The Romance of Success: Life Story of Daniel G. Reid
By Dorothy Richardson in New York Sunday Herald
"SUCCESS—you ask me to tell you the story of my success?”
Slowly Daniel G. Reid, the millionaire head of the great tin plate industry of America repeated the question put to him. Keen of face, dark of eye, debonnaire, this man who has made the making of tin plate one of America's great industries does not look his fifty years. He does look, however, every inch the millionaire and captain of finance that he is, and it may be said right here that he stands six feet in his stockings at that. He is a figure you would unconsciously single out anywhere in an assemblage of men, and of that figure you would unhesitatingly declare that it belonged to a man who had done things and was doing things, a man with nerves of steel and will of iron, a man as only America could have produced. And yet withal a man of sentiment, rich in the humanities and generous to a fault.
We were sitting in one of the great twin loggias of his country house at Irvingtonon-Hudson. The place was thronged with a week-end house party, the young friends of Miss Rhea Reid, the daughter and only child of Mr. Reid, a beautiful girl of twenty-two. The stately stone pile, a raithful ireplica of an ancient English abbey ; liveried servants moving across the terrace bearing tea trays laden with priceless china, of which Mr. Reid is a great connoisseur; other iiveried servants following with other trays laden with rare old decanters and tall thin glasses worth a king’s ransom ; the echo of young girls’ laughter from the tennis court on the other side of the formal garden; the cry of a pair of prize spaniels rebellious against the firm, but gentle, hand of a groom carrying them to regions beyond the conservatories ; a strain of Chopin wafted from the long, cool, Louis Quinze music room ; the perfume of flowers—every sight, every sound bore testimony to what money combined with exquisite taste may buy for a man in the way of all that is sybaritic and fair and beautiful, all that
which, in the popular mind, makes life worth the living.
And the man himself, the man who by reason of better brains and steadier nerves and greater courage than his fellows has been able to acquire the wherewithal by which to command this princely luxury— this man looked, or so I fancied, just the least bit weary of it all. But the weary look was only momentary, for Dan Reid is too healthy a man to remain introspective for long. Gradually his keen face softened into a smile and, taking his cigar from between his teeth, the tin plate magnate laughed as men laugh only when they are thinking of absurdly happy things.
“I was just thinking what a good time I did have anyway in those days back in Richmond, Indiana, when I first started out to make my fortune in the pig market. My father’s farm was just outside the town. In addition to running the farm father also conducted a grocery store down in Richmond.
“Now, there was no foolish pride about being in trade in Richmond. On the contrary, it was in my boyish estimation a distinction. Indeed, my first ambition was to grow up and wear a seersucker coat and weigh out sugar and tea for the good people of Richmond and the surrounding country. I often wonder if there was ever a boy who did not at some time or other come through the period of wishing to run a grocery store?
“In spite of my father’s double means of earning a livelihood money was always oretty scarce around the Reid homestead. There was a large family. My father and mother had both been married twice, and T had five half brothers. Of spending money we bovs had little or none. Now, it was the ambition of my boyhood to own a bull’seye watch. Down in the jewelrv store in the town there was a beauty marked $3.50. My father suggested that if I were to save UD mv pennies I might some day have enough to buy such a watch and by way of
encouraging me he gave me one of those small toy banks in which you drop coins through a slot in the roof. I was now eight years old, and for the first time in my life began a conscious effort to accomplish a definite purpose.
“This effort lasted three years. I ran errands. I sold all the old iron on the place and all I could induce the other boys to sell me for a cash discount. I went into the rag business and scoured the neighborhood for miles around in search of cast-off gum shoes and other junk, which I speedily converted into cash. When I was eleven years old I had saved up $3.50, and you may be sure I lost no time in cracking open my little iron bank and running with its contents to the jeweler’s.
“For a week or so afterward I lived in the clouds. I had now a real watch and a chain, too. I must nöt forget about the chain. It was made of brown hair, curiously twisted and braided. Hair chains were all the rage in Richmond then, and this one had been presented to me by a little girl schoolmate, who, knowing I had been saving my money for a watch, had in the meanwhile to this end learned to make hair chains. On the end of this chain I fastened a charm, ofie of those golden hearts made of two pieces of glass laid vis-a-vis over a layer of gilt paper, which I had acquired through a shrewd trade with a neighbor bov.
“I was very happy in the pride of these gewgaws; that is, for a week or so, and then somehow, they did not seem to be such wonderful things after all. I began to suffer from ennui, and it did seem for a while as if I should never again see anything upon which I could centre my vaunting ambition as I had upon that bull’s-eye watch, which, alas! had lost its charm for me.”
Here Mr. Reid’s shrewd, dark ScotchIrish eyes twinkled with merry memories. He is not a man given to analytical discussions upon the subject of human nature, for he is a man of action, not a dry student : but T doubt whether Henry fames himself is as good a nsvchologist of real men and women, and above all of real boys, as is this man whose name spells tin plate.
“Rut, fortunatelv, T did not suffer long from this reaction,” he continued, laughing. “About this time I went visiting with my
father and mother to the farm of some rela118
tives living in the other end of the county. These relations had a fine stock of pigs, full-blooded Berkshires, and if there was one thing which took my fancy as a small boy it was pigs.
“There were three tiny little fellows I particularly admired and coveted, and, seeing the way the land lay, my cousin, to whom they belonged, offered me the three in exchange for my fine watch and chain and charm. I jumped at the bargain, and that, afiernoon, when we left for home in the wagon, I was minus my chronometer and plus three infant porkers. Now, it never occurred to me until wre were driving past the farm where the girl lived who had woven me the chain that it might not have been either strictly ethical or good form to part with it in such an unsentimental manner, and, above all, for so unpoetical an equivalent. But a boy of eleven, I have since discovered, is a poor sentimentalist.
“The next morning my father tackled me. ‘Where do you expect to get the food to feed these hogs on?’ he asked in a very unsympathetic tone. Kind and indulgent as he was to his family, father was, nevertheless, a man with hard and fast ideas about teaching children early in life the value of money, the sense of responsibility and, above all else, the necessity of their being self-reliant. Then I made him a proposition ; I would give him one of the pigs if he would agree to fatten the remaining two for me. This father thought was a square deal, and we clinched the bargain.
“And how those pigs grew! They were a fine strain, and soon became the talk of half the county. People came miles to look at them, and I had a lot of fun watching them grow. They were lots more fun than a million bull’s-eye watches—until—until the man with the gun came to our house. Such a wonderful gun as that was ; it’s upstairs in my gun room now. Indeed, it was and is the nucleus of the collection I have been making ever since.
“Made of Damascus steel, with German silver inlay, it looked a thousand times more magnificent to my unsophisticated eyes than any of my tiger or elephant guns for which I have paid twenty times as much. The man, who stayed all night with us* allowed me to lift the precious weapon and to click the hammer. He said he would take $20 for it, as he needed the money, but that it was worth much more. That
night I got up three times, lighted a candle and went down to the sitting-room and looked at that gun. The next morning my father, who had seen the impression it made on me, offered to buy the gun for me if I would give him one of my two remaining pigs, an offer which I snatched at. That night I took the gun to bed with me. I slept well.
“The remaining pig I kept until hog killing time in the fall, when I sold him for $33.75, every penny my own. I was now eleven, and having thus early tasted of the joys of moneymaking I decided that I must immediately embark upon a career. School again! Not much! I went down to the Second National Bank of Richmond and got a job at $12.50 a month, as messenger boy. No billionaire ever felt so important as I did when at the end of the first month I laid that $12.50 on my mother’s kitchen table.
“I was now a man, and how I did enjoy the independence which the status of a wage-earner insured for me in our family circle ! Clad in blue seersucker coat and pants—we said pants without apology in Richmond in those days—I walked into town every morning from the farm, my luncheon under my arm. And such luncheons as my mother did know how to put up !—home-made bread spread thick with yellow butter from our own dairy and golden honey from our own bees ; headcheese and great slices of ham fried to a red-brown and huge wedges of pie made of the huckleberries and blackberries that grew in the swamp, and doughnuts—what doughnuts! Well, I was what you might call a little gourmet, but, after all, I think it was a good thing I was.
“I will say right here that I wouldn’t give a continental for any boy who wasn’t a little glutton. The right kind of bov is always hungry, and the right sort of discipline for that boy is to feed him and feed him mighty well. I agree with a lot of the modern scientists in my belief that the food we eat when we are young children nas much to do with our success later on in life. I believe that if everybdv could be well fed for a few successive generations crime and disease, moral, mental and physical, would practically be eliminated from mankind.”
“But you do not attribute your success wholly to alimentation. You will perhaps concede that heredity, that education, that
your early moral and religious training may have had something to do with it.”
At the word “religious’’ Daniel G. Reid shot a glance at the interlocutor which was half amusement, half suspicion.
“Say!” he laughed, “if you are going to lead up to asking me what my religion is, I shall have to answer as Benjamin Disraeli did to a similar question. ‘What is your religion, Mr. Disraeli?’ somebody asked.
‘My religion,’ retorted Disraeli, ‘is the religion of every wise man.’ ‘And what may that religion be?’ his inquisitor persisted. ‘No wise man ever tells,’ retorted the great statesman.
“Now I shan't be quite so rude. I will say that I did have a very stern religious training, how stern you may realize when I say that my father and mother were very straitlaced United Presbyterians and that I joined the same church at an early age and am indeed still a member of it, although not a very straitlaced member, I
will confess. And I will say, too, that my religious training has been, no doubt, indirectly, of course, a tremendous factor in whatever success I have had. It does in everybody’s. A training that is truly religious ; that is, in the highest and best sense, cannot fail to be a splendid thing in the character building of the young.
“The harm comes only when the religion so called is a cloak for hypocrisy. There is an old saying, you know, that mass and meat hurt no man, and it’s perfectly true ; only I should add, 'plenty of meat.’ I sometimes think, however, that we had too much religious training. I think it ought to be evenly scattered out over one’s life, instead of getting it in heroic doses when we are too young and helpless to defend ourselves. I think I’d be a more religious man to-day if I had got a little less catechism on those long, dismal Sundays of my boyhood years. And still it is better to have received too much religion than not to have received any at all.
“For I doubt whether anything else save just such a training as I received could have given me the same strong sense of duty which I felt when I went to work in the bank. With me duty was a religion, and it must be so with anybody who would succeed in anything. I worked from eight till six, and I worked hard. For two years I remained a messenger and general utility boy at the same wages.
“The third year I wás promoted to the janitorshio. which I executed in addition to my regular work as messenger. For the joint job T got $200 a year. The fourth year I added to my work as messenger and janitor that of night watchman, and for the triplicate job I got $25 a month. The fifth year I became teller of the bank. Later I became assistant cashier, and ceased to wear seersucker clothes or to carry my lunch. And then still later they made me the vice-president, which job I have continued to hold to this very day. So you see T can truthfully say that I have never lost mv job.”
At this juncture Mr. Reid’s face grew strangely soft and mobile, his voice vibrant with suppressed emotion.
“Meanwhile,” he continued, taking the unlighted cigar out of his mouth and laying it careftillv aside. “Meanwhile something vcrv important happened to me, the
most important thing that can happen to an ambitious young fellow ; I fell in love. I fell heels over head in love, and, having done so, I showed what good sense a boy of twenty-two sometimes does have, by marrying Miss JElla Dunn just as quickly as I could.
“I was then making a thousand a year, and married the girl of my choice ; the world was mine. We immediately went to housekeeping. No apartment hotel or flat life for us. We went to live in a real house. It had six rooms and a nice porch, and a front yard, and, what’s more, it was our house. We bought it, bought it on payments, of course ; but what are payments to a new married couple. After much figuring we decided that we could afford the services of a certain Dutch girl whom we could get for $2 a week, and that we could likewise afford to spend $10 a week on our little household.
“Now it was always a mystery to me then, and it has so remained a mystery to this day, how Mrs. Reid ever managed to make $10 go so far. We wanted absolutely for no comfort, in fact, for no luxury, as luxuries went in Richmond, Ind. ; and all on $10 a week. Imagine my surprise, then, when at the end of three years and the last payment on our house was due, my wife divulged the fact that she had saved up $250 out of that $10 a week I had been giving her. Isn’t that just like a woman?
“They certainly do manage these things wonderfully—the right kind of women do. And after all they are the only real and great financiers—these faithful, gentle, loving women, whose last motive in the world for marrying a chap would be a mercenary one. Ah, it is a great thing for a young man to marry the woman he loves, but it is a still greater thing when that woman hannens to be just the right woman for him.”
Here Mr. Reid interrupted himself long enough to conduct me through the great hall of his house and up the broad stair*case to the library to show me some of the mementos of those early days. There was, for instance, a photograph of the little oldfashioned United Presbyterian Church he used to go to as a boy, the church which, as its richest member, he some years ago replaced with the gift of a handsome stone structure with a splendid organ and a beautiful chime of bells.
There was also photograph of the little house to which he had taken his girlish bride, the same little house where, as he explained in a hushed voice, he had looked upon the face of his first born, the little daughter Rhea, and where a year or so later was also born the little boy who died when he was seven. And no better commentary upon the sort o! man Daniel G. Reid is can be offered than the statement that to this day no money could buy that little house in Richmond, any more than money could have bought the horse and the dog the little boy had loved in life. When eventually Mr. Reid’s increasing business obliged him to leave Richmond to go to Chicago to live he left the old dog and the old horse behind in charge of a trusted keeper, who kept watch and ward over them, supplying them with every comfort and luxury a sybaritic equine or canine could desire, until they died, the horse at thirty-one years of age and the dog at sixteen. And last, and evidently most sacred of all these tender souvenirs, he brought forth a pair of old-fashioned jardinieres which had been painted by “Rhea’s mother,” as Mr. Reid seems to love best to designate the wife of his youth, who was destined to die before she could see the full fruition of her husband’s career, in which she had had so much to do in its initial stages.
And the softness with which he now pronounced those words, “Rhea’s mother,” could leave no doubt in any one’s mind that there was no treasure of all the wonderful treasures of art and craftsmanship in that beautiful house which in its master’s estimation was so precious as that pair of jardinieres wrought by the hands of the girlish wife who had been indeed a helpmate. After dinner, seated in the same broad loggia, now flooded with the light of the full midsummer moon, Mr. Reid continued the romance of his success.
“After I paid off the mortgage on the house I managed, with Mrs. Reid’s help, to save enough money to buy some stock in thé bank, thus making myself eligible for a directorship. Shortly afterward I became interested in a little tin plate mill at Elwood, about sixty-five miles from Richmond. This mill had never been made to pay and was something of a white elephant on our hands. At this time everybody save
a few of us scouted the idea that tin plate was a possibility for this country. Everybody thought it could be made successfully only in Wales.
“I thought differently; so did a few others. We believed that if we could succeed in building the right sort of plant and installing the right processes we could make of tin plate a great American industry. In 1891 we organized a company and built and equipped what we in our infinite ignorance supposed to be a tin plate mill. But it wasn’t. It was only a pile of junk, as we discovered two years later. Our machinery was too light, everything was too something or other that it ought not to have been. The stockholders were disgusted. Something had to be done, and then we secured a man in Pittsburg, William Banfield, who knew a lot about mill construction. He was a Cornishman, and for generations his ancestors had made tin plate in Cornwall and Wales. We sent for William Banfield. He came and built us a mill that was a real mill, not a junk heap. Pretty soon our little four mill plant was making money for us, and making it fast. By this time I was giving practically all of my time to the tin mill, going back and forward to Elwood every day—a hard, unpleasant trip those sixty-five miles each way in the local train.
“At last I decided to leave the bank and devote myself entirely to the mill. This the president of the bank, a conservative man who had grown wealthy for that part of the country, advised me not to do. He said if I would stay on I had a good chance of succeeding to his job and of growing rich, too. The position would have been a specially good one for me, as I knew 20,000 of the 35,000 inhabitants of the county— knew them well enough to call them by name, and they in turn knew me well enough to warrant them hailing me as ‘Danny.’
“But I told him I had hopes of making more money than the bank would ever be able to make for me if I gave my undivided attention to the tin mill. And so I left the bank, and from that day for years I thought of nothing but tin plate. We prospered, and by 1897 we had thirty-one mills instead of the original four. We then moved our offices to Chicago, and I went there with my family to live.
“Meanwhile other tin mills, following
our good example, had sprung up all over the country. Competition was keen. The question of consolidation came -up. Gentlemen’s agreements had proved worthless, and in 1898 all the tin mills in the country, 270 in number, were merged into one organization, which was named after the original company in Elwood, the American Tin Plate Company. Then, in order to guarantee our steel supply, we organized, in connection with W. A. & J. H. Moore, the National Steel Company. Still later the American Steel & Hoop Company and the American Sheet Steel Company were organized by the same people. When the United States Steel Corporation was organized, some time afterward, all these four properties went into the consolidation and are to-day a part of what is commonly known as the Steel Corporation.”
Here Mr. Reid stopped to light still another cigar, and I took occasion to ask him bluntly, in Li Hung Chang fashion, how much he is worth to-day. He parried the question, for, like most Americans who have grown wealthy, Mr. Reid is a modest man when it comes to openly acknowledging the extent of his riches, and he leaves
to others their approximation. I learned later that Mr. Reid never in any circumstances discusses his wealth. As a matter of fact nobody knows the exact dimensions of the fortune to-day of this man who began thirty-nine years ago as a messenger boy at $12.50 a month. Indeed, Mr. Reid is quoted as frequently saying to his intimates that for a while it made him absolutely dizzy the way the wealth poured in upon him for a period of a year or two, a statement which can be readily believed when we consider the system of modern finance under which he and his associates have conceived and carried through the successful issue project after project—the Tin Plate Trust twice reorganized and merged with the Steel Corporation, the Rock Island Railroad system reorganized and made to grow from a few thousand to more than seventeen thousand miles in a few years; either one of which projects would have netted a vast fortune to a financier of the inner circle, and combining them, as Daniel G. Reid has done, it can readily be conceived that the profits accruing would necessarily total a vast sum.
The most said is least meant.
Women and fruit are easily bruised.
The devil does his choicest work through fools, not rogues.
It is generally the people who mean well that do the most ill.
In nine cases out of ten the point of honour is the fear of seeming to be afraid.
Stay, and it’s but once in your life you’ll be sorry, and faith, that’ll be always.
To answer “ Yes” to all comers is doubtless a mighty convenience, and a great softener of the angles of life.—From 44 The Wild Geese,” by Stanley J. Weyman.