The Tales of a Traveler/Part 3
Holding to the Straight Line—Friendships and Events
My travels continued season after season and year after year. And rather than growing tired of my hard work, I came to take more and more pleasure in it. I made many friends everywhere. There is hardly a town that I visit where there are not some men in the trade whom I look forward to seeing with a great deal of pleasure—men who have come to mean more to me than mere business acquaintances. I can speak very warmly of the generous-heartedness of the florists, many of whom have opened their homes to me in friendship and hospitality. This very element of friendship has been a great stimulant to me in carrying on my hard work—work which, to use the expression of a friend of mine, "would break down an ox."
Answering Business Letters by Pen
One of my competitors used to remark that I "had an easy task of it," no financial responsibility, and no overhead expenses. I was carrying on a business, he said, with my office "practically under my hat." My hat, large though it was—and I generally wear a 7¼—was not large enough to carry my office. But I had my office in my pockets, practically in every pocket of my clothes. There were letters galore, which had to be answered. These letters would reach me at whatever point I happened to be, by way of Philadelphia. My wife attended to this end. After a hard day's work with the trade, it was a matter of every night occurrence to take up the work of conducting my "office." Out of the pockets would come the letters. I answered them by pen. All required immediate attention. Some were reassuring in their spirit; others anything but reassuring. Here was a case of a man receiving a batch of cuttings in frozen condition. Of course, I was to blame for it. The idea of sending him frozen cuttings for his good money! Others again found fault with Fuchsias that were packed in a manner unbecoming to an experienced packer; the plants thrown about the box in every way, and the stock practically ruined. Still others would take me to task about stock that should have been received two weeks before, and which had not as yet arrived, would say that unless such stock were forwarded at once I should cancel the order, and "we'll call it quits." It seems to be a quality of human nature to jump at conclusions, and to readily affix blame, regardless of circumstances or conditions responsible for the adverse turn of affairs.
One man, I recall (a man who, by the way, is one of my staunchest friends today,) took me to task for disappointing him about four hundred Carnation cuttings which he was to receive about the middle of January, and which reached him by the 10th of February. I cannot exactly recall the words of his letter, but the gist of it was, that it served him right; he might have known that I was not the man to entrust an order of Carnation cuttings to, that had he ordered them direct from the grower he was sure he would have received them by return of mail. In this particular case, I made an exception from my general rule, which was to appease a customer. I wrote him a much stronger letter than I thought I was capable of, giving him a piece of my mind and assuring him that I could well get along without his trade, and that in the future he should send all his orders to whomever he saw fit.
And while on this point, it may not be amiss to say a few words about some men in the trade, luckily in the minority, who deem it a wise business policy to find fault, to exact allowances, and often to demand duplicate shipments. Such men are classed as "chronic kickers," and on account of them business becomes an irksome task, to say nothing of its being unprofitable. If a few cuttings in a lot should happen to be below the standard of excellence, the whole shipment, according to their letters, is worthless. They will instruct you to make a shipment by freight, and when the shipment reaches them in frozen condition they hold you accountable for it. The fact that it might be the fault of the railroad company, and that they might look for redress in that direction, never occurs to them. The shipper must bear the brunt of it all.
If a shipment reaches them a few weeks later than the time specified, their wrath knows no bounds. They will write you most scathing letters, charging you with neglect of your duty, with a lack of interest in your own business, and what not.
Cases of "Chronic Kickers"
I called on a man a few years ago, with whom I was on very friendly terms. It happened to be a cold Winter day; a snow blizzard was raging. I entered his place about twelve noon, glad to find some protection from the elements, and to thaw out. To my great surprise, the man came at me in this manner:
"I haven't got much time to talk business. I'm going to lunch. And besides, I don't want anything."
I could scarcely believe my ears. I knew that there was something up, and I wanted to know what was the cause of the trouble. After collecting myself, I replied as gently as I could that I had not come to interfere with his lunch, nor was it my policy to urge a man about business when he had none to give; that I hoped he had no objection to my hugging his stove, until I limbered up a bit.
"And anyway," I concluded, "you seem to have it in for me, for some reason; and it is only fair you should tell me what it is all about."
"Never mind," he said, "we'll not talk about it."
But I persisted, and would not let him go to his lunch until he told me wherein I had been at fault. He finally told me that I had disappointed him about Begonia Cincinnati; that he expected the plants in June, and received them in August, and that they were not at all satisfactory at that; that he was through, with me forevermore.
"Mr. X——————," I said, "in so far as your future business is concerned, you have the privilege of placing it where you please. I shall not urge you about it. But let me reason out the matter with you, and put you in the right light. Do you suppose for a moment that it pays me to travel, to incur traveling expenses, to do hard work, with a view to disappointing my customers? Don't you think that I'm the loser when things do not turn out as I expected? Do you think that I am to blame if the season was unfavorable for Begonias, or if the grower on whom I depended so much, and with whom I placed an order a year in advance, for some reason neglected his plants, and thereby impaired the value of his stock? Don't you think that it would have paid me far better if you had received your plants on time and were now in a happier frame of mind than you seem to be? And how would you like it if a customer of your own, one whom you have tried to serve well season after season, had suddenly withdrawn his trade because through no fault of your own you happened to disappoint him about a porch box, a vase in the cemetery, or a bunch of American Beauty Roses which you expected from Chicago, and which failed to reach you in time to deliver to your customer? Don't you think, yourself, that such treatment would be unfair to you?"
But Mr. X—————— was adamant, and no reasoning could conquer his resentment. I have ceased calling upon him.
Another instance was of recent occurrence. In February, 1916, I called on a man in a town in the Middle West about seven in the evening. (The man, by the way, died a few weeks after.) I happened to be friendly also with this man, having known him since his boyhood days, when he worked for another florist in that city. To my great amazement, he met me in a manner quite unlike that of any previous meeting. He wanted to know the nature of my business, telling me right there and then that he had no time to waste nor any orders to give. I felt that he had a grudge, but I would not be dismissed in this manner. I insisted upon knowing what was the trouble. His "never mind" did not satisfy me at all. He finally told me that a hundred four-inch Boston ferns which I had sent him a few months before, and for which he paid, were far from satisfactory; that he had expected better plants for the money, and was quite disappointed about the inferior quality of the plants.
"Then, why didn't you write me?" I asked him. "I would have instructed you to return the plants, and would cheerfully have paid the express charges."
"They are paid for now," he replied, "'and there's no use talking about it."
But I was not satisfied at all. I felt the humiliation of the position he was placing me in, and I insisted upon extricating myself from it at no matter what cost. That night, on my return to the hotel, I made out a check for ten dollars, and mailed it to him, accompanying it with the following letter:
"Dear Sir: Enclosed please find my check for ten dollars, in payment for the hundred Boston ferns which you purchased of me, and which proved unsatisfactory to you. If you think that you are entitled also to the express charges on that lot, please advise me, and I will mail you an additional check to cover same by return of mail. I have traveled for the past twenty-eight years, carrying on my business on a fair and square basis. It is my intention to continue doing so for the rest of my business life. I want no man to be under the impression that I took unfair advantage of him.
Very respectfully yours,
S. S. Skidelsky."
He acknowledged my letter promptly, thanking me profusely for the check, apologizing for his manner of treating me, and promising me all sorts of business in the future.
There are, of course, cases where a man is perfectly justified in making claims. I do not mean to convey the idea that the man finding fault with stock is always in the wrong. Not at all. But things could be easily adjusted to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, without resorting to scathing letters and antagonistic methods in general. Misunderstandings often arise without valid cause. A dispassionate letter of explanation, I am sure, would be met by any house in the right spirit, and a fair adjustment would follow.
Laboring "Seven Days a Week"
I used to write late into the night, often to the "wee, sma' hours." If my eyes felt heavy and dim, there was a cup of strong coffee and a cigar to be had at any hour of the night around the corner in a lunch-room. I often resorted to these stimulants, and would then go on with my work, until my very hand gave out. I remember one morning I dropped on my bed exhausted, intending to rest for a few minutes, in order to continue my work; but instead, I fell fast asleep, and rose at six-thirty with my clothes on, ready to take up another day's toil.
I never indulged in theater-going or pleasure of any sort. If a customer invited me to spend a Sunday with him, I always found an excuse, in those earlier days, to decline. There was always work that brooked no delay. One time, I remember, Mr. Herman Hart of Cleveland invited Mr. Harry Bunyard and myself to spend an evening with him. (Mr. Herman Hart has always been one of my best friends.) Having declined his invitation on many another occasion, I could not possibly do so this time. I accepted the invitation, and while we were enjoying ourselves at his hospitable board, I felt that I was neglecting my duty, that an accumulation of letters awaited me which it would take every minute at my command to dispose of, before the next batch arrived. I sacrificed that evening, rather than took pleasure in it, under the circumstances.
On Sundays came the wind-up of the accumulated work that had gotten ahead of me during the week. And it was no unusual thing for me to put in the entire Sunday from eight in the morning until midnight in my "office." Verily, I "had an easy task of it," with "no financial responsibility, and no overhead expenses"!
Selling a Greenhouse Establishment
In an earlier place, I mentioned that I helped once to sell a greenhouse. It was the first and only greenhouse I ever had any hand in selling. The late E. Hippard of Youngstown, Ohio, had approached me time and again with a request that I help him sell his place. While I thought little of it at the time—that is, of the chance there was of my disposing of his place—a chance presented itself in course of time. Mr. John Walker was then with the Robert Craig Company in capacity of foreman. While having an excellent position, Mr. Walker, nevertheless, entertained the idea of starting a place for himself. It did not matter in which locality or section of the country, so long as the place could be purchased at a reasonable price, and the town had future prospects. One evening, while talking to Mr. Walker about the line of palms I handled for the Robert Craig Company, our conversation turned on other subjects. I told Mr. Walker about the growth and remarkable development of the Middle West, and particularly of the State of Ohio, saying that Ohio, or especially the Shenango Valley in Ohio, would be my favorite if I thought of making a change of residence, never suspecting that I was talking to a man who contemplated such a change. He became interested in what I was telling him, and asked me, if I should happen to come across a greenhouse plant suitable for his purpose, to bear him in mind. E. Hippard's place was still fresh in my memory, and I mentioned it to Mr. Walker. He wanted to know details, and asked me to communicate with Mr. Hippard. A few days later I received a letter from Mr. Hippard, giving full details of his place, and telling me that were it not for the other interests he had in town (the manufacture of ventilating machines, steam-traps, and other greenhouse devices), he would never have thought of selling the greenhouses. I showed Mr. Hippard's letter to Mr. Walker, and he expressed his willingness to see the place for himself.
In June, 1900, we arranged a meeting at Youngstown, and the deal was consummated. In August of that same year, Mr. Walker settled his affairs in Philadelphia, and betook himself and his family to Youngstown, Ohio.
Youngstown at that time was a town of about forty thousand. Today it has more than doubled itself. And John Walker grew up with the town. Mr. Walker is a mixer, and his popularity among all elements in Youngstown is second to that of no man. The most exclusive society folk, as well as the plainest of people, find in Mr. Walker a man worthy of respect and confidence. Mr. Walker has prospered. A few years ago he purchased a farm and built a new range of houses, with a view to growing cut flowers. This new place he sold a few years later to Mr. Cade, retaining the old range which he originally purchased from Mr. Hippard, and where ferns and miscellaneous bedding stock in great quantities are successfully grown for his wholesale and retail trade.
It was at Mr. Hippard's suggestion that I ventured into a new line—the handling of ventilating machines—although I must confess that I never succeeded in that direction. A man handling ventilating machines must possess some technical knowledge; must know something about the construction of the machine, its workings, etc. He must be ready to suggest points advantageous to the grower contemplating a change in or introduction of ventilating apparatus. The same holds true about steam-traps and boilers. Unless a man is well posted and knows fully what he is talking about, mere skill in salesmanship will avail him nothing. I made an attempt in this direction, trying to study up things, to read all I could upon the subject, including pamphlets issued by Mr. Hippard and his competitors, and the trade advertisements of all of them; but the actual technical knowledge was lacking.
J. D. Carmody of Evansville "Which is Near Posey County"
The advertisements of one of our competitors attracted my especial attention. It was that of J. D. Carmody of Evansville, Ind., "which is near Posey County." His advertisements were remarkably unique, and models of their kind; so much so, indeed, that the little magazine "Printers' Ink," a journal devoted exclusively to advertising matter, quoted some of them as gems in an advertising line. My older friends in the business doubtless recall his inimitable style of diction and spelling. "Mr. Editur," he would begin, "I take me pen in me hand to let you know that I have the best bilers on erth, that if me friends will buy one of me bilers, they will use one ton of coal, and if they buy two of me bilers, they will use two tons of coal, and if they buy three of me bilers, they will have coal to sell."
His "picture" would invariably accompany his ads. One picture in particular remains in my memory. It was that of a young boy dressed in a pair of knee breeches, held up by one home-made suspender, and with a conspicuous patch on the seat. Underneath was the inscription: "This is me picture. A back view of a stern reality." His advertisements were concluded with: "Me name is J. D. Carmody, and I live in Evansville, Ind., which is near Posey County." Another advertisement pictured him riding astride a bullock. This one bore the label: "A Posey County stud—on my way home from the Carnation Association."
At the banquet given by the Indianapolis florists during the convention where the ill-fated "Nelson" was exhibited, it devolved upon Mr. Carmody to be toast-master of the evening. His wit was the life of the occasion. Every speaker on the program was introduced in some unique manner. Mr. Carmody took occasion to tell his numerous friends at the festal board of his own experiences in the nether regions. In his most solemn manner, with never a smile to indicate that he had any intention of being funny, he told us how his Satanic Majesty met and conversed with him.
"Who are you?" asked his Satanic Majesty.
"Don't you know me?" replied Mr. Carmody. "I'm J. D. Carmody, from Evansville, Ind., which is near Posey County."
"Oh, to be sure. I've heard about you! You're the man who ventilated our place, with your hothouse contraptions. Why, I'm sure all the imps and little devils will be glad to see you and welcome you."
His reference to a few other gentlemen whom his Satanic Majesty welcomed as favored guests created quite an uproar in his audience.
At another flower show, where Mr. Fairbanks, Vice-President of the United States, made a few remarks, Mr. Carmody was chosen to respond. And how well he responded! He told his audience that he was proud to trace his ancestry away back to an honorable line of gardeners. Why, the first progenitor himself, Mr. Adam, was a gardener, acquiring his experience in the Garden of Eden.
On that same evening, a circle of friends gathered at a cafe to partake of the hospitality provided by the generous florists of Indianapolis. Mr. Carmody was the informal toastmaster of the occasion, and he called upon everybody present to respond to an improvised toast. When the turn came to me, I knew I was up against it, for Mr. Carmody imposed no less a penalty upon me than to tell them the story—or to put it in his own words:
"We will call upon Brother Skidelsky and let him tell us how he skedaddled from Russia."
To J. A. Peterson of Cincinnati he referred in the following manner: "In looking around the room for old Peter, I fail to see his benevolent face. In the absence of him, we will call on Peterson (Peter's son)."
John Evans, the well-known ventilating man of Richmond, Ind., was called upon to rise and explain "why his machine aint as good as mine."
That was a memorable evening, and will always be remembered by me as one of the pleasantest in my recollection.
One of my best friends in the trade, a man whom I always greatly respected, and whose memory I shall ever cherish, was Edwin Lonsdale of Philadelphia. The name of Mr. Lonsdale is coupled in the mind of the average grower of the older generation with some of the best Crotons, Begonias, and other plants that we have in commerce today. Mr. Lonsdale was first of all a horticulturist, a man who spared neither time, effort, nor expense to bring forth the best that he thought would benefit the world of horticulture. Many a man in his place might have turned the popularity he enjoyed and the knowledge he possessed to his own pecuniary advantage. But Edwin Lonsdale was a man cast in a different mold. To him money held forth little allurement. His disinterestedness, or lack of financial acumen constituted one of his major faults. If he succeeded in introducing a novelty (and a generation ago he introduced several Carnation seedlings, of which "Helen Keller" is the best remembered) the very fact that the novelty introduced was of benefit to the trade was to him ample compensation for his labors.
Years before I was in the business myself, he was associated with John Burton, his brother-in-law, a very successful and prominent grower of Philadelphia. When they separated, Mr. Lonsdale continued the business on his own account, plunging into novelties, some of which paid and some of which did not. But money, as I said, had little charm for Mr. Lonsdale. He was experimenting, delving, as it were, into the realms of the unknown in plants, with all the zeal and impersonality of the true scientist.
I met Mr. Lonsdale about 1897, and my few business connections with him were of the kind to endear him to me until the day of his death. It was in the Summer of 1897 that Mr. Lonsdale was overtaken by a calamity of the most horrible nature. Two of his daughters, young girls of culture and fine attainments, were drowned in the angry surf of Atlantic City. Mr. Lonsdale at the time had the heartfelt sympathy, not only of his friends in the trade, but of the public at large as well. That kind of tragedy tears at the heart-strings of all mankind.
Notwithstanding the calamity that had fallen upon him, Mr. Lonsdale bore up heroically. His amiable disposition and optimistic nature, qualities to be envied by every man, enabled him to live on and look forward to the future. At the same time, however, his enthusiasm for his business seemed to wane. Later on, he accepted a position with the Girard College, of Philadelphia, as the chief landscape gardener. Many an out-of-town florist had the pleasure of being entertained by Mr. Lonsdale on the magnificent grounds that under his able management always presented a sight worthy of the gods.
Some years later, another misfortune overtook him. The only child left him, a young girl of about twenty, succumbed to the ravages of typhoid fever. Poor Mr. Lonsdale! His ever-smiling face never betrayed his inner pain.
The history of his departure for California, as manager for one of the Burpee Seed farms, is still fresh in the memory of all his friends. The last banquet tendered to him, at Dooner's Hotel in Philadelphia, was an occasion long to be membered by those who were present. The "Duke of York," as some were wont to call him, was in his best mood. Many of his out-of-town friends were there to grace the occasion. At the close of the banquet I could not help perceiving the sad undercurrent that belied the gayety of the party. To me it seemed that everyone of Mr. Lonsdale's friends fully realized that this was the last time we would ever see Mr. Lonsdale among us.
On the day following, he paid a visit to the late William K. Harris, one of his closest friends, to bid him good-bye. Mr. Harris was then confined to his sick-bed, with an illness that was to prove fatal to him. It was the final parting of two old friends. Mr. Lonsdale never returned to Philadelphia alive.
In the Summer of 1915, his remains were brought home to Philadelphia from his far Western home, to find their last resting-place in one of the cemeteries of the Quaker City which he loved so well.
George Fancourt, the Humorist
Another of my old friends, whom I held in high esteem, was George Fancourt, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Mr. Fancourt was a personality much out of the commonplace. Aside from being a grower of great ability, he also possessed the rare gift of being a splendid conversationalist, and a thorough Shakespearian scholar. The Bard of Avon never had a warmer admirer than Mr. Fancourt. He would quote him by the yard, and not only quote him, but recite his lines with a vim, ardor, and understanding that would do credit to a professional. Mr. Fancourt was an Englishman, and, despite the general notion that Englishmen are lacking in sense of humor, he was a humorist of an unusually high order. To him it was a matter of ordinary occurrence to speak of every-day things in life in a humorous vein, and with a charm that was simply bewitching.
On one occasion (it happened to be a cold wintry night) Mr. Fancourt invited me into a neighboring cafe to partake of a social drink. As we stood in front of the bar I noticed that he squinted at a chromo on the wall before us. I do not recall the subject in detail, but suffice it to say, it was nothing but an ordinary chromo such as brewers provide in abundance to adorn the walls of their patrons. There were two or three other men standing at the bar, and to all of us Mr. Fancourt appealed for criticism as to the merit of the "magnificent masterpiece."
"Why," he ejaculated in droll tone, never cracking a smile, "look at that masterpiece! Look at the wonderful colors and tints, the conception of the artist, his marvelous technique, his mentality, his intuition, his power! Look at that portrayal of a barrel, and the man standing beside it. What a countenance of deep intelligence! Look at the eyes, the eyebrows, the mustache—what a wonderful, intellectual mustache it is! Doesn't he look to you like a great artist, great scientist, great scholar? I tell you what, gentlemen, it is a masterpiece; and the wonder is that the Metropolitan Art Museum of New York didn't gobble it up."
His seriousness of manner, and his vocabulary of the artist, were humorous in the extreme. Another drink was set up, and then another and another. I finally persuaded Mr. Fancourt to accompany me to my hotel. There we sat till a late hour in the night, talking (or rather I should say, he was doing the talking and I the listening) about his favorite Bard of Avon.
It was always a source of genuine pleasure to me to call upon Mr. Fancourt, and many an evening I spent in his company, either at his own house, partaking of his warm hospitality, or in my hotel. The last time I saw Mr. Fancourt I never dreamed that I would see him no more. He died about ten or twelve years ago, and his death was the source of deep grief to his numerous friends in his own vicinity, Philadelphia, and New York.
In my earlier days on the road, I had often wondered at the ingenuity and the skill of some salesmen in accomplishing results which, according to their own tales, were nothing short of marvelous. Often we would gather around a stove in a country hotel lobby, and swap experiences. I can recall now how some smart Aleck would draw a word picture showing his capacity for inveigling reluctant customers into giving him big orders. Others, not to be outdone, would tell stories indicating even greater prowess. I used to feel mighty small in comparison with these great captains of salesmanship; and while I never took those stories at their full value, they nevertheless spurred me on to think of means and devices whereby I might improve my own skill in obtaining better results.
Classification of Salesmen
There were all sorts and conditions of men on the road then, as there are now. Some men are reserved in their manner, non-communicative, strictly attentive to their own business, and resentful of any intrusion upon it. You will see them consult railroad time tables, write advance postal cards to their trade, do their work in a neat, methodical manner, and retire for the night when they are through. Sharply in contrast with these are other salesmen who want you to know that they are leaders in their line, that no buyer would ever dare to refuse them a hearing, that they have humbled the biggest of them and gained their point. They will talk about shows and dances and the pretty girls they have met here, there, and everywhere. Their attire is always at the height of fashion—and a little beyond it. They display a little too much fondness for loud-checked suits, and vividly colored neckties in which nestle diamond stickpins, and finger-decorations from which other diamonds flash almost aggressively. Still others, far from being attired flashily, are careless and shabby in their appearance; their collars look frayed and soiled, their suits badly in need of pressing, and their faces as if a good application of soap and water might improve them. Another class, whose members are neatly but not gaudily dressed, whose faces and general demeanor indicate quiet self-respect, good health, and a fair degree of prosperity, neither boast nor complain about business, but meet their fellow-travelers with a dignified friendliness, and often spend pleasant evenings with them.
Of the four classes mentioned, the first and the fourth are generally illustrative of the principle of "the survival of the fittest." The self-applauded "captains of salesmanship," the "leaders in their line," seldom survive beyond their first or second trip. Acquiring expensive tastes, and developing false notions about the style which is compatible with the importance of their positions, as they see it, their traveling expenses mount higher and higher, while their business results tend less and less to justify their expenditures. They have on hand a collection of questionable stories which they tell indiscriminately, failing to realize that while they might appeal to some buyers, they will antagonize a good many others who are revolted by that sort of thing. These men deem it a wise business policy to tell the buyer what he ought to have, often being bold enough, and ill-advised enough, to tell him that he does not see the advantages in his own business.
"Why, Mr. Smith has just given me an order for two thousand of this, and five thousand of that; and Mr. Smith certainly knows what he is doing! You ought to put in a stock of it. Why be a back number?"
Needless to say, such arguments fall flat with their own weight. If Mr. Smith knows his business better than the man addressed, well and good. The other man resents the implication that Mr. Smith is a far-seeing business man whereas he is not. If the salesman enters a greenhouse and finds a batch of Lilies not up to the mark, he must make capital of it straightway. If the Lilies happen to be those of his competitor, why, it is the competitor's fault. To be sure, his stock is of a very much inferior grade; many complaints are made about it in other quarters. On the other hand, if these Lilies happen to be those of the house he represents, it is the grower's fault. He didn't know how to treat them; he gave them too much water, or not enough; too much bottom heat, or not enough. To make an impression, he must knock his competitors without mercy. His is the only house really worth while. He must also display a profundity of knowledge about all things horticultural and floricultural. If the Carnations are off crop, he certainly knows the reason and will gladly give the benefit of his knowledge to the grower. More dry blood, or sheep manure, or wood ashes, will remedy the evil. If a house of Roses looks poor, he has the remedy neatly tucked away in some recess of his brain. More ventilation, and less feeding, or vice versa; there's the remedy! If the soil in the bench is wet, there is too much water; if it is dry, it is too dry, of course. If the ventilators are up, there is too much air; if the ventilators are down, there is not enough air. And so ad infinitum.
Such men make themselves extremely obnoxious to the trade, and are a detriment to the house they represent.
Advice to Young Salesmen
And while on the subject of competitors and competition, if I may be permitted to speak out of the knowledge I have gained through twenty-eight years of varied experience, I would like to advise my younger friends on the road to bear two things in mind:
First: Attend to your own business exclusively. Whatever you have to offer to the trade, present it in a business-like, unaggressive manner, leaving it largely to the judgment of the buyer himself. But since there are no ironclad rules in salesmanship, any more than in any other vocations, it would be hard to lay down a principle that would apply to all cases alike. As I have mentioned before, it happens now and then that a buyer does not for the moment see the advantage of the article offered, and is hesitant about making a purchase. Here is where the knowledge of human nature will come in good stead. If you are convinced about the merits of the article yourself—in other words, if you are enthusiastic about it—you will soon find a way of presenting it to your buyer, and accomplish results. In the end, he may be thankful to you for your suggestions, and rely upon your good judgment in the future. But, I must reiterate, know your man, be convinced about the merits of your article, and be sure that for the time being you have the interests of your buyer at heart even as much as your own.
Second: Leave your competitors severely alone. If you cannot say anything favorable about a competitor, keep your opinions to yourself. Business men in general, and the florists, it seems to me, in particular, like fair play. They will stand no knocks administered to your competitors behind their backs. And many indeed will resent them. It would be well to remember that in many cases a boost to your competitor will help your own cause materially. If a florist appeals to you for judgment about a batch of poor Sweet Peas or bulbs which he purchased from your competitor, do not take advantage of the situation. Tell the florist that such things are beyond the control of any house; that the business policy of any house, big or small, is to satisfy a customer; that you can see no reason why your competitor would deliberately furnish inferior stock. Remember that the tables might turn some day in your own case and that you yourself cannot always guarantee results. In my early days on the road, I had many knockers, some ridiculing my enterprise, and others predicting my complete failure. I never paid the slightest attention to my "friends," going about my own business and abstaining from repaying their compliments in like coin. The late William K. Harris once told me never to mind a knock, that every knock was practically a boost. When I told him of one particular case, he spoke to me in this manner:
"Skidelsky," he said, "don't mind these things; ignore them. The fact that they are talking about you should convince you that you are somebody. Else they would never take the trouble to mention your name. Go about your business in a straightforward manner, and you'll come out on top."
I pass on the good advice to my young friends on the road.
Now let us return to the third class of salesman—the shabby, unprepossessing ones. It is a serious mistake for a man to neglect his appearance. The first impression, as every salesman on the road well realizes, counts much. When the man that offers the goods is healthy and well set up and prosperous in appearance, the buyer unconsciously tends to feel that the goods themselves are excellent in quality. When the salesman, however, is shabby and drab and dingy, the natural tendency is for the buyer to associate the man and his goods and be prejudiced against the latter. The little extra expenditure of time and money that are involved in keeping oneself well groomed are more than repaid in actual business results.
There are but few men on the road now whom I met in 1888, when I started out. Some have long since retired; others have joined the great majority in "The undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns." This reminds me that I am getting somewhat older myself; and the question often arises in my mind how long I shall continue on my yearly rounds. But I dismiss these thoughts as unworthy of serious consideration. Why cross the bridge before you come to it? So long as my health permits, I shall continue to visit my friends. I say friends advisedly, for I consider every one of my numerous customers—men who encouraged me in my younger days when I was poor and inexperienced, and men who have spurred me on in my endeavors as the years rolled along—as personal friends. I do not like to think of the day when I will no longer pay my periodical visits to these good friends of mine.
There was Bert Eddy, for example, the soul of good fellowship, jolly, witty; the man who, it was claimed, could sit astride a rail and induce a farmer to give him an order for a carload of vegetable seed. He could equally as well entertain an audience of florists on one of the Atlantic City piers, during the convention of 1894, in his role of Falstaff, in a Shakespearian presentation. He was the type of salesman who could adapt himself to any condition and make the best of any situation.
There was one man—let us call him John Smith—who divided his time between his business affairs and bucket-shops. A Scotchman by birth, he acquired habits not characteristic of his countrymen. He was a speculator, spending every dollar that he made on oats, sugar, and other products offered the unwary by the clever bucket-shop manipulators, happily long since extinct. It is not known that John ever got any benefits out of his investments. It is known, though, that at the time he died, in a little room in some cheap lodging place in Providence, R. I., the florists of the town paid his funeral expenses. John was a peculiar character, in many ways. He knew how to play the game of piety when that happened to suit his purpose, and be one of the boys if it were more to his advantage that way. On one occasion he called on a man who was well known for his religious tendencies and advocacy of temperance. Although addicted to the Scotch highball, John pretended in this case that he was a White Ribboner, denouncing the evils of drink with all the vehemence of a truly inspired soul, thus ingratiating himself with the man whose order he was after. He played his game well, though I question if he succeeded in fooling his customers all of the time.
And there were others of the type, long gone though not forgotten by their numerous friends.
Harry Balsley of Red Pot Fame
Of those still in the harness, the dean of all, perhaps, is the whole-souled Harry Balsley of the red pot fame. Who has not heard of Harry Balsley? For upward of forty years on the road, he has made a host of friends wherever green-houses are in existence and pots are used. From coast to coast, and from the Gulf to the Great Lakes, the name of Harry Balsley has become almost a household word with every grower. At one time, a Chrysanthemum was named after this popular man, which was grown quite successfully for years after its introduction. Harry Balsley has the happy faculty of telling a story and telling it well. What is additionally in his favor is his ability to gauge the fitness of the moment for telling it. His age, though he is by no means what one would call an old man, does not in the least impede the progress of his work, for Harry Balsley can still put in a hard day's work and accomplish results as he did a quarter of a century and more ago. It is always a source of great pleasure to me to meet him on the road and to spend an hour of delightful chatting with him. His vast experience and his knowledge of men and things in general are enough to equip him for the lecture platform. But Harry prefers his honorable though more humble vocation of selling pots. May his shadow never grow less.
Joseph Roelker, Another Old-Timer
Another old-timer, though I seldom met him and had few conversations with him, is Joseph Roelker of New York City. Joseph Roelker, though in appearance still a young man, has traveled for almost two generations. Mr. Roelker has always kept more or less aloof from other traveling men, and though they have not become very well acquainted with him, he has always commanded their respect.
The Optimist, Phil Foley
The name of Phil Foley needs no introduction, for Phil has an extensive acquaintance and is beloved by all his friends. His popularity is only equaled by his "avoirdupois." Phil is a heavyweight, tipping the scale at three hundred and fifty or thereabouts. His heart is as big as his body, and his wit is fully commensurate with both. I met Mr. Foley only in recent years, and although our business interests are diverse and we are in nowise of pecuniary advantage to each other, my friendship for him has been strengthened from time to time and my admiration for his good humor, wit, and optimistic outlook in life has grown with each meeting. Mr. Foley's influence is decidedly of a wholesome nature. He never pesters you with tales of business troubles and worries. On the contrary, he will tell you that the world looks mighty bright and cheerful to him, and that every man has a place in it.
Recently, Mr. Foley and I traveled together from Detroit to Cleveland. When the conductor came around for the tickets, I presented mine, and when Mr. Foley's turn came to surrender his paste-board, he informed the official that one ticket would suffice for both, since he was but a baby.
"A baby!" exclaimed the conductor, surveying the three hundred and fifty pounds of man in front of him. "Why you ought to pay a double fare, considering you take up a whole seat yourself!"
As evening came on, we went into the wash-room of the train, preparatory to going into the diner for our supper. The room was crowded with traveling men, who were swapping stories at a lively rate. Mr. Foley was in his element. He stepped into the midst of them, and in a few moments he held the stage, telling one good one after another with lightning rapidity. Supper was forgotten. I finally had to pull him by force toward the diner. When we reached there, we found that supper was not quite ready.
"What!" he exclaimed, "waste all this good time waiting for supper, when it might be spent telling stories? Not much!"
And back he went, despite my efforts, to the wash-room.
We finally got our supper, and landed in Cleveland around midnight.
Arnold Ringier and Walter Mott
Two other old-timers who have served the florists faithfully and well are Arnold Ringier of the W. W. Barnard Company of Chicago, and Walter Mott, at one time representative of the Henry A. Dreer Company and now with the Hammond Company of Beacon, N. Y.
Mr. Ringier is the soul of wit, and his witticisms never fall flat. He is a good mixer, well versed in his lines; and it is no wonder he has made so many friends in his years of travel. He has now retired from traveling, giving his time and attention to the inside workings of the concern.
Mr. Walter Mott, like myself, is still in the harness, covering a large area of territory east, west and south. Although no longer directly connected with the horticultural business, Mr. Mott still maintains his interest in horticulture. His notes from the road in one of the trade papers are being read with interest by his numerous friends.
William Hagerman, "One of the Boys"
The late William Hagerman, although, strictly speaking, not a traveling salesman, but a man carrying on his own business, was nevertheless "one of the boys" on the road. He mingled freely with the traveling fraternity, swapping experiences, and was always "hail fellow well met." As a dealer in bulbs, he was pre-eminently successful. It was said at one time that he intended to monopolize the bulb business. Years prior to his undertaking the sale of bulbs, he conducted a wholesale grocery store in Philadelphia. His brother-in-law, a valley grower in Germany, requested him to offer his product to the growers of Philadelphia. Mr. Hagerman undertook the task, and carried it out successfully. A second and a third time German valley was disposed of in this manner. Then Mr. Hagerman bethought himself that the field outside of Philadelphia looked promising, and that in addition to Valley pips he could offer Lily bulbs, Dutch and French stock, and other things in the bulb line. In turn, he could export Tuberoses and Caladiums from this side of the ocean. He heard that there was a demand for Apples and typewriters and bicycles abroad. Why not export such products as well? He had no sooner thought of the idea than he formulated his plans. It was a success from the start. Mr. Hagerman took to the road, and continued almost until the day of his death. He covered a large territory, and the amount of business transacted on every trip ran into high figures.
Mr. Hagerman was regarded as a salesman of great ability. There was no situation complicated enough to embarrass him. He would always find ways and means of appeasing his most irate customers. If a grower, for example, found fault with his Lilies, Mr. Hagerman was ready to face the situation and make the most of its particular circumstances, satisfying his customer, and winding up with a larger order than that of the season previous. It was remarkable that he could carry on so successful a business in a line about which he had so little knowledge. He would offer things and speak about them with assurance, as if he were perfectly at home in the field, and yet he never perhaps had seen the article he offered.
A prominent grower in New England told me of an incident that will well illustrate the character of Mr. Hagerman. This grower received a quantity of Lilium giganteum, which arrived in sprouted condition. It was a serious matter, which had to be adjusted there and then. He wrote to Mr. Hagerman, urging him to come and see the condition of the stock for himself. Receiving no reply, he wrote again, more urgently than before. Mr. Hagerman finally appeared. What was the trouble? The grower opened a few cases, and showed Mr. Hagerman their contents. The bulbs were badly sprouted.
Mr. Hagerman grasped his Van Dyke beard thoughtfully, reflected a moment, and said:
"Mr. X——————, don't you see that these Lilies are so vigorous—so vigorous that they started to grow in the cases! Now you just plant them, and they'll take care of themselves."
The grower looked at him in amazement, then answered:
"Mr. Hagerman, you have missed your vocation. You should have been a lawyer instead of a bulb man."
Another incident is just as amusing.
A competitor of Mr. Hagerman, to whom he paid a visit once, happened to have a few Lilium auratum bulbs on his desk.
"What are these?" queried Mr. Hagerman.
"Don't you know them?" replied the other. "Why this is a vegetable plant, imported from France. The French people know how to make a delicious salad of it. The way to do it is this: You parboil them, chop them up, put a little vinegar and oil, and salt and pepper to suit your taste. It makes a dish fit for a king!"
"And what do you call this vegetable?" asked Air. Hagerman.
"Lilium auratum," replied the jester.
"The idea of it!" exclaimed Mr. Hagerman. "I've been selling Lilium auratum for the past ten years, and never saw them."
The sad ending of this prosperous man, as well as of his successor, need not be dwelt upon here.
The humorous incidents that might be related about the traveling men I have met are many, and would fill a book by themselves. A few, however, are amusing enough to demand mention here.
There was an old salesman (one of the pioneers) who was noted for the exuberance of his business zeal, as well as for his marked peculiarities. As an economist, he had no rival in his line. It was said that he could "dine on a cheese sandwich, and sleep under an umbrella." His capacity for hard work was unlimited. It was a matter of daily habit with him to start out at six in the morning, and work until ten or eleven at night.
On one occasion he arrived in a town at eight-thirty in the evening. Upon consulting the time tables, he found that he could leave the town at eleven that night. He had only one customer to see. Why not see him at once? The customer happened to live on the outskirts of the city, and car-lines in those days were in most towns conspicuous by their absence. He started on foot, and reached his customer's place about nine-thirty. The place was already closed. But that made no difference to him. He rang the bell. An upper window opened, and the customer looked out.
"Who's there?" he shouted.
"Good evening, Mr. X——————," replied the salesman: "it's me. I just got to town, and as I intend to leave at eleven, I thought I'd see you. Say, we have a few cases of bulbs on hand—a surplus, on which I can make you an especially attractive price. How many could you use?"
Mr. X——————'s amusement tempered his resentment at being routed out of bed, and knowing the peculiarities of the man, he dismissed him with a good-natured—
"Nothing tonight. Call some other time."
Another salesman, just as energetic, though not quite so economical, had peculiarities of his own. He was a kind-hearted chap, and a good mixer; though careless in dress, small and unprepossessing, he somehow succeeded in working up quite a patronage and in making a good many friends in the trade. On one occasion, he was sent out by his concern to the Wisconsin woods, to superintend the packing and shipping of Lycopodium, or green roping, so much used for Christmas decorative work. It was customary then, as it is now, for salesmen to itemize their daily expense accounts, and at the end of the week send in the total. One item aroused the suspicion of his employer. Upon his return, his employer asked him good-naturedly if he discovered a place in the Wisconsin woods where they were charging seventy-five cents for a dinner.
"I thought," added the employer, "that a quarter was the highest price up there."
"Yes," replied the salesman, "a quarter was all I paid for it. But it was worth fifty cents to eat it!"
W. W. Coles of Kokomo
Among my friends in Indiana I am glad to include Mr. W. W. Coles of Kokomo. Mr. Coles was originally a Philadelphia man, although I never had the pleasure of meeting him there. In fact, he had left Philadelphia a few years prior to my becoming connected with horticulture. I had, however, heard of him before. His remarkable success with the "Kaiserin" Rose made him known far and wide. His exhibitions at Chicago, and at shows in other towns, won for him a reputation as a grower of no mean ability. His departure for the western town is but a typical story of the man who pulls up his stakes and pitches his tent in new fields. Although his business in Philadelphia enabled him to get along without any difficulties, his ambition carried him beyond contentment with eking out a mere living. He had heard of Horace Greeley's advice, "Go West, young man!" and toward the West he turned his thoughts. Mr. E. G. Hill was undoubtedly the man to advise him; and he advised him right. Kokomo was a small town, with an exceptionally promising future. They had just discovered and developed some gas wells; and where fuel is cheap prosperity is bound to find its way. So Kokomo was the town he determined upon.
When I first met Mr. Coles, in Kokomo, he had already fully established himself. The dimensions of his greenhouse plant were larger than any I had been accustomed to see in towns of that size. His stock, which was marketed in Chicago, invariably sold well; for, as I said, Mr. Coles is a good grower and produces quality.
He prospered from the start, investing his surplus in land and houses, and enlarging his plant as the demand for his products warranted. Unlike many a man on the road to prosperity, Mr. Coles has not become entirely engrossed in his business, realizing that a man in order to be a good citizen must give part of his time and attention for the benefit of the community. He is active in public affairs, and has become quite a figure in the town where for the past twenty-three years he has made his home. Aside from this, he takes a keen interest in the affairs of the Indiana State Society of Florists, having served as its president for a term or two. The S. A. F. and O. H. has no member more loyal nor more devoted to its interests than Mr. W. W. Coles. He seldom misses a convention, and to hear him speak about the society, the good work it has accomplished, and the work he would like to see it accomplish, is to hear a man speak on a topic directly concerning his personal interest. At one time Mr. Coles served ason the board of the S. A. F. and O. H.
In my visits to Indiana I invariably make it a point to stop at Kokomo, and spend a pleasant evening with Mr. Coles and his delightful family.
Chicago a Quarter of a Century Ago and Today
It is very interesting to call up in review the Chicago of twenty-five years ago, for contrast with the Chicago of today. Twenty-five years ago, Chicago played but an insignificant part in the world of horticulture. Boston was the source whence Roses came for the Chicago market. I had often seen packages at Gallagher's or Rajsik's (two men no longer in existence), that had come from Boston. I can recall how I often wondered why Chicago could not take care of its own Rose supply. There were already enough stores at that time to warrant some enterprise in that direction. And while I was thinking about these things, I little dreamed what was in store for Chicago. The mammoth greenhouses that now cover acres upon acres of ground in various sections in the vicinity of Chicago would have been a revelation to any man of that time possessed of the most flighty imagination. Who would ever have thought of the enormous greenhouses in Morton Grove—those belonging to the Poehlmann Brothers Company? Enormous is the only word by which one could properly estimate the size of the place. It is the largest establishment of its kind in the world. There Roses are grown, not by the thousands, but by the hundreds of thousands. Carnations are grown in similar numbers; Lily of the Valley in great quantities, orchids, bulbous stock of all sorts. It would take an able statistician indeed to estimate the quantity produced on that wonderful place. Not content with cut flowers alone, the Poehlmann Brothers saw an opening for foliage and blooming plants, and great quantities of these are likewise being grown with marked success.
To August Poehlmann, perhaps, more than to any member of the family, the credit is due for launching this great enterprise. Mr. Poehlmann once told me the whole story of the beginning and development of his business; and while I do not wish to go into many details, though it is a story that would read almost like a fairy tale, it is enough to say that this extraordinarily energetic man, still in his early forties, demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt what grit and determination and the ability to see an opportunity when it presents itself can accomplish. I need not say much about the general equipment of this establishment, for I am quite sure that most of my readers have visited the place, and have seen things for themselves. To those who have not, I would suggest that they do so at an early opportunity, for a visit to the place of Poehlmann Brothers is a horticultural education of considerable value.
Peter Reinberg is another instance of what ingenuity and determination can accomplish. I do not know the history of Mr. Reinberg's early business career, though I have been told that it had a modest beginning. Mr. Reinberg at first, according to reports, centered his attention upon the products of a truck farm, bringing his vegetables into town and disposing of them to the best advantage wherever he could find a market. The idea soon came to him that Chicago presented a splendid field for cut flowers, and that cut flowers ought to be more profitable than vegetables to the man who grew them. Here is an instance where a man wedded action with thought; and a greenhouse plant of immense proportions soon sprang up upon the site of his former truck farm. This was enlarged from time to time, until Mr. Reinberg's place came to rank among the largest in the world.
Bassett & Washburn, who have but recently demolished their immense establishment and rebuilt it upon a new site, present additional examples of the spirit of Chicago enterprise. Their new place, although I have not yet visited it, is said to be one of the largest and best equipped establishments of the kind. Since Bassett & Washburn never do things by halves, it goes without saying that their new establishment is producing most excellent stock. The history of the business development of this firm is interesting. Mr. Bassett, a prosperous printer, became interested in floriculture a number of years ago when his own gardener on his private place used to grow some excellent Roses. He saw the possibilities in commercial flower-growing, and a place was soon erected, near Western Springs, Ill. Mr. Washburn, his son-in-law, became interested in this concern, which has since prospered under his efficient management.
The history of the Wietor Brothers is no less interesting. Nick Wietor, a bookkeeper by profession, and a far-seeing young man by natural endowment, conceived the idea a number of years ago to exchange the confining position of bookkeeper for that of the open air occupation of horticulturist. Nick told me once how Anthony, at one time the leading florist of Chicago, but long since dead and forgotten, had snubbed him upon a certain occasion when he applied to him for a price on stock which he had to offer. Instead of giving him a civil answer, Anthony grufily referred him to his foreman, remarking that he had no time to bother with such trifles. Not accustomed to such treatment, Mr. Wietor returned empty handed, and informed his brother that Anthony seemed to be too big a man to approach and that he would make no more attempts to see that important personage.
But a few years later, the tables were turned. In his down-and-out days, Anthony approached Wietor for the loan of a few dollars, which were readily given him, with no intention on the lender's part ever to recall the loan.
This seesaw of prosperity and adversity is not uncommon in human experience; and it is well for those on the up end of the board to bear in mind the truth of the Biblical saying that "the last shall be first," and for purposes of expediency, if not actually because of a sense of human justice and equality, to treat the man on the down end with consideration and respect.
The Wietor Brothers are among the largest cut flower growers in Chicago; Nick Wietor conducts the wholesale end of it, while his brother is at the head of the greenhouses. Their progress has kept time with the general prosperity of the western metropolis. Outside of their greenhouse establishment, they have a great many investments in other enterprises, evidently believing it a wise policy not to put all their eggs in one basket.
Frank Oechslin's business career, his ventures and success, are well known to almost every florist in the land. After experimenting for a while in the East, Mr. Oechslin turned toward Chicago, and there made his home. For a time he was working for Kidwell Brothers, the well-known wholesale and retail florists of Chicago. Then he saw an opportunity to go for himself, and grasped it without delay. Chicago was badly in need of blooming plants. While a few were grown here and there a great many more could be disposed of if there were any in the market. There was a small place on West Madison street, which could be rented at a nominal price; and though far from being an ideal place for the purpose, Frank Oechslin took it, determined to make the best of it until an ideal place could be had. He started in with small ferns. Primulas, Cinerarias, Cyclamen, and other blooming plants; and these he grew as well as any Eastern grower could possibly grow them. (The East at that time was looked to for the best in the line of plants.)
The market was ready for him, and not only ready but eager. Mr. Oechslin had no difficulty in disposing of all he grew. He could have disposed of ten times the quantity, if he had it. He was making money, and was well launched on the way to prosperity. But to leave well enough alone was not in Oechslin's make-up. Better facilities and a more extensive plant meant business expansion. Mr. Oechslin was eager to expand, not only on his own account, and from the standpoint of dollars and cents, but to improve the general conditions of the trade and to meet the ever-growing demand of his customers. An excellent piece of ground, several acres in extent, was to be had on West Quincy street and Forty-eighth avenue. He bought the ground, and erected a modern place. His prosperity from then on took wings unto itself. The excellent stock he was producing spread his fame over a wide area, and orders came pouring in on him not only from his Chicago customers, but from a large circle of florists in many Western, Northwestern, and Southern towns as well. As a plant grower, Mr. Oechslin is unquestionably one of the most successful in the country.
The well-known firm of the George Wittbold Company, which for upward of half a century has carried on a prosperous business, and has grown up with the city itself, needs no introduction by me. Since the death of the founder of the institution, the late Mr. George Wittbold, the business has been in the able hands of his sons, Louis Wittbold and his brother Fred. Some of the members of the family have withdrawn their interests and embarked upon a separate business of their own. One of the brothers, Otto Wittbold, has his nursery at Edgebrook, Ill., where the greenhouses of the George Wittbold Company are also located.
In addition to palms, ferns and blooming plants of all kinds, the George Wittbold Company also grows Roses, Chrysanthemums and bulbous stock very successfully. The elegantly equipped store on Buckingham Place consumes all their product, although palms are being sold in quantity at wholesale.
When I think of the great number of notable and prosperous florists in Chicago, I realize the utter impossibility of doing individual justice to all of them. I can but speak generally, and say that these energetic men have contributed their full share to the development of their truly wonderful city, the great metropolis of the West. What is especially laudable is the fact that each man seems to take a kind of personal pride in his beloved city, a city that communicates to the stranger at once something of its buoyancy and "go-aheadiveness" of spirit.
On the Outskirts of Chicago
Along with the development of horticulture in Chicago, there was a general movement in the direction of its development throughout the State. Such towns, as Peoria, Lincoln, Bloomington, Springfield and many others, fell into line, and for a time greenhouses sprang up like mushrooms in the woods. I will cite a few instances.
A. Washburn & Sons of Bloomington, Ill., saw their opportunity in that thriving town, and turned their farm into a floricultural establishment. The late Mr. A. Washburn, a New Yorker by birth, planned well, and lived to see the results of his planning. Their greenhouses and store are all that could be desired, and the two sons now in charge of the place are conducting a most profitable business.
Gullett & Sons of Lincoln, III, are not only successful growers, but also men of modern business ideas and progressive spirit. They have but recently enlarged their already extensive establishment, having put up an entirely new place for Roses which they ship to many parts of the country.
L. C. Loveridge, of Peoria, Ill., a successful all-around grower, a man who has learned his business in numerous establishments on this as well as the other side of the water, has put the floral business of Peoria on a strictly up-to-date basis. Aside from the stock of excellent quality which he invariably produces, he has modernized the method of doing business in that prosperous town. His store and his greenhouses testify to his business initiative.
Miss Belle Miller of Springfield, Ill., the woman horticulturist of Illinois, is another example of enterprise. Starting as an amateur, she gradually enlarged her scope, until she became a professional grower, and one of the most successful ones in the State. Besides having a lucrative retail business, she grows large quantities of stock of all sorts for the St. Louis wholesale market. Pier place is a model of neatness, and her ofiice where she conducts her business shows the woman's touch in the charm and attractiveness that do not characterize most business offices.
Fred J. Ammann of Edwardsville, Ill., a very progressive young man (for despite his forty-five years he is still young) belongs to two States, dividing his interests between Illinois and Missouri. An active member of the St. Louis Florists' Club, he is also most active in the affairs of the State Society of Illinois, being secretary of that society. Mr. Ammann has a modern range of glass located upon one of the most beautiful sites of Edwardsville, which under his good management is yielding splendid results. His stock is always of excellent quality, for, like any other progressive grower, he does not believe in postponing a thing until tomorrow if he can do it today. In other words, instead of letting a possible good thing go until some other fellow has proved its merits, he prefers to try it himself, and thus be in the market a year in advance of the conservative man.
Perhaps in no other State in the Union has horticulture received the impetus which has been given it in the State of Illinois. It was in Illinois that a State society of florists was first organized. This society does splendid work in more senses than one. Aside from bringing into its fold as many members as it can from every part of the State, and thus interesting them in the splendid work it is carrying on, it has induced the State legislature to appropriate a considerable amount of money for experimental purposes. The State University at Urbana, Ill., has a splendid department where, under the excellent management of Professor Herman Dorner, experimental work in all branches of horticulture and floriculture is being carried on with marked success. Their annual reports, I have been told, are eagerly awaited by no less an institution than Cornell University itself. The annual meetings of the State Society of Illinois, generally held in February, are events of great importance, not only to the florists of that State itself, but to florists of neighboring States as well. These conventions are held in the various towns of Illinois. The last one took place at Rock Island.
Other States might do well to follow the example of Illinois. The value of experimental work, work in which every florist is directly interested, can hardly be overestimated. The problems which arise, and the dilemmas with which every grower is confronted, are often of a nature which puzzles the most practical of them. Whatever may be said against a college education, and of the futility of book knowledge, certain it is that the greatest problems, industrial and otherwise, have been oftenest solved by men possessed of the knowledge of theories, and principles underlying these problems. If the grower has no definite knowledge about the nature of his soil, or the kind and amount of fertilizer required to supply its deficient elements, a little knowledge of chemistry might aid him materially. But since every florist cannot possibly alter conditions to suit his own needs, the best and only thing he could do would be to depend upon the experimental station which would soon clear up his difficulties.
On Establishing Experimental Stations, Etc.
The signs of the times point to the establishment of experimental stations in every State in the Union, for such institutions would be of incalculable benefit to the trade. I will go further and say that the time is coming when the florist will realize the necessity for giving his son the advantages of a college education, in order that the profession—and a profession it is—may be raised above the hap-hazard standard, if I may thus put it. The future success of our business, I can clearly foresee, will largely hinge upon a thorough knowledge on the part of the man conducting it of the details and theories, if you please, which seem to be so much ignored, or else often sneered at, by the practical florists of today. I do not mean to speak disparagingly of the great results accomplished by practical men. Far from it. But the results accomplished, be it remembered, are not because of a lack of college training, but in spite of it.
Horticulture had begun to make its strides. In some quarters, a cry was raised to halt. For a time we heard so much about too much building and the danger of over-production. Such cries of alarm might have been expected. No movement has ever been started on its way without opposition. The progressive elements in our trade never heeded that warning, realizing that far from reaching the limit, our business was still in its embryo, and that its possibilities were practically unlimited. Why, is not our country grow-ing? Are not our towns and cities almost doubling themselves in population? Thus far, they reason, our product has found its way among the rich; but how about the rest of the people, the great mass that outnumbers the rich in the ratio of fifty to one? Why should not our product appeal to them as well? And why should we not put it within their reach? It is up to us, said these progressive ones, to educate the people, to spread the gospel of beauty among them.
The Birth of Flower Shows
How to educate the mass was a question easily solved. The flower show would do the work. Let us make our flower shows popular and attractive; let the people see for themselves what we are trying to do for them. Let us convince the great mass that our art is not intended for the rich only, that we mean to bring it within their reach; in short, that we intend to beautify the humblest home as well as the stateliest of mansions.
The idea was a capital one, and flower shows became the recognized order of things among the florists. That the work thus undertaken and carried on was productive of good results was no longer questioned even by the most bitter opponents of the innovation after its first few trials. The rank and file responded to the call, and it was an inspiration to the writer in the earlier days of his travels to see men and women of the humbler ranks crowd eagerly into the halls to view "God's fairest creations."
International Flower Shows
From the local flower show to the international ones was but a short step. The first attempt of this kind, as everyone in the trade will well remember, was made in St. Louis, Mo., during the Louisiana exposition. A few earnest men gathered at the old Sherman House in Chicago, and launched the enterprise. A hurried call was issued to a good many growers, setting forth the advantages of a flower show in connection with the great Louisiana exposition. An enterprise of the sort required money. A subscription was made among the few promoters of it, but more was needed. In a circular letter sent out broadcast, it was urged that the recipient subscribe any amount he saw fit for a guarantee fund. Quite a number saw the advantages that would accrue to the trade, and readily responded. The majority, however, paid no attention to the call, although they soon realized the fallacy of their lack of interest. That enterprise proved to be a great success. Thousands upon thousands of people cheerfully paid their admission to view the flower show. A handsome sum was realized, and every subscriber to the guarantee fund received his money back plus a handsome dividend. If I remember rightly, but one-fifth of the amount subscribed was called for. The money returned was double the amount paid in.
First National Flower Show at Chicago and Others
The first Louisiana exposition blazed the trail for other flower shows of a national scope. The first of this kind was held at the Coliseum in Chicago, and, to the credit of the local management be it said, everything possible was done to ensure its success. The retailers, no less than the growers themselves, did their part. And how well they did it! There were table decorations, mantel decorations, and decorations for all sorts of occasions, to attract people from every walk in life. The landscape gardener did his best, too, to give to the denizens of the city as well as to the country gentlemen an object lesson in landscape gardening. One firm, I remember, had two cottages side by side, labeled "Before and After." The one "before" represented a miserable shanty, standing in the midst of a rubbish heap of rusty tin cans, broken bottles, litters of paper, ashes, and so on. The one labeled "after" was a humble cottage, surrounded by a neatly trimmed lawn, with a few shrubs planted here and there to add to the general attractiveness of the place. It was evident that the intention of the landscape artist was to reach the common people, to show them what could be accomplished with little effort and at no very great cost. The results from both monetary and educational standpoints surpassed the most sanguine expectations of the most enthusiastic promoters.
Other shows followed. The second one in Boston, the third one in New York, and the fourth one held recently in Philadelphia, all proved eminently successful.
Much criticism has been heard about the last named, held in Philadelphia, many contending that the exhibition hall was inadequate for the purpose, that it was too far out of the way, and that the Blue Laws of the Quaker City which barred out the public from attending the "greatest sermon that was ever preached in the city," to use Mr. Gude's words, were a great drawback to the success of the enterprise. It must be remembered, however, that in point of attendance there was no city that surpassed Philadelphia. The fact that the first Sunday of the show thousands of people lined the streets in the immediate vicinity of the hail, evidencing their disappointment at not being able to get in, was encouraging enough in itself, for it indicated that flower shows, as an educational institution, made a strong appeal to the people. The city of Philadelphia, I may here remark, has passed upon its loan bill, and this among other improvements provides for a convention hall, the like of which no city can equal today, let alone surpass. Let us hope that the next National Flower Show to be held in Philadelphia will carry with it a more favorable impression than the last one—that by that time the Blue Laws of 1794 will be revoked.
Horticulture continued on its march of progress. State after State fell into line; and while J should like to speak about every State in the Union, I must, for reasons of space limitation, confine myself to those sections through which I traveled most often. The Eastern States were already in advance. As I remarked before, the city of Boston supplied the great city of Chicago with Roses. It was now that the Middle West had its turn. The States of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan became especially active. Truck farms were turned into greenhouse establishments. Celery growers in the Black Belt of Michigan who grew a few plants as a side line turned their attention to plant and cut flower growing, and the Celery patches became the side lines. Later the Celery man found it to his advantage to give his entire attention to flowers, and let the real farmer take care of the Celery end of it.
Expansion of Michigan Growers
A case in point is that of 'an Bochove Brothers, in Kalamazoo, Mich. In 1889, when I first met them, the Van Bochove Brothers were primarily Celery growers. They had two little houses wherein they grew Geraniums and other bedding plants for the supply of the local trade. A few years later they thought it might pay them to try a few Roses. American Beauty Roses were tried, and whether it was due to the soil or to their good luck in finding the right man to take care of the stock, their American Beauty Roses were grown most successfully, and sold readily in the Chicago market. Another house was put up, and more American Beauty Roses were grown; then another and still another were added. In addition to American Beauty Roses, they introduced the Bride and Bridesmaid. There was no hitch of any kind, except in shortage of stock; for they could readily dispose of more than they grew. It was now a question of expansion, and undivided attention to either one or the other of the branches of their business. The Celery field had to go. In course of time a considerable portion of their ground within the city limits was covered with glass. Their success as cut flower growers was now fully assured. The city of Kalamazoo began to expand; city lots went soaring in value, and so did the taxes upon them. As keen business men, the Van Bochove Brothers decided that it would be much to their advantage to dispose of the lots and build a new place upon a new site, outside of the city limits. Today they have one of the largest places in Michigan, and are considered among the best growers in the State.
Other Michigan cities, such as Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Bay City, Jackson, Lansing, Flint, and so on, were fully awake to their opportunities, and expansion became the order of the day. Twenty-five years ago there were but few extensive greenhousein the State. In the early '90's the reconstructive period may be said to have begun. It seemed as though the people suddenly awoke to the charm of plants and flowers, and the demand had to be met. Such firms as Henry Smith, Alfred Hannah & Sons, and Eli Cross of Grand Rapids; the Roethke Floral Company, Charles Frueh & Sons, Grohman Brothers, and J. B. Goctz's Sons of Saginaw; Bochringer Brothers of Bay City; C. Brown & Company of Jackson; and many others too numerous to mention, commenced to make improvements on a scale that promised well for the future of horticulture in their State.
The city of Detroit, conceded by all to be one of the most beautiful, attractive, and progressive cities in the country, shows its remarkable advance in horticulture no less than it does in the automobile industry. The flower beds in the city square, in front of the city hall, and in the various little parks scattered throughout the town, are features of charm to the visiting strangers. Detroit in this respect may be likened to some of the attractive cities in Germany. The white-wing brigade, or the street cleaners, were first organized in Detroit. And even New York City, a town that is supposed always to lead and never follow, took its cue in this particular from Detroit. But it is not about the charms of the city that I wish to speak.
Florists' Telegraph Delivery Association
As a matter of course, the advance in horticulture that characterized the State of Michigan had its due measure of expression in Detroit. I have elsewhere referred to the Detroit florists as a progressive, alert and cultured body of men. Hence to speak about every individual separately would be superfluous. I have made many friends in Detroit, among the florists. In fact, it is one of the cities that I take an especial delight in visiting. The spirit of fraternity that exists among the florists of Detroit, it seems to me, is particularly strong and productive of good results. Whatever question of importance arises is usually brought up and discussed at the florists' club meeting. Often such questions prove of interest not only to the Detroit florists, but to the trade throughout the country. The Florists' Telegraph Delivery Association has its secretary in Detroit. Albert Pochelon is the man who put that organization on a basis that is unshakable. The idea may not be originally his own. But it takes a man with a deal of enthusiasm and faith in an undertaking to carry out an idea, no matter how good it is, to a successful finish. Mr. Pochelon believed in the value of the Florists' Telegraph Delivery Association, and believing with him meant action. The idea of a patron in Detroit being able to send a box of flowers to a friend in Paris, or London, or Madrid, within two or three hours, or to distant points in our own country in even less time, was a novel as well as a practical one. With the energy characteristic of him in his own business affairs, Mr. Pochelon undertook to interest men in various parts of the country, urging them to become members, and showing them in his own inimitable way the immense advantages that would accrue to our business if they would realize its possibilities. To use his own words, "The Florists' Telegraph Delivery Association means business coming and going." The man who receives an order for flowers and sends it to his correspondent abroad is also likely to receive an order from his correspondent in return. Aside from the advantages of the discount going with such orders, it also means a great advance upon former methods in facilitating the sending of flowers at distances on short notice. The boom to the flower trade was evident. But, like any other innovation, it had its opposing factions. Some men were narrow-minded enough to consider themselves in a class of their own. Albert Pochelon is not the man, however, to be daunted. He continued circularizing and talking about his idea wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. It used to be said of him that the Florists' Telegraph Delivery Association meant more to him than his own business, which by the way is a very flourishing one. During the National Flower Show at New York, we were favored with a few visitors from England. Among them was the late W. Wells, the noted Carnation grower of England. Upon being introduced to Mr. Wells, Mr. Pochelon saw his opportunity to approach him with his pet idea.
"What!" exclaimed Mr. Wells, "this must be another of your American fakes."
Whether Mr. Wells had been at some time taken in by a fakir or not, I do not know, nor has it any bearing on the story. The fact is that Mr. Pochelon was not in the least disturbed by this answer, but proceeded to convince Mr. Wells of the tremendous advantages of bringing the trade of England and America. into closer touch by means of the telegraph. A few weeks later, on his visit to Detroit, a reception was given to the well-known Englishman, and here again Mr. Pochelon broached the idea. Mr. Wells was won over, and became one of the most ardent supporters of the association.
I have already mentioned in former pages the well-known firm of John Breitmeyers Sons, and Mr. B. Schroeter, both presiding over veritable floral palaces, within a block of each other.
But there are other men who have contributed largely to the progress of the city in general and horticulture in particular, well worthy of mention.
C. H. Plumb on Burns avenue has built up a large business from a small beginning. He started about twenty years ago with two little greenhouses, and kept pace with the city as it grew. Mr. Plumb grows largely for the wholesale market, both plants and bulbous stock; and during the past few years he has built up quite a retail trade in his own neighborhood.
Frank Holznagle's place on Woodward avenue occupies a plot of ground that, it is said, is worth a fortune. Mr. Holznagle never boasts of his wealth, but pursues his business, giving it all the attention and hard work that make for success. He is considered among the best growers in the State.
E. Fetters, originally of the Smith & Fetters Company of Cleveland, came to Detroit a few years ago, and made it his home. Mr. Fetters is an artist in his line, as well as a successful business man. He conducts two stores.
The genial J. F. Sullivan, beloved by every traveling man, has contributed his share toward the advance of horticulture in Detroit. Mr. Sullivan is, above all else, an optimist; and optimism, it is claimed, goes hand in hand with prosperity.
Beard Brothers have been recently succeeded by Sidney Beard, the son of the late Frank Beard. Although still a young man in the early twenties, Sidney—if one is to judge him by the extent of his enterprise, and the results achieved—has all the experience of a veteran. There is no question but that the young man is on the road to success.
Nor has J. K. Stock any ground for complaint about his business ventures. Starting in a section of the city that did not promise much so far as retail trade was concerned, he confined himself at first to the growing of ferns and bedding plants for the wholesale trade. But Detroit has grown, and so has the section where his greenhouses are located. About three years ago, he remodeled his place, and erected a modern flower store on Warren avenue. His retail trade has grown by leaps and bounds.
The late Gus H. Taepke, a pioneer florist of Detroit (for he was one of the oldest in that city) contributed his share toward the growth of floriculture in Detroit. His place on Elmwood avenue is covered by a large range of glass, where a miscellaneous stock is always grown successfully A number of years prior to his death, finding that his business equipment had become inadequate to meet the growing demand, he built a range of glass on Gratiot avenue, on the outskirts of the city. There he grew Roses and Carnations for his ever-increasing retail trade. His son, Walter Taepke, who succeeded his father upon his death, conducts a prosperous retail business, his store being located in the heart of the retail section. Between his store and his greenhouses, young Walter has ample responsibilities, but is fully equal to the task.
Robert Flowerday, a florist of the old school, though not an old man, has of late divided his time between his business and the parks of Detroit. The responsible position of superintending the parks finds him equal to it on all occasions. His young son is of great help to him in looking after the business.
W. B. Brown kept full pace with the growth of Detroit itself. Starting about twelve years ago, with no visible means, but with plenty of grit and determination as assets, he plugged along until he attained his end. Today Brown is among the successful florists in the city of Detroit.
Growers and Retailers in Detroit Suburbs
Detroit seemed to be much in need of Roses. While a few Roses were grown in the immediate vicinity, there was not enough stock produced to supply two big stores, let alone the stores that sprang up in every part of the city. The man to supply this demand, or to meet it at least in part, appeared on the scene, though his appearance is of but recent date. A. J. Staehlin of Redford, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, has demonstrated his ability to accomplish results in whatever he undertakes. A few years ago, it occurred to him that movable houses, something unheard-of before, would pay. His idea was that he could plant his Carnations in the field, give them the full benefit of a Summer's growth in the open, and when the time came to plant them inside, instead of lifting and taking them into the greenhouses, he could just as well move over the greenhouses to them. In this way he could accomplish two purposes: First, he would save himself the labor of planting in the Fall; and second, the Carnation plants that were under the glass during the Summer would remain there until late in the Fall and he could continue picking the flowers until the frost set in. It was a case of carrying the mountain to Mohammed. This innovation in greenhouse construction was a success from the start. Mr. Staehlin's Carnations are among the best brought to the Detroit market, and his Sweet Peas, which he grew for a few years, enhanced his reputation as a grower of splendid ability. About three years ago he grew a house of Tomatoes, and this enterprise, it is said, brought him excellent returns.
But Mr. Staehlin saw the possibilities in Rose growing; and seeing the possibilities, he was prompt to act. In addition to his already extensive place, he erected a range of four houses, each four hundred feet long, built of iron and cement, exclusively for Rose growing purposes. As with Carnations, his success with Roses is fully assured, and the Detroit market is thereby somewhat though not fully relieved.
Thomas Browne of Greenfield, Mich., within two miles of Mr. Staehlin, has but recently erected two additional houses, each six hundred by seventy feet. This is but an addition to the already immense place which Mr. Browne has built up from time to time. The reader may easily conceive the immense quantities of stock which Mr. Browne produces in his mammoth establishment. Besides Carnations and Sweet Peas, in which he specializes, he plants seventy-five thousand Chrysanthemums; and in the Spring he markets about a hundred and fifty thousand Geraniums.
Both Mr. Browne and Mr. Staehlin have made rapid strides in floriculture.
The thriving city of Mt. Clemens offers many attractions to the visitors. In the first place, it is but twenty miles from Detroit, and is reached by trolley service that runs on half hour schedule. To me Mt. Clemens always appears as a hustling, thriving suburb of the great city of Detroit itself. It seems to partake of the spirit of the metropolis, and shows remarkable progress along all lines. The city of Mt. Clemens is perhaps best known for its hotels and bathhouses, which attract numerous visitors at all times from all sections of the United States. It always gives me great pleasure to visit this town. For here, too, I have made friends.
Until lately, there have been no retail florist stores in Mt. Clemens. About two years ago, Mr. John Carey opened one, as an adjunct to his wholesale trade; and from all accounts he is doing well.
The flowers grown in Mt. Clemens go to the Michigan Cut Flower Exchange in Detroit. In fact, two of the Mt. Clemens florists, namely, Robert Klagge and Fred Breitmeyer of the Breitmeyer Floral Company, are interested in that remarkably successful institution, which under the able management of Robert M. Rahaley has made such wonderful progress within the past few years.
Robert Klagge, at one time known as the Violet king of that section, has in recent years centered his attention upon Lily of the Valley, and is now the largest Lily of the Valley grower in Michigan. But besides Valley, he grows an immense quantity of French and Holland bulbous stock, and is quite successful with his Roses and Carnations.
Fred Breitmeyer of the Breitmeyer Floral Company, is centering his entire attention upon Roses, believing in specialization as the indispensable factor in unqualified success. Among other Roses, he finds Jonathon Mack one of the best for Summer culture. It is said that Mr. Fred Breitmeyer has discovered a gem in the way of a sport among his Ophelia Roses. It is a clear pink Ophelia. The growers will await with interest the result of Mr. Breitmeyer's discovery.
August von Boeslager, as his name indicates, comes from a noble family in Germany. In his native land, it is said, he mingled with the "upper ten." But in this country he became imbued with the democratic spirit, and put his abilities and energy to good use. He became a florist, and a very successful florist indeed. His greenhouse range on North Gratiot street, in Mt. Clemens, is one of the beauty spots in that town. The cobble-stone wall fronting his picturesque chateau and greenhouses, his very attractive conservatory leading to the range, proclaim him an artist as well as a florist. He grows excellent stock, and is always abreast of the times.
Mr. John Carey never misses on Roses. His crop is always on time, and he seems fully able to guard against all ills to which Roses are subject—mildew, blackspot, and all the rest of them. But besides Roses, he grows quantities of bulbous stock and Carnations, most of which go to the Michigan Cut Flower Exchange in Detroit.
Toledo Florists Keeping Step with Progress
Toledo, Ohio, is within hailing distance of Detroit, being but sixty miles away from it. Some jestingly refer to Toledo as a suburb of Detroit. I question, however, if any city in the country can boast of such suburbs. For Toledo has grown in recent years in a way to ensure it place in the ranks of the largest cities in the country. As I compare the Toledo of twenty-eight years ago with Toledo today, the advances the city has made appear as remarkable indeed. Twenty-eight years ago there were but few greenhouse ranges in that town, the largest of them—that belonging to the late George Heinl, being small in scope and antiquated in construction. Today modern ranges are to be found in various sections of the city; and the progressive spirit of the florists of Toledo is parallel with that of their brother florists in any other city.
Thomas Magee of the Davis & Magee Company, at one time a Philadelphian, brought with him to his Western home the advanced ideas of the East and has built up an excellent business in the residential part of the town. About three years ago, he found his place inadequate to the growth of his business. To meet his increasing needs, he demolished his greenhouses, and in their place he erected a modern range with a store in front that is considered one of the finest in the State.
E. Suder, of Cherry street, has also found it necessary to meet the demands of the times, and two years ago his place was completely rebuilt. A magnificent conservatory, such as one is accustomed to see on private estates, has been added; and the general equipment has been modernized and largely improved.
Harry Heinl, who succeeded his late uncle, George Heinl, has practically rebuilt the entire range. Mr. Heinl grows for the wholesale market, and has made a success.
Schramm Brothers are two young men still in their twenties, who assumed the responsibilities of the old established business by force of circumstances. They are the third generation of the Schramms with whom I have come in contact since I began my visits to Toledo. Mr. Schramm, their grandfather, who had long since retired, died but recently. His two sons, who succeeded him several years ago, died within a year of each other, a few years after they had taken over their father's business. The present Schramms put their shoulders to the wheel, and notwithstanding their youth, they do not seem to regard their responsibilities as especially burdensome. The fine retail business which their parents and grandparents established and built up has been extended, and the young men give every promise of not slacking up the pace that has been set for them.
John Barrows, on Detroit street, an all-around good grower, has fully kept pace with the spirit of the times. Mr. Barrows grows a miscellaneous stock of plants and cut flowers and a large quantity of bulbs. He has an excellent retail trade in his own as well as in other sections of the city.
It is a pity that I cannot take up in detail the story of the progress made by every individual florist throughout the State of Ohio, and elsewhere; but, as is obvious, space will not permit. A good many of my friends in Cleveland, for example, have most interesting histories that would well illustrate the success that is to be achieved by dint of hard work and perseverance. So, too, in Akron, Dayton, Lima, Mansfield, and many other towns there are florists who have achieved a well deserved reputation in the trade. But I must pass on.
The Credit System, Its Uses and Abuses
A few years ago, I had the privilege of addressing the Philadelphia Florists' Club on a topic that aroused at the time some interest and discussion in trade circles. The late Alexander Wallace, editor of The Florists' Exchange, was especially enthusiastic in his advocacy of the principles that I brought up.
The subject involved was that of our credit system, its uses and abuses. It seems to me now, as it did then, that we have made but little progress in this direction. Our credit system is still in a great measure antiquated, and badly in need of modernizing. It is surprising, when one considers it, that the retail florist who has done so much to improve upon the methods of old, and has modernized the general system of doing business, should neglect the very foundation upon which a successful business is built. While giving his attention to details of store arrangement, quality of flowers, discussion of prices, and even co-operative advertising, it never occurs to him to take up the question of credit, a question that should above all else present itself to his mind as of primary importance. The custom prevails among the retail florists, as every one of my friends will concede, to extend credit to their patrons, often indiscriminately and without imposing any limitation of time upon the best of them. If Mrs. Brown gives a pink tea and wants a table decoration that will be just so, and in the nick of time, the florist expends his best efforts to satisfy her. He often takes rebukes if the box of flowers which she ordered to be delivered at nine should reach her at ten. He does his utmost to give her the very best flowers, for Mrs. Brown is a very particular lady, and will have nothing else but the best. He meets her whims and caprices and injunctions and orders without a murmur. To be sure, Mrs. Brown is a society lady, one whose trade is well worth having.
And now let us see how Mrs. Brown conducts her end of their business relation. After having run up an account that totals into a considerable sum, it never occurs to her that Mr. Florist might well use the money. The fact that he must pay his grower, or commission man, and that they in their turn must pay for labor and coal and other overhead expenses, never presents itself to her. The gaiety season being over, Mrs. Brown quietly departs for either her Summer home or for Europe, leaving her florist bill unattended to. It would be the height of folly, of course, on the part of Mr. Florist to call her attention to such trifling matter as her flower bill. The very idea of it! Why, Mrs. Brown is a leader of society; and Mr. Brown is a prominent man in town, a successful manufacturer, a member of the leading clubs, and what not. To present a bill to such people would mean nothing short of offending them. And so Mr. Florist bears the burden of his financial troubles; and of necessity must put off the grower or the commission man, who in his turn must bear his part of the burden.
Now and then it happens that a florist loses his patience, and then, lo and behold! his patron is lost to him, for his competitor saw the chance, and swooped upon it like a vulture after spying its prey. The consequence is that the lax credit system is thus perpetuated, and the loss to all is apparent.
I recall an incident that may well illustrate the situation. A number of years ago, a florist (whose name I need not mention here) lost patience with one of his liberal patrons, who ran up a considerable bill during nearly two years. The florist asked him several times if he could not oblige him with a little money, for he had his coal bill to pay, and other pressing obligations to meet. His requests were entirely ignored. The patron happened to be a lawyer of prominence. One Saturday afternoon the long-suffering florist sent his son, at that time a boy of about fifteen, to the lawyer's office, with instructions to ask him for at least part payment on the bill, as he needed it badly. The boy returned empty handed, and told his father that in the future he should do his own collections; that not only had he failed to get any money, but that he had been grossly insulted into the bargain. The lawyer had told him to inform his father that he would pay the bill whenever he was good and ready, and that he considered it the height of audacity for the florist to pester him in this manner.
This was the last straw, and it broke the camel's back. On the following day, though it was Sunday, the florist rang the bell at the magnificent residence of his patron. The maid wanted to know the nature of his business.
"I want to see Mr. X——————, and I want to see him at once!" he said.
Disregarding her expression of surprise, he ushered himself into the entry, and then to the parlor. A few minutes later, his patron appeared.
"What do I want?" said the florist, echoing the lawyer's question, "I want my money, and I want it right now, too! And if you don't hand it over to me on the spot, I will wipe the floor with you, and don't you forget it!"
Suiting his action to his words, he seized the lawyer by the collar of his coat, and was about to administer the threatened punishment. The lawyer grasped the situation at once, and to avoid scandal he handed the florist the money there and then. As the latter departed, he told his erstwhile patron to remember that even a florist has his rights that must be enforced. And as to his future trade, he could transfer it to whomsoever he pleased.
The instances already cited were of course extreme: I do not advocate the method of collection involved as the best for results. But some means must be devised, to be sure less strenuous in their nature, to remedy an evil of long standing. There is no reason why the retail florist should not collect his accounts in due time. Nor is there any reason why his patrons, no matter what their standing in the community, should take offence because the florist wants the money that is coming to him. It seems to me that concerted action upon the part of the retail florists in this respect would be productive of excellent results. If the retail florists would impress upon the minds of their customers how necessary it is for them to collect their accounts in order to meet the pressing demands of the growers and be able to carry on their business (how hard it is to conduct business without the necessary funds every business man knows), I am quite sure that their patrons would realize the reasonableness of the florists and would pay promptly.
I shall not attempt to suggest ways and means, but I am quite sure that if the retail florists would act in unison they could easily devise them themselves.
What I have said about the retail florist and his methods of credit applies with equal force to the grower and wholesale man. As a body the florists, both retail and wholesale, are honest; and their integrity is not to be questioned for a moment. There are indeed less failures among the florists than among any other body of business men. But their laxity in credit system, both "coming and going," is a weakness and a hindrance that requires serious consideration and a radical remedy. The greenhouse man who makes it a practice to delay payments of his obligations beyond a reasonable length of time fails to realize not only the duty he owes to the man who gave him the stock, but to himself as well. Let me make that point a little clearer. If he finds credit easy, and the terms of the man anxious to sell him too liberal—of the "take-your-own-time-about-it" sort—he will buy more than his actual requirements justify. In this manner he assumes a burden not at all unavoidable. Besides, he takes up space in his greenhouse that he might better utilize with stock of his own production.
But even the most liberal house needs its money some time. And when the limits of a reasonable time are reached, a polite request for money, at first a "please remit" on the statement, and later perhaps a draft, seem in order. The florist continues to take his time about it, ignoring all requests and drafts, and in course of time exhausts the patience of the liberal house. A pointed letter follows, and the result is an estrangement in business relations, antagonism on both sides, and financial loss to the grower himself, who should have bought less in the first place, with more thought of the preservation of his credit.
I am not speaking of the man who deliberately plans to purchase stock that he has not any intention to pay for. Such men, fortunately, constitute only a small minority in the trade, and the sooner they are entirely eliminated, the better for the men carrying on a legitimate business. I shall not speak of these "dead-beats" at all. It is the florist who brings into his business grit and enthusiasm, who plans and conducts his enterprise upon honorable principles, that should give to the credit end of his business the careful consideration that he brings to bear upon other phases of it. It is remarkable how little this very important element in our business is thought of even by some of the most progressive men in the trade. The A. B. C. of business principles is in a good many cases either ignored or altogether misunderstood. Often an unknown florist will send in a good-sized order, with instructions to forward immediately, no mention about reference or terms of payment or his business standing being made. He simply takes it for granted that the house ought to know all about him. (I have in mind the man well worthy of credit.) Several years ago, a prominent florist in one of the New England States gave me an order for a few hundred Cyclamen plants. He was particular about their quality, and wanted to know my source of supply. I mentioned a Cyclamen specialist. To my complete surprise, he was at the point of canceling the order on the spot.
"Why," I asked in amazement, "what fault do you find with that man's stock? He is a specialist, and his Cyclamen, I am sure, will please you."
"I have nothing against his stock," was the reply. "But I do not like the man. Last year I sent him an order for five hundred plants and he asked me for money in advance. Any man getting money in advance from me will have to get up pretty early in the morning! My credit is good everywhere, and I don't have to pay in advance."
"Unquestionably so," I replied; "and had the man known you, he would have been glad to sell you his entire output without hesitation. Suppose," I continued, "some unknown florist from a distant point had sent you an order for plants, omitting to tell you about his business standing. Would you have sent them?"
"I certainly would," he replied.
"Then you are very lax in your credit methods, and laxity means loss in the end."
I explained the reasonableness on the part of any man who asked of an unknown correspondent either reference or cash in advance with an order.
"Besides," I concluded, "in this case you are giving the order to me, and not to the Cyclamen grower. And since you have nothing against me, and I in turn have nothing against your credit, why not let the order stand?"
The order stood.
Another instance, somewhat different in its nature from the foregoing, is worth mentioning. We will let the letter of the correspondent speak for itself:
"S. S. Skidelsky, Betz Building.
"I have gat yu lader i tank yu av ar so muc fort. i found ut yoo ask me for references. i dont have too gev no references too nobade. if i koodnt doo b ines wit out references i wudnt have noo b ines. I geve you de order on C. O. D. iv det dont doo yuo, you kan kep your Ferns and den i gone gev yoo? in men yoo good references.
"I nevver met a b ines man lik yoo ar."
Which translated reads:
"I have your letter. I thank you ever so much for it. I find you ask me for references. I do not have to give references to anybody. If I could not do business without references, I would not have any business. I gave you the order C. O. D. If that does not do you, you can keep your Ferns and ——————
"I never met a business man like you are."
This remarkable piece of business literature came to me in response to a polite letter from me stating that before attending to his mail order I would like to have reference about his business standing, or else cash in advance. The man was undoubtedly honest, and meant well, as the very tone of his indignant letter indicated. The fact that he took such exception to references, regarding the request for them as a serious offence and a reflection upon his honor, simply proves that the man has no conception of business principles. In this case, too, I may have cited an extreme instance; but the illustrations given are sufficient to prove my contention that our credit system, both wholesale and retail, needs modernizing.
John Thorpe and William Scott
Among the eminent figures in the horticultural world a few years ago were John Thorpe of Queens, L. I., and William Scott, of Buffalo. My acquaintance with Mr. Thorpe was slight. I never met him during the years of his prosperity—at the time when he was president of the S. A. F. and O. H., and for years thereafter, when his business success was at its height. I had heard a great deal, however, about Mr. Thorpe, of his profound botanical learning, as well as his numerous peculiarities that seemed rather to enhance than detract from popular appreciation of him. It is said that the great Henry Ward Beecher, the eminent Brooklyn divine, was one of Mr. Thorpe's friends and admirers. Mr. Thorpe's prediction that our Carnation would reach the four-inch dimension has long since been fulfilled.
After severing his connections with Hallock, in Queens, Mr. Thorpe drifted westward. In 1893, during the World's Fair in Chicago, he was placed in charge of the horticultural department. Later on, he managed flower shows in Kansas City, Mo. What his successes or failures were does not concern us at this time. The deplorable fact is that the light of this star was soon dimmed; and as years rolled on adversity fastened its grip more and more firmly upon him, until finally he ended his days in poverty and obscurity. A sad ending of a career that promised so well at its outset. His staunchest admirers have told me time and again that he himself was in a great measure accountable for his downfall.
The name of William Scott will ever remain a pleasant memory to those who, like myself, knew him intimately. Mr. Scott was pre-eminently a man of culture. And by this I mean that his knowledge was not confined to the limits of his own profession, although there, too, he stood at the head. He was a voracious reader of the best world literature, including philosophy, history, zoology, and belles lettres. Such scientists as Darwin and Huxley often engaged his attention late into the night, and that in spite of a hard day's work which would incline many a man in his place to take to his bed and pass into dreamland.
In fiction he confined himself to the classics; and among the English writers Dickens was his great favorite. So great was his fondness for him that he quoted passages from him on all occasions, illustrating his remarks by reference to many of Dickens's characters. Even his den did not escape Dickens's influence, for the walls were lined with cartoons of Pickwick, Micawber, Sairy Gamp, and the rest.
William Scott was a man not easily approachable; short in his answers, pointed in his remarks, at times impatient and brusque in his manner, he gave the impression of being a man to be let alone. But that impression had no real foundation in fact. Many a traveling man learned from him, to his subsequent benefit, the value of taking a man at his word. In the case of traveling men, his "yes" and "no" meant just what they said; for he would not be annoyed by a persistent knight of the grip under any circumstances, and would therefore put on a curtness of manner as armor against his attacks. Those who knew him intimately (and I had the privilege of being among them) found in Mr. Scott a man of spirit, wit, brilliant conversational powers, and amiability. His wit, indeed, was one of the chief characteristics of the man. On many occasions he kept his friends roaring when in his inimitable way he would relate an incident that might have happened a day or two before in his business. At this moment I recall one or two.
A lady of frugal habits asked him one day his price on Chrysanthemums.
"We have them at all prices, Mrs. Jones," he said. "We have some at fifty cents, fairly good ones at a dollar, some real good ones at a dollar and a half, two, and three. Now which will you have?"
"Why, Mr. Scott, give me a dozen at fifty cents," replied the lady. "I want them for Mr. Jones's grave; and Mr. Jones would certainly object to my paying more."
Another good story is of a Hollander who succeeded in booking an order from Mr. Scott amounting to several hundred dollars. As was the custom in those days, a transaction of this sort was usually cemented by means of the social drink I have previously referred to. Failing to receive the invitation from the Holland gentleman, Mr. Scott offered to do the honors himself, inviting the salesman to a café across the street from his place.
"What'll you have?" asked Mr. Scott.
"Anything, anything," replied the Hollander.
"Would you like a little Holland gin, the real stuff, you know?"
Of course he would. Contrary to the American rules of reciprocating the courtesy, the Hollander smacked his lips and said nothing. Ten minutes later, Mr. Scott suggested a second drink, which was accepted by the Hollander with the same alacrity that had met the first.
On their way back to the greenhouse, the Hollander stopped a moment, as if plunged into deep thought. Finally he uttered:
"Mr. Scott, I thank you very much for your kindness." And thrusting his hand into his pocket, he fished out a nickel, which he offered to Mr. Scott, saying,
"Here, buy yourself a good cigar!"
No doubt the gentleman from Holland, if he still continues traveling in this country, has changed his methods of dealing with his customers on the social end of it, and has perhaps learned that the purchasing power of a nickel is utterly inadequate when it comes to a good cigar.
My intimate acquaintance with Mr. Scott dates back to the time of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. Prior to that time, I merely called upon him in my capacity as traveling salesman. His brusque answers discouraged for a time my attempts to get closer to the man of whom I had heard so much, and whom I later learned to admire. It was during the Exposition that I had the first opportunity of meeting him, not in the relation of salesman to buyer, but simply as man to man. It was on the Fair grounds. He was in full charge of the horticultural department. I approached Mr. Scott, remarking that I had nothing to offer him, and that I merely wanted to talk to him on things outside of business matters. He happened at the moment to be in a happy frame of mind, and my approach met with instantaneous success. We talked that evening upon general subjects, my native country, Russia, interesting him greatly. He wanted to know what the Russians were doing in horticulture, and a good many things about the general business conditions. We spoke on literature. Tolstoi and Tourguénieff especially interested him, for he had read all that appeared from their pens up to then. In his opinion, Tolstoi was a man far in advance of his time; and he believed that his theories bordered on the millennium. In his turn, he told me about his favorites in English literature. Dickens, his best-beloved, was especially dwelt upon. He wanted to know if I had ever read Dickens; and when I told him that all of Dickens's works were translated into Russian, and that I had read some of them, such as "David Copperfield," "Pickwick Papers," "Dombey and Son," his delight was akin to that of a boy presented with a new plaything. That evening we became friends, and our friendship lasted until the day when William Scott was no more.
What Mr. Scott did for the benefit of his brother florists is within the memory of all of us. His practical notes on floriculture had for many years been a great aid to florists everywhere. And many a novice has started in business with a knowledge obtained from Mr. Scott's hints periodically given through the trade papers. So much was he engrossed in this work that to a great extent he neglected his own affairs. Business matters that required his attention would be set aside, so that he might complete a paper on some subject or other pertaining to horticulture. His trade notes were read with great delight by every florist. A lucidity of style and a humorous vein distinguished his letters from those of most correspondents.
During one of the Carnation shows held in Buffalo, a prominent Pennsylvania man saw fit to find fault with the exhibition in general and the varieties shown in particular. He went so far as to find fault with the very names given the varieties, and the names of some of the exhibitors themselves. A letter appeared in one of the trade papers, written by this man, and airing his views in no uncertain terms. This letter was brought to the attention of Mr. Scott, who came back at its author "hammer and tongs." Among other things, he referred to this man as "the hibernating bear just out of his lair, who couldn't recognize a good thing if he stumbled against it."
A few years prior to his death, Mr. Scott became confined to the house with a complicated disease that foreboded his end.
Memorial to William Scott
In May, 1908, Mr. Scott found his last resting-place in a beautiful spot in Forest Lawn Cemetery. A handsome monument marks his grave. Upon it is inscribed:
ERECTED BY THE FLORISTS OF AMERICA IN GRATEFUL
RECOGNITION OF HIS EMINENT SERVICES TO FLORICULTURE
The florists of America, to their credit be it said, did not fail to respond to the call for contributions toward this memorial. A much larger sum, I am sure, could have been collected; but the S. A. F. and O. H., which held its convention that year at Niagara Falls, deemed it wise to limit the memorial fund to the amount already subscribed up to that time.
It was a pitiful sight to behold this robust man, a veritable physical and intellectual giant, fading away during the last days of his illness, though still in full possession of his mental powers. To me it seems that he died as he had lived, his sense of humor never for a moment deserting him.
The influence of Mr. Scott upon the florists throughout the country cannot be gainsaid. It was still more marked upon the men directly connected with him in his business, and upon his own sons. Among those who were in the employ of Mr. Scott for a number of years, and who owe much to his influence I may mention two men: Louis Neubeck, who now conducts a successful business of his own on Main and High streets, Buffalo, and Mike Bloy of Detroit, Mich. Both men still refer to their former employer with the deepest admiration.
Mike Bloy, now a very successful grower of Detroit, received his first instructions at the hands of William Scott in Buffalo. Mr. Scott had the faculty of discerning the abilities and possibilities in men. He saw in young Mike the successful florist of the future. And he gave him all the chance to develop. After being in Scott's employ for a number of years, he drifted out West, working for a while in Denver, Col. Later, he came to Cleveland, and assumed the management of the J. M. Gasser Company's large greenhouse range at Rocky River, a suburb of Cleveland. Subsequently, he saw his chance in Detroit, and took it. The Rackham Greenhouses, on Van Dyke street in Detroit, were for sale, and Mr. Bloy purchased them. At that time, although it is comparatively of recent date, that section of the city was not promising much in the way of retail trade. For a while Mr. Bloy confined himself to the wholesale market. During the past few years, however, the tremendous growth of Detroit has affected all sections; and Mr. Bloy's trade grew apace. At the present time, he enjoys a most prosperous retail business in the thriving Michigan metropolis.
Louis Neubeck stepped out of Scott's establishment a finished all-around grower. His knowledge of the growing end of the business, no less than his business acumen, soon brought him to the front ranks among the successful florists of Buffalo. At any season of the year, it is a pleasure to go through his greenhouses, and feast your eyes upon plants worthy of an exhibition hall.
Mr. Scott's own sons conduct the business now under the name of the William Scott Company. They are Alex, William, and Robert; the last named attends to the financial end of the business, while the other two take charge of the growing end. The success of their father is perpetuated by his worthy sons.
Another son, David J. Scott, is located in Corfu, N. Y., and grows largely for the wholesale market, shipping to Buffalo, Rochester, Chicago, St. Louis, and other points. He grows a miscellaneous stock of cut flowers, and is very successful in his business.
The Palmers of Buffalo
Buffalo had other distinguished men whose reputation extended far beyond the limits of the city and the State of their abode. The late W. J. Palmer was a man of distinctive personality. I never had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Palmer personally, but what I heard about him during my frequent visits to Buffalo, long after his demise, leads me to believe that there was a man who planned well and left a marked influence upon the future growth and development of floriculture in his city.
His worthy successor, W. J. Palmer, Jr., a man whose greatest fault is his exceeding modesty, took up the good work of his father, and carried it on in a way that outstrips even his father's most sanguine hopes. He has two stores in Buffalo, and they are among the finest in the country. The business transacted mounts into high figures. His greenhouses at Lancaster, N. Y., have been completely rebuilt, and are under the most efficient management of Barney Meyer, a man who entered the employ of Palmer, Sr., as an errand boy, and graduated into one of the few very successful growers and managers in the country.
Mr. Palmer is among the few men to recognize the value of a college education as a means to lift the profession of horticulturist to the high standard of efficiency it deserves. His son Max, a boy of about twenty-two, is a graduate of Cornell University, where he took the horticultural course. He has now the opportunity to apply his theoretical knowledge to practical work. And to see young Max attired in a pair of overalls roaming among the Carnation and Rose plants, making notes, testing one thing, experimenting with another, is to be forced to the conclusion that here is the florist of the future, who will do things knowingly, intelligently, and effectively. Max is quite enthusiastic about his work, and unlike many a young man of his financial and social position, he has no time nor use for idleness. Early in the morning he is on his job at Lancaster. Of late he has taken up the work of cross-hybridization, and it is not unlikely that Lancaster will be heard from some day, in the way of meritorious novelties.
S. A. Anderson
S. A. Anderson is another notable of Buffalo. Starting in a florist store many years ago in the capacity of errand boy, young Anderson (and he is still a young man) realized the opportunity and possibility of embarking in business on his own account. With the indomitable courage characteristic of the man, he persevered against odds, and came out on top. His store on Main street is a veritable beehive of business activity. Several years ago he acquired the greenhouses on Elmwood avenue, at one time belonging to Joseph Rebstock; and there he grows ferns, Cyclamen, Begonia Lorraine and Cincinnati, and other plants, for his own use as well as for the wholesale market. A branch store in connection with his greenhouses has been recently established; and this, too, has proved a successful venture.
Postmaster William F. Kasting
And there was Postmaster William Kasting. Who has not heard about Postmaster Kasting, a man of will power and ambition, who invariably "got there" when he made up his mind to do so? Years ago, William F. Kasting acquired his experience at various floral establishments in different parts of the country. Then he drifted to Buffalo. Daniel B. Long, at one time one of the leading florists in Buffalo, conceived the idea of launching a wholesale florists' commission business. Young Kasting applied for the position as clerk, and got it. I do not know at what salary he was taken on, but it does not matter here. Kasting, as I said before, was ambitious. He thought he could conduct a business of his own, and Buffalo was the place for the enterprise.
One day he disclosed his plans to Mr. Long himself. The latter thought the matter over, and concluded it would be advisable to transfer his interest to Kasting rather than have a competitor in him.
He prospered from the start. His business soon expanded, and he became well known throughout many sections of the country. But Mr. Kasting's ambition did not stop at that. Politics seemed inviting. There were opportunities in that direction, as well as honors. He had the self-confidence and the determination needed. His attempts to get into one office or another at first met with no success, though in no instance was he ever defeated by big majorities. It was, as they express it in political circles, "always a close vote." But he persevered, and his efforts at last were crowned with success. He was appointed to the post-mastership of Buffalo, and he retained the position to the day of his death. [Mr. Kasting died suddenly on June 15, 1916, at St. Louis.]
"Nuisance" of Flower Bargain Counter Sales
A great deal of discussion has been going on from time to time at various florists' clubs all over the country, regarding the "nuisance" of flower bargain counter sales. The subject indeed is one that engages the attention of every florist throughout the land, both retail man and grower. Is it advisable to offer cut flowers to the people at cut prices? Like any other question of great interest to people directly concerned in it, opinions pro and con are expressed on all sides. On the one hand, it is contended that cut flowers represent a luxury; and the value of a luxury is enhanced by its price. In other words, it is said that if you cheapen an article, it loses its value and attractiveness to the public, and that in order to maintain the interest of the public in the article offered, its price must be kept up. It is further contended by supporters of this side that it would be far better to throw the surplus into the rubbish heap than glut the market and discourage the "best" people from purchasing flowers.
I have often had the privilege of listening to such arguments at florists' clubs. It is no unusual thing to hear the retail man deliver himself of arguments such as these:
"Why, it is preposterous to stock our windows with bargain sales! It looks cheap, and discourages our best people from entering our store. I would sooner sell one dozen Carnations for 75c. than four dozen for $1. There is more money in it, and less work. It will be the end of our business if we persist in cheapening our product. Flowers are a luxury, and we must cater to the elements appreciating such luxuries, and able to pay for them. I for one don't give a snap for the bargain buyer in flowers."
On the other hand, the grower has his side of the story, and he tells it in no' uncertain terms.
"We are in the business," he says, "to make a living, to pay expenses, and to have a fair return on our investment. Our product is in the market, and we look for the best returns possible. It is but natural that we should expect all we can get for our stock. And when we do get fair returns, as during holiday times, for example, you people are the first to raise a howl. But conditions arise where the supply by far exceeds the demand. We are sending in our Carnations and Roses by the stacks, but there is no demand for them. The market is overstocked. Carnations sometimes drop as low as five dollars a thousand. Roses go in the same proportion. Now what do you retailers do about it? Do you ever think of relieving the market, of buying more than you actually need, and taking a chance? Does it ever occur to you that five dollars a thousand for Carnations does not pay for the labor of picking and packing them? You buy just what you need, at a bargain price; you take your flowers to your store, and sell them to the public at 75c. and $1 per dozen. The remainder of it can go to the dumps, in so far as you are concerned.
"Now let us look at the situation clearly. We are in the business not for the benefit of the retail florist exclusively. We want some of the benefit ourselves. Nor do we give a snap for your 'best elements,' and the fact that it might cheapen the price of flowers and impair their charm in the eyes of society folk. We are in the business not for sentiment, but for all we can get out of it. Since you cannot take the chance to give us a lifting hand, we must help ourselves, and find the best market we can for our surplus. A half loaf is better than no bread. We must pay our coal bills and our help, and whatever we realize on our stock helps toward meeting those obligations. Besides, I can see no reason why the common people should not have as much chance of buying flowers as your 'best elements.' When the market is overstocked, and flowers are cheap, there is at least the advantage that the common people become educated and learn to appreciate flowers. The fakir on the streets who offers a bunch of Roses to the working girl at a low price is doing good work. That working girl will in time become accustomed to the beauty of flowers, and will buy them from a florist at times when the fakir will have none to offer. At any rate, it pays us better to sell flowers at bargain counter rates than to throw them on the dumps.
"Aside from this, we are taking all the chances. When a new Rose or Carnation appears on the market, you want us to grow it. We invest our money, and often get no returns. A Rose or Carnation that may best appeal to you may not pay for the space given it. And yet we persist in trying, year after year, in order to satisfy the demands of the discriminating public."
There is, of course, something to be said on both sides. The retailer is logical from his point of view; and the grower's arguments are quite rational, too. It would be presumptuous on my part to make any attempt to solve the problem now. It must be remembered that flowers, although classed as a luxury, are at the same time a commodity; and commodities, according to all laws of economics, are governed by supply and demand. Nor must it be forgotten that sentiment and business must be kept entirely apart. There is no more reason for sentimentality in a grower than there would be for sentimentality in the hardware manufacturer. The retailer is absolutely right in his contention that the price of flowers should be maintained. For there is nothing more discouraging than cut price rates in any commodity. On the other hand, be it also remembered that the grower would be only too delighted if his product should bring him good returns at all times, but that when there is a glut he suffers more financial loss than the retailer. On the whole it is well, perhaps, that such questions are brought up and discussed in clubrooms between the two factions. Open discussion and good sound arguments often lead to the solution of complicated situations. There is no doubt in my mind that the florists will in the end find a way to consolidate their interests for the benefit of the trade as a whole.
Another question that often arises is that of department stores and five and ten cent stores dabbling in plants. I have already referred, though slightly, to this question in a previous chapter. Discouraging though it may seem at first glance, the fact that department stores and five and ten cent stores deal in plants should not really discourage the florists. In the long run, the public at large—I mean the flower-buying public—will look to the florists for its supply. The man or woman who will buy a plant from a five and ten cent store, or a department store, would probably never think of entering a flower shop, anyway. If these people acquire the taste for plants in this manner, the chances are that the florists will enjoy their patronage in the end. Let us look upon the intrusion of the department store as a means to an end desirable to the trade as a whole.
Discussions of these and other topics were especially interesting to me in the earlier days of my travel. They afforded me food for reflection, and enabled me to bring them to the attention of florists located in the smaller towns. Opinions naturally differed, but I must admit the fair-mindedness and honesty of opinion expressed by the majority of my friends with whom I happened to discuss the subjects. Thus a retail man would often side with the views of the grower; and some grower, in his turn, would admit the reasonableness of the retailer's contentions. It proved to me that I was coming in contact with a body of honest and earnest men not at all blinded by considerations of self-interest.
I recall an instance. It happened in a New England town a few years ago. I called upon a man who, after giving me some business, brought up casually the question of cut prices in flowers.
"John Brown," he remarked to me, "is determined to put me out of the business."
"How so?" I asked in surprise.
"Why, the way he cuts prices on Carnations and Geraniums is simply an outrage. There is no more money left in the business, and I'm getting disgusted with it."
"Are you sure that he does it with malice aforethought; in other words, that he means to do you harm?"
"Quite sure about it."
"Then why don't you go him one better?" I said.
"But how can I do it, and pay my bills?"
"A better way out of it," I suggested, "is to see Mr. Brown and talk matters over with him. You have always been friends, or at least on speaking terms. So I can see no reason why you shouldn't get together and discuss the subject for the benefit of both of you."
My suggestion seemed reasonable, and in course of a week or two I heard that things had been adjusted to their mutual satisfaction.
It was simply this: Mr. Brown happened to have an unusually large lot of split Carnations, and a number of Geraniums that showed no blooms. It was a question between throwing them in the rubbish heap and offering them to the public at bargain prices. He chose the latter method, and realized enough to justify the experiment. His best stock he held at regular prices. My customer evidently had heard but one side of the story about the cut prices, but never knew that on his best stock Mr. Brown realized more perhaps than did he himself. The fact of the matter is that often a customer will come in, and ask the price of one thing or another; and upon being given the regular prices he will inform the florist that he is too high, that his competitor in town sells his Carnations or Geraniums at so much less, never mentioning the kind of stock offered at the cut price.
The florist, before investigating things for himself, jumps immediately at conclusions, and is either disgusted with the condition of affairs, giving it up as a bad job, or goes his competitor one better, and actually begins to slice prices on first-class stock. In either case, the business suffers in the end.
It is things of this sort that are often obviated in the larger cities by means of discussion among the members at the florists' meetings. Florists' clubs are of incalculable value to their members, and I can foresee the time when topics of this sort will be brought up before the conventions of the S. A. F. and O. H., and will receive due consideration, not from men of any one location, but from florists of all sections of the country. In their general nature, these questions affect all men of the trade alike.
During my early travels through the New England States, I met many men who, like myself, were much younger than they are today, and who, like myself, are still at it. With many my relations have become somewhat more than those that ordinarily exist between buyer and seller. Among these I may mention with pleasure the names of A. N. Pierson and S. J. Renter.
A. N. Pierson of Cromwell, Conn.
I met Mr. Pierson about twenty years ago, when I first applied for his line. Mr. Pierson, although not generally well known throughout the country, was already a prominent figure in New England territory. His place, though about half the size of its present dimensions, was a large one nevertheless, and ranked among the very largest at that time in the land. It was on a Summer afternoon that I paid my first visit to Cromwell. Although I had heard about Mr. Pierson's place long before, I had never expected to see such a mammoth establishment, with such a diversified stock. A glance through the greenhouses soon convinced me that the head of the establishment was a man who knew his business from A to Z. I was looking for Mr. Pierson, expecting to behold a man overbearing in manner, unapproachable, formal, and reserved; though why I so expected I cannot exactly say. I may perhaps have been influenced by the magnitude of the place. To my surprise, however, Mr. Pierson's personality was utterly unlike my anticipation. I beheld a man extremely democratic in his manner. I stated the object of my visit, and was invited to accompany him on a stroll through the place. Our business relations, which began twenty years ago, have been most pleasant. At all times Mr. Pierson believed in "the square deal." Like the late William K. Harris, he impressed upon me at the start never to promise any more than he could fulfill, but to rest assured that he would fulfill all that he could promise. At no time during our business experience in these many years has he disappointed me in this regard.
I am proud to say that my confidence in Mr. Pierson has been reciprocated. A number of years after I met him, I had occasion to place a large order with a European house, one that I knew dealt with Mr. Pierson. Among others that I mentioned as reference I gave his name. I received the stock I ordered, and have dealt with that house ever since. Upon my last visit to Europe, the head of the concern informed me that Mr. Pierson had written him to the effect that while he did not count my money, he knew that I was absolutely good for anything I wanted, that I would not purchase anything I did not want, and that he (Mr. Pierson himself) would unhesitatingly sell me without putting any limitation on my credit. I was naturally proud to learn through an indirect source Mr. Pierson's opinion about my business integrity.
S. J. Reuter of Westerly, R. I.
My relations with the late S. J. Reuter of Westerly, R. I., date back to 1890, shortly after the first florists' convention in Boston. Mr. Reuter had already the reputation of being one of the largest growers in New England, and was well known in that section of the country. Although on my first visit I had no knowledge of horticulture, nor any interest in it, Mr. Reuter, busy man though he was, gave me a hearing and favored me with a small order for florists' supplies. I well recall my first impression of the man. It was that primarily of a personality, a man in full vigor of health and spirits, alive to the trend of the times, and even, it appeared to me, one who took time by the forelock. His extensive place at that time, in so small a town as Westerly, took me somewhat by surprise, and made me wonder how he could possibly dispose of his output in such a limited locality. I didn't know, of course, that Watch Hill, the famous resort adjacent to Westerly, where so many celebrities from many parts of the country congregated during the Summer season, depended upon his product. Besides, he shipped his flowers to other parts of the State, and even to Boston. In that period of my career, I always associated a range of greenhouses with the needs of its immediate vicinity; I never dreamed that cut flowers and plants might be shipped to nearby places and even distant points.
Mr. Reuter had already a big business and was conducting it on an extensive scale. My business relations with the firm from the time I met him to the present day have been profitable and pleasant. Years after our first meeting, when I became interested in horticulture, our business transactions became larger. It was my privilege for a number of years to sell to Mr. Reuter, among other things, every meritorious Carnation that appeared in the market. In turn, I disposed of a great deal of the stock of Mr. Reuter's production. Particular about the quality of his own stock, he would always exact that whatever he purchased be devoid of all faults and blemishes, such as plants or rooted cuttings are often affected wnth.
It would be well for growers in general to place the same insistence upon quality of stock purchased and sent out. What a lot of trouble and annoyance it would save for both purchaser and seller! Those who, like myself, have been in the game for many years, can well realize the unpleasant features about the business when things do not run as they should. Carnation cuttings affected with fungus, or Roses covered with mildew, should no more be marketed than putrid beef or rotten potatoes. It seems to me that growers should give this end of their business their utmost care and consideration, and that men disregarding this first principle of business honesty should be tabooed as unreliable. Only such extreme measures will accomplish the results desired.
Like many another progressive grower, Mr. Reuter has largely extended his place, adding from time to time, as his business expanded. Our friendship, which began over a quarter of a century ago, continued till his death. And many a time I have spent an afternoon or evening with Mr. Reuter, in conversation upon business and other topics. Of late years, Mr. Reuter had not given the business his active attention. His health had been somewhat impaired, necessitating at one time his departure for abroad, where he spent about a year in his native land, Germany. But he has a worthy successor in the person of his son, Louis Reuter; a young man of splendid education and business training, he bids fair to continue the success of the industry started by his father. [Mr. Reuter died Nov. 34. 1916.]
A Hartford Florist, John Coombs
Other parts of New England proved equally attractive and profitable to me. My first visit to Hartford, Conn., dates about as far back as that to Westerly. Among the many friends I made there, John Coombs was one of the first. There was never a time in my recollection when Mr. Coombs did not favor me with an order, either for florists' supplies or horticultural products. Contrary to the general notion that New Englanders are self-centered and short in their manner of dealing with "drummers," Mr. Coombs never was anything but friendly. Not only did he give me his own trade, but he seemed to take a personal interest in my success, and often asked me if I called on his competitors, and if not, why not. Contrary also to the custom of many never to recommend a competitor, he would always have a good word to say about all of them. Among those he wanted me to visit was the late A. Whiting, whose place of business, now conducted by Carl Peterson, is located in West Hartford.
A. Whiting of West Hartford
My first call upon Mr. Whiting was anything but encouraging. I found a man late in his seventies, or perhaps in his early eighties, seated upon a chair in an antiquated office, with a number of trade and daily papers, around him. He was engrossed in reading. My pleasant "Good morning, sir" remained unanswered. My stereotyped expression about the particular weather of that day was likewise ignored. When I came to the real point—that of business—he glared at me in a way that said more eloquently than words that he had no business for me, and that I had better not waste my time and breath.
Thus "encouraged," I took my departure, vowing never to return. Mr. Coombs, however, thought otherwise. He knew Mr. Whiting better than I did, and on my next visit to Hartford he urged me again to renew my efforts in Mr. Whiting's direction. Reluctantly, and more to please Mr. Coombs than myself, I undertook the unpleasant task.
The result was again disastrous. Mr. Whiting would have none of me. There were other young men whom he knew better, who had wives and children to support, and in whose welfare he was more interested than in mine. In the face of this information, there was nothing to do but take my departure. When I went out of the door that second time, I was sure nothing under Heaven could induce me to enter it again.
But again Mr. Coombs viewed the matter in a different light. He could see no reason why Mr. Whiting and I should not get together. As to Mr. Whiting's peculiarities—why, that was a mere trifle! Unworthy of any young drummer's consideration! The young, Mr. Coombs thought, should make allowance for the old, and persist until their point is gained.
It is one thing to make up your mind never to do a thing, and quite another to adhere to your decision. Notwithstanding my vows never to see Mr. Whiting, I saw him again and again, and we became great friends in the end.
It happened in this manner:
The late William K. Harris told me how in 1886, during the second S. A. F. convention, held in Philadelphia, Mr. Whiting brought with him at his own expense a man who had the courage and audacity and requisite botanical edge to debate with Peter Henderson on some horticultural subject. And Peter Henderson was regarded as the greatest botanist of his time among the florists. Coupled with his great knowledge of horticulture was his business success, for Mr. Henderson was known far and wide as one of the most prosperous men in the trade. When Mr. Henderson, therefore, undertook to bring up a subject before a florists' convention, all he said was taken for granted, with not a dissenting voice. The florists, it seemed, were almost afraid to raise their voices when Mr. Henderson spoke.
In the city of Hartford, there was a man who at one time was prosperous, a State Senator, a man of culture, and more or less familiar with horticultural subjects. In addition, he was a man of considerable oratorical power, and one who could hold his own with any man in a debate. It was this man that Mr. Whiting brought with him to the Philadelphia convention; and to his great delight his protegé amply justified his expectations. The man "made a hit," and Mr. Whiting was more delighted about it than was the man himself.
A story like this, it flashed through my mind, would enable me to obtain some hearing from Mr. Whiting upon my next visit to Hartford. I tucked it away in my memory, determined to make stock of it. Upon my next visit, therefore, I went to see Mr. Whiting, and after the usual preliminaries, I came out with mystery, telling him that I had heard it from Mr. Harris, and that it was a great performance on his part. I could see at once that his countenance lighted up, and that his eyes assumed a benevolent expression that had been absent in all our previous encounters. He asked me to sit down (which was also contrary to precedent), and to tell him things about Philadelphia and other points I had visited in my travels. In his turn, he told me about his visit along in the '50's to the States of Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, and Illinois. Chicago, he said, impressed him even at that time as a thriving, hustling town that had a great future before it. He repeated the story I had heard from Mr. Harris, adding details which must have escaped Mr. Harris's memory. He laughed again and again as he recalled some point or other of especial poignancy.
Without asking for an order, I got one. He called in his foreman (his successor, Mr. Carl Peterson), and asked him to go over certain stocks, and get up an order for me. I found that he was very much interested in Carnations, and induced him to give me an order for a novelty which I was handling at that time. Mr. Whiting was practically helpless, and although his mind was keen and he was interested in things, he could not move about. He read a great deal, perusing among other things the trade papers. In that way he kept in touch with all the prominent growers, following up all the novelties that were offered.
Mr. Whiting told me of many prominent people he had met and done business with. Among these were Samuel Clemens, more popularly known as Mark Twain, Mrs. Stowe of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" fame, and many other celebrities.
The amusing tales that might be told illustrative of Mr. Whiting's eccentricity are many. One very humorous one is that of a lady who came in one day to buy flowers. She was a prominent lady in the town, and acquainted no doubt with Mr. Whiting's peculiarities. (At least, it is to be hoped she was.) Mr. Whiting was busily engaged in counting flowers when she entered.
"Good morning, Mr. Whiting," she said.
There was no reply.
"Good morning, Mr. Whiting," she repeated.
Still the same silence. The lady, assuming he had not heard her, went closer, and in slightly louder tone repeated her greeting.
Mr. Whiting looked up. He stared at her for one awful moment, then pointed to the door.
"You get out!" he said. Whether she "got" or not is unrecorded.
At another time a woman came in, and greeted Mr. Whiting several times, but received no reply. Giving up her attempts, she came to the point of her visit.
"How are your Violets this morning, Mr. Whiting?" she asked.
Mr. Whiting raised his eyes, and looked at her.
"You ask him!" he said, pointing to his foreman, not with his finger, but his foot!
My last business transaction with Mr. Whiting was at the time when he gave me an order for two hundred and fifty "Fianceé." He gave me the order a year prior to the dissemination of the variety, stipulating that should God gather him unto Himself in the meantime, I should consider the order canceled.
Mr. Whiting received his "Fiancée" in May, instead of January, as promised; and a week later he joined the Great Majority. I question if Mr. Whiting ever saw the "Fiancée"—in fact, I know he didn't, for Mr. Peterson told me so.
E. Welch and A. Dallas, Connecticut Florists
The late Mr. E. Welch of Hartford, Conn., was another old friend, and his death a few months ago was a personal loss to me. In the early days of my career, when a kind word and an encouraging greeting meant so much to me, he was one to extend them. I shall always remember with gratitude his tokens of friendship to me. My business relations with him up to the time of his death will remain among the pleasantest memories of my business career.
And what I said about Mr. Welch holds equally true of Mr. A. Dallas, of Waterbury, Conn., except, I am glad to say, that he is still in the land of the living. Busy or not busy, Mr. Dallas always has a friendly word and a welcome for me. I have watched his business development during the past twenty-eight years, and it is no exaggeration when I say that he stands in the front rank among the successful growers of the country. Unlike many "old-timers" of a generation ago, Mr. Dallas is progressive in his ideas, and adopts innovations with a spirit of initiative that would do credit to a younger man. His present greenhouse range is an enlarged edition of his former establishment, and the stock grown is of a quality worthy of the place itself.
Worcester and Framingham Florist Acquaintances
As I said before, my travels through the New England States brought me in contact with many men, some no longer living, others still active in business. There are many young men in active business today who at the time of my first visit to New England were attending school. Many of them are now at the head. There are H. F. A. Lange's Sons, Albert and Carl, at Worcester, Mass. At the time of my first visit to Worcester, Albert and Carl were quite young, and took little interest in the growing business which their father had launched so successfully.
I vividly remember the late H. F. A. Lange, who died a number of years ago. Mr. Lange, if I remember rightly, was born and brought up in Hamburg, Germany, and came to Worcester a number of years prior to my connection with the florist business. When I first met him, he reminded me of the type of men I often met in Russia, calm, reserved, dignified, with faces denoting the nobility of their origin. It seemed to me that Mr. Lange must have dispensed with the prefix "von" to his name upon arrival in this democratic country. "Von Lange" would have suited him admirably. His Van Dyke beard lent a special distinction to his appearance. He was of medium height, stocky, with shoulders well back and head up; he looked one straight in the eyes, with a steadiness that bespoke firmness of character and self-reliance. No drummer, no matter how hardened, and much less a young drummer, just out in quest of new business, could possibly swerve Mr. Lange if he said no. He meant just what he said, and there was no appeal from his decree. He was also one of those men who, while giving his close attention to his business, never became engrossed in it to the extent of excluding all other interests in life. He was a sportsman in the fullest sense of the word, taking a keen interest in gentlemen's games of all sorts. He was especially fond of his rifle and at conventions of the S. A. F. and O. H. he was always among the best target shots, bringing down clay pigeons one after another without a hitch.
My efforts to sell to him at first met with no success. But I persisted, not so much for the sake of the possible business, as because I admired the man. Men of real merit, whether we gain favor with them or not, command our respect in spite of ourselves. Ungratified self-interest is not potent to overcome our spontaneous admiration for sterling quality when we meet it. But after a time Mr. Lange relented a little in my favor, and gave me part of his business.
Since the death of Mr. Lange, Albert and Carl have continued the good work, and have continued it well, too. Their business is regarded as one of the largest and most prosperous in the New England States. Albert, the head of the concern, divides his attention between the greenhouses and store, while Carl pays exclusive attention to the store. Following the example of their father, they deem it wise not to enslave themselves entirely to their business. The fishing-rod and the gun give them many an hour of pleasure during the dull business months of the Summer, among the lakes and forests of the State of Maine.
Another old-timer in Worcester, and a man whom I have always regarded as one of my best friends, is H. F. Littlefield. Years back, Mr. Littlefield was a knight of the grip himself, representing growers and other allied concerns in the New England States. Tiring of the road, Mr. Littlefield pitched his business tent in his native city, Worcester, and, as might have been expected from a man of his energy and business ability, he made a success of his venture. He has built up a large business. His greenhouse range and his store in the heart of the city show even to the casual observer that the man at the head of them is wide-awake. Remembering, from his own experience on the road, how a buyer may encourage or dampen the spirits of a traveling man, he has always a kind word for every man in the fraternity that pays him a visit. Nor do I know of any instance where a traveling man would have to leave his place entirely empty-handed. Such men are true exponents of the Golden Rule.
In Framingham, Mass., my old friend Nicholson is still active and alert, taking a deep interest in all things floricultural; and despite his age, he attends almost every convention, where he is fond of meeting his old friends from every section. A few years ago he transferred his greenhouses to his son William, who has enlarged the place, adding an immense greenhouse. William is a successful grower, as well as an enterprising business man. His father can rest secure in the knowledge that the business he built up will continue to grow.
S. J. Goddard, another friend of mine in Framingham, belongs to a later generation of florists. At one time he was in the employ of Mr. Nicholson, but a number of years ago he saw a chance for himself, and started in business on his own account. Mr. Goddard has truly made a success. At first confining himself to the wholesale market in Boston, he gradually drifted into the retail line, until at present he has a fine retail business in Framingham. Mr. Goddard ranks among the best growers in New England.
My acquaintance with Mr. Midgley of the Worcester Conservatories dates back to the time of the introduction of the "Enchantress" Carnation. Mr. Midgley, prior to his connection with the Worcester Conservatories, was an amateur grower, and a great admirer of everything floral. While occupying a responsible position with one of the largest industrial corporations in Worcester, he found time for and took pleasure in the affairs of the horticultural society of his city, being its secretary for a number of years, and retaining the position to this day. Mr. Midgley, as an amateur, was a success. His love for flowers led him at the time I speak of to merge his interest with a company that had built a range of greenhouses and that had become known as the Worcester Conservatories. A few years later, he bought out the interests of the other members, and conducted the business on his own account, although still under the name of the Worcester Conservatories. At present he grows for the wholesale market, shipping his output to Boston and other New England points.
Other New Englanders
G. H. Sinclair, whom I have known for the past twenty years, is an "Old Englander." After landing in this country, about twenty-two years ago, he entered the employ of the late L. E. Marquisee, of Syracuse, N. Y. A few years later, he drifted towards New England, and secured a position with the late Mr. Howland. Here he demonstrated his ability in a manner that convinced Mr. Howland of the fallacy of following the hide-bound custom of conservatism; he introduced numerous innovations in the matter of growing high-grade stock. He was the first one to show that Chrysanthemums grown to the single stem would be appreciated by the public, and would be eagerly bought at a higher price. A yellow Chrysanthemum, the result of his own hybridization (Miss Josephine by name, if I remember rightly), was grown very successfully for a number of years locally.
Upon the death of Mr. Howland, Mr. Sinclair purchased his place, where he is carrying on his business today very successfully. About five years ago, he purchased a fifty-acre farm, and built a range of greenhouses, which his son, an able young man giving much promise, conducts admirably. His magnificent home, built upon a cliff, is one of the show places in that section.
Gallivan Brothers, whom I met at a much later period, are progressive young men, as well as successful growers. Their place at Smith's Ferry is under the able management of Mr. Schwartz, at one time connected with Pitcher & Manda, and later with A. N. Pierson, of Cromwell, Conn.
C. Warburton, of Fall River, Mass., is another of my old-time friends, whom I have known for nearly a generation. In 1902, Mr. Warburton introduced the Cressbrook Carnation, a variety that was grown very successfully in many sections, and principally around New England.
Mr. Warburton has enlarged his place, and is today among the most successful growers in New England.
New England's Progress in Introducing Roses and Carnations
It is generally conceded that in no section of the country has the florist business flourished more than in New England. In fact, many are of the opinion that in this respect New England still stands at the head. The best Roses, it is claimed, are grown there. The best Carnations come from that section. Be that as it may—for I am neither prepared to verify nor to deny these statements—the fact of the matter is that the New England grower is more quick to take a chance on a new variety, and thereby encourage enterprise in that direction, than his Western brother florist. My own business experience during these many years will bear out my assertion. Time and again a new variety of Carnation, for example, in which I had the utmost faith myself, would meet with little success in so far as its introduction was concerned in the western part of the country, while in New England, on the other hand, the growers would seem to vie with each other as regards the quantity they purchased. The idea of "let the other fellow try it" was foreign to them. If anything was worth trying at all, it was worth trying by the thousand, instead of the hundred, and trying the first year at its full price, rather than during the second at the half price. That spirit of "go-aheaditiveness" which characterized their Puritan ancestors evidently descended to them.
I do not mean to say that every florist in New England is a descendant of Puritan forefathers. There are indeed florists of all nationalities represented in that group. There are Irishmen, Danes, Scotch, a few Germans, and Russian Jews. But the spirit of the founders pervades the atmosphere, and the comparative newcomers become infused with it.
Nor do I mean to convey the idea that every florist in New England possesses pioneer spirit in the matter of new varieties, and that every Westerner is a hide-bound conservative. This would be entirely erroneous. I could give many instances of Westerners who are always ready to welcome new varieties, and of New Englanders whose cautiousness is adamant. I am speaking of the general trend of the attitude in the two respective sections.
This readiness to try out new varieties, let me say here, has a significance far deeper than a mere dollar-and-cents one. The wheels of progress, in our line as well as in others, are slow-moving. We cannot note the steps as they follow each other one by one, but every once in a while we suddenly awake to the fact that we have gone a good distance from the point that we last consciously observed. Thus, the evolution of the tiny old-fashioned "Pink" into the beautiful Carnation of today was not brought about in a moment. Little by little it expanded in size and increased in substance, becoming more beautiful, until the Carnation as this generation knows it resulted. Nor, in all probability, has the Carnation reached the limits of its potentialities.
And what is true of the Carnation is true also of the Rose, and of plants in general. The man, therefore, who is ready to give his encouragement to efforts in the direction of plant and flower improvment, is taking a real and active part in the great onward march of the world.
As recently as February, 1916, I had the pleasure of being present at a florists' meeting in Chicago where Mr. E. G. Hill read a paper on "The Roses in Commerce Today." In the course of the discussion that followed the reading of his very able paper, he said that the florist should realize his opportunities, and should work in the direction of flower improvement with the same skill and tenacity that characterize the enterprising silk manufacturer or designer in Europe. There are thousands upon thousands of dollars spent every year by them in their efforts to introduce a new design that would appeal to the feminine public. Why should the florist not follow in the same direction, and encourage the best that could possibly be grown in his own line? The public would be sure to appreciate such efforts, and would readily respond to the idea of new introductions.
Mr. Hill unquestionably knows whereof he speaks. Not only does his own experience confirm him in such ideas, but his extensive travels in this country and abroad, and his meeting with all sorts and conditions of men, have helped him to arrive at such rational conclusions.
I have no doubt that the progressive florist has already arrived at the same conclusion himself.
But to continue about my New England territory.
The city of Providence, R. I., among other towns in New England, was always attractive to me. I always liked its wide, clean streets, its business activity, its residential sections, and its old historic atmosphere. So also have I found the men I came into business contact with much to my liking.
T. O'Connor and Farquhar and John A. Macrae, Providence
Among those who are no longer of the living, I like to recall two men, T. O'Connor and Farquhar Macrae.
Mr. T. O'Connor, who died but recently, at the age of seventy-odd, reminded me in certain ways of the type of man, rarely met with nowadays, of which Lincoln is said to have been representative. Kindly though blunt in his manner, at times reserved and at others witty and talkative, rough-hewn in appearance, with a face indicative of strength and honesty of purpose, he stood out as a figure not unlike that of the martyred President.
For some reason inexplicable to me, Mr. O'Connor during my early calls did not extend me the welcome I had expected. Not only did my efforts to do business with him prove a failure, but his very manner of receiving me was brusque, and anything but courteous. Unlike the case of Mr. Whiting, where I was spurred on by Mr. Coombs, I was determined to test my strength and capability of winning over a man despite his evident opposition. I approached him in various ways, and from various angles, now talking about my own business, again about things of general interest to the florists, and at other times about my traveling experiences in the West; but all proved of no avail.
And the more I failed, the harder I persisted. The opportunity came in course of time. Mr. O'Connor happened to be in need of a certain variety of plants, which he found it impossible to procure from the growers with whom he was in communication about it. He wanted to know if I knew of a reliable place where such plants could be had.
"Remember," he added, "I want good plants, for I will have no trash at any price."
To be sure I knew the place; and I was equally sure that the plants would suit Mr. O'Connor, and so would the price. Almost reluctantly, it seemed to me, he gave me the order. Remembering that first impressions count for much, and in this particular case much more than in the average, I put forth my best efforts, making it a point to take a special trip and see the plants for myself. The upshot was that Mr. O'Connor received his plants and was not in the least disappointed by virtue of having entrusted the order to me.
I had won my point; and what pleased me much more than the order itself was the fact that I had won the confidence of a man so conservative, and who at the outset was almost antagonistic to me.
I learned a few years later that Mr. O'Connor for some reason had a certain amount of prejudice against my race. Whether or not a descendant of Abraham had ever entrapped or taken advantage of him, I do not know. If that was the case, then certainly I had to bear the brunt for a while of the possible misdeeds of some Hebrew of whose existence I was not even aware. Be that as it may, as we became better acquainted, Mr. O'Connor's confidence in me grew in proportion to the fair treatment I accorded him in our dealings. I took especial care with all the orders he gave me. If a certain article was below the standard in quality, I would advise him to that effect, often suggesting that in the circumstances it might be better for him not to touch it.
Some of the best Carnations that Mr. O'Connor grew on his place during the past fifteen years were purchased through me. Nor would I find any difficulty in booking an order for a variety if I put my stamp of approval upon it. I do not mean to say that every variety I ever sold him turned out satisfactorily. There were some, indeed, that he was obliged to discard the season following. But in no case did he ever attribute his failures to "the wiles and trickeries of a Jew." He would charge me with error of judgment and not with deliberate ill intent. I was told at one time that he referred to me as "a white Jew," which was but another name for an honest man, in his way of expressing it.
Mr. O'Connor has left a large estate, consisting of apartment houses, green-houses, and other investments. He was one of the pioneer florists of Providence, and by dint of hard work amassed a fortune. His two sons are conducting the business now. William, with whom I am well acquainted, and who takes care of the greenhouse end of it, is a young man who gives every promise of following in the footsteps of his notable father. The best in any line in connection with his business is, to put it in his own words, "none too good." As an employer of labor, he has the idea of the progressive modern man. Realizing that a well satisfied man will work for the best interests of his employer, he is ever ready to recognize merit, and to reward it. The men who were in the employ of his father for a number of years have been retained, and show to the son the same devotion that they did to the father.
The O'Connor store is one of the largest in New England, and is ably conducted by another son.
The late Farquhar Macrae was a man of a different type from Mr. O'Connor. He was a quiet Scotchman, with little time for jesting, and possessed of an intense earnestness. The business which he had started a number of years before I met him developed into one of the largest in that section of the country. He was a great grower. There was no plant that he could not successfully handle. So unerring was his knowledge of the needs of plants that he seemed almost to be in secret communication with them. I often wondered if he might perhaps not be more or less silent with men because he was accustomed to converse with flowers, among which his whole life was spent, and in which all his interest centered. For a time Mr. Macrae specialized in Chrysanthemums, and everything that was ever introduced found a place in his greenhouses, at least temporarily. If he found a thing to be worthless, he discarded it; but that did not deter him from trying other varieties. He believed that the only way to strike a good thing is to take your chances; and if he succeeded in retaining one or two, out of a dozen, it meant effort and money well spent. Later on he took up the growing of Roses, and with these, too, he was eminently successful. Bulbous stock came next, and his business began to expand in proportion to the general development of the trade.
Mr. Macrae died fifteen years ago, leaving his business to his two sons, Walter and Al. It would be hard to point out two young men more capable, more alert and energetic, than these two. Seeing their opportunity for growing Lilies on a large scale, they made the venture a few years ago, and by degrees increased their capacity and output until today we see them among the largest Lily growers in this country. Nor have they neglected their other stock, such as Roses, Carnations, and Chrysanthemums.
John A. Macrae, whose place is but a short distance from that of his nephews, Farquhar Macrae's sons, is another old friend of mine. I have spent many a pleasant hour at his home, in company with him and his wife, who died about a year ago. Mrs. Macrae was a woman of unusual type. She had a splendid mind, and much force of character. They say that it is impossible for women to be impersonal in their outlook, but Mrs. Macrae was a triumphant refutation of any such idea. She had something of the tendencies of the philosopher, and her conversation held all the charm of a profound understanding of human affairs. Her untimely death was a great loss, not only to her husband, but to her many friends and acquaintances.
Like his brother, Mr. John Macrae is a very successful grower, and his output at all times finds a ready market with discriminating buyers.
Another Good Friend, M. J. Leach of Pawtucket
And there was my good old friend, M. J. Leach of Pawtucket. I speak of him in the past tense because he, too, has departed. M. J. Leach died as he lived, with a happy smile and an expression of good cheer on his lips, as if to say, "I have run my race, and now let me get out!" Mr. Leach, whom I met about 1890, was always a friend to me. I vividly recall my first meeting with him. Despite the general notion of "laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone," Mr. Leach seemed to have the laugh all to himself on that occasion. Things were not prosperous with me, and it was with a heavy heart, and discouragement written on my face, that I entered his store. I was a stranger to him, and a new drummer must perforce put on a smiling face whether so inclined or not. Else his battle is completely lost. In this particular case it was Mr. Leach who cheered me up by his attitude. First of all, he wanted to know if I was sick. Receiving a reply to the contrary, he demanded heartily,
"Then what the deuce is the matter with you? Isn't the sun shining, and isn't the bird singing?" (pointing to a canary in one corner.)
His good humor was contagious. I cheered up. I knew that an order was in store for me, and I was not disappointed. In the years that followed, my calls on M. J. Leach meant a great deal of pleasure to me. I often partook of his hospitality. Taking it for granted that the forbidden food, pork, was a diet obnoxious to every Jew, he would always delight in saying to me: "Now, Skidelsky, we have a feast for you, especially prepared for your benefit.
We have a fine roast of pork, and I know that you like pork. We can also accommodate you with a slice of fried bacon. Come along."
At one time—it was in the Summer—we were at dinner. The sky clouded up, a strong wind came from the east, then thunder and lightning commenced. Mr. Leach remarked that there was no reason why the elements should be in revolt, since we were observing all the Mosaic laws at that meal; in other words, since there was no pork on the table. He told a favorite story of Colonel Ingersoll's:
"A Jew entered a restaurant, and after scanning the bill of fare his eyes alighted upon an item that appealed to his palate. He called for ham and eggs. No sooner had the dish been placed on the table than a terrific thunder resounded in the air. The Jew jumped from his seat, exclaiming: 'What a racket, what a racket, over a little piece of ham!'"
Like all men, Mr. Leach had his likes and dislikes. The latter were especially directed against dogs, automobiles, and feminism. He could never bear the idea of a woman's taking interest in public affairs, asserting that God Almighty created her to bring up children and take care of a home. I never argued the point with him, preferring to keep my own opinions about it to myself. As to dogs, he simply could not bear the sight of the creatures, the truest friends of man. In his younger days he may have had an encounter with some brute of a dog in the western States where he lived for awhile; and perhaps it was the remembrance of that encounter that made him put a ban on all dogs. The automobile, however, got the best of Mr. Leach. In later life he was won over to its favor so completely that he owned a magnificent Packard himself.
My friendship of many years' standing for M. J. Leach continues with his sons, Herbert, Edward, and Raymond. These young men have not only inherited the business of their father, but his good qualities as well, both personally and in business. Mr. Herbert Leach conducts the stores in Pawtucket, while Edward and Raymond are at the head of the large greenhouse range a few miles outside the city.
George E. Buxton of Nashua, N. H.
George E. Buxton, of Nashua, N. H., was one of my first patrons. I became acquainted with him during the first S. A. F. convention in Boston, and paid him a visit shortly afterward. His greenhouses at that time were located on Vine street, in the opposite direction from where his place is today. About 1892, he transferred his place to its present location, and enlarged it from time to time. Mr. Buxton is a grower of great ability, and ranks among the best in New England. A few years ago he became known to the trade throughout the country by his introduction of the "Silver Pink Snapdragon," which has become a great favorite among growers in every section. Our business relations for the past quarter of a century or more have been pleasant, and I look upon Mr. Buxton as one of my most esteemed friends among the florists.
Attractions of the City of Boston
The city of Boston has always a very great attraction for me. My entrance into its portals seems to inspire me with a sense of coming in contact with culture, notwithstanding the assertion of Mr. E. G. Hill a few years ago that that particular feature of Boston has long since been transferred to Indianapolis.
I like its crooked streets, although I have lost myself many a time in their mazes; I like its Faneuil Hall, its Bunker Hill, its King's Chapel, its Park Street Church, and even its excellent underground railway system, although the last named lacks the historical significance of the others. It more than makes up for the lack, though, by the convenience it affords its thousands of patrons in giving them quick transportation.
I like its historic cemeteries, planted in the heart of the city. They carry me back to the days when the men that rest there were alive and active in behalf of the young and budding country.
I like its Commons, and I like the spirit that opposes strenuously the idea of transforming this magnificent space, that affords the people so much air, rest and recreation, into a busy mart. The Commons are what the name implies; this piece of ground is supposed to be sacred to the use of the people of Boston. There on a Sunday one will hear various "isms" expounded by earnest supporters who consider it their special duty to bring enlightenment to the benighted public. Here a man exhorts his audience to lead a true Christian life; there another promises elixir for all human ills in the form of Socialism; farther on a third is urging Theosophy as the only means of seeing the true light.
And who hasn't heard about Boston's pork and beans and brown bread, that delight the epicure? I confess that I never tasted the pork and beans, but according to all the enthusiastic reports I am quite convinced that this dish is veritable ambrosia.
And last, but by no means the least, I like the Boston florists. I like their progressive spirit, their ambition to excel, their liberality, their geniality. While in Boston I always make it a point to leave a call with the hotel clerk for six in the morning. At that early hour the two flower markets commence their activities. Hundreds of florists from the surrounding towns and villages bring in their flowers, and the retail florists, not only in Boston, but from many surrounding towns as well, come there to purchase their daily supplies. They are perfect bee-hives, especially during the busy season, when the retail business is in its full swing. What is highly commendable is that the florists whose stalls adjoin each other fraternize and are on the friendliest terms with each other. Competition here does not carry with it the petty jealousies and questionable practices with which competition is usually charged. On the contrary, here they seem to work on the principle that what is good for the individual should be good for a number of individuals as well. Hence when the market is demoralized, its demoralization is not to be traced to any one or two individuals who cut prices, but to the fact of a general stagnation in business, or to the law of supply and demand.
Here I meet a number of men. Indeed, it was at these markets that I first met a number of growers whose patronage has meant a great deal to me, and whose friendship, outside of business considerations, I value highly.
Florists in Outlying Districts of Boston
Mr. A. Patten, of Tewksbury, Mass., a man well known beyond the borders of his own State, is one of them. And there are Mr. Stickler of Lexington, Mr. A. Christensen of Stoneham, Mr. Winkler of Wakefield, Mr. T. Walke of Salem,
Mr. Allan Peirce of Waltham, Mr. William Nicholson of Framingham, and many others.
Mr. Allan Peirce is the second of his family that I have known. His father, Mr. E. Y. Peirce. was a unique character in many respects. Although starting late in life in the florist business, he took up his new vocation with all the energy characteristic of much younger men. To him things in driblets meant nothing. When he undertook to grow Chrysanthemums he grew them by the thousands, and later when he became interested in Lilies, he grew them on a scale that made him known as one of the largest Lily growers in New England.
But aside from his business success, and the patronage with which he favored me, he had other qualifications which endeared him to me. His unostentatious manner, his blunt and at times almost brusque way of expressing things, his pride in the fact that he was once upon a time a farmer, and still preferred to be called "Farmer Peirce," his pride also in the fact that he dated his ancestry to the Revolutionary heroes, to the men who picked up their pitchforks in defense of the young country—all this made him a most interesting person to come in contact with. I would often spend hours with him, listening to his interesting recital of events, both long past and present.
He was not a man easily persuaded to do things which he could not clearly see were to his advantage. He had decided opinions of his own, fully knowing what was advantageous to him and what was not. An incident characteristic of him was this:
A number of years ago a very persistent salesman, one of those smart Alecks who boast that they can sell a man in spite of himself, wanted his Lily order. It was early in January. Mr. Peirce never thought about Lilies at the time, nor did he have that particular house in mind as a source of supply. The salesman put forth his best arguments, offering to put Mr. Peirce on the "ground floor" as to prices; but Mr. Peirce was obdurate.
"Mr. Peirce," finally ejaculated the man, "let me put you down for the order anyway; and should you decide to change it, or even cancel it later, you can do so. I want to show to the house that I called and did some business with you. A feather in my cap, you know."
"You can put down all you please, for all I care; and you can make it two feathers while you're at it, if you want," answered Mr. Peirce in his droll manner.
The salesman departed. Two months later, Mr. Peirce received a letter from the house, suggesting that if he intended to change any part of his order it would be advisable to do it then. Mr. Peirce replied on a postal briefly and to the point that he knew of no order he had placed with the house. He received a second letter, more urgent and somewhat threatening in tone, the gist of which was that it was too late to cancel an order, but that they would allow him to change it if he wished to do so.
Mr. Peirce replied. He wrote his letter in red ink. Its substance was as follows:
Yours to hand and noted. You have no order from me, and that is all there is to it.
E. Y. Peirce & Sons,
Per the Old Man,
Pres. of the Anti-Bulldozing Society."
There was no further correspondence on the subject.
At the Carnation conventions, Mr. Peirce was always one of the conspicuous figures. His remarks, when he arose to address the meeting, were always terse, lucid, and to the point; no waste of words at any time.
William Scott of Buffalo and Mr. Peirce were great friends. At one time Mr. Scott showed me a letter from Mr. Peirce, urging him to come to Waltham and spend a month with him. But Mr. Scott's illness had already come upon him, and the visit was never paid.
Mr. Peirce's good humor never deserted him, even during the days of his final illness. He was a man who saw only the brighter side of life; at least he never indicated in his manner that his mind ever dwelt upon the darker shades.
Since his father's death, Allan Peirce has made numerous changes about the place, discarding Lilies entirely. Instead he grows Roses, and grows them most successfully.
Like the Hub itself, its greatest and most famous suburb, Cambridge, is always of great interest to me. There I like to stroll through the grounds of Harvard University, often, if time permits, peeping into the halls of learning where so many famous men received their training. The Harvard Museum is mighty interesting, and the collection of glass flowers, the most famous in the world, is of especial interest to a man dealing in bulbs, seeds, and plants. The home of Longfellow is interesting to all Americans; and indeed, foreigners visiting that part of the country make a special pilgrimage to it. The typical New England streets and residences, many of the Colonial period, have a charm that is all their own.
I have several friends in Cambridge. My periodical visits to them mean always to me much pleasure, in addition to the pecuniary interest. Fred C. Becker, of "Nephrolepis Bostoniensis" fame, is still at the old stand, and is as progressive as ever. To Mr. Becker is due the credit of having brought out the Boston fern, a fern that is known the world over and one which has marked a new departure in fern production.
And there is A. M. Davenport, the eminent wholesale plant grower of Massachusetts. It would be hard for me to speak of Mr. Davenport and his product without arousing the reader's suspicion that I was exaggerating. But Mr. Davenport needs no glowing descriptions about his plants; they have spoken for themselves these many years.
My friend MacKenzie is there, too. Mr. MacKenzie is an artist as well as a grower, though the fact may not be generally known. He plays the violin with the skill of the professional, and the collection of violins in his den shows that his interest in art is no less than his interest in things floricultural. Perhaps music and flowers bear close relation. Mr. MacKenzie is a delightful man to come in contact with.
I never had the pleasure of meeting the late W. W. Edgar, of Waverly, personally. But I had heard of him very often. A few years after his demise, I had the opportunity to see for myself what florists had often told me. Mr. Edgar's place was indeed a revelation to me. There I saw magnificent specimens of Ardisias, Begonias, Cyclamen, and many other commercial plants. Henry Bartsch, the exceedingly efficient manager of the place, has accomplished remarkable things in the way of growing since the entire responsibility of management fell upon his shoulders.
The fame of Thomas W . Roland, of Nahant, Mass., is as widespread as interest in horticulture itself. His collection of Acacias, said to be the finest in the United States, and the other plants he grows for commercial purposes, have established his reputation everywhere. Mr. Roland evinced the right spirit when he exhibited his famous Acacias both in Boston and Philadelphia. I was present at both national flower shows, and heard it said that it was worth taking a trip from ocean to ocean for the sake of seeing Mr. Roland's Acacias alone. He undoubtedly deserves a great deal of credit for having added so much to the success of the shows.
Lawrence Cotter, the Rose Grower
Among the excellent growers of New England, and particularly of Boston, the name of Lawrence Cotter is a prominent one. For a number of years, he was a conspicuous figure in Boston, belonging to the "old guard," of whom a few are still in existence. As a Rose grower, Mr. Cotter was second to no man. His product about twenty-five years ago found its way to Philadelphia, and as far west as Chicago. He was at one time connected with the late W. E. Doyle, of whom I spoke in a previous chapter. Years later, he grew Roses on his own account, which were among the best sent to the New England market and others.
Some years ago he transferred his interests to the State of Pennsylvania, taking up his residence for a time at Danville, Pa. When the Lakeview Rose Gardens found themselves in need of a manager, one capable of taking the responsibility of managing their enormous place at Jamestown, N. Y., Mr. Cotter was the man chosen for the position. It didn't take long to show the results of efficient management. About a year ago, Mr. Cotter's health began to fail, and although he cannot give the place the close attention that he was accustomed to bestow upon it, the Lakeview Greenhouses are not suffering. There is a good reason for it. Mr. Cotter's son, young Charles Cotter, has taken much of the burden from his father's shoulders; and not only in the actual growing line, but in the general business policy which he pursues, he proves himself a young man of unusual abilities. [Mr. Cotter died at Jamestown, March 24, 1917.]
Among the conspicuous men in the trade, men who have accomplished things not only in their own interests but for the world of horticulture at large, the names of Joseph Heacock and Robert George of the Storrs & Harrison Company, stand out.
Mr. Joseph Heacock did much toward the uplift of the standard in horticulture. I have known him for the past twenty years intimately, and my business relations with the Joseph Heacock Company, of which he is president, have been very pleasant. When I first met Mr. Heacock, his greenhouse range was not as extensive as it is today. Palms, and particularly Areca lutescens, were his specialties. In the beginning of his business career, and for a number of years thereafter, he confined himself principally to the local market and to the trade in nearby vicinities. But Mr. Heacock saw the chance for expansion. He increased his place and began to grow Kentias on a larger scale; and soon his product found its way to various parts of the country. His reputation was established. Later still he found that he could grow American Beauty and Roses in general successfully. This venture, too, soon added to his reputation as a grower of great ability. Finding that his range at Wyncote, Pa., was not nearly adequate to meet the demand for his product, he bought a farm within twenty-five miles of Philadelphia, and built a Rose range, the largest and best in this part of the State. His success in this instance was nothing short of phenomenal. His Roses are among the very best shipped into the wholesale market, and even so capricious a variety as Hadley was a revelation to many growers who saw it at the last Philadelphia National Flower Show. It was the center of attraction among Roses, eliciting many exclamations of surprise, not only from the general public, who crowded around the blooms, but from the growers as well. Many went out to his place to see the variety, and to study its behavior at close range, and returned fully convinced that whatever the faults of the Hadley Rose, Mr. Heacock was more than a match for it. Such blooms even its introducer himself never suspected were possible.
But it is of Mr. Heacock the man, rather than the grower and successful business man, that I wish to say a few words. Always honest and upright in his relations with his fellowmen, believing in the "square deal" and all that the term may imply, Mr. Heacock takes much interest in affairs that have bearing upon the general welfare of the community. He served in the State legislature as senator from his district; and in his capacity of State legislator he pursued his honest business policy throughout his term of service. Lobbyism was obnoxious to him at all times; and whatever savored of self-interest in politics found no supporter in him. As treasurer of the Florists' Hail Insurance Association he did good work for the benefit of the society. A few years ago he served as president of the Philadelphia Florists' Club, and during his term of service the club accomplished much in the way of expansion, and general maintenance of its members' interest in its affairs.
Robert George, of the Storrs & Harrison Co.
Mr. Robert George, whom I met about eighteen years ago, is a man who won my admiration from the start. I shall not attempt to speak of the success of the Storrs & Harrison Company, a success largely due to the tireless efforts of this remarkable man. I say remarkable advisedly. Mr. George has attained to notable success from humble beginnings. Starting with this old established firm in the capacity of one in the lower ranks of their employees, he has, by dint of hard work, intelligent application, and progressive ideas, worked up to a position of great responsibility, being now one of the members of the concern.
Unlike many a man of his attainments, Mr. George is as democratic and unostentatious in his relations with his fellow men as he ever was. The humblest of their employees (and the Storrs & Harrison Company employ an army of men at all times) always find Mr. George a man easy of access, and sympathetic. He will speak to a man not with the superior air of one who knows it all, brusque and commanding in manner, but as man to man, appealing to the other man's judgment and awakening his interest in the matter under discussion.
My business relations with the Storrs & Harrison Company have been among the most pleasant in my experience; and it is with much pleasure that I pay them my periodical visits as often as three times a year.
Among the younger men looming up on the horizon of horticulture, men giving much promise of future achievements, I may mention the names of Ed George, the son of Robert George, Adolph Baur of the Baur & Steinkamp Company of Indianapolis, Ind., and Wm. Vesey of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Edward George, the Son
Ed George, like his notable father, is a tireless and intelligent worker, being much devoted to the interests of the Storrs & Harrison Company, and assuming a great deal of the responsibility of the greenhouse end of the concern. In addition to his qualifications in this respect, Ed George possesses other good qualities, well worthy of emulation. He is an optimist in the first place, believing that no good can come from looking at business life through smoked glasses. In the busiest season of the year, at the time when railroad cars have to be loaded and shipped, when work of all sorts must be attended to without delay, and the inevitable confusion that arises is enough to rattle any man, Ed George always maintains his even temper and accomplishes excellent results.
Adolph Baur, Secretary of A. C. S.
Adolph Baur is still a young man; but in the line of floriculture he has accomplished more than many another man twice his age. I have known him for a number of years, since the time he worked for Henry Niemeyer at Erie, Pa. Although but a youth then, he had already the ambition to do things. He had initiative. He hybridized a number of Carnation seedlings while on Niemeyer's place in capacity of grower. The results of those early trials were a number of seedlings, some of which I recall at this moment. There were American Flag, a variegated variety, Pluto, Goliath, Rob Roy and others, none of which, however, were long lived, although Mr. Niemeyer himself entertained the fondest of hopes about them.
Prior to his connection with Mr. Niemeyer, Adolph Baur worked for the E. G. Hill Company, at Richmond, Ind., receiving there his first lessons and training in floriculture. After severing his connections with Henry Niemeyer, he went to Pittsburgh, where he worked for awhile with Charles Siebert, long since dead. Later, he drifted to Indianapolis, and there he established himself, at first in partnership with Smith and later with Steinkamp. The latter partnership is in existence today.
Mr. Baur has introduced a number of meritorious seedlings, some of which, such as Shasta and Pocahontas, are still grown successfully in many quarters. A number of other seedlings are in sight, and it may be expected that some of them will make their mark.
As secretary of the American Carnation Society, Adolph Baur is regarded as one of the most efficient that the society has ever had.
The Veseys of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Young Vesey, who is still in his twenties, is not only a horticulturist who has already achieved excellent results, but he is a public-spirited young man as well. As a member of the Indiana State Florists' Association, he always takes a keen interest and an active part in its affairs. His father, the Honorable Judge Vesey, although much interested in horticulture, does not give much of his time to it. His legal profession requires most of his time and attention. The late Mrs. Vesey, his mother, was known everywhere as one of the most active, energetic, and successful women florists. There was no exhibition complete unless Mrs. Vesey contributed toward its success by displaying her Roses, Chrysanthemums, and Carnations; and many a blue ribbon she took away as a trophy. Her untimely death a few years ago was a great loss to her many friends.
Upon her son devolved the duty of taking hold of the establishment, and carrying it on along the lines laid down by his able mother. Young Vesey was equal to the task. He continued to grow stock of a high grade, and to dispose of it successfully in the wholesale markets. About three years ago, a disaster descended upon the establishment. During the memorable floods that at that time devastated the States of Indiana and Ohio, Mr. Vesey rose one morning to find his place flooded and the stock completely ruined. But the son of Mrs. Vesey was not one to be easily daunted. When the flood subsided, he put an army of men to clear the ground, and soon a new range—a great improvement over the former one—rose upon the ruins.
At the last Carnation convention in St. Louis, Will Vesey invited the society to hold its meeting next season in Indianapolis. The invitation was accepted, and he was unanimously elected vice-president of the society.
In the rising generation of florists, Will Vesey bids fair to stand in the front rank.
The introduction and popularization of the Sweet Pea (I refer to the varieties that are of the Winter-blooming sorts) has marked a departure in floriculture. I shall not attempt to speak of the numerous Winter-blooming meritorious varieties in detail; I shall leave that part to Sweet Pea specialists who may at some time write a complete history of this splendid addition to intensive floriculture. The Sweet Pea has come to stay, not only because of its own merit as a cut flower, and the popular favor it has won among all classes, but also because it has of late largely replaced the dainty Lily of the Valley, owing to the scarcity of the latter resultant upon the present European conditions. It has indeed many advantages over the Lily of the Valley, in the matter of its variety of shades and colors. During my recent travels, I have heard it often expressed that the Sweet Pea, far from becoming common, will become more and more popular with the discriminating public, and will play a large part in the future as a flower suitable for bridal bouquets and all other work wherein the Lily of the Valley was formerly deemed indispensable. I shall not attempt to argue this point, or to disparage the usefulness of Lilies of the Valley, but I must concede that the Sweet Pea ranks with the Rose and the Carnation today, and the possibilities of its improvement are practically unlimited.
Famous Sweet Pea Growers
Among the men who have made the development of the Sweet Pea their life work not only from the standpoint of the matter-of-fact merchant, but from that of the aesthete and the scientist, the names of W. Atlee Burpee and Anton Zvolanek will always be remembered.
The late W. Atlee Burpee was indeed an enthusiast about Sweet Peas. Any meritorious variety that gave promise at all was sure of a trial by him. It is said he spent fortunes, and much time and labor, on varieties that often proved absolutely worthless. But Mr. Burpee was not the man to be easily discouraged. He tried again and again, and the results of his efforts are matters of common knowledge. His immense farm in California, and that in Doylestown, Pa., where Sweet Peas are being experimented upon, are known to every florist in the land. His untimely death, while still a man in his prime, is a great loss to the horticultural interests throughout the world.
The history of Anton Zvolanek's success is especially interesting. A number of years ago, while conducting his greenhouses at Bound Brook, N. J., he turned his attention to Sweet Peas, and experimented on a few varieties, such as Florence Denzer, Christmas Pink, and Mrs. Alexander Wallace, strictly Christmas blooming varieties. Having worked up a little stock of each, he offered them to the trade. The demand was stupendous from the start. Mr. Zvolanek grew more Sweet Peas, but the demand for his product kept on increasing out of all proportion to his facilities for meeting it. Leaving his Bound Brook place in the hands of his son, he departed for California, where he began to grow Sweet Peas on a large scale. The three varieties above mentioned were soon relegated to a back seat. Mr. Zvolanck introduced a number of strictly meritorious varieties, some of which were almost sensational, since it had never been suspected that a Sweet Pea could be brought up to such high standard of size and beauty.
"What Mr. Zvolanek has already achieved, and what he aims to achieve, and no doubt will, cannot lie too highly estimated in the history of floriculture.
Some St. Louis Acquaintances
The great city of St. Louis, the metropolis of Missouri, as I remarked once before, gave me the impression of a modern Babylon, inspiring me in the early days of my travel with a timidity at the thought of storming it for business. I clearly recall my first entrance within its gates. It was a few years before the great Union depot was built. I inquired about a hotel, to be sure not of the highest class in town, and soon found myself comfortably quartered in a cheap hostelry, which suited my inexpensive tastes and slim purse. First of all, it was a question of ridding myself of my timidity. I was in St. Louis, and it was up to me to become acquainted and see what I could accomplish. The late Mr. Jordan, whom I had seen in Boston about a year previous at the S. A. F. and O. H. convention (he was then president of the society), was the man to see first.
And so I called on him. I found him courteous, as befitted the gentleman that he essentially was. His dignity and reserved manner, nevertheless, increased my timidity. I felt instinctively that there was no business for me there. And certainly my lack of assurance wasn't calculated to help me get any. The man who is timid, and whose bearing and manner therefore indicate his own precognition of non-success, hasn't half the chance of the man whose air of calm certainty (I am not speaking of blatant aggressiveness) spells determination to succeed.
My next visit was to J. J. Beneke, now my good friend. It proved successful, and in more ways than one. Not only did Mr. Beneke favor me himself with a little order, but he gave me all the information I needed about other parties, with whom I have since dealt, and whom I regard as personal friends. I should like nothing better than to go on and speak in detail of my friend F. C. Weber, the dean of the retail men in St. Louis; of William Schray's Sons and their late estimable father, who was among the pioneer florists of the city; of Frank J. Filmore, the man with a genius for clever punning; of C. Sanders, who is ever ready to extend a welcome to a visiting stranger; of Charles Beyer and his brother, whose sense of fair play has made them upon more than one occasion actively resent knocks at competitors; of A. Jablonsky, the eminent Carnationist of that section; of John Steidle, the generous host and prince of good fellows; of Otto Koenig, the man whose political achievements have brought him renown, as his business has brought him success; of Fred Meinhardt, the man whose loyalty to the S. A. F. and O. H. is equaled only by his devotion to the interests of his many patrons; of W. Kruse, who believes in giving his customers the square deal, even as he expects it himself from his supply houses; of Bourdet, the excellent plant grower, whose French origin does not prevent him from living on terms of intimate friendship with his Teutonic fellow-citizens; of George Waldbart, whose exceeding diligence well deserves the success with which it has been crowned; of Theodore Miller, the man of altruistic ideas that have singled him out as a man with no selfish motives in his makeup; of Miss M. S. Newman, the lady florist who once upon a time conducted a successful business in Boston, and who for the last quarter of a century has been equally successful in her Western city; of Young's Sons, the old established firm known far beyond the borders of its own State; of Fred Ude, William Winter, W. J. Pilcher, Rowe, Serny, and the Connon Floral Company, the Kirkwood growers who have done so much toward the general uplift of floriculture in their State; of C. A. Kuehn, William C. Smith, Henry Berning, the Windler Floral Company, and George Angermueller, the progressive commission men, first to inaugurate and carry out successfully sweeping and much needed reforms for the benefit of the trade as a whole.
I should like to speak at length of each one of these men, and many others of the progressive city, whom I admire both as men and as florists. I should like to go on and tell of their efforts and successes, and of what they have contributed toward the development of horticulture. But I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, in the face of editorial warnings regarding space restriction.
I do want to say a few words, though, about the late F. W. Bruenig, whose untimely death in February, 1916, just a few weeks after I last saw him, has deeply impressed itself upon my mind. Mr. Bruenig was a man endowed with many excellent qualities. As a grower he had no superior. But besides his growing abilities and business success, he was above all else an honest man, and an honest man, according to the poet, is the noblest work of God.
The city of Cleveland, the sixth city in the land, is to be commended for her progress along horticultural lines as much as for her remarkable strides along all other paths of industrial activity. A quarter of a century ago Cleveland had no claim to especial recognition; that progressive, or as some put it, aggressive spirit characteristic of the "sixth city" of today, seemed absent then. Men moved about their business in a spirit of "let well enough alone," never suspecting the wonderful changes—changes that have transformed a mere town into a great city. To me, who first landed in Cleveland in October, 1889—and I use the word landed advisedly, for I arrived there on a rickety old tub of a lake boat, more dead than alive—the changes are remarkable. Not only has the appearance of the city changed, not only have its cobblestone streets and second-rate hotels given way to modern pavings and first-class hostleries, but the very spirit of the people themselves has changed as if by magic from an ultra-conservative to a progressive one.
The men whom I met twenty-seven years ago are still in the harness, and some of them as young as ever. Adam Graham, a youth of seventy-odd years, ex-president of the S. A. F. and O. H., president and director of banks, and in large measure a contributor to the tremendous improvements, expansion and achievements of his city, is still on deck—and may he be with us for many, many years. Whether in public or in his own immediate circle, Mr. Graham is invariably the life of the party. His wit and good humor are contagious. As a toastmaster, and an excellent all-round speaker, his reputation has extended beyond the limits of the Buckeye State.
Adam Graham, Jr., and Charles Graham, his sons, who are now conducting the business, are proving themselves worthy successors of an illustrious father.
Herman Hart, whose hospitality is widely known, does not look a day older than forty, though his clock has already struck sixty-two. Like all true philosophers, he takes life as a matter of course, never being ruffled by things on the one hand, or too much overjoyed on the other. An excellent panacea for nerves, and a guarantee of longevity!
About five years ago, Mr. Hart transferred his business to his two sons, and the young men give every promise of perpetuating the success which their father has achieved by dint of hard work and untiring efforts during his pioneer days in a pioneer flower market.
Charles Schmidt, who at one time was connected with the late Edwin Lonsdale, in the capacity of pupil and all-round greenhouse man, has proved himself all that Mr. Lonsdale predicted for him. He is first of all a successful grower, and what is equally to his credit he is a level-headed business man, one who well understands the value of greenhouse space, and who can make every inch pay for itself.
Mr. Bartel, at the head of the J. M. Gasser, Rocky River greenhouses, and Mr. Brown, at the head of their two Cleveland stores, both retail and wholesale, form a combination that spells success. In a former chapter I have already referred to the J. M. Gasser establishment and the manner in which they expanded during the past quarter of a century.
The F. R. Williams Co., composed of F. R. Williams and three of the Bates Brothers, namely George, Herb, and Guy, has simply grown up with the city. Twenty-five years ago, the members comprising this enterprising firm attended the public schools, and never perhaps dreamt of a "Cleveland Cut Flower Co." with an immense range of glass at Newton Falls, about twenty-five miles out of Cleveland, where Roses, Carnations, and Chrysanthemums are grown on a large scale.
John Kirchner, who succeeded his father on the latter's death, some fifteen years ago, has enlarged his business on a scale that would unquestionably have astonished his sire, had John told him at the time of the possibilities of such expansion. Mr. Kirchner is progressive in his ideas, and no innovation calculated to bring about some improvement either in his greenhouses or in his store, is ever cast aside.
The Naumann Co. is composed of three enterprising young men, whose success as wholesale plant growers for the Cleveland market speaks in their favor.
Frank Friedley, a graduate of the E. G. Hill Co. of Richmond, Ind., later with the Chicago Carnation Co., Miss Belle Miller, of Springfield, III, and a postgraduate of the J. M. Gasser Co. of Cleveland, has launched a greenhouse establishment of his own, succeeding the James Eadie Co., a well known old-established firm. Mr. Friedley is a grower of no mean ability, and with a market ready at all times to take up high-grade stock, Friedley's success is practically assured.
C. Merkel & Sons, of Mentor, Ohio, twenty-five miles from Cleveland, are among the largest and most successful growers in the State. It has been said, and rightly so, that John Merkel, the head of the concern, can hold his own in the matter of producing high-grade stock, with any expert in the land and in Europe as well. Years ago, when a mere boy, he entered the employ of the J. M. Gasser Co. Young John, unlike most boys of his age, saw his chance. From the start, he made up his mind to learn all there was to be known about the greenhouses and the growing of stock. The late J. M. Gasser used to remark that nothing ever escaped the boy's attention. He seemed to know things, as if by intuition. After serving a few years at the Gasser establishment, he departed for New York, and at the age of twenty-one became foreman in a prominent Brooklyn greenhouse range. Having acquired more experience in the East, John bethought himself to launch an enterprise on his own account. It was hard work—a hard and trying experience. Money was not plentiful, nor did his prospects look especially encouraging at the start. But John Merkel looked far into the future. He saw the possibilities of growing for retail trade. He built a few houses, and from time to time kept on adding, now a lean-to, and then a house. His stock met with instantaneous demand, and his success was assured. Azaleas, Begonias, Cyclamen, Hydrangeas, pot Roses by the thousands, are grown successfully, not only for the Cleveland market, but for Toledo, Detroit, and other cities as well. Some of their stock is eagerly bought in St. Louis.
In the Summer of 1916, they built a range of four additional houses, where twenty thousand Roses for cut flower purposes have been planted.
The firm is composed of C. Merkel, the father, and three sons. William Merkel divides his attention between the greenhouses and salesmanship. And as a salesman, William is no less a success than as a grower. I should like also to speak in detail of the great Western cities of Omaha, Denver, Kansas City, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, and the numerous friends I have made there; of the thriving Eastern cities of Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Albany; and of the many cities in my own State, such as Erie, Warren, Oil City, Meadville, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Williamsport, Easton, Allentown, and many others; and of the friendships I have formed there, too.
But that matter of space limitation is inexorable, and I have to pass on, regretful that I cannot do as I so gladly would.
Some day, when old age overtakes me, and I can no longer travel, I hope to write a complete history of horticulture in America, giving every man who has contributed toward the progress made full credit for his work.