Charles R. Hosmer—Telegraph Operator
C. D. Cliffe
IF the stars came out only once a year we would all go out to look at them. This thought was suggested in glancing at the career of many prominent business men—men who are superlative successes and who are really not identified with public life; men whom we know well, see every day, move with, live with in very truth—yet for this very staleness of custom fail to appreciate their bigness, their real worth and their service to the world. A moment’s thought brings before the mind’s eye many who might be included in a list of such men, and among the dominant figures in business, Mr. Charles Rudolph Hosmer, of Montreal, is outstanding.
“Do you mean Charlie Hosmer, the telegraph operator?” might be asked. The answer would have to be in the affirmative and the one word added, “listen.”
C. R. Hosmer, soil of Hiram Hosmer, a sturdy and clever Yankee, was born at Coteau Landing, an obscure hamlet, not many miles from Montreal, on November 12, 1851.
Without a semblance of what boys
to-day call a chance in life, Charles Rudolph rose from beingoffice boy to telegraph operator at the age of 14; to superintendent of a big telegraph company at 21, and finally promoter and perfecter of a system which belts the world: the Canadian Pacific Railway telegraph, over which he is the modest head to-day. In addition, his commercial ventures outside have been very successful, and he is a bank director, president of numerous large manufacturing and financial establishments, and yet in the prime of mature activity, looking as if he would defy well Dr. Osier’s metaphor re chloroform for the sunset of crimson and gold.
Yet all his success has not turned his head half a degree.
The humble origin of Mr. Hosmer, and his sterling ancestry, were most helpful factors in his career. His schooling was not extensive, but his parents, though not wealthy, were thinking people and nothing sharpens the wits of men, preventing the disease of fat head, like the school of hard knocks.
So when Charles Hosmer swept
out the office of the Grand Trunk Railway at Coteau Landing, at the early age of 12 years, he was noted for good sweeping; he early acquired the study habit, and above all, that habit which has ruled and elevated a life of great service to men—work. His co-workers well remember the lad, poring over the dots and dashes of the first lessons in telegraphy; can recall how he worked at nights and was always at the key, until at the age of 14, he could send or take a message faster than many an older operator. He early had power over others, by having power over himself. The destiny or sequence of his life seemed to have been believed in by himself, for he always kept himself prepared and hence he never had to look for a position. While treading continuously the highway which leads to superiority, there is no disparagement in the statement that Charles Hosmer knew no more what he was getting ready for, than did Edison, Sir William Van Horne, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, Frank Munsey or Andrew Carnegie, all of whom worked at telegraphy at an early age and were masters of the craft in all its details. Athrob with copious energy, magnetic good health and strong will, young Hosmer took only one year after he actually graduated as an operator to dominate over his fellows as manager of his first telegraph office. He had no time for fatty degeneration of his gray matter ; he was mastering the intricacies of electricity. It was only natural, then, to find him, not only a leader in his business, but like all men of strength of mind and poise, willing to impart to others what had taken him years to learn. He taught telegraphy to hundreds of pupils. For four or five years he occupied his spare time by teaching and studying. Always building “better than he knew” in his work, above all things was manifested his alert appreciation of the immense value of telegraphy in closing profitable business deals and in preventing bad ones. Often he would weave dreams of rare possibilities, conjured in his active mind, that could be accomplished by
the alert quick wit to wire “Buy now,” “Don’t sell,” etc., and his success in life has been based to a large extent on the judgment of buying and selling to advantage. A fine training for this work he had—in touch with throbbing centres of operators in the market all the time—and some of his best lessons, he declares, were taught over the wire. There, ticking away the thoughts of others he sifted the experience of many a blunder and hasty decision. All this was in the mind of the young man of 19 who was chosen manager of the Dominion Telegraph Co., at Kingston, Ont. Old for his years, his directors became inspired with his reserve power, his energy, his attention to essentials, his grasp of details and his unflagging devotion to duty. So, after a short service in Buffalo, N.Y., he was appointed superintendent of the service when just a little less than 22 years of age.
His work was now formidable and executive, and he saw deeper into commerce, still working at top speed under heavy pressure; his equipoise reached past the clutch for personal gain and his mind turned to the knowledge of telegraphy as a cilivizing agent in business. Many of the telegraphic betterments in system and despatch had their rise in the restless, prophetic brain of Charles Hosmer. He believed then as now, that the message by wire is a science, and thus a unifier of nations and men. He looked into the causes of imperfect telegraphic service, mastered the line difficulties, the actual electrical side of the work, and carried practical knowledge into the business management by turning discontent and failure into progress and prosperity. After eleven years of steady growth and development the Dominion Telegraph Co. was merged into the Great NorthWestern Telegraph Co.
Young Hosmer in the hey-dey of his mental vigor believed in the hereand-now doctrine, and immediately organized the Canadian Mutual Telegraph Co., designed as the Canadian connection of the Mutual Union Tele-
graph Co., of the United States. With a delightful deftness, Mr. Hosmer managed this company for five years, so that afterwards he was able to play on the high chords of international telegraphy the variant tunes of time and change. In the year 1881 the C.P.R. was incorporated. With its birthright was included a charter to engage in the telegraph business. So then, it seemed but natural to find in 1886, Charles Hosmer, the man who had had no chance in life, chosen at the age of 35, to be head of the C.P.R. telegraph system under the modest title of manager of telegraphs. There he was, the living evidence of what hard work from 14 to 20 had done for him ; there, was the cumulative consequence. No one could weep that he had not a university course, for he had used the forces of the university to educate himself, having come up through the various grades, from the post of operator at the key, to those of executive trust and responsibilities, in all of which he had shown marked capacity. Blunder and bitterness sometimes bring wisdom, but young men should mark that every single capacity of this success was backed by hard work. So it was, as Hubbard says : “Plan wisely, work hard ; never trust to luck, and all the merry villagers will say: 'There’s a lucky dog.’ ”
The C.P.R. then had a telegraph system covering Canada thoroughly, but it was only the precursor of a work which to-day is an enterprise, in point of magnitude and excellence of construction, on a par with many of the largest independent telegraph systems of the world. In the heavy task of organization Mr. Hosmer, like all leaders of men, chose good assistants. He saved his own abilities to do work that to others was impossible. That is to say, he chose men from his own type—and many of his first selections are still with the company—healthy, capable, eager, keen, restless, enthusiastic, honest workers. Further, Mr. Hosmer’s personal pride to day is, that he would never lose a good man ; if he was not a success in one department he would move him
to some other, but always gave him a chance. Disraeli once said of a successful man, that he knew he succeeded in his business because he got other people to do his work.” This is as true of Mr. Hosmer as it was of Disraeli and merely proves his ability.
In the interim the Canadian Mutual Telegraph Co. had been absorbed by the Western Union Co., of the United States, and Mr. Hosmer was able to obtain the use of the two wires of this company between Toronto and Buffalo for the C.P.R. Telegraph Co., thus giving them at once the much coveted direct connection with the United States. Mr. Hosmer’s company took in the entire staff of the Mutual company, again showing a master hand, in securing men trained by his own methods and systems.
Tone in telegraphy, was one of Mr. Hosmer’s fads and he was earnest and rigid in his discipline with men of the key. Bohemianism was always »discouraged and his personal influence upon talented men in telegraphy can never be measured, but it suffices to say that it was always for good.
After twenty-one years Mr. Hosmer is able to sit in a cosy office on the top floor of a fine building owned and erected by his own company for telegraph purposes and enjoy the perfection of his own hard work and see that work followed up by men whom he selected years ago. His chief work for years has been to watch the varied commercial interests. It must be remembered, too, that Mr. Hosmer made his millions in the hard-working way and in the straight newly-blazed trails of commerce. Let those who think it was luck, try the same part and they will know better. Now that he is worth ample fortune some of his personal qualities may be dealt with in passing, because men who have made every dollar of their money themselves by their own wits and cleverness are well worthy of being copied and imitated by the young men of to-day.
Mr. Hosmer married when he was 26 and has been a great lover of home. His magnificent mansion on Drummond Street, Montreal, is typical of
the man. Very private and quiet in his social movements, his house is replete with every reasonable comfort of modern life. His two children, a boy and a girl, have been the idols of his life, and Mrs. Hosmer will tell of many delightful sacrifices that the father has made so that his family may never want.
Travel has been his great educator and his happiness has been, latterly, to run away into the serene atmosphere of the Mediterranean, daring the Winter months ; tour the world, always with his family, and make the most of life’s joys, while all are well and able to partake. Simplicity and truth in small things are his. principles, and by these his actual and ideal life may easily be measured. Associated intimately with such minds as those of Lord Strathcona, R. B. Angus, Sir William Van Horne, Sir Thomas Shaughnessy and others of Canada’s greatest men, it is not surprising that he imbided the taste and love for art as a respite from the babel of operators in. the market. Art treasures of rare value adorn the Hosmer home. Rare gifts may be seen there, some of the donors being millionaire users of the telegraph, who appreciated the prompt genius of Mr. Hosmer in serving them well at the key. He has always refused any part in politics, preferring to use his brain for the development of the country in other ways.
Probably his most notable fad is in helping young men along; men in whom he has found the germ of talent, and who sometimes did not have the money necessary to make use of it. Many a time Charles Hosmer has started men in business who have since risen to marked success. It is told in quiet confidence that a certain barber was once hard-up. He had been serving Mr. Hosmer for years, and mentioned his trouble. Mr. Hosmer did not say much, but gave considerable; enough to put the man out of difficulty and in a fair way to making a good business, which since then he has accomplished. Everywhere his openhanded generosity has been known, but Mr. Hosmer ridicules un-
necessary publicity, and has always kept aloof from newspaper notoriety. Yet his warmest friends are among newspaper men. One of the most strongly appreciative sketches of his life appeared in the Telegraph Age, of New York, and was written by a Montreal newspaper man and a former telegraph operator.
To detail Mr. Hosmer’s commercial interests in Montreal alone would require much space, as they include mining, insurance, light and heat, banking, express, railway and manufacturing. One of Mr. Hosmer’s gifts is that of expression. While he is not a public speaker he possesses the faculty of conveying in forceful and direct language just exactly what he wishes to say. He has written several valuable articles for telegraph papers and in his spare time may do more. On one occasion, about 18 years ago, he wrote an article for Puck’s “Girdle or Gleanings from the Postal and Telegraphic World.” The distinct style may be gathered by a short quotation from this sketch, principally because what he said then was merged into history. Further he recounted some of the leading features of his charge at the time, a charge which has been the means of making a revolution in commercial life in all parts of Canada. “In former days the G.N.W. Telegraph Co. had undisputed control of the entire telegraphic business of Canada, and so great was the power that it exercised for good or for evil, that people began to ask themselves seriously whether such exclusive power should not belong to the Government, and be subject to popular control. As was the case, however, with English railways, so it was with the Canadian system, and relief was speedily found in competition. The engineers who carried the C.P.R. across the continent, also took with them the essential telegraph line, until in November, 1885, Canada found that she possessed, not only a great trunk railway, but also a telegraph system bringing every section of the Dominion into the closest contact and occupying an almost unique
position, of being practically operated as a portion of the C.P.R. system.”
In this same article, the writer dealt with the able service, promptly given by the company of which he was head, and their difficulties in covering immense distances, mentioning the enormous lengths of the circuits that had to be worked, etc. This is referred to in order to accentuate the many sides of the man, who was always busy.
“There are but two natural sources of wealth—the earth and the ocean— and to lose the right to either one, in our situation, is to put the other up for sale.” So wrote the illustrious Tom Paine in sharp antithesis many years ago. By following the investment career of Mr. Hosmer, one would think he might have been studying Paine, for he went after wealth without neglecting or forsaking any of the sources.
As evidence, witness that he is a director of the C.P.R. Co., one of the vice-presidents and a director of the Commercial Cable Co., a director of the Postal Telegraph Co., and also of the Halifax and Bermudas Cable Co, director of the Montreal Gas Co., the Bank of Montreal, Merchants’ Bank of Canada, Royal Trust Co., London and Lancashire Insurance Co., Canada Paper Co., The Laurentide Pulp Co., Edwardsburg Starch Co., Acadia Coal, and others; president of the Ogilvie Flour Mills Co., and of the E. N. Heney Co., Limited. He therefore cannot be an idle man. Personally, he is the embodiment of naturalness, as any really sensible man is bound to be. He is a member of many clubs, but is by no means what is known as a club man. He is life governor of hospitals and charitable institutions and a devoted worker in this connection, feeling that giving his money is not sufficient. He attends the American Presbyterian Church and is one of the most un-
ostentatious of this extremely wealthy congregation.
One of his little peculiarities is best noted by those who make long-drawn calls or irritate and intrude; suddenly the thought comes to his mind that he is being imposed upon. In a flash, down will fall both of his short, practical hands, flat on the desk, with an almost explosive noise, and he smilingly remarks, “This is my busy day.”
Personally, Mr. Hosmer is possessed of an unconquerable optimism. His smileis broad and cheery, and he would have made a great politician or professional man where personal appearance and facial sympathy count for so much. His striking feature is that broad smile; yet his well-shaped head with heavy crop of silver-sprinkled dark hair, is striking, while his magnetic grey eyes, straight and clear, seem to look through and button behind. His mouth—firm and even, with pursed lips, crowned by a dark, flecked with grey, moustache, rather heavy, too—smiles generally in harmony with the eyes; but if either one of these features, the eyes or the mouth, do not harmonize in the smile, watch out for vitriolic dashes and beware of his attack.
His easy, almost rolling, alert walk, as if on his toes, coupled with his immaculate dress, cause the observer to remark, “There’s a man of affairs.”
A charming conversationalist, he is the delight and life of many select companies, and those who are fortunate enough to enjoy his companionship, need not discuss the weather. His strong pastime now-a-days is a game of bridge, and he is an ardent lover of the game.
During his future years his friends hope that he may be induced to give some of his time to actual public service. His chief longing, as expressed by himself is: “More time to spend with my wife and family.”