farm was worth $50 an acre, which it wasn’t, Bowen wrote me back a very mean letter and said: “Your farm isn’t worth $65 an acre. I know what it is really worth. You are not as smart as you think you are.” The general tone of his letter was very insulting. I wrote him back and said: «Hr. Bowen, I have never said the farm is worth $65 an acre, but I do say that if you ever buy it from me or get it in a trade from me, that is what you will have to pay for it. If your jewelry store were as fine and your trade were as good as how you say, you do not need to trade it for any farm, but instead you could sell it and get cash for it,» naturally supposed that that was the end of this trade, But to my great surprise sometime afterward, Mr. Dabney, a real estate agent and a good friend of mine, handed me a letter which he had received
from Bowen and the purport of the letter was virtually this: «Dabney, if you will help me skin Sheaffer on a farm trade for my jewelry store, I will give you $200.» J thought this was very fine of Dabney to come ever and show me the letter. II said to him: «What do you charge for selling a farm?” He said: «I charge $1 an acre.» I said; «If you get the $200 from Bowen for skinning me and I give you $1 an acre for selling the farm, you will make $348 if the trade is made. So go ahead, but with one understanding, that Bowen will have to go and see the farm before I will trade with him and then he will have to agree to take it in at $65 an acre if I do trade.”
So sometime later he met Bowen at Pulaski, a very small town, and went down and looked over the farm, In the meantime we had painted the house and had the farm looking pretty well, As he came up on the morning train, they felt he would want to go back on the afternoon train and Dabney Said that I had better prepared to go down if Bowen wanted me to; therefore, I had my grip packed. Bowen and Dabney came into the store about an hour before train time, I had never seen Bowen before and Dabney introduced him. I noticed that he was rather a nervous sort of fellow. He started right in and said: «Well, what do you want to do? said: «Well, I don’t know. You have been down to see the farm and “told you that T wanted and wouldn’t take less than $65 an acre for it in a trade,» Bowen said: «I will take the farm in at $65 an acre if you will give me 100 cents on the dollar for my jewelry store,” My answer was that I didn’t know whether his store was worth 50 cents on the dollar, He said: «Come and see it.» I said: «All right, I will come down some day,» He said: «Why not go down tonight?» I said: «What is the hurry?» He said: “We have been fooling with this trade for several months and I want either to make the trade or to break off negotiations,» I told him: «Mr. Dabney is going on the train and I can probably get there,» I knew that Dabney had been working very hard to make the $388, Se, as I had my grip already packed, I made the train.
I went down and looked over the inventory of the stock of goods. This was on the sixth of April, 1906, and he had invoiced in January of that year. Subtracting his sales and adding the invoices showed that his stock invoiced $12,152, and the farm at $65 an acre would come to approximately $11,000 I checked the stock of goods and found over $8,000 worth of good sterling silver, diamonds, and solid gold jewelry, As I had worked in a jewelry store all my life, I knew what the merchandise was really worth, I opened the drawers under neat the case and found about $1,000 worth of junk that was in the invoice at full price. I just shut the drawers and never said anything about it because I thought he would feel better if he thought he was loading it on to me without my knowing it.
After I had looked the stock over, I asked Bowen what he wanted to do. He said if I would give him the difference between $11,000 and $12,152, he would make the trade. I asked to see the sales book, He said he didn’t have one. I then asked him how he arrived at the amount-of $12,152 if he didn’t add the bills and subtract the sales. I said: «You have a sales book all right.» Then I made him get it. I discovered then why he wanted to trade so badly. He had sold less than $1,000 in merchandise from January 1 to the sixth day of April, 1906, and, of course, was losing money, I remarked then that if I had a store that was losing money that way, I would be inclined to give it away. As he had offered $200 to have a man help skin me, I didn’t feel under any obligations whatever. He had not asked me what the farm was worth. He had not offered to trade man to man; so I let him do his own trading.
I said: «I won’t give you the difference,» I had made up my mind then to get $75 an acre for the farm, Just what Stoeckle told me I should get, as Bowen was a rich man and was trying to put it over me, I said: «I will take $300 difference between the store and the farm.» That would virtually give me $75 an acre for the farm. He said he wouldn’t do it, I said there was one fine thing about it – he could keep the jewelry store and I could keep the farm. Then I saw Mr. Dabney get a little nervous for fear that he would lose his $388 and he began to works on Bowen. They went off and went into a huddle, Finally Bowen came back and asked me how long I would give him to make up his mind. I told him: «Until the train leaves for Red Oak.» He knew that I had a deal on in that town. He went home and consulted his wife and came back, and the trade was made.
This store was in a small building and was very dark and the fine stock of goods didn’t show up to good advantage. IT had a widow, Mrs., Sadie Spreen, build a store far me near there and I moved in the new location by fall. In the new quarters the business grew very fast and I was able to make very nice money and increase this business many fold, When I sold this store to Mr. Lerche, my watchmaker, and W. Ly Saunders, my brother-in-law, in 1913, it invoiced $45,000. However, I Sold it to them for $35,000, taking $10,000 off the invoice. They, however, threw out nearly every good thing I had had in the store and in a few years went broke.
In other words, I had taken a store that invoiced only $12,000 and after keeping an expensive family, in less than seven years I increased the inventory about $33,000, or nearly three times what it
was originally. It shows that money can be made in almost any-size town, even in a luxury line like jewelry, if you work hard enough and go out after the business, Not only did these men take the same business that I had built up and lose it all in just a few years, but when I sold our Bloomfield store to my watchmaker for $5,000 less than it invoiced and let him invoice it, in a few years he lost it and virtually made no money.
Close application to any business, giving it serious thought almost day and night so that you are able to make the right decisions, is what makes any business successful. If too much of one’s thoughts are on other things than your business, there will be many a. valuable discovering your business that is never thought of: wherein, if one’s business is given close attention and close thought about how you can improve it, many a new discovery and additional sale can be made which are never made otherwise, When you look at the record of industry which shows that about only 10% of the retailers of the United States make money, that 45% just exist, and the other 45% fail, you can see from these figures how necessary 1t is that those who want to be successful must be very alert setting an example of working fast and accurately for all their employees and giving a great part of their thought and attention to their business. It is the only way that anyone can signally succeed, II don’t mean by this that there isn’t time for recreation when business should be forgotten; but to many people their hobbies are more important than their businesses and they receive the greatest part of their thought, although their recreation must be of sufficient to keep them in good health.
As I was reading an ad one night of Jules Axt, a druggist (who later was one of our vice presidents for many years) featuring the Conklin pen which had a hump or a crescent on one side, I was impressed with the fact that it was very clumsy and thought surely that somebody ought to think of a filling device which was neater and more practical. By morning I had thought cut the lever filling device and I took out a Patent on it in 1908, 1 was Like most people that had taken out their first patent; I thought when I got the patent, that that would keep everybody else from making it. But, unfortunately, so many patent attorneys take out patents which are not really worth the paper they are written on; they do it Just for a fee. However, my first lever patent wasn’t as practical as it might have been, for it required the expansion: of the rubber sac to close the Lever and when the sac deteriorated, the lever might not snap shut.
A little later I invented a lever bar that operated and held the lever in an open or closed position irrespective of the rubber reservoir. This was a great Improvement over the first pen and is the pen we are still making as a lever pen today. But finding out how worthless my first patent was, I took great care in taking out this second patent and fortunately had a splendid patent attorney by the name of Frank Brown, of Chicago, Illinois. The claim which protected us most was a claim that said: Not means operable of holding the lever in an open or closed position irrespective of the rubber reservoir.» Now, the fact that we stated «of means operable» didn’t make any difference how you held a lever in. an open or closed position; if you did it, you were infringing on our patent. I might have described that with a double bar or a single bar and many other combinations of holding the lever in an open and closed position, but the fact that we got through the patent with the simple words «of means operable of holding the lever in an open or closed position irrespective of the rubber reservoir» was a very important claim – and was the broadest claim we could have written. In taking out patents there is a great deal of attention paid to the describing of your patent, But if you can get in a claim that virtually says that if anyone does what you are doing or the words «of means operable,» that is about the broadest claim which can be gotten.
I was afraid to put my patent on the market. I had built up the Jewelry business in Fort Madison until I had an income of ten or twelve thousand a year and it seemed to me at the age of 45, which I was when I went into the fountain pen business, that I would be foolish to risk what I had worked so hard to build up at that time in life knowing that the other big companies which were worth millions would begin patent litigation and I probably would lose everything I had – so I waited five years. I was afraid of the selling end; I wasn’t afraid of what we could manufacture, but I was very afraid that we could not sell the pens against Such great competitors, One company at that time had about 85% of all the fountain pen business and was very powerful, and I had very little money outside of the jewelry store.
One day Mr. George Kraker, who had once travelled for the Conklin Pen Company, came along and convinced me that he could sell all the pens that we could manufacture. He persuaded me to let him and Mr. Ben Coulson, who had also travelled for the Conklin Pen Company and was a good salesman, do the selling and have me do the manufacturing. A contract was entered into wherein I gave them 33-1/3% to do all the selling and I received all the rest, They opened an office in Kansas City in the Gumbel Building and they began to sell pens in June, 1912. The first sale was made in Columbia, Missouri, to the Missouri Store Company, a jewelry run by Claude Wheeler, The Missouri Store Company are still a fine representative of the Sheaffer Pen Company.
This wall countercase from Fort Madison Sheaffer’s jewelry store is still in use nowadays. Courtesy of Dana Bushong Jewelers.
The pens began to sell quite fast and we were having trouble in manufacturing them. As the levers were made out of Monel metal and they were drilled with a little #69 drill, we broke thousands of drills. I went East and worked with the die makers and we had a terrible time in those days to get a die made to strike up a lever that we could drill readily. We also had great trouble in getting a pencil clutch made that would hold an over-sized lead and then take an under-sized lead. As the standard size of leads was .0465, when the molds were made they were made so that they would be a little undersized and then the molds would wear more in some places than in others and the size of the leads would vary and we would have leads from .0455 to .047. The only temper given those clutches was that : given when we struck them up and they were made of high brass, When you put an .047 lead into a pencil and then would follow with an 20455, the clutch would spread until the smaller lead would drop out, We kept working on a machine until we developed a machine there in the factory that would take a ribbon of Monel metal and make up nearly fifty thousand clutches in eight hours. The machine is still in operation today and we can run it only a fraction of the time. But this gave us a wonderful clutch that would hold any-sized lead and with the sturdy pencil we made, it gave us a splendid reputation for a fine pencil.
Kraker and Coulson wished to become interested in the manufacturing. I wished to have them interested, for I couldn’t afford to pay 33-1/3% for selling, On January 1, 1913, we incorporated for $35,000, It was agreed that I should always have 51% of the stock and that Kraker and Coulson should have 40% of the stock, Coulson couldn’t raise the money, so he went to Abilene, Texas, to see his brother. He needed $5,000 to finish out his 20%; but his brother argued and said: «Ben, you are now 40 years of age and you have made no money. What assurance have I that you can pay this back? You have never shown the ability to make money or to save it.» Coulson came home very disheartened. I had never seen his brother, but I sat down and wrote him a letter. As a result of that letter, he sent back a check to his brother for $5,000. I felt that the way Coulson acted later in the deal, he didn’t appreciate this effort on my part very much.
The first year we did a nice business and our profits were $17,500, as I remember or something near this figure, showing about 50% profit on our invested capital, The business was increasing so fast that we saw we had to increase our capital. Now, it was in the written agreement that I should always have 51% of the stock and that Kraker and Coulson should always have 40%. But we had to take in some outside money
and Mr. Brewster, a banker and a good friend, came into our company, As we were letting these outsiders in, I told Kraker and Coulson that it would cut their interest to 35% if I kept my 51%. They agreed that they should have their interest cut to 35%. It was very difficult for me to keep 51%, but I was determined to do so. As we had a written agreement that they should have 40% and as this new arrangement was only an oral agreement that they would have their interest cut to 35% and we were putting the money in quickly because this was in December and we had to get ready for the first of the year and had to spend this money right away, I didn’t think it was necessary for me to have my two partners put the new agreement down in writing. Of course, that is where I made a mistake.
When we got the money all in, Kraker and Coulson saw they had me. Then they insisted on the written agreement being lived up to, that they should have 40%. If they got 40%, it would cut me down to 46%, or less than control. Well, as Mr. Kraker was our vice president and Mr., Coulson was our treasurer, I said: «Boys, this is crooked. Before I will stay in partnership with men who are crooked, I will liquidate the assets of the company and pay the stockholders what is coming to them.» After this conference I walked home with Ben Coulson. As Mr. Kraker had been the man who had been doing all the talking, I said to Mr. Coulson as we walked along: «Ben, what are you going to do? Are you going to stick by your word?» He said: «I will let you know in the morning,» I said: «Well, Ben, do you have to study overnight whether or not you are going to be honest?» He said: «f will let you know in the morning.”
When two men are crooked, they are suspicious of one another, As Kraker and Coulson had a clause in our contract that it took 75% of the voting stock to change the salaries, Kraker thought I was trying to buy Coulson’s 20% of stock so I could change the by-laws and obliterate this unfair contract. T no more than get home than the Phone rang. Mr. Kraker was on the phone: «I would like to see you.» I said: «All right.» He came down and said, «Will you buy my stock?» I said: «Yes,» He said: “Will you give me $150 a share for it. We have earned 50% this year.» IT said: «Yes.» So, I bought his stock and let Mr. Brewster have a portion of it. Then, of course, I cancelled this contract which had tied me down so that I could not change salaries in the business without the acquiescence of Kraker and Coulson. Mr. Brewster was a wonderful friend and a very straightforward businessman, but he got scared pretty easily.
Mr. Kraker came to us one day and said: «I know you have no use for me.” I said: «No, I haven’t, George. You can never work in the office again. I wouldn’t trust you with money at all.» He said: «I have a plan whereby you won’t have to trust me. You know my old territory for the Conklin Pen Company was Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and part of Colorado. I want you to enter into a contract with me to sell Sheaffer merchandise at 10% above cost for this territory for only ten years, I will furnish the show cases and all expenses of building up this trade in this territory and if I don’t build it up, I can’t make any money. I will pay you cash in advance before you ship the goods, and you know I can sell goods. I will build this territory to a fine business in ten years and then it will be all built up for you. The show cases will all revert to you and you will have this territory in fine shape, and you will have all the rest of the United States to sell in.»
I didn’t want to have anything to do with him, but Mr. Brewster found that he had a brother in the saloon business in Illinois who was quite well off and that they really had more money than we had. Mr. Brewster thought that if we didn’t enter into this contract, they would start a competing company and cause us lots of trouble. So finally I acquiesced, only to find that they had entered into this contract for the purpose of keeping us out of this territory and had actually started the Kraker Pen Company in Kansas City, Missouri, with $50,000 capital. They had hired my superintendent to swear that he was the inventor of my lever pen. I understand they gave him $3,500 for doing this, but I can’t verify this.
They started an interference suit in Washington against us to take our patent away from us and attempted to use this contract to keep us out of the territory they were going to build up their business in. But they didn’t go into the legal part of it quite strong enough. Our attorney told us that they couldn’t use that contract because since they had started in business, it was illegal. We then went into court and cancelled the contract and then a long series of law suits and fighting started, It took, I believe, almost three and a half years of litigation before we finally validated our lever patent that they tried to take away from us. They had an attorney by the name of Lotz, of Chicago, and we had Frank Brown, of Chicago. Frank Brown, as I formerly have said, was a very splendid attorney and very painstaking in his work.
PAGE THIRTY- TWO
Many peculiar circumstances came up with this case, One y recall was when we were taking testimony in the McCormick Building in Chicago. Julius Snell, a fountain pen holder maker of New York, was our main witness and they waived cross examination of him and then waited three years and called him as their witness so that they could cross examine him and break down his testimony. The time limit for the case was only a few weeks off. At four o’clock in the evening they notified us (it was Tuesday evening} that they would take testimony in New York on Thursday morning with Julius Snell as a witness and examine him.
Mr. Brown was pretty badly disturbed, He said: «It is very necessary that Julius Snell read his testimony over.» He testified formerly that he came to Fort Madison, Iowa, on a trip on the North Western Road. The North Western Road doesn’t go through Fort Madison, Iowa, and this mistake was caused by the fact that he had never been West before and he went from Chicago over the North Wester Road up into central Iowa to visit some friends and he got his railroads mixed up. Mr. Brown said it was perfectly legal for him to read his testimony over. He took me out of the room in which we were giving testimony and told me this: «I don’t want anybody to know you went to New York, but I want this testimony gotten to Julius Snell.” I said: «I don’t see how I can catch the train in time.»
I went downstairs and bad a taxicab, waiting for me and I told the driver when I came in, to make a run for my hotel and that I had phoned to have my grips packed and everything ready for me. I did this because I didn’t want them to go to New York with me on the train. I called up Mr. Snell’s bookkeeper and told her to meet me at the train in New York City and not to say a word to Mr. Snell about it, but just for her to meet the train, which she did. I got on the train and I never met anyone I knew, and I felt sure they were in Chicago and would not come until the next day.
When I went to get off the train, I saw George Kraker, Mr. Lotz, their attorney, a detective, and Charlie Bush, their Kansas City attorney, standing right around me. As George Kraker knew Mrs. Snell’s bookkeeper, I didn’t know what to do, as I preferred that he didn’t see me this testimony, which was perfectly legal, but it would be better if he didn’t. In getting off and going into the Grand Central Station I glanced to my right about 100 feet and saw this bookkeeper. I never went toward her but went toward the 42nd Street entrance and they all followed me. When I got down to the 42nd Street entrance, I set down my grips and said: «Who is going with me?» The detective said he would accompany me. I said: «All right, but I hope you will be gentleman enough to stay quite a distance behind me,» He said he would.
The station was quite crowded. Then I walked back toward the bookkeeper. As I passed her (the detective was back a little ways), I said: «There is a detective following us, Don’t walk with me.» So I walked down toward the subway trains and as the detective came near, I bought a ticket to go north on the subway. The train pulled in and the door opened. I then let the detective step on first, but as the door began to close, I jumped backwards off the train and the door shut the detective on the train. I went back to the bookkeeper and told her that here was the testimony of Julius Snell which Hr. brown had sent to him and that it was perfectly legal and right for Mr. Snell to read it over before he went on the stand in the morning. I said; “You take it down to his factory and lay it on his desk. When he comes in in the morning, you tell] him there is his testimony and that Mr. Brown sent word that he should read it over and that it was perfectly legal for him to read it, He will ask you who brought it (which he did} and you tell him a messenger brought it. That is the truth, for you are the messenger who brought the testimony.”
Mr. Snell read it over and I didn’t see him before they began to take testimony the next morning. While they began to take testimony at ten o’clock in the morning in the Bush Terminal Building, Mr. Snell got on the stand. They said: «Mr. Snell, have you read over your testimony?» He said: «Yes, I have.» «Where did you get it?» Mr. Brown sent it to me. When I came down to my office this morning, it was lying on my desk.» They said: «Who brought it?» «My bookkeeper said a messenger brought it,» “When did you see Mr. Sheaffer?» » Just now, when I shook hands with him.” «Haven’t you seen him since he came in last night?» He said: «I have not.” «Didn’t he communicate with you over the phone?» “He didn’t.» They said: «You haven’t had a word from him in any way and you haven’t communicated with him in any way?» «No, I haven’t (all of which was the truth.) Cuestion: «How do you know that Mr. Sheaffer conceived this patent on a certain day, as you have testified?» (which was about three and a half years ago)
«By the fact that I charged him for some models that he had made up on that day.» They said: “Are you willing to go down to your factory and show us that entry in your books?» «I am.» (This was one of the greatest mistakes they made.) He went down to his factory and got out his book and turned back to the entries made 3 years ago and there was that entry Just as he had described, As they had only until four o’clock that afternoon to take testimony, they were paralyzed, During that 3 years I got very tired of having a detective with me and following nearly every step I took, But when the decision was rendered, it closed the Kansas City Kraker factory.
I had a boyhood friend by the name of Dr, Bert Hull, of Kansas City. I got a letter from him one day stating that he knew I did not want to break some young fellows who happened to go into the Kraker pen Company and who knew nothing about the crooked work Kraker had done, and that he wished I would come to Kansas City. I went to Kansas City and found Mr. Blumenthal and his father had everything they had in the company and were now broke and also found a young Mr. Neil who had mortgaged his home for the last appeal. I decided to give these men back their money, or give them Sheaffer stock for their Kraker stock, Blumenthal persuaded me to do the same for Charlie Bush, their attorney, but I was very sorry afterwards that I did, I gave these men in all virtually about $30,000.
Charles Bush caused us a good deal of trouble afterwards. Mr. Blumenthal never paid anything on his stock and when things didn’t look so good, he wouldn’t pay. Mr. C. R. Sheaffer and Mr. Waldron did not know all about the circumstances, and one day when T was away they made a new contract with him which they shouldn’t have done because I knew all the circumstances and the reasons for making the first contract. After our stock advanced so and Mr. Blumenthal had sold his stock for upwards of $100,000 that we had virtually given him, he notified us one day that he would vote the stock and do with it Just as he pleased. So then we parted company. I learned then that many a time when you would do a fellow a favor it wasn’t appreciated. But I have never entirely learned my lesson, for I have done it a few times since then where it still hasn’t been appreciated, In most cases, though, men do appreciate the favors. you do for them.
I took over the Kansas City factory, but I said that I wasn’t going to give the Krakers a penny. They said: «Well, the banks have loaned them 15% on their stock.» I said: «All right, we will pay the banks whatever they loaned,» I operated this Kansas City factory for Several years and then moved it to Fort Madison, Towa, and made Mr. Blumenthal at that time the New York manager. It was after this that he failed to appreciate what had been done for him in the stock deal.
In the early days of the lever pen it was a novel device, but there was an old lever patent taken out by Barnes of Rockford, Illinois, that I could have bought for a few dollars; but this was one place Where my patent attorney advised me wrong. He said: «It isn’t worth anything and I wouldn’t advise you to buy it.» However, it was sold to
the L. E. Waterman Pen Company for about $100. This patent was the basic for the Waterman Pen Company to make a lever pen. As they were a very large concern, they showed lots of dealers a lever pen before we were able to get to them.
We designed a six—dozen plate glass floor case that I bought at a very low price of $15 a piece. We went out and displayed these cases and this was the thing that put us on the market, the fact that we had a display and really put the dealer in the fountain pen business, The highest-priced pen we had at that time was $5. We would go to a dealer and if we couldn’t sell him, we would give him a $4 pen in which he became so interested that when we went back again, we sold him our pens.
But the litigation still kept coming on. It seemed thar we were the center of attack. As I have related formerly, Mr. Brewster, being one of my best friends and one of the finest men I ever knew, was scared to death we would lose a patent suit, and if we had lost one it would have been very bad; so I never took him along with me on these trips where I had to go. One day I got word that we would he sued in the Brooklyn courts on a certain patent. I thought: «Well, this amounts to nothing. This is one chance for me to take Mr. Brewster along» He had always wondered why I had never taken him along with me on previous trips, as he was one of our vice presidents, I took him to our Chicago lawyer, Frank Brown, and handed this matter over to him to mead, Mr. Brown read it and looked up: «They have got you on this and they will stick you for it.» I looked over at Mr. Brewster and saw that he had fainted dead away and had fallen off his chair, scaring us to death. We got cold water and I ran down and got a half-pint of whiskey and braced him up and got him straightened out, He thought that we were ruined, I told him: «You go home and I am going to Brooklyn, you won’t hear from me until I get this matter straightened out. Don’t tell the ladies, for they will spread the news all over town; and if the news gets out, it will scare our stockholders to death,» He did tell the ladies and at was known all over town when I got home.
When I got to Brooklyn I found that the Standard Vulcanite Pen Company had sued us on a Hamilton patent of a bar and that other pen companies had given them $3,500 to sue us and would give them all they collected from us. Their patent had several years to run and I| didn’t know we were infringing on their patent, for nearly everybody was using it. Well, it made a pretty bad case, I didn’t dare to let anybody know that I
| was in New York, not even our own New York Office, for I was afraid the other pen companies would find it out and I couldn’t make a settlement. I found that the Standard Vulcanite Pen Company was composed of Mr. Turner, Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Reeser. I got in touch with Mr. Turner and had him come over to the Vanderbilt Hotel and explained to him that he ought not to take a little company like ours which were doing an honorable business and try to break us. “Well,” He said, «The other pen companies are furnishing the money and we get all make out of it.» He said that Mr. Hamilton was angry at us because we never did buy any gold nibs from him. At that time, we did not make our own gold nibs, but bought them f. Grieshaber Pen Company of Chicago, Illinois. Well, as the Grieshaber Company had told me that they were losing money on our contract and that they wanted to cancel it, this gave me an opening to tell Mr. Turner if we would enter into a deal that I would buy our gold nibs from them. Mr. Turner said: “We can come to some understanding if the other two partners agree,» So the next night, we brought Mr. Reeser over and we convinced him that we should enter into some kind of a contract.
Then after those two agreed, I tried to get them to enter into a contract, but they said they wouldn’t do it unless it was agreeable to Mr. Hamilton also. I hated to try to convince Mr. Hamilton because I knew the frame of mind he was in; but it had to be done, so I brought Hamilton over. He was very bitter. He said he didn’t like me very well because we had never done any business with him and had given it all to somebody else. He said the other people were furnishing the mo9oney for them to sue, it wasn’t costing them a cent and they got all they made out of it. It made a pretty stiff proposition to overcome. I said to Mr. Hamilton “Will you furnish our gold nibs if we buy them from you?» Will you furnish the same quality of gold nibs at the same price we are now buying them from the Grieshaber Pen Company?» Mr. Hamilton said that he would , but we had to buy so many hundred thousand a year, which was more than I was able to buy and he also demanded that I give him a ten-cent royalty, on every pen I made, This would bust us, but that was all he would do.
I saw one ray of light in the fact that he had promised to furnish us the same quality of gold nibs at the same price that we were then buying them from the Grieshaber Pen Company and I thought I could get this in the contract. As I couldn’t give him the prices, I thought that would help. We were busted if we signed the contract, and we were busted if we didn’t. I said to them: «Have you got a good lawyer?” They said: Yes.» I said: «Let’s use your lawyer to make the contract.” I knew it would very difficult to get two lawyers to get the clause in that I wanted.
We wrote up a contract and when we came to the clause that they were to furnish the gold nibs of the same quality at the same price we were getting them from the Grieshaber Pen Company, they asked: “what is the price?» TI suggested that I couldn’t tell them all the prices and that we write it up that they were to furnish fold nibs of the same quality as the Grieshaber Fen Company had been furnishing us and when I arrived in Fort Madison, I would send them the original invoices and the prices contained in those original invoices were to be entered into the contract. This was agreed to by them and their attorney, and the contract was written up in this manner.
When I got home, I sent them an order, I believe, for $50,000 worth of pens and they refused to take the order because they said they couldn’t make them at the price asked — so that released me from the gold nib part of the contract.
But I still had the ten-cent royalty, However, the business was increasing so much that I was afraid the royalty would be enormous and I didn’t know whether we could carry it or not; but I wanted to keep on good terms with him. I said «We will enter into a contract so that you can make a profit on them.» (which we did). Every so often we would pay the royalty. I was very bitter toward Hamilton to think that he was bearing down on us the way he was. I wondered what we were going to do because when we got up to 2,000 pens a day we bad to pay him $200 a day royalty. We even had to pay a ten-cent royalty on a dollar pen which we were losing money on, or not at least making money without the royalty.
There was one thing that happened which was very fortunate. We began to receive bills for pens, one for $1,666.33 and then three or four bills of exactly the same amount, $1,666.33, I called my son’s, C. R. Sheaffer’s, attention to this and he agreed that it was impossible to make three or four bunches of nibs of several hundred pens at exactly the same weight and that something was wrong. I told him: «I believe that those fellows are collecting the money in the bank by putting the is in before they made the pens.” I was building my home upon the hill at that time, and one Saturday morning I looked up and saw Mr. Hamilton coming toward the house. I knew then that he was in trouble. He came up and shook hands and said: «Mr. Sheaffer, I have to have $5,000 before the bank closes today. You know on Saturday it closes at noon and in New York
it closes one hour sooner than it does here, so we have a very short length of time before I have to have this money.» I said: «You have come to a bad place to pet money today.” «But you owe me $5,000 on royalties.» I said, «I will owe you on September 1, and I will pay you on that day.» «But I have to have money today.» «Well, I said,» I am very sorry, but you have come to the wrong place to get it.» The result finally was that in less than one-half hour I had given him the $5,000 and he had cancelled the royalty contract, which saved our company from failure later; for that royalty contract would have grown to $500 a day before it would have expired. If he had been fair with us, I would have had his royalty contract and I would have helped him during the time of his trouble. But I felt that because of the way he had treated me, I didn’t owe him anything and he got just what was coming to him.