Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/637

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619
COMPETITION AND THE TRUSTS.
COMPETITION AND THE TRUSTS.

By GEORGE ILES.

LAST autumn I happened to spend a few days in the heart of the Adirondacks, in a small village some fourteen miles from the nearest railroad-station. During the stage-coach journey I found that two of my fellow-passengers were commercial travelers. It was somewhat surprising to find them invading so remote an outpost of civilization, a hamlet at best, both expensive and troublesome of access. During my stay there, scarcely a day passed that did not bring the shop-keepers a traveling salesman from Albany, Boston, or New York. About a month before my visit, the principal merchant in the one straggling street of the place had been called upon one morning by no fewer than four solicitors of his trade. Could there be any better illustration of modern commercial competition than this penetration of the wilderness of northern New York by men who brought to the tents and cottages of a minor health-resort the latest fashions in dry-goods and millinery, the most recent products of mill, refinery, and cannery, romances fresh from the press? And, conjoined with the very palpable benefits of competitive enterprise, were not its wastes and burdens as clearly exemplified? While that far-away village was much advantaged by the keen rivalry to supply its wants, the efforts to secure its business were certainly not adequately repaid.

Fifty years ago so small a village, instead of several stores, would have had but one or two; their stocks chiefly bought from local makers of cloth, plows, stoves, and wooden-ware. Near by we would have had a shoemaker's shop, and perhaps, if the place were not too small, a tailor's as well. Twice a year the country store-keeper would go to the nearest large trade-center, New York, St. Louis, or New Orleans, and buy goods enough for the entire business of six months. Railroads and the development of steam manufacturing have changed all this. Small local cloth-weavers, stove-founders, and so on, have disappeared, for production is no longer profitable unless conducted on a vast scale. A cotton-mill now employs a thousand operatives instead of a hundred, while to build, equip, and launch a modern foundry demands the capital of a millionaire. The price of a staple article such as paper is now quoted to hundredths of a cent, and so slender have profit-margins become that in certain gigantic industries they consist solely in what a generation ago were deemed waste products. Many Northwestern flour-mills now find their dividend in the bran which used to be thrown away. From cotton-seed, until