Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

When Personality Is Worth More Than Experience

From July 23, 1911


WHEN PERSONALITY IS WORTH MORE THAN EXPERIENCE: Why It Is That Business Men Sometimes Pay the Highest Salaries to Those Lacking Technical Knowledge. (PDF)

The head of a big contracting firm in New York has been looking two years now for a $25,000-a-year man. The curious features of his search are that the man he wants shall have as little technical knowledge of the business as possible and no ability as a salesman. The requisites are that he shall dress well, appear well, be between thirty and forty, and get around a great deal among people of means.

“Such a man, when I find the right one, will bring me in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business a year,” says this contractor…

“The smartest salesmen can’t always get close to the big people. Such a man as I am looking for can often do it easily; do it in enough cases to count big. With no effort at all, just because of his acquaintance, he’ll bring them into my office at the very moment they’re wanting something. I’ll find that man sooner or later, but it’s a long search.”

It’s an interesting idea to hire a connector on staff for their social skills. Is that being done today? Or is that just called a PR agent?

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Written by David

July 21st, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Business

The Hold-Up Game As New York’s Tip-Hunting Cormorants Play It

From July 9, 1911


THE HOLD-UP GAME AS NEW YORK’S TIP-HUNTING CORMORANTS PLAY IT: How People in This City Are Forced to Spend Money for Needless and Worthless Services (PDF)

The squeegee man who washes your windshield and demands a tip is engaging in an old tradition.

“Have a light, Sir?”

It is a small boy, smutty-faced and keen-eyed, who says it as he steps up with a flaming match in hand — a light for your cigar or cigarette when you come through the theatre entrance.

No, the youngster is not interested personally in your comfort. In fact, he doesn’t care a rap whether you get the light or not — except that it comes from him. He expects a “tip” for his effort. It is simply one of the first steps in the “hold-up” game that runs riot in Manhattan.


One small urchin — he wasn’t over a dozen years old — told a Times reporter that he “pulled down” about $10 a week at the apparently simple match-lighting stunt.

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Written by David

July 6th, 2011 at 11:30 am

Posted in Business,Life

The City As It Appears Every Night To The Lychnobite

From May 7, 1911


THE CITY AS IT APPEARS EVERY NIGHT TO THE LYCHNOBITE: The World Is Topsy-Turvy, Full of Human Shadows, to the Night “Workers,” More than Fifty Thousand in Number, Who May Be Found After Dark in the City Parks. (PDF)

To the man who works at night nothing is the same as to the man who works in the daytime. It is a topsy-turvy world he lives in. When his neighbor is getting up to do his day’s work he has washed his hands after doing his and is getting into bed. When one’s day ends the other begins. The lychnobite awakens with the owl and eats his breakfast in the evening. The moon is his sun, while the sun is his candle. His evening paper is the one which declares itself as a morning publication. Everything is switched around for him.

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Written by David

May 3rd, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Business,Life

New York Pays About $7,000,000 Yearly For Its Music

From March 19, 1911


NEW YORK PAYS ABOUT $7,000,000 YEARLY FOR ITS MUSIC: Opera the Biggest Item, But Other Sources from the Hand Organ to Symphony Make Up the High Amount. (PDF)

The New York Times runs some numbers. They figure out how much money is spent each year on organ grinders, restaurant musicians, philharmonic performers, pianolas, sheet music, opera singers, piano teachers, phonographs, and every other form of music they can think of. They come up with a total just shy of $7,000,000 and wonder if it’s all worth it. I think the answer is yes, and I’m kind of surprised they bother to ask.

One thing I found interesting in the article is that “records which immortalize in wax or celluloid Caruso’s sobs, Tetrazzini’s fioriture or Sousa’s brassy thrills, cost from 25 cents to $5 apiece.” Converted from 1911 dollars, that’s between $6 and $120 today. But you can still get tons of great albums for just $5 apiece on Amazon. Huh.

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Written by David

March 16th, 2011 at 11:15 am

Walter Wellman On The Future Of Aerial Navigation

From February 5, 1911


WALTER WELLMAN ON THE FUTURE OF AERIAL NAVIGATION: From Facts Gained in His Own Experiences He Points Out What Is Needed to Conquer the Air. (PDF)

Walter Wellman was an explorer who made several unsuccessful attempts to reach the North Pole by airship (including an attempt covered here back in July). In this article, he considers the future of commercial air travel.

My faith is strong that having demonstrated the practicability of air travel man will go on till he has developed flight into a state of perfection and usefulness not even indicated by the apparatus of to-day.

Whether or not full commercial utilization of aerial navigation is coming, soon or late, is a question which no one can now adequately and confidently answer. It may come; it may not. My own impression, rather than conviction, is that in the next half century we shall have limited rather than universal commercial application of the art. But within those limitations will be found much that is highly beneficial to humanity…

Commercial aerial navigation, like any other navigation, means operation for a profit in competition with railways and steamships. involved in operation for a profit are certain requirements well understood, but which it will be well to state. First, there must be a high degree of safety of operation, and reduction to a small minimum of the risk of accident to the ship itself and its passengers and cargo. Without this high degree of safety ships and their cargoes cannot be insured at practicable premiums, owners cannot afford to carry their own insurance, (since the inevitable losses must be made up in some way,) passengers will not offer themselves for voyages, and goods will not be tendered for transportation without insurance.

Next, ships of an aerial transportation line, like steamships and railways trains, must be fairly sure of setting out on a given schedule, and of accomplishing the voyage in a reasonably close approximation to the time advertised beforehand. It is clear that great uncertainty of departure and of time of arrival would constitute a handicap against the enterprise in competition with more stable modes of transportation.

These objections, sure to hold in the long run, might not apply sharply to an aerial line as long as the novelty remained. For the unusual experience of a trip in the air passengers might offer themselves and be wiling to pay much higher rates of fare than they would have to pay upon competing lines.

Oddly, Wellman does not include thoughts of air travel by plane, even though that was clearly where the industry was heading. The first planes which carry passengers were already in development, but he focuses primarily on the problems of commercial balloon flight.

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Written by David

February 4th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business,Technology

The Times Review of Books to Be Issued on Sundays

From January 28, 1911

The Times Review of Books to Be Issued on Sundays

The Times Review of Books to Be Issued on Sundays (PDF)

After 14 years on Saturdays, the Times Review of Books moved to Sundays this week in 1911. This notice appeared that Saturday, with similar notices appearing throughout the week. It could bee seen as more information than the reader needs about why the section is moving, but I find it refreshingly open and honest in its discussion of circulation and advertising issues. I imagine that a similar notice today would simply be reduced to “Now On Sundays!”

In transferring to the Sunday issue The Review of Books, which has for fourteen years formed a part of the Saturday morning issue of The Times, a change is made of which the necessity, long ago foreseen, has become so urgent that it can no longer be deferred. The Review of Books will to-morrow, and henceforth, be issued with The Sunday Times.

The reasons which make this change imperative concern both The Times and its readers. Owing to the increased number of pages required for the volume of news and advertisements printed in the daily edition on Saturday, it has of late frequently become necessary to reduce the size of The Review of Books. We are unwilling to adopt permanently that way out of the difficulty. There is but one other way. It is by making The Review of Books a part of the Sunday edition. This change, by avoiding the necessity of haste, makes it possible to improve the printing and the appearance of The Review; it will thus be more acceptable to its readers and better suited to binding or laying away for reference.

While this change has been long in contemplation, it has been deferred, out of regard to the interests both of readers and of advertisers, until the circulation of The Sunday Times should approximate that of the daily issue, thus continuing to give The Review of Books a circulation much larger than that of any other publication in the world devoted to the news of books and the discussion of their contents. Of this great circulation, pre-eminently a home circulation, The Review of Books, forming a part of the Sunday issue, will have the full benefit.

Moreover, it is believed that, issued on Sunday, The Review of Books will have an enhanced value for pleasure and instruction. It will be read with more thoughtful attention on a day when release from the cares and demands of week-day vocations leaves the reader free to enjoy its pages. As a part of the Sunday edition it will give new interest and value to that issue of The Times, and will itself, we are confident, be read with profit and satisfaction.

Today the New York Times Book Review remains published on Sundays, but has the further distinction of being the only section* in the Times that you can subscribe to separately from the rest of the paper.

*as far as I know.

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Written by David

January 26th, 2011 at 11:38 am

Posted in Business,Literature

A County Where Selling Votes Is Universal

From January 15, 1911


A COUNTY WHERE SELLING VOTES IS UNIVERSAL: Even the Women of Adams County, Ohio, Market the Ballots of Their Husbands, Sons and Sweethearts — A Minister Among the Guilty. (PDF)

This scandal is shocking enough that I’m surprised it doesn’t come up during election years. It’s a small but ugly anecdote in American history, and I can find very little mention of it online. For the most part it seems to have been swept under the rug.

For decades, the nice people of Adams County, Ohio openly sold their votes to the highest bidder.

The air in Adams County is clean and bracing. The stars shine larger there in the frosty Winter nights than they do in the cities. Men live close to the soil. It seems like a place set apart for the good things in life, but it is the rottenest borough in the civilized world.

The country folk there are simple. The men wear faded blue shirts, felt boots, and slouch hats. They drive little box buggies through the country. They look innocent. But they do like to boodle

Elections were clean in the county until thirty years ago when “Calico Charley” Foster ran for Governor. He sent agents through the county buying votes. The traffic was a secret one then, done in whispers and in the dark. Votes sold for $1.

Elections came and were bought. The citizens had a taste of boodle money and they liked it. In the 80s elections became more openly corrupt. Politicians still talk about the “good times” of the 1887 election. That year Ed P. Leedom and Ed Silcutt, two Federal office holders, came from Washington with a carpet bag full of bank notes. Thirty thousand dollars was spent to carry Adams County Democratic that year…

The stories of past campaigns are told, with names, by the actors in them. The stories, for pure civic turpitude, would make a burglar turn pale with envy, but the matter of fact way in which they are related is astounding. One of these citizens who unblushingly tells of his boodle experience is perhaps the wealthiest man in the county. he is certainly the most influential. He was willing to talk if his name were not used.

“Frequently I handle $16,000 in an election,” he said coolly. “It is the only way you can carry an election here. I back candidates as other men back racehorses. It’s fun to win. Wrong? It is the only way, I tell you. The voters demand money. They won’t vote unless they get it.”

In a town where that’s the norm, reaching voting age was like hitting the jackpot:

One of the leaders in the vote-buying movement [says], “Adams County people look upon the matter of buying and selling votes as a business proposition. The average boy waits patiently until he is 21. He knows that after he has become of age he will be able to get sufficient money every year from the party workers to buy his Fall suit. He does not lie, steal, gamble or drink to a greater extent than the boy of the city. His vices are few.

“He knows that he can sell his votes and still keep his position in society. But he also knows that if he breaks other laws he will be ostracized. He takes money from the election worker without a quiver of conscience and takes a prominent part in the next prayer meeting following election day.”

The man who finally blew the whistle was a federal judge named Blair. He had served as Chairman of the county’s Democratic and Republican committees, and he quietly watched this go on for a long time. He even bought votes himself. But at the end of 1910, he convened a Grand Jury to finally put an end to Adams County’s vote sale.

“I have seen the Mayor of West Union, the prosecuting attorney, and other officials watch a farmer’s vote auctioned. He stood on a soap box in the Public Square and the politicians bid against one another.

“When I was Chairman of the Democratic Committee frequently we made agreements to have clean elections. But, while we might have one clean election, the boodlers would kick over the traces the next year.

“These people down here, many of them, do not realize they are doing wrong when they sell their votes. It is a custom. They won’t go to the polls unless they are paid.

“When I was a young fellow, anxious to get ahead, I bought some votes. But I always felt mean when I did it, and I quit. I made up my mind I would break up the practice, and I’m going to if I have to disfranchise every voter in the county.”

Judge Blair put a notice in the newspaper encouraging people to confess voluntarily in order to avoid jail when they are eventually discovered anyway. People came by the hundreds, hoping that they might be able to just pay a small fine and keep their bribe money. As many as 180 indictments were brought in a single day, and the final number totaled more than 1,000.

That’s more than 1,000 people in a single county indicted for selling their votes. And yet today, with all the stories in the news every election cycle about voter fraud and disenfranchisement, I’ve never heard about this incident before.


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Written by David

January 14th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Did You Know That Household Service Is A Problem?

From January 8, 1911


DID YOU KNOW THAT HOUSEHOLD SERVICE IS A PROBLEM? It Is, and a Government Official Marshals Some Impressive Facts to Prove That It Is Not the Less a Labor Question Because There Is No Housekeepers’ Union. (PDF)

According to the article, housekeepers were “the largest occupational group outside of farmers and agricultural laborers; that is more than four times as large as the total number of miners” and yet nobody had studied the conditions of housekeepers as the other industries had been studied. Their living conditions, working hours, days off, etc, were all unregulated.

The article is interesting, but I especially enjoyed the illustrations which depict a servant’s “palatial apartment” and imagines the awkwardness of a maid dining with her employers. The bottom drawing shows “The Breakfast Table Of the Future,” where a servant has been replaced by a machine.

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Written by David

January 7th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business,Life

$163,197,125 Given In 1910 For Philanthropy

From January 1, 1911



1910 had some generous donors, including David Rankin, Jr., who this article describes as “giver of the year.” The 75 year old bachelor donated $3 million — his entire life savings — to a school in his name. It wasn’t the highest amount given by a millionaire, but it was everything he had.

2010 was no slouch, either. This year Bill Gates and Warren Buffet asked their fellow billionaires to pledge at least half their net worth to charity. Some who have agreed to do so include George Lucas, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Today is the last day you can make a donation to a non-profit and have it be tax deductible for 2010. If you haven’t already done so, and you want to actually see your donation make a difference, check out where you can read about schools in need of help, and pick a specific classroom with a specific project that you want to see funded.

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Written by David

December 31st, 2010 at 10:30 am

A Skyscraper Built By The Nickels Of Millions

From January 1, 1911


A SKYSCRAPER BUILT BY THE NICKELS OF MILLIONS: The Wooworth Building Tells the Romance of a Business — How a Farmer’s Boy Started a Little Five and Ten Cent Store and Now Has 286 Big Ones. (PDF)

The Woolworth Building is one of New York City’s oldest skyscrapers, and its gothic architecture suggests an older era, so it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t even around 100 years ago. In anticipation of its planned erection, the Times Magazine published this retrospective on Frank W. Woolworth, the man behind the Woolworth’s five and dime stores.

Readers of The Times have already learned about the skyscraper. It is to look like a vast tower in the Gothic style, extending 105 feet along Broadway and 197 feet on Park Place. With forty-five stories, it will rise into the air to a height of 625 feet, or thirteen feet higher than the Singer Building. The skyscraper will cost $5,000,000. It will bear the name of its projector — the Woolworth Building.

“Do you mean to say,” you ask, “that this is to be built by the 5 and 10 cent store man?”

It is the same man — Frank W. Woolworth.

The building eventually surpassed its originally planned height, and is now 792 feet tall. You can visit to see how the Woolworth Building compares to other notable structures of the past and today.

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Written by David

December 31st, 2010 at 9:30 am

Inventors Who Take No Profits From Their Work

From December 4, 1910


INVENTORS WHO TAKE NO PROFITS FROM THEIR WORK: Give the Results of their Skill and Study Without Charge for the Good of Mankind, Declining Royalties. (PDF)

Fans and practitioners of open source intellectual property and creative commons licensing can look to these inventors as their predecessors in spirit. Each of them donated their inventions to the public. In fact, if you look at the patent for Logan Waller Page’s new form of concrete, discussed in this article, you will see that it boasts on the first page “DEDICATED TO THE PUBLIC.” In the text it elaborates:

…the invention herein described and claimed may be used by the Government of the United States or any of its officers or employees… or by any person in the United States, without the payment of any royalty thereon.

So why get a patent at all? The article explains:

Patents for the public are becoming more numerous and important each year. It is only within the last few months that the Patent Office has established the official classification of “Dedicated to the Public” in its official gazette of patents, and has attempted to assemble the records of those discoveries and inventions that have been taken out for the benefit of the people of the United States.

These patents are secured to insure the free use of the patented object by the public. If such action were not taken the principle of the invention or discovery might at once be incorporated ins ome other invention and patented by another person, with the result that the benefits intended for the public would go to some private corporation.

*ahem* Speaking of open source inventions, allow me to tell you about one of my own: the Bulbdial Clock. It’s a new kind of clock original envisioned by me, developed by Evil Mad Science Labs, and now available as an open source hardware kit that makes an excellent gift for the holidays.

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Written by David

December 3rd, 2010 at 9:30 am

Mottoes That Have Guided Prominent Men To Success

From November 27, 1910


MOTTOES THAT HAVE GUIDED PROMINENT MEN TO SUCCESS: “Never Complain, Never Explain” Is President Taft’s Favorite — Rules of Life of Carnegie, Bishop Greer, W. C. Brown, and Others (PDF)

Mottoes from the article:

“The American people like to be humbugged.” – P. T. Barnum

“Don’t keep a rag-bag.” – A. T. Stewart

“Never write letters.” – Martin Van Buren

“Fair play and half the road.” – “Uncle” David Gray

“Never complain, never explain.” – William H. Taft

“If you want business, you’ve got to go after it.” – John W. Gates

“The highest product possible at the smallest cost of manufacture.” – Andrew Carnegie

“Perfect organization will accomplish all things.” – James Stillman

“Know the people, know the country, know the markets.” – W. C. Brown

“If you first find out what the people want and then give them what they want at a price they will pay, the people will do the rest.” – Frank A. Munsey

Admittedly, some of those make more sense in the context provided in the article, so if you’re wondering what the heck a rag-bag is, give it a read.

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Written by David

November 26th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business,Life

The Secret Of Success — Intellectual Concentration

From November 20, 1910


THE SECRET OF SUCCESS — INTELLECTUAL CONCENTRATION: Notable Cases Where Men Won Fame and Fortune Through Absorbing Self-Communing — Edison, Keene, Pupin, Hewitt, Westinghouse and Gould as Examples (PDF)

The point of this article is that the most successful people spend periods of time in silent concentration without interruption. As described, it seems like meditation for some, or just some quiet thinking time for others. These days it’s hard to find a prolonged period of silence in which to concentrate, with so many beeping, buzzing, and ringing distractions coming from the computers in our pockets and on our desks.

It reminds me that I’ve been meaning to try out the Freedom app, available for Mac and Windows computers. It costs a few dollars to purchase, and it has one function: it disables your computer’s network ability for a predetermined set of time. With no internet, you can concentrate without distractions, and without temptation to browse around the web procrastinating. I think I’ll give it a try, and see if I too can win fame and fortune through concentration.

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Written by David

November 19th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Business,Life

Odd Things That Happen In Hunting For Autographs

From October 23, 1910


ODD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN HUNTING FOR AUTOGRAPHS: Treasure That Is Sometimes Worth Thousands of Dollars and How It Is Obtained — Ingenious Tricks Played on Public Men — Finds in Ash-Barrels (PDF)

This article was inspired by a book on autograph collecting called Chats on Autographs by A. M. Broadley. You can read the book online thanks to Google Books.

The article begins as the book does, exploding the myth that autograph collectors are just trying to get signatures:

“Those who deliberately cut signatures from important letters are in reality the worst enemies both of the autograph collector and the historian. Vandalism of this kind (often committed in happy unconsciousness of the consequences) brings with it its own punishment, for detached signatures are almost worthless.

“Many years ago a dealer was offered sixteen genuine signatures of Samuel Pepys, their owner naively remarking that ‘he had cut them from the letters to save trouble.’ As a matter of fact he had, in the course of a few seconds, depreciated the value of his property to the extent of at least £15. The letters, if intact, would have fetched from £15 to £20 each!”

The article goes on to describe the methods autograph collectors employed to get intact letters from famous people. Today, autograph hounds can make themselves nuisances, stalking celebrities for mementos to sell on eBay. And the practice can even be dangerous.

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Written by David

October 22nd, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Art,Business

The Supreme Court And The Anti-Trust Act

From October 9, 1910


THE SUPREME COURT AND THE ANTI-TRUST ACT: Victor Morawetz Discusses the Interpretation and Effect of the Sherman Law — The Sugar Trust Case. (PDF)

This rather lengthy piece will be of primary interest to the business-law-minded of you. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act went into affect in 1890, and just a couple years later the Sugar Trust Case came before the Supreme Court, in which The American Sugar Refining Company defended itself against accusations of monopolistic practices for controlling almost all the sugar production in the United States. The issue in this case was whether or not a company can really have a monopoly on manufacturing a product, as opposed to distribution. Nearly 20 years after the Sherman Act passed, the Times Magazine enlisted Victor Morawetz, an expert on anti-trust law, to discuss how the Act has been interpreted and effected business. He uses the Sugar Trust Case and others as examples.

And if you’re really, really business-law-minded, you might enjoy reading the complete Sugar Trust Case decision.

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Written by David

October 8th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business,Politics

How New York City Spends Its Money Every Year

From October 2, 1910


HOW NEW YORK CITY SPENDS ITS MONEY EVERY YEAR: For the First Time the Public Is Informed by a Novel Budget Exhibit Just Where Its Millions Go. (PDF)

The annual budget of New York City 100 years ago was $163 million. For the first time, the city revealed just where that money goes, in a public exhibition about the 1910 budget.

“The purpose of the exhibit will be to acquaint taxpayers and interested citizens with every item of expense, and disseminate information regarding the management of the city’s business affairs. It will be a revelation to know that the City of New York performs a broader variety of work than any other city in the world, and that the benefits it distributes are many times more numerous than the ordinary citizen supposes.”

For comparison, you can find the city’s current budget online at the Office of Management and Budget.

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Written by David

October 6th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Street Faker King Tells Some Tricks Of The Trade

From September 25, 1910


STREET FAKER KING TELLS SOME TRICKS OF THE TRADE: Cunningham of Ann Street Introduces Sporting John Mack, Provider of Literature; Maggie the Fly King, and Others. (PDF)

The word “faker” here doesn’t mean a person who pretends to do something. It means a street vendor who sells meaningless trinkets. We still have them around town, hawking cheap souvenirs and toys. A man named Mr. Cunningham ran a novelty shop on Ann Street in 1910, and he hired fakers to hawk his wares:

“If a faker hasn’t got some smartness about him, he’ll be pushed out of the business quick. You see, a faker’s not like a peddler, not at all! Your peddler sells things that there’s a demand for, like shoestrings.

“Now people always needed shoestrings. They were on the market 300 years before Christ was born. [Upon reflection it rather seems as if Mr. Cunningham’s enthusiasm got the better of his judgment here.]

“But a faker hands things to the public that really aren’t wanted. He doesn’t supply a demand. He creates it. Nobody needs a little dog with a spring tail, for instance, and yet these dogs are the most popular things on the street today.”

As he spoke Mr. Cunningham held up a creation about as big as your hand, with very stiff legs and a melancholy expression.

“Pull its tail,” said Mr. Cunningham in an awed tone.

The reporter pulled. The tail, being a spring one, kept on vibrating after the pulling had stopped.

“That dog,” said Mr. Cunningham in a slow, solemn undertone, “has made a fortune for its inventor. A fortune! It’s selling like hot cakes.”

We all gazed with admiration at the dog for about five minutes, after which Mr. Cunningham heaved a sigh and reverently deposited him in his box again.

The best fakers were good showmen. One of them reckons he could have been a vaudevillian. They worked their own hours, and some of them made an excellent living.

Here’s a bit more from the article:

“Badges and buttons are the staples… But the real sport of the trade is in selling novelties. What’s a novelty? Ah, anything new that anybody thinks up.”

The angry mother-in-law is a scream. It comes in a small box and consists of two beads and two pieces of rubber. You make a fist of your hand, stick the two beads at the top, the long piece of rubber in the middle in a vertical position and the short piece of rubber at the bottom in a horizontal position. Then you tie a handkerchief about the whole and wriggle your fingers.

The result is really killingly funny. The beads are eyes, the piece of rubber in the center is a nose, the piece of rubber at the bottom is a mouth, the handkerchief is hair, and the whole effect, without using much imagination, either, is that of an awfully ugly old woman who’s making faces.

You can’t help laughing as you look at it. The little brown dog seems rather inadequate considering the burst of enthusiasm it has aroused, but the angry mother-in-law is really funny.

“To see Maggie work that mother-in-law!” exclaimed Mr. Cunningham.

“Who’s Maggie?” asked the reporter.

“What! You don’t know Maggie, the belle of the trade? Maggie, the fly king? Maggie’s as well known in Wall Street as Pierpont Morgan. He’s as clever a man as there is in New York City.”

“Yes, every one knows that Mr. Morgan is –”

“No, no. I mean Maggie. Maggie, short for Mary Ellen, nickname for Edward Joseph!”

Maggie, it appears, is a gentleman about 50 years of age, who weighs 250 pounds, hasn’t a tooth in his head, and is known from the Bronx to the Battery for his fun and cleverness. Just for the sake of curiosity, the reporter asked a policeman on Broadway, a newsboy on Fourteenth Street, a postal card man on Fifth Avenue, and a broker in Wall Street if they’d ever met Maggie. They all broke into an irrepressible grin at the sound of the name, and said of course they had.

There is a story that one day when Maggie was feeling particularly “smart and sassy,” he induced Mr. Russell Sage to buy a tin doll that turned somersaults. Maggie considers this day the high water mark of his career.

These fakers sound far more interesting than the street peddlers we have today, although we do still have some genuine characters. I’m reminded of Joe Ades, who sold his vegetable peeler in Union Square until he died last year at 76. His product was more useful than these trinkets, but he kept up the tradition of being a street salesman who was also a showman.

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Written by David

September 24th, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business

How Popular Song Factories Manufacture A Hit

From September 18, 1910


HOW POPULAR SONG FACTORIES MANUFACTURE A HIT: The Original Score Is Sometimes Hardly Recognizable After the Tinkering Is Completed — Luck a Big Factor in the Business (PDF)

100 years ago, music radio stations did not yet exist. But record players were around, so people could purchase music to play at home. So now the music industry had to figure out what kind of records people would buy. Is it the same kind of music they would go hear in a performance hall?

In America the popular song is of comparatively recent introduction. Its prototype was a composition with monotonous refrain and elaborate setting, which could only be rendered by a trained voice after laborious practice. It was seldom heard outside of drawing rooms, where it was sung with due ceremony and technical precision by prim young maidens in fresh white gowns and dapper swains in swallowtails. The only part of it that ever impressed the unfamiliar ear was the insistent refrain, which always ran something after this fashion: “Evangeline, where wendest thou? Where wendest thou, Evangeline — where wendest thou — where wendest thou — wendest thou — wendest thou-thou-t-h-o-u!!”

The song always left you in doubt and wonderment. You never learned where fair Evangeline wended, nor why she wended; nor, indeed, any single fact of interest or consequence regarding her.

That sort of song could never have become popular. You couldn’t expect the messenger boy and the shopgirl to take a very keen interest in Evangeline’s wendings when they led to nowhere. The masses need something more direct — something with a more human appeal. One of the chief secrets of popular song writing is to tell a simple story and to tell it completely.

At that time no attempt was made to cater to the musical tastes of the people. It was not supposed that they had any. Almost the only approach to popular ballads were a few well-worn war songs and plantation ditties. But two or three American song writers were trying to get a hearing with the kind of appeal to the people which in England, where the music halls afforded a ready avenue for reaching the masses, had been successfully made for many years.

The article goes on to describe the elements of a popular song. What should it be called? What should it be about? I found this article a delightful read. Today, of course, songwriters have the same challenges, but manufacturing a hit has become as much a technical and business endeavor as a creative one.

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Written by David

September 17th, 2010 at 9:15 am

Crusading Against The City’s “Unethical” Dentists

From September 18, 1910


CRUSADING AGAINST THE CITY’S “UNETHICAL” DENTISTS: The Day of the Bargain Dental Parlor Where Patients Were Maltreated and Fleeced Is Passing. (PDF)

What’s an unethical dentist?

The unethical dentists at present may be roughly divided into three groups, the first of which may be more technically than actually unethical. Because the New York State laws require more of a general education preceding the dental studies than is demanded elsewhere, some perfectly reputable graduates of schools outside the State find themselves unable to meet the Regents’ requirements. While it is of course illegal for a man in that position to practice in this city, still some of the men under this heading are good and capable dentists even if they can’t pass in German or algebra.

Next comes the foreign offenders, a large group, working chiefly among their own countrymen and consequently not easily to be detected. In Russia, students and professionals are allowed greater freedom in their comings and goings than the ordinary mortal, so that many young men and women avail themselves of this opportunity, although they may not intend to follow the profession in after life.

The dentistry course is the easiest in this direction. Opportunity to practice, though, is rather meagre, for in the country regions of that land of distress the village blacksmith is said to be frequently the sole representative of dental science.

Should the Russian emigrate to this country, however, he immediately finds out that dentistry here is a remunerative occupation and his Russian diploma looks sufficiently impressive to those of his patients who know enough to ask for one…

But while the unlicensed and unregistered foreigners frequently do individual harm they seldom descend to anything like the wholesale bungling and swindling perpetrated by some of the large “parlors.” Under the laws a man who hasn’t the slightest knowledge of the profession can open a parlor providing he hires duly licensed assistants. Sometimes he does, and in this case the men will be either young graduates trying to save enough money to set up in business themselves, or older men, who for some reason or other have not made a success of their practice. The hours are long, many times including night work, and the pay sometimes runs as low as $20 a week, so that this sort of employment has little to offer the competent or ambitious…

Men in no wise connected with the science of dentistry start offices purely as a commercial venture, and until recently these have been veritable silver mines. Sometimes one man owns a string of them… A clear proof of the prosperity of these places has been the cheerfulness with which the old offenders have paid repeated fines of $300 or $500, only to open again in another location or under another name.

For comparison, see Wikipedia’s entry on modern street dentistry, and also read about one of the most notorious street dentists of the early 1900s, Edgar “Painless” Parker.

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Written by David

September 17th, 2010 at 9:00 am

By Separate Paths Four Brothers Win Millions

From August 21, 1910


BY SEPARATE PATHS FOUR BROTHERS WIN MILLIONS: Starting with $700 Each, the Miller Boys of Connecticut Weave an Amazing Modern Fairy Tale of Finance. (PDF)

It is well to begin a story at the beginning, and as the tale of the Miller family is interesting in every part, even before the brothers themselves come on the scene, there is no reason for slighting the opening. They were born in Middletown, Conn.; their forbears had been born there for 250 years. There is the Miller pond, Miller’s farms, and the old mill itself to remind later generations of the stalwart Tom, first of his name to come to this country, who settled in Middletown on the promise from the town that if he did all ther milling they would give him $700. The town never kept its word.

The Millers eventually made a good living as farmers, which brings us to the four brothers in this story. Their mother had urged their father to “Get them out into the world to see what they can do,” and so he gave them each $700 (approximately $16,000 in today’s dollar) and sent them on their way.

50 years later, all four sons were millionaires. On the occasion of one son’s golden wedding anniversary, they reunited, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine wrote this profile. You can read how each one managed to turn their father’s gift into a full fledged business.

But the brothers had a sister, too. What happened to her?

Kate Miller, who became Mrs. Strickland, was the only girl in the family, and did not get $700 and sent out, but she made her fortune just the same. She was left a widow some twenty or twenty-five years ago. She took her husband’s life insurance and without asking anybody’s advice proceeded to make the shrewdest investments. She has big profits on some of her stock, and all her purchases prove that she has just the same business acumen that marks her brothers.

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Written by David

August 20th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Business