People In The Public Eye
John H. Patterson, Colossus of Dayton

PEOPLE IN THE PUBLIC EYE

JOHN H. PATTERSON, COLOSSUS OF DAYTON

 

         Great events, great disasters, and great currents of thought always bring to the front leaders of men.  The Ohio floods brought to the fore John H. Patterson, president and chief owner of the National Cash Register Company.  The city government of Dayton fell to pieces naturally enough, but the strongest man in Dayton, who was and is Patterson, formed a government all his own, and brought relief, comfort and safety to the stricken city as soon as was humanly possible.  The details of the work which he did at  that time have been published so extensively that they are no longer of interest or moment.  What is of striking human interest is the man himself and the way he proved himself a wonderful leader not only of cash registers, but of men in time of their direst need.

     Mr. Patterson has been sentenced to jail for a year because of the manner in which he has come into conflict with the Sherman law.  Also it may be noted that most of his business associates have received sentences.  It may also be of interest to observe that Patterson was almost the pioneer in this country in welfare work for employees, and that he has been one of the few men who have built up vast industries and have resisted the temptation of high financiering and stock watering.  It may further be observed that personally he is a man of quiet tastes, with none of the proverbial “Pittsburgh millionaire’s” love for the bizarre, vulgar and ostentatious.  Finally, it should be stated that Patterson is one of the most successful organizers of this day and generation.  That is one secret of his business success, and one secret of his ability to take command of the frightful situation created by the Ohio floods.  Altogether, Patterson is a most remarkable person.

     The extreme punishment meted out to Patterson for his alleged monopolistic proclivities would incline one to believe him to be an arrogant, merciless corporation bully, such as one sees in cartoons of malefactors of great wealth.  On the contrary, he is a man of mild and unassuming bearing, who has devised countless means of making the lot of his employees a better one.  But, of course, the idea that brutal methods in business are incompatible with many private and public virtues has long ago exploded.  In sentencing Patterson to a year in jail, Judge Hollister  said:  “Whatever virtues Mr. Patterson had--and common report attributes many to him—whatever public spirit he has given evidence of in his own town—and they are doubtless many—nevertheless, he has set out deliberately to build his business up not only through the merits of his product and through the extraordinary efficiency of his organization, but by harassing, annoying, interfering with, discouraging and pursuing his competitors to the point that they would be compelled to give over the unequal struggle and go out of business or to sell out to his company.”

     The writer has been told by associates of  Mr. Patterson that the bringing of the suit was due to purely local “politics” but it does not seem that a jury would have found the capitalist guilty unless there had been some evidence, not to mention the statement by the judge, referred to above.  A far more effective defense is that many, if not most, of the acts complained of were committed years ago, before the present standards of business ethics prevailed.  Patterson built up his business in much the same way that so many other great industries have been developed, partly at least by methods which public opinion and law no longer approve, although no one condemned them twenty years ago.

     In these days of high finance, the cash register man deserves no end of credit for the way in which he has turned profits back into the business.  At a salesmen’s convention some time ago, in speaking to the men, he made a statement that his profits from the business were so much—we will say $100,000—a year.  He said: “I do not need that amount to live on; I can only spend so much for clothes, food and living expenses and all of the other things connected with the necessities and pleasure of life.”  He said that a certain amount—we will say $40,000—was fully ample to cover all of these things; then he asked for suggestions from the audience as to what he should do with the other $60,000. One said invest it in railroad bonds, others suggested other investments which occurred to them.  All of the suggestions were along the investment line.  Mr. Patterson finally said, would it not be better to put it back into the business and give the business the benefit of these profits, and this has been his policy from the start.

     Many interesting anecdotes are told of his helpful attitude toward the poor or those whom he could assist in various ways.

      It was called to his attention at one time that the poor boys of Dayton, for want of something better to do,  were in the habit of throwing stones at the windows of his factories, and instead of posting guards to watch for the offenders and prosecute them, he said:  “The reason that these boys do this mischief is that they have nothing in particular to occupy their time.”  He immediately set about planning the “Boys’ Garden Association.”  He appropriated a piece of land for the purpose and supplied the fertilizer and seeds, and organized the boys; in fact, incorporated their association.  The boys’ association has its own officers and directors and sells the products from its garden and declares a dividend each year.

    Only a short time ago Mr. Patterson wired to his New York office from Hot Springs, Va., where he was stopping,  ordering a complete photographic outfit sent him for a deserving boy with whom he came in touch, and a carpenter’s kit for another boy, and a quantity of a special brand of fertilizer for the proprietor of the hotel, who is having trouble raising grass on the lawn.  Such is his kindly disposition.

     He is a great friend of his home city of Dayton, and is interested in Dayton people wherever he finds them.  It is told that at the time of the Inauguration he was in Washington and was surprised to notice a company of women in the suffrage parade carrying a Dayton banner.  He at once gave instructions that this delegation from Dayton be given a dinner at his expense at one of the hotels.

     The truth is that few institutions and few human beings are perfect, and the object of this sketch is no exception to the rule, any more than the editor of this magazine.  Strong characters are the most imperfect of all, because the very power and feeling that make them such useful citizens in many ways lead them too far when it comes to swatting competitors.  Who will judge his brother?  Who is there perfect enough to hold the scales of justice even.”  We only know that the last judgment, whatever that may be, or, let us say, the judgment of history, will take into account every virtue as well as every fault.