Press enter after choosing selection

Alexander T. Stewart

Alexander T. Stewart image
Parent Issue
Public Domain
OCR Text

[From New York Tribune] The secret of his oxtraordinary suceess must be told in lus own words : i " My business ha been a matter of i principal from the start. That ík uil I there is about it. If the goklou rule can ! be incorporated into purely mercantile ntïaii's, it has been done in this estabfishmenr, and you must have noticed, if yon have obsorved elosely, that the cuslonurs are treated precisely as the Beller himself would lik o to be treated were de ia thcir place. That is to say, nothing , is rnisreprcsentod, the price is fixod, i once and for all, at the lowest possible figuro, and the cireumstancos of the buyer are not suffered to influence the I salesman in hia conduct in the smallcst j particular. What we cannot afford ,is violation of principie." The iiurd, practical Scotch sonse ■which Hhso words indient, and which was tho strongest trait of his character, was in his blood. He was of Irish parentage, but more remotely of Scotch ancestry. i His father was a prosporous and highly respected farmer, descended from a raco of Scotck-Irish Presbyterians, wnose industry, frugality, and precisión the boy inherited in full measure. Alexunder Turney íátowart was bom in 1803, in the suburbs of Lisburn, an extensive inanufacturing town about sis. miles from Belfast. Before he was eightyears okl his parents and eider sister died, and he was left with only one near relative - hia grand father - who in his oíd age cherished the hope that he would live to hear his grandson pieach from a Methodist pulpit. The boy had natural ability and niethodieal habits, and easily led his classes, ünally taking a degree at Trinity College. His grandfather died, however, before the course of study was completed, and the young student was left Nsithout a relative. Tho grandfather had a worthy successor in a pious Quaker, who was appointed the young míin's guardián Under his guardian's advice lie finitiheü his eourse at the university, ono of his tntors being the famous Sheridan Knowles. Ho was not one of the lioisterous revelers of the university whoso portraits Charles Lever has drawn with a bold hand. With a frame not robust, but lithe and active, he was i serious, painstaking student, who was always to be fouud reading in his room while his fellows were entertaining roysterers in their chambers. He had graduated with honors, and was about 20 years of age, when he ilcided to emigrate to America. A tri vin 1 circumptaneo at tho turning poitit of his lifo made him a irerchant. A young man with whoni he had becom iutimate applied to him for money wherowith to open a small dry goods store. He advanced the greater part of the small patrimony which he had brought to America; a small store was rented and stocked, but through an unforseen circumstance his friend, after all the preparations had been made, was unable to begin bnsiuess. The pluck and energy which were the licritago of his Scotch-lrish oncestry came to the surface. In order that the money which he had already invested might not be lost, he resolved to carry on the business himsolf. He went back to Ireland, converted into money the moderate fortune which his father had loft him, boughfc a stock of Belfast laces and returned to New York to open his store. Tho capital invested amouutcd to about $3,000, and in the JDaily tificr of Sept. 2, 1825, apptared a modest advertiseinent annonncing that A. Ï. Stewart offered for sale, at No. 283 Bróadway, "a general assortment of fresb and seasonable dry goods." He bad rented one-balf of a store, witb a frontagp of twenty-five í'oet, exactlyopposite the uorthern entrance of the present wholesale store of tbe firm, then tho site of Washington Hal], In the rear of his shop, tho rental of which was very low, the young merchant had a sleepingroorn. Under these hnrnble eonditious was formed tho germ of the most extensive dry goods business in the world. Mr. Stewart's first eustomer was not only a lady but also a friend. On the day before the little shop was oponed, in accordance with lus modest announcement, a lady whose acquaintance he had made in tbe city said to liim: "You must not sell anytbiug on tbe morrow till I come and make tbe first purchase; for it will bring luck." The next morning she drove up in lier carnage and purchased Irisb laces and otber goods worth nearly two buudred dollars. It was a good omen for the young mor cbant, and in the end it was 'a luoky investment for herself. The lady subsequentlv removed to a city on the continent, where Mr. Stewart found hor in reduced circuuwtances, her husband having died after wasting her wbole fortune. Tho merchant settled an annuity upon lier, and during the rest of her hf'e she lived in comfort. Another incident, quite as intcrestiug, is relaüed of the flrst day's business. A womau came in to buy calicó, and a clerk told her that tbe colors wore fast and would not wash out. Mr. Stewart indignantly remonstrated with tho salesman. " What do you mean by saying what you know to be vmtrue? The calico will fade ; she will demand her money back, and she. will be rigbt. I don t want goods represented for what they ace not." "Look here, Mr. Stewart," said the clerk, " if those are going to be your principies in trade, I'm going to look for another situation. You won't last long." Bnt Mr. Stewart did last. His favorito business principie was oue prico for all. From this fixed price no salesman was allowed to depart; and no deceit or misrepresentation as' to the quality of the goods was toleratod. He was led by instinct and early training to accept " Honesty ík the best policy" as a sound business principio. Tliore never was a merchant who put mre conscience into his business than Mr. Stewart, and yet with him it was not sq mueh coLScienoe as it was comrnon sj-üsc. The two stores which Mr. Stewart built ave among the proudest monumenta of commercial enterprise in this countxy. The trado trausacted in them is almost fabulous. Tho sales in the two establishmeats avo said to have amounted to $'203,000,000 in tbreo years, and tho income of Mr. Stewart bas been tbe largest in the mercantil woild. In 1863 Iris income was $1,900,000; in 18fU, $4,000,000; in 1865, $1,600,000; in 1866, $600,000- an average of about $2,000,000 a year. When ne was uominatcd for Secretary of tho Troasury, he estimated bis aiuiiml income at $1,000,000. The business of the house is wide. A fori-ign bureau has been ostablisbed at Manchester, where English goods are collreted, examined, and packed. At Hellast the lirm bas t factory where linens ara bleaohed. At (ilasgow tho firm have a house for Scotch goods. In a magazin at Paris are collected East India, Frcnch, and Gt rman goods. The woolen lionse is in Berliu, and the silk warehpuBes are at Iiyons. Payments are made at tho Paris bureau, and all tbe ooutiuuiital business centers there. Then j there are mil's in Europe and the United Stiltes which manufacluro goods exclusively t'tjr this iirm, and thero are buyers and agente who are eoustautly (raveling f rom Hong Kong to Paris, f rom Thibet to Peru. Mi'. Stewart's benefactions ere on the same largo scale as his business. He gave au a prairie yields crops. Altbougb he was American in all his instincts, his heart was warm toward his nativo island. When thore mis a familie in Ireland he sought for a ship. A Britiah vessol wasoffered; he would havo notbing but an American vessel. One was found vith au American captain and an American crew, and wás at once cliartored. The vessel was loaded with visions, and under the American flag entered the liarbor of Belfast. The agent at Belfast was directed to advertise for young men and women who desired to go to America, and a froe passage was given to as many as the vessel could carry, the only requiremcnt being thnt cnch applicaut should be of good moral character and able to read and write. A circnlar was issned by Mr. Soewart himself and sent to his n'umerous fviends, stating the fact that he expected a large number of young people and asking employment for them. Whon the vessel reached the harbor of New York, piases had been found for almost every one of the new emigrants. After the Franco-German war, Mr. Stewart chartered a steamer and dispatched her to Havre with 3,800 barrels of ftonr for the relief of sufforers in mamifacturing districts. One of the Paris newspnpors, in oommenting upori this gift at the time, said : " It is from a republic that such examples of generosity and true grandeur come to us. Can we show ourselves worthy of the sympathy of a people represented by such men ? " When Chicago was desolated by fire in 1871, Mr. Stewart gave $50,000 for the relief of the sufferers. A princely eharity was his proposed home for working womon on Fourth avenue, which is still unfinished. Tho building has coat $1,000,000. Tho main object was to furnish a building whereiu lodging, food and warrnth could be Jurnished at the lowest possible rates. Each working girl was to pay a lixed rate for lodging, the benevolence of üie plan consisting in the fact that every one would secure more comfort tban in a common hotel for lesa money than a sqnalid lodging in a tenement-house. Although Mr. Stewart was not considered generous to local charitios, lie gave in his own way. He had a Scotchman's hatred of professional beggars. The public events ia Mr. Stewart's life have been few in number. In 1867 ho went to the Paris Exhibition as United Status Commissionor. ThiR was the only public office which he ever held. He was President Grant's ürst nomince for Secretary of the Treasury. A few days previous to the inauguration of the President, Mr. Stewart and his ! ily, accompanied by Judge Henry j ton and Gen. Daniel Butterfleld, viaited Washington and occupied apartments at the Ebbitt House, a private entrance on I Fourteenth street, near Newspaperrow, j being arranged for his personal i ence. It was understood at the time ! that only the objection n?ade by Senator Sumner preventod his confirniation by the Senate. Late in the af ternoon of the day on which the nominations were sent in, a rumor got abroad that there was a Iaw, underscood to have been really written by Aiexandor Hamilton while Secretary of the Treasury, prohibiting an importer in active business froni holding the position of Secretary of the Treasury. A newspaper correspondent obtained the law bearing on the case and carried it to Gen. Butterfleld, who conveyed it to Mr. Stowart and liis legal adviser, Jndge Henry Hilton, who was then with him at Washington. They immediately consulted Chief Justice Chase, and he confirmed the view which had been taken of the law by those who flrst brought it to Mr. Stewart's attention. It was understood at the time in Washington that Mr. Stewart proposed to retire from business and devote the entire profits that might accrue during the time that he should hold the office of Secretary of tho Troasury to any charitable object which might be named. But this was deeided to be a means which would not be proper either for hini to carry out or for the GoTornment to accept. Inimediately aftei seeing Chief JnRtice Chase, Mr. Stewart and Jndge Hilton drove to the White-house and laid the facits and the opinions before the President, who on the next day wroto a message to the Ser 1 ate asking that the law oí' 1788 be set aside so as to enable the candidato to hold the office. Tuis the Senate declined to do. It wus a very natural ambition for a man of Mr. Stewart's tastes and training to desire to be at the head of the Treasury, ruid it is not ualikeiy that the disappointment was a very severo one. Mr. Stewart has long been regarded as one of the richest men in the United States. Next to Cornelius Vanderbilt and the late W''""11 B. Astor, he was prpbabjy the richest. Mr. Vanderbilt invested in railroads irom their first introduction in t'uis coimtry, and has amassed what is popularly supposed to be the largest prívate fortune in America, almost wholly in these produetive stocks. Mr. Astor's great fortune of 850,000,000 or ,560,000,000 was made, as is well known, almost wholly in real estáte operations, in a city wliere such investments proved to be exceptionaJly and marvelously profitable. Mr. Stewart's fortune was made almost wholly in trade - nis real estáte transactions being subddiftty to his niercantile projects- and he took no interest in railway or other speculative stocks or operations. Hík fortune grew les rapidly than that of the others, being subjected to reverses of trnde which that of the others did not feel ; bnt it is generally estimated that he lias left property to the ainorint of 850,000,000, and possibly more.


Old News
Michigan Argus