The Basis of Prosperity

JAMES J. HILL March 1 1906

The Basis of Prosperity

JAMES J. HILL March 1 1906

The Basis of Prosperity


In an address recently delivered before the Commercial Club of St. Paul, the eminent financier and railroad magnate, James J. Hill, preached the doctrine of the supremacy of the soil. He pointed out that the basis of a nation’s prosperity lay in a wise use of its natural resources, especially those of the farm.

To build a city you must build the country that supports the city. All that you have, your churches, your colleges, your schools, your bankers, your merchants, your lawyers, your blacksmiths, all depend upon the man in the country. That man may be in the mine; he may be in the forest cutting the timber, and he may be cultivating the land. It is not difficult for you to estimate how few men are engaged in cutting the timber in the forest. The trees in Minnesota that

are worth cutting are practically all counted, and in ten years at the present rate of cutting, there won’t be any left. Your forest isn’t going to contribute very largely to the growth of the cities.

The mines in the northeastern part of the state are immensely valuable, and the state derives a great income and will derive a much greater income from the royalty of these mines, but the product of these mines cannot be used in Minnesota. They don’t employ a great many

men. Most of the work is done with a steam shovel, and it is ladeled into ore ears and carried down to the lake and there, by gravity, shot aboard of a steamer. At our new dock at Superior during the Summer they have loaded 10,000 tons of ore into a single ship in two hours. You see it doesn’t take many men or much money to do that sort of work; it is done by gravity. These mines would be invaluable to the state if you had fuel to go with them; but the money they produce and the men they employ arfe away down in the Mahoning Valley, and the Ohio Valley, and scattered from Johnstown through to Ohio, and now they are building up in Chicago quite a large industry.

That leaves you where you fall back on the man who cultivates the soil. He has a mine that will not be exhausted with proper care. The future of your city depends upon the proper cultivation of the soil.

The nation at large feels that it is immensely prosperous. We are cutting a wide swath; there is no doubt of it. But if we will get down closer and examine what we are doing; we are living profligately, and we are selling our heritage in every possible manner. We should insist upon better cultivation of the land. For on that one item depends your future growth and prosperity, and there is no other item to which you can look;; no other source of wealth than that that comes out of the cultivation of the soil. And if the soil is protected, if it is intelligently handled, if your crops are properly rotated, if the land is fertilized, you have a mine in the soil that will never be exhausted; quite unlike the other mine. The millions and hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the Northwest

from the annual crops, while it is large, it isn’t half as large as it ought to be. \

Our public domain is exhausted. Last year over a million people came from across the Atlantic to the United States, and the natural increase certainly is a million and a half more. What is to become of these people ? They are to be driven fairly into the factories and workshops, and no place else. They can leave our country and go to the Canadian Northwest, as many have gone. But that country will be populated to its extent very soon, much sooner than you think. It has not an unlimited area.

Try and cast your mind twenty or twenty-five years ahead. At that time we should have one hundred and fifty or one hundred and sixty millions of people. Where are they going ? Who is going to feed them ? They can manufacture. We have the raw material. We have the coal and the iron ;and the copper and the lead. They can manufacture. Who will buy it.

We have got to a point where we are selling our heritage; we are selling our rich deposits of iron and our coal and our rich soil, and exhausting it as well. People of other countries are exercising the utmost, closest intelligence in everything that pertains to economy in production. Take for instance the German nation to-day, and they lead the world or any period in the history of the world1, in industrial intelligence and industrial management.

Great Britain, 15 years ago, loosened up all around. They thought, from a humanitarian standpoint, that it would be a nice thing for them to establish schools with playgrounds, croquet grounds, tennis

courts, libraries, all manner of things, and then give their people an opportunity to play in the afternoon of Saturdays. Those men over there told me they had to hire a second man for Monday and Tuesday in order to let the head man sober up after Saturday’s and Sunday’s debauch.

Now what has happened ? Take Coventry and Spitalfleld, take the glass industries of Great Britain, flint, glass, plate glass and all that sort of thing; what has become of it ? The glass has moved bodily into Belgium, largely doing business on English capital.

‘T was in England in November, and met a sad sight—Trafalgar Siquare filled with idle people, large numbers of idle people asking for bread up around Hyde Park. Why ? The men who carry on the work, who paid the payrolls are no longer engaged in business. What they had they have turned into money, and have bought securities or something els'e, trying to ‘ save what they have grot.

In the west of England, which was a great centre of broadcloth manufacturing, woolen goods, their output is less than a quarter of what it was twenty-five years ago. Germany is selling cutlery in Sheffield.

And I took pains to look around London, and to walk into the shops and find out. I couldn’t buy a pair of lisle-thread gloves that were not made in Germany. Underclothing stockings, cloth, almost everything made in Germany. They have a system of education in Germany. They educate their men. You can, if you want to carry on an experiment in Germany, get a first-rate chemist, thoroughly educated, thoroughly drilled and experienced, for 3,000

marks a year, $750 a year in this country; and here you will pay $5,000.

Now I am not going to undertake to say that their way is better than ours, but I want to impress this on you, that when these cities, when this country, has 150,000,000 of peo-« pie, they have got to do something; they have got to earn a living. Who will buy the goods ? Who will employ them f In what shape are they to meet the competition that England is meeting to-day ? And a million and a half of idle men asking for bread in England and no bread for them except such as charity doles out. They have got to be carried out of Great Britain and a new place found for them. There is no other solution.

It is all well enough to talk about what we are doing. Examine^ it closely and you will find that we are doing nothing except selling our natural resources and 'exhausting them. When you dig a ton of ore out of i the ground you can’t plant another ton, like you could potatoes; it is gone. And when the fertility of our fields, the fertility of the soil is gone, where are we going to replace it » from ?

A few days ago I was in' South Carolina. I saw the roses and the cornfields, the cottonfields, the trees, 15 or 18 inches, growing where once the land was cleared and cultivated, and to-day it wouldn’t support four whip-poor-wills to an acre. Now they did just what I say; they lived in plenty and freely, and exhausted their land. We can’t afford to • do that.

In Great Britain, in 1790, after the Revolutionary War, the people were leaving in such numbers and coming to America and to other colonies

that there was danger of nobody being left to cultivate the land. They appointed a royal commission, and that royal commission is the foundation of the Royal Agricultural Society of Great Britain. They went through the country and examined the land and used their judgment as to what was the best course, what was the best crop, what a man could raise to the best advantage. They have kept it up, and through a system of cultivation they have raised their yield per acre until, in those old fields, cultivated for fifteen centuries, until now they get an average of twice as much as we do in Minnesota, because of superior cultivation. Their soil is certainly no better than most of ours, and the most of it I know is not as good.

In place of fifteen bushels to the acre we can raise thirty. No reason why we shouldn’t, except that we don’t.

We are taking through Minnesota Transfer, or through the city here, carloads of manufactured cotton from the south, and raw cotton from the south, and those commodities are going to the Orient. It is all right for the country at large. It is all right to make a market, but it helps the man who is running the mill in South Carolina or North Carolina a great deal more than it does you, and it helps the man who is cultivating the cotton field in the south, but it doesn’t find a market for your product.

We carry some flour. One year we carried 30,000 or 40,000 tons of flour from Minnesota to the Orient, but we don’t do it any more. And if we go on treating those Oriental people as we have, we won’t have any business with them. They are not compelled to buy from us.

There was a time when Great Britain bought three-quarters of all that we exported. That is not the .case now. And within five years they will, from their own colony in the Northwest, be able to buy all the wheat they need, quite independent of us. But remember that we need, for our own home consumption, from

12.000. 000 to 15,000,000 bushels -

18.000. 000 bushels probably — more than we did the previous year. Within ten or fifteen years we will have no wheat to export. But the man who is going to eat the bread made from that wheat must have something to do. Somebody must furnish the payroll, and who will it be ! Who will buy what he makes ? Your representatives in Congress, some of them I have no doubt will stand up, and it would be well if they would all stand up, and see if you could not have better trade relations with Canada.

We are building a canal at an enormous cost, and I am glad to see them build it. The people in the Gulf states for a long time following the war had troubles of their own, and if it is going to do them any good, build the canal. One reason for building the canal is in order that we may have close commercial relations with the people on the west coast of South America. The area of the country between the deep sea and the high mountains on the west coast of South America is very limited. I will undertake to say that there isn’t a population there equal to 1 per cent, of the population of the globe. And it is a pretty poor 1 per cent.

We don’t need any canal for our trade with Brazil. We took the duty off coffee so as to relieve the poor man from the tax on his cup of cof-

fee, and Brazil immediately added a tax qqual to the tax we took off. We buy about three-quarters of all they sell, and we sell them about oneeighth of what they buy, and there is no toll lock between any of our Atlantic ports and the seaports of Brazil on the east coast of South America. We are not able to furnish them with practically anything in the way of exports except agricultural implements, and Germany will sell them those if we will send them over a model that they can build them on.

They are establishing German colonies in Brazil and in Uruguay. I had a letter from Uruguay, from the French consul or ambassador, and the Germans are coming there; Germans and Italians coming into the Argentines. And they are successful.

The Argentine has an area not unlike our Mississippi Valley, and it is as large as the Mississippi Valley, from Fort Snelling to

Memphis, 200 miles wide, in

some places 300. They are not so well placed in many respects as we are. They have not the start, they have not the capital, and they have not the enterprise. They don't wear overcoats as many days in the year. And that is one reason why, maybe, I am partial to the country I was born in.

Our trade—we export more to the Dominion of Canada than we do to the entire continent of South America with Mexico and Nicaragua thrown in—just about.

There is another advantage we have up there. If you should extend credit to those people up in Canada you could collect the debt. They are a law-abiding people, and if we eould get that territory to the northwest

behind us so that in seeking the great markets of this country it will come here and pour itseli out, it will do more to build you up than anything that I know of, because they have the soil and they have an industrious people.

A friend of mine was traveling north of the international boundary line, west of the Turtle Mountains, and he was surprised to find in that comparatively new country fanners living in stone houses with hot water heating plants in their basement, and that is not unusual.

Our State oí Minnesota has not made the progress it ought to have made. We have a gauge on business in the business at our stations. Every month it is tabulated; every year it is totaled. And you would be surprised to see the number of stations in Minnesota where the business is not as good nor as great as it was seven years ago.

We have got to get our people to wake up; they have got to do better work. If they don’t, you, ourselves, every interest, suffers with them.

We don’t want to live extravagantly on what we have inherited; or what a kind Providence has done for us. Let us save up; let us kteep it; so that in the future those who come after us will find a , heritage there and a good living. For I tell you they will need it.

You stop to think. Many of us can remember the close of the Civil War. The different parts of the United States were farther apart in the cost of transportation and in the matter of time than the world is today. Everything has been brought together; distance has been eliminated, both as to time and as to cost.

Whatever there is in the world can’t be scarce for a long time. If

anybody wants it, somebody would be willing to furnish it. It doesn’t take long to bring anything from darkest Africa. All the world is being opened up.

We say we are not our brother’s keeper, but we are. We may say that we have plenty in the ground, we have an abundance, we can go on and let those who come after us take care of themselves. All that we do from year’s end to year’s end is for those who come after us. Let us try to preserve the fertility of the soil for them; and if we have the yield that our fertile soil should give with proper care, the Northwest, this country, will be richer, stronger in every way, than it is even, or than the people think is possible.

Portions of the country, not as much favored as Minnesota, I know from my own experience, are growing so much more rapidly that there is no comparison. It helps to build you up here. Every merchant, every man who sells goods in a large way out of the city, knows that there are parts of the Northwest where the trade is not only growing rapidly, but they have the money to pay for their goods, they are prosperous. They are prosperous beyond measure. They have some advantage in the country being newer, but tney are taking better care of it.

I have tried in my humble way to get the people of the Northwest to do that that would help them the most. I remember when, a few years ago—more years than we possibly care to say—the standard wheat that was sold in Milwaukee and Chicago was “amber Iowa.” Now if I should ask a man if he knew the price of “amber Iowa” he might think I meant glucose; he wouldn’t think it was wheat. But that was

the principal wheat they sold. They cultivated their land as we have, but as soon as they found the fertility of the soil failing^ they went to cattle.

I got a book to-day, an official report from Washington, and in looking it over I find that all the live stock records show more favorable for Minnesota; the cattle dying from exposure and disease is lesjs in Minnesota than it is in Iowa. I found that the percentage of hogs dying in Minnesota was exactly half of that in Iowa; but the number of hogs in Minnesota is only a small part, about a little more than a tenth, I think, of that raised in Iowa. I know there is no better state in the union in which to raise hogs than in Minnesota. I sell from 1,200 to 1,500 every year, raised within ten or twelve miles from where we are standing, and my land is not very rich. Some of you know that it is so sandy that I have to build a fence to keep it from blowing on my neighbor.

The people have got to be taught to help themselves, and if they will cultivate they will get a return that will , make tne yield of the mines look very small and insignificant. The great ahvantage the farmer has is that his mine is not exhausted; it is perennial; every year, if he will take care of it, he can renew his land and repeat the crop of the year before.

That is what is going to build your city up. You have here a centre, wholesale; it is headquarters for a number of railways—some of us remember how they were brought here —and you have an educational centre. I think that St. Paul has more colleges than almost any city of its population in the country. You want to cultivate them.

Somebody I saw within a day or

two thought that we were spreading ourselves a little too widely in languages in the common schools. 1 would like to see an industrial school, looking forward to the time when these young people will have to come into competition with those that are skillfully and scientifically trained, to start them; to qualify them for the work that they have to do. If we had an industrial school here that was even open at night it could do more good than many people imagine—to t'each them to write a good plain hand and to spell correctly.

I am not going to find fault with education; it never hurt anybody. But if in place of spending so much time and so much money on languages and higher studies, if we fit-

ted them for the life that they are going to follow, for the sphere in which they are going to move, we would do more for them.

I know that in two or three, more or less, railroads in which I am interested, the payrolls cover 80,000 to 90,000 people. We have tried all manner of young men, college men, high school men, and everything else, and I will take a boy at fifteen years old who has to make a living—his chances will be better if he has to contribute to the support of a widowed mother—I will take him and make a man of him, and get him in the first place, before you would get most of the others to enter the race with him; simply because he has to work, he has to work, he has the spur of necessity. He must work.