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John H. Patterson


John H. Patterson

By Elbert Hubbard

            When death and disaster, in the form of flood and fire, swept Dayton, John H. Patterson arose with the tide to the level of events.

            Responsibilities gravitate to the men who can shoulder them and dire difficulties are taken care of by those who know how.

            Patterson is the man who, more than any other, brought cosmos out of chaos.

            When the flood was rising and nobody knew what the result would be, John H. Patterson began to wire for motor-boats. He did not ask, he demanded. And the motor-boats came.

Later, he wired for motor-trucks, and the trucks came to clear up the debris.

            Patterson took all of the carpenters from the National Cash Register – one hundred fifty skilled woodworkers – and set them to work making flatboats.

            The entire force of the great institution was at the disposal of the people who needed help. And not a man or a woman was docked or dropped from the payroll. Everybody had time and a third.

            As for John H. Patterson himself, he worked in three shifts of eight hours each; and for forty-eight hours he practically neither slept or ate. And then, by way of rest, he took a Turkish bath and a horseback ride, and forty winks, and was again on the job – this man of seventy who has known how to breathe and how to think, and who carries with him the body of a wrestler and the lavish heart of youth.

            And yet – I am ashamed to say it, but I must, for what is the need of writing this, anyway, if there is no moral in it? - and yet, if the Government of the United States of America had had its way, John H. Patterson would not have been allowed to take charge of the rescue work, gotten families together, fought flames and flood and later fought disease in a thousand threatening forms.

            No! If this Government under which we live had had its way, John H. Patterson would have been locked in a cell in the Country Jail in Troy, Ohio.

            Is that the best way to utilize strong men?

            The man is out on bail, on legal sufferance – fifteen thousand dollars’ bail – the price on the head of a hero!

            I was going to say that I wished that John H. Patterson had been dumped into the roaring flood from the deck of one of his impoverished rafts, gone down into the dirty, yellow waters, pushing above his head as he sank for the third time – pushing above his head some little girl into the hands of its mother.

            This would have been a fitting end.

            The men who live as saviors of the world are those who have had the good luck to die at the right time and in the right way.

            The hemlock, the cross, the noose and the knife are all sacred to the memory of heroes.

            Here’s to Leonidas at Thermopylae, with his guts full of spearheads; trampled on by the mob until his flesh was ground into the mire.

            Here’s to Galileo, who said, “It moves just the same.”

            Here’s to Savonarola, who kissed the cross amid the smudge and smoke that was stifling him, refusing absolution.

            Here’s to Jim Bludsoe, who held her nose to the bank until every galoot was ashore.

            Here’s to Jack Binns, who was on to his job – and is yet.

            Here’s to the band on the Titanic that played in water waist-deep.

            Here’s to Nathan Hale, for the rope that tightened and cut off his breath did not destroy his soul.

            Here’s to Old John Brown in the roundhouse at Harper’s Ferry, fighting against insurmountable odds.

            Also, here’s to John Brown lying on his cot, visited by Governor Wise, shaking hands with the Governor with his one good hand, and saying, “Good-by Governor Wise; I’ll meet you on the Other Side.”

            Here’s to the last of the Old Guard at Waterloo, who, having fired the last of his ammunition, stood, with broken sword in hand, and hurled at the enemy the only weapon he had to offer – a word unprintable.

            So my heart goes out to the men who are men when emergency calls – men like John Jacob Astor, Archie Butt, George Harris, Charles Melville Hays – faulty men, of course, for didn’t Sheridan swear like a pirate until streaks of profanity trailed the air on that ride to Winchester at the break of day?

            Grant drank whiskey – sure. But he did something else.

            The question still is, can we afford to destroy men of initiative?

            There is plenty of precedent for it, God knows. History is only the record of abuses and tyrannies and misunderstandings and punishments. To prove the power of the Government is all right, but when the Government of America begins to repudiate her best – the men of power, the men of initiative, the men who maintain payrolls, the men who meet emergencies in time of death and disaster – then, indeed, does Government use its power like a giant.

            The case of Government against the National Cash Register Company has been quashed by judicial decree.

            John H. Patterson is a free man. The case will not be tried again.

            The reversal by the United States Circuit Court is a cause of congratulation – not so much to Patterson as to the whole country.

            Patterson could stand a year in jail, and he could also pay the fine of five thousand dollars; but the United States, this land of the free, could not afford the stigma of putting this distinguished man behind the bars.

            Father Taylor once said, “If God sends Emerson to hell, Waldo will change the climate and start emigration in that direction.”

            If Patterson’s sentence had been carried out he would have popularized the prison, exactly as John Bunyan made Bedford Jail a place of pious pilgrimage.

            The reversal of the verdict is in accord with the best public opinion. It mirrors the will of the Zeitgeist. It was Patterson’s success that made him a target for the inquisitor.

            The alleged offence was “conspiracy to monopolize trade.”

            You will not find this sin mentioned in the Decalogue. Concerning it the Ten Commandments are silent.

            At the worst Patterson did to his competitors what they were trying to do to him. Patterson is today and always has been in accord with the business conscience of his time.

            No claim was made by the Government that society had been injured. It was admitted that the machine made by Patterson was most useful, and the price at which it was sold was fair. The consumer had no complaints to offer.

            The blizzard of zeal that caught Patterson and his score of faithful helpers was a variant of the same judicial brainstorm which fixed a fine of twenty-nine million dollars on John D. Rockefeller.

            When the judge becomes obsessed with the thought that his duty lies in resolving himself into a section of the Day of Judgment, the blind goddess would do well to duck and cut for cover.

            “Beware of an excess of zeal in well-doing,” runs a Japanese proverb.

            Granted that all the accusations made by the prosecutor against Patterson were true, the lay mind gives him credit for the good he has done and strikes a balance.

            And the net results is that John H. Patterson stands out as one of the great men of America. He bought up a number of impractical patents and after great toil and vast expense perfected a most useful machine.

            Patterson had made it easy for every employee who handles cash to do right, and difficult to do wrong.

            Patterson had helped millions on their way to health, wealth and happiness.

            He is the father of all factory betterments. He gave us light, ventilation, beauty, order and education in industrial institutions.

            He shamed the employing world, by his example, into cleaning house.

            John H. Patterson has been and is a great teacher of business men.

            Yes, I know, of course, that he made his foremen ride horseback, eat spinach, swing dumbbells and get under the cold shower.

            But he paid them big wages, bigger than they had ever dreamed before, and if he compelled the spinach it was on company time, and John H. supplied the spinach. I also understand that Patterson arranged the Dayton flood so as to play meller-drammer.

            This may be true, but like the report of Mark Twain’s death, it is slightly exaggerated.

            The simple fact is that Patterson will not talk “flood,” nor allow others to, in his presence.

            He is intent on flood prevention, not on flood conversation.

            As for his work when Dayton had that heavy dew, he pooh-poohs it and declares he only did what any other man would have done under the same circumstances.

            “When men are swimming for life is no time to put up the price of lumber. I had a few loose planks and I pushed them into the stream – that’s all,” says Patterson.

            When plans were under way to secure a pardon for Patterson, he vetoed the whole business and scoffed at Carnegie medals by saying that his conviction had not anything to do with a matter of moisture or watered stock; and later when some one pushed at him a fountain-pen and asked him to sign an application for a pardon for himself he balked, but agreed to make application for his helpers who were indicted with him.

            I am not sure that John H. Patterson has always been excessively good, but he has always been good for something.

            At least the newspaper-men always found him good for a paragraph.

            No, Patterson was not always so awfully “good,” but neither was Ben Franklin, nor Columbus, nor Saint Peter who smote off the ear of a servant of the high priest. Nevertheless, it was Peter who founded the Church of Christ. “On this rock I build my church.”

            Perhaps Patterson hasn’t exactly been like Ivory Soap, ninety-nine per cent pure. Men too good wouldn’t be pleasant to have around.

            Patterson is a human being, and he is a better human being today than ever before. And when it comes to intelligence, health, poise and power, he was the peer of any man in that courtroom where he was tried and sentenced.

            Even when the proctor rubbed into him a little gratuitous cantharides, he never winced nor lost his fine equanimity.

            And the men who were being tried with Patterson were nearly as fine – athletic, earnest, intelligent – not a rounder nor a boozer in the bunch.

            Not only has Patterson taught the world how to keep its count, but he also taught it how to keep its temper, how to eat, to work, play and study.

            The philosophy of John H. Patterson, which he not only teaches but practices, would eradicate sickness, insanity, poverty and misery from the world.

            There is an idea abroad that John H. Patterson is on the financial preserve with John D.   Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford. The fact is that Patterson is possessed of only a few decent millions.

            All of his money is closely invested in the National Cash Register business.

            To invent the cash-register was a cinch compared with the task of getting people to use it. The world had got along with the open cash-drawer for quite some time, and was willing to try it for some years more.

            Patterson’s job was to educate the world into keeping a record of its receipts and expenditures. And when this was done, a great many leaks were stopped that formerly led to bankruptcy, the bughouse, the gambling-joint and the penitentiary.

            This educational campaign cost millions on millions and cut what would otherwise have been big profits into microscopic dividends. Nevertheless, the National Cash Register Company made head, and today its credit is beyond cavil, for behind it are character and high intelligence.

            To defend this suit must have cost Patterson a million dollars, counting his actual expenses and losses through having his whole corps of foremen under Federal fire for several years. And for this vast expense there is no such thing as restitution.

            When the Government robs one of its citizens it does it legally.

            But Patterson does not complain. He accepts it all as a part of the great game of life. Patterson knows that the kicks and cuffs of unkind Fate have their uses in the great economy of existence.

            John H. Patterson is seventy-one years of age, but you would never guess it to look at him. His step is light and elastic, his eyes are bright and keen, his body is lean and sinewy.

            I met him soon after the United States Circuit Court had gently let him down and out. He was smiling, but not unduly elated.

            For the men who had railroaded him toward the Miami County calaboose he had no words of reproach. He simply said, “Now I am free to go ahead and do my work – work for the good of all – work as I never have before.”