Success is rooted in
reciprocity. He who does not benefit the world
is headed for bankruptcy
on the high-speed clutch.
One proof that H. H. Rogers was a
personage and not a person lies in the fact that he
was seldom mentioned in moderate language. Lawson
passed him a few choice tributes; Ida Tarbell tarred
him with her literary stick; Upton Sinclair declared
he was this and that; Professor Herren averred that
he bore no likeness whatever to Leo Tolstoy and
he might also have added, neither did he resemble
Francis of Assisi or Simeon Stylites. Those who
did not like him usually pictured him by recounting
what he was not. My endeavor in this sketch will
be simply to tell what he was.
Henry Huddleston Rogers was a very
human individual. He was born in the village
of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, in the year Eighteen Hundred
Forty. He died in New York City in Nineteen Hundred
Nine, in his seventieth year. He was the typical
American, and his career was the ideal one to which
we are always pointing our growing youth. His
fault, if fault it may be, was that he succeeded too
well. Success is a hard thing to forgive.
Personality repels as well as attracts.
The life of H. H. Rogers was the complete
American romance. He lived the part and
he looked it. He did not require a make-up.
The sub-cortex was not for him, and even the liars
never dared to say he was a hypocrite. H. H.
Rogers had personality. Men turned to gaze at
him on the street; women glanced, and then hastily
looked, unnecessarily hard, the other way; children
The man was tall, lithe, strong, graceful,
commanding. His jaw was the jaw of courage; his
chin meant purpose; his nose symboled intellect, poise
and power; his brow spelled brain. He was a handsome
man, and he was not wholly unaware of the fact.
In him was the pride of the North American Indian,
and a little of the reserve of the savage. His
silence was always eloquent, and in it was neither
stupidity nor vacuity. With friends he was witty,
affable, generous, lovable. In business negotiation
he was rapid, direct, incisive; or smooth, plausible
and convincing all depending upon the man
with whom he was dealing. He often did to others
what they were trying to do to him, and he did it
first. He had the splendid ability to say “No”
when he should, a thing many good men can not do.
At such times his mouth would shut like a steel trap
and his blue eyes would send the thermometer below
zero. No one could play horse with H. H. Rogers.
He, himself, was always in the saddle.
The power of the man was more manifest
with men than with women, yet he was always admired
by women, but more on account of his austerity than
his effort to please. He was not given to flattery;
yet he was quick to commend. He had in him something
of the dash that existed when knighthood was in flower.
To the great of the earth, H. H. Rogers never bowed
the knee. He never shunned an encounter, save
with weakness, greed and stupidity. He met every
difficulty, every obstacle, unafraid and unabashed.
Even death to him was only a passing event death
for him had no sting, nor the grave a victory.
He prepared for his passing, looking after every detail,
as he had planned trips to Europe. Jauntily,
jokingly, bravely, tremendously busy, keenly alive
to beauty and friendship, deciding great issues offhand,
facing friend or foe, the moments of relaxation chinked
in with religious emotion and a glowing love for humanity so
he lived, and so he died.
An executive has been described as
a man who decides quickly, and is sometimes right.
H. H. Rogers was the ideal executive. He did not
decide until the evidence was all in; he listened,
weighed, sifted, sorted and then decided. And
when his decision was made the case was closed.
Big men, who are doing big things
that have never been done before, act on this basis,
otherwise they would be ironed out to the average,
and their dreams would evaporate like the morning
mist. The one thing about the dreams of H. H.
Rogers is that he made them come true.
“Give me neither poverty nor
riches,” said the philosopher. The parents
of H. H. Rogers were neither rich nor poor. They
had enough, but there was never a surfeit. They
were of straight New England stock. Of his four
great-grandfathers, three fought in the Revolutionary
According to Thomas Carlyle, respectable
people were those who kept a gig. In some towns
the credential is that the family shall employ a “hired
girl.” In Fairhaven the condition was that
you should have a washerwoman one day in the week.
The soapy wash-water was saved for scrubbing purposes this
was in Massachusetts and if the man of the
house occasionally smoked a pipe he was requested to
blow the smoke on the plants in the south windows,
so as to kill the vermin. Nothing was wasted.
The child born into such a family
where industry and economy are prized, unless he is
a mental defective and a physical cripple, will be
sure to thrive.
The father had made one trip in a
whaler. He was gone three years and got a one-hundred-and-forty-seventh
part of the catch. The oil market was on a slump,
and so the net result for the father of a millionaire-to-be
was ninety-five dollars and twenty cents. This
happy father was a grocer, and later a clerk to a
broker in whale-oil. Pater had the New England
virtues to such a degree that they kept him poor.
He was cautious, plus.
To make, you have to spend; to grow
a crop, you have to plant the seed. Here’s
where you plunge it is a gamble, a bet on
the seed versus the eternal cussedness of things.
It’s you against the chances of a crop.
If the drought comes, or the flood, or the chinch-bug,
or the brown-tailed moth, you may find yourself floundering
in the mulligatawney.
Aside from that one cruise to the
whaling-grounds, Rogers Pere played the game of life
near home and close to shore. The easy ways of
the villagers are shown by a story Mr. Rogers used
to tell about a good neighbor of his a
second mate on a whaler. The bark was weighing
anchor and about to sail. The worthy mate tarried
at a barroom over in New Bedford. “Ain’t
you going home to kiss your wife good-by?” some
one asked. And the answer was: “What’s
the use? I’m only going to be gone two
Half of Fairhaven was made up of fishermen,
and the rest were widows and the usual village contingent.
The widows were the washerwomen.
Those who had the price hired a washerwoman
one day in the week. This was not so much because
the mother herself could not do the work, as it was
to give work to the needy and prove the Jeffersonian
idea of equality. The wash-lady was always seated
with the family at table, and besides her wage was
presented with a pie, a pumpkin, or some outgrown
garment. Thus were the Christian virtues liberated.
Where the gray mare is the better
horse, her mate always lets up a bit on his whiffletree
and she draws most of the load. It was so here.
The mother planned for the household. She was
the economist, bursar and disburser. She was
a member of the Congregational Church, with a liberal
bias, which believed in “endless consequences,”
but not in “endless punishment.”
Later the family evolved into Unitarians by the easy
process of natural selection. The father said
grace, and the mother led in family prayers.
She had ideas of her own and expressed them.
The family took the Boston “Weekly
Congregationalist” and the Bedford “Weekly
Standard.” In the household there was a
bookcase of nearly a hundred volumes. It was
the most complete library in town, with the exception
of that of the minister.
The house where H. H. Rogers was born
still stands. Its frame was made in Sixteen Hundred
Ninety mortised, tenoned and pinned.
In the garret the rafters show the loving marks of
the broadax to swing which musical instrument
with grace and effectiveness is now a lost art.
How short is the life of man!
Here a babe was born, who lived his infancy, youth,
manhood; who achieved as one in a million; who died:
yet the house of his birth old at the time still
stubbornly stands as if to make mock of our ambitions.
A hundred years ago Fairhaven had a dozen men or more
who, with an auger, an adz, a broadax and a drawshave,
could build a boat or a house warranted to outlast
I had tea in this house where H. H.
Rogers was born and where his boyhood days were spent.
I fetched an armful of wood for the housewife, and
would have brought a bucket of water for her from the
pump, only the pump is now out of commission, having
been replaced by the newfangled waterworks presented
to the town by a Standard Oil magnate. Here Henry
Rogers brought chips in a wheelbarrow from the shipyard
on baking-days; here he hoed the garden and helped
his mother fasten up the flaming, flaring hollyhocks
against the house with strips of old sailcloth and
There were errands to look after,
and usually a pig, and sometimes two, that accumulated
adipose on purslane and lamb’s-quarters, with
surplus clams for dessert, also quahaugs to preserve
the poetic unities. Then there came a time when
the family kept a cow, which was pastured on the common,
the herd being looked after by a man who had fought
valiantly in the War of Eighteen Hundred Twelve, and
who used to tell the boys about it, fighting the battles
over with crutch and cane.
In the Winter the ice sometimes froze
solid clean across Buzzards Bay. The active and
hustling boys had skates made by the village blacksmith.
Henry Rogers had two pair, and used to loan one pair
out for two cents an hour. Boys who had no skates
and could not beg or borrow and who had but one cent
could sometimes get one skate for a while and thus
glide gracefully on one foot. There was good
fishing through the ice, only it was awful cold work
and not much pay, for fish could hardly be given away.
In the Summer there were clams to dig, blueberries
to gather, and pond-lilies had a value I
guess so! Then in the early Spring folks raked
up their yards and made bonfires of the Winter’s
debris. Henry Rogers did these odd jobs, and
religiously took his money home to his mother, who
placed it in the upper right-hand corner of a bureau
drawer. The village school was kept by an Irishman
who had attended Harvard. He believed in the
classics and the efficacy of the ferrule, and doted
on Latin, which he also used as a punishment.
Henry Rogers was alive and alert and was diplomatic
enough to manage the Milesian pedagogue without his
ever knowing it. The lessons were easy to him he
absorbed in the mass. Besides that, his mother
helped nights by the light of a whale-oil lamp, for
her boy was going to grow up to be a schoolteacher or
possibly a minister, who knows!
Out in Illinois, when the wanderlust
used to catch the evolving youth, who was neither
a boy nor a man, he ran away and went Out West.
In New England the same lad would have shipped before
the mast, and let his parents guess where he was their
due punishment for lack of appreciation.
To grow up on the coast and hear the
tales of the seafaring men who have gone down to the
sea in ships, is to catch it sooner or later.
At fifteen Henry Rogers caught it, and was duly recorded
to go on a whaler. Luckily his mother got word
of it, and canceled the deal. About then, good
fortune arrived in the form of Opportunity. The
young man who peddled the New Bedford “Standard”
wanted to dispose of his route.
Henry bought the route and advised
with his mother afterward, only to find that she had
sent the seller to him. Honors were even.
His business was to deliver the papers with precision.
Later he took on the Boston papers, also. This
is what gave rise to the story that Henry Rogers was
He was a newsboy, but he was a newsboy
extraordinary. He took orders for advertisements
for the “Standard,” and was also the Fairhaven
correspondent, supplying the news as to who was visiting
whom; giving names of good citizens who were shingling
their chicken-houses, and mentioning those enjoying
poor health. Whether the news did anybody any
good or not matters little the boy was learning
to write. In after-years he used to refer to
this period of his life as his “newspaper career.”
Superstitious persons have been agitated about that
word “Standard,” and how it should have
ominously come into the life of H. H. Rogers at this
When the railroad came in, Henry got
a job as assistant baggageman. The conductorship
was in sight twenty years away, but promised
positively by a kind relative when something
else appeared on the horizon, and a good job was exchanged
for a better one.
An enterprising Boston man had established
a chain of grocery-stores along the coast, and was
monopolizing the business or bidding fair to do so.
By buying for many stores, he could buy cheaper than
any other one man could. But the main point of
the plan was the idea of going to the home, taking
the order and delivering the goods. Before that,
if you wanted things you went to the store, selected
them and carried them home. To have asked the
storekeeper to deliver the goods to your house would
have given that gentleman heart-failure. He did
mighty well to carry in stock the things that people
needed. But here was a revolutionary method a
new deal. Henry Rogers’ father said it was
initiative gone mad, and would last only a few weeks.
Henry Rogers’ mother said otherwise, and Henry
agreed with her. He had clerked in his father’s
grocery, and so knew something of the business.
Moreover, he knew the people he knew every
family in Fairhaven by name, and almost every one
for six miles around as well.
He started in at three dollars a week,
taking orders and driving the delivery-wagon.
In six months his pay was five dollars a week and a
commission. In a year he was making twenty dollars
a week. He was only eighteen slim,
tall, bronzed and strong. He could carry a hundred
pounds on his shoulder. The people along the route
liked him: he was cheerful and accommodating.
Not only did he deliver the things,
but he put them away in cellar, barn, closet, garret
or cupboard. He did not only what he was paid
to do, but more. He anticipated Ali Baba, who
said, “Folks who never do any more than they
get paid for, never get paid for anything more than
they do.” It was the year Eighteen Hundred
Fifty-nine, and Henry Rogers was making money.
He owned his route, and the manager of the stores was
talking about making him assistant superintendent.
Had he stuck to his job he might have become a partner
in the great firm of Cobb, Bates and Yerxa, and put
Bates to the bad. It would have then been Cobb,
Rogers and Yerxa and later, H. H. Rogers,
Dealer in Staple and Fancy Groceries. But something
happened about this time that shook New Bedford to
its center, and gave Fairhaven a thrill.
Whale-oil was whale-oil then, and
whale-oil and New Bedford were synonymous. Now,
a man out in Pennsylvania had bored down into the
ground and struck a reservoir. A sort of spouting
sperm-whale! But with this important difference:
whales spout sea-water, while this gusher spouted
whale-oil, or something just as good.
The year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine
is an unforgetable date a date that ushers
in the Great American Renaissance, in which we now
live. Three very important events occurred that
year. One was the hanging of Old John Brown,
who was fifty-nine years old, and thus not so very
old. This event made a tremendous stir in Fairhaven,
just as it did everywhere, especially in rural districts.
The second great event that happened in Eighteen Hundred
Fifty-nine was the publication of a book by a man
born in Eighteen Hundred Nine, the same year that Lincoln
was born. The man’s name was Charles Darwin,
and his book was “The Origin of Species.”
His volume was to do for the theological world what
John Brown’s raid did for American politics.
The third great event that occurred in Eighteen Hundred
Fifty-nine was when a man by the name of Edwin L.
Drake, Colonel by grace, bored a well and struck “rock-oil”
at Titusville, Pennsylvania.
At that time “rock-oil”
or “coal-oil” was no new thing. It
had been found floating on the water of streams in
West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
There were rumors that some one in
digging for salt had tapped a reservoir of oil that
actually flowed a stream. There were oil-springs
around Titusville and along Oil Creek. The oil
ran down on the water and was skimmed off by men in
boats. Several men were making modest fortunes
by bottling the stuff and selling it as medicine.
In England it was sold as “American Natural
Oil,” and used for a liniment. The Indians
had used it, and the world has a way of looking to
aborigines for medicine, even if not for health.
Spiritualistic mediums and doctors bank heavily on
Indians. This natural oil was known to be combustible.
Out of doors it helped the campfire. But if burned
indoors it made a horrible smoke and a smell to conjure
with. Up to that time whale-oil mostly had been
used for illuminating and lubricating purposes.
But whale-oil was getting too high for plain people.
It looked as if there were a “whale trust.”
Some one sent a bottle of this “natural”
oil down to Professor Silliman of Yale to have it
analyzed. Professor Silliman reported that the
oil had great possibilities if refined, both as a luminant
and as a lubricant.
To refine it, a good man who ran a
whisky-still tried his plan of the worm that never
dies, with the oil. The vapor condensed and was
caught in the form of an oil that was nearly white.
This oil burned with a steady flame, if protected
by a lamp-chimney.
Rock-oil in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-eight
was worth twenty dollars a barrel. Lumbermen
out of a job turned skimmers, and often collected a
barrel a day, becoming as it were members of the cult
known as the Predatory Rich.
This is what tempted Colonel Drake
to bore his well, and see if he might possibly strike
the vein that was making the skimmers turn octopi.
It took Drake nearly a year to drill his well.
He met with various obstacles and difficulties, but
on August Twenty-second, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine,
that neck of the woods was electrified by the news
that Drake’s Folly was gushing rock-oil.
Soon there were various men busily
boring all round the neighborhood, with the aid of
spring-poles and other rude devices. Several struck
it rich, but many had their labor for their pains.
One man was getting sixty-five barrels a day and selling
the oil for eighteen dollars a barrel.
The trouble was to transport the oil.
Barrels were selling for five dollars each, and there
were no tanks. This was a lumber country, with
no railroads within a hundred miles. One enterprising
man went down to Pittsburgh and bought a raft-load
of barrels, which he towed up the Allegheny River
to the mouth of Oil Creek. Then for ten dollars
a day he hired farmers with teams to take the barrels
to Titusville and fill them and bring them back.
The oil was floated down to Pittsburgh and sold at
a big profit. Stills were made to refine the oil,
which was sold to the consumer at seventy-five cents
a gallon. The heavy refuse-oils were thrown away.
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty began the
making of lamp-chimneys, a most profitable industry.
The chimneys sold for fifty cents each, and with the
aid of Sir Isaac Newton’s invention did not long
survive life’s rude vicissitudes.
Men were crowding into the oil country,
lured by the tales of enormous fortunes and rich finds.
No one could say what you might discover by digging
down into the ground. One man claimed to have
struck a vein of oyster-soup. And anyway he sold
oyster-soup over his counter at a dollar a dish.
Gas-gushers were lighted and burned without compunction
as to waste. Gamblers were working overtime.
The first railroad into the oil country
came from Pittsburgh, and was met with fight and defiance
by the Amalgamated Brotherhood of Teamsters, who saw
their business fading away. The farmers, too,
opposed the railroad, as they figured that it meant
an end to horse-flesh, except as an edible. But
the opposition wore itself out, and the railroads
replaced its ripped-up rails, and did business on its
grass-grown right of way and streaks of rust.
The second railroad came from Cleveland,
which city was a natural distributing-point to the
vast consuming territory lying along the Great Lakes.
John D. Rockefeller, a clerk in a
Cleveland commission-house, became interested in the
oil business in Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two. He
was then twenty-three years old, and had five hundred
dollars in the bank saved from his wages. He
put this money into a refining-still at Titusville,
with several partners, all workingmen. John peddled
the product and became expert on “pure white”
and “straw color.” He also saw that
a part of the so-called refuse could be re-treated
and made into a product that was valuable for lubricating
Other men about the same time made
a like discovery. It was soon found that refined
oil could not be shipped with profit; the barrels often
had to be left in the sunshine or exposed to the weather,
and transportation facilities were very uncertain.
The still was then torn out and removed to Cleveland.
The oil business was a most hazardous
one. Crude oil had dropped from twenty dollars
a barrel to fifty cents a barrel. No one knew
the value of oil, for no one knew the extent of the
supply. An empty barrel was worth two dollars,
and the crude oil to fill it could be bought for less
than half that.
At twenty-one, two voices were calling
to Henry Rogers: love of country and business
ambition. The war was coming and New England patriotism
burned deep in the Rogers heart. But this young
man knew that he had a genius for trade. He was
a salesman that is to say, he was a diplomat
and an adept in the management of people. Where
and how could he use his talent best?
When Sumter was fired upon, it meant
that no ship flying the Stars and Stripes was safe.
The grim aspect of war came home to New Bedford with
a reeling shock, when news arrived that a whaler,
homeward bound, had been captured, towed into Charleston
Harbor, and the ship and cargo confiscated. It
was a blow of surprise to the captain and sailors on
this ship, too, for they had been out three years and
knew nothing of what was going on at home. Then
certain Southern privateers got lists of the New England
whale-ships that were out, and lay in wait for them
as whalers lie in wait for the leviathan.
Prices of whale-oil soared like balloons.
New England ships at home tied up close or else were
pressed into government service. The high price
of oil fanned the flame of speculation in Pennsylvania.
Henry H. Rogers was twenty-one.
It was a pivotal point in his life. He was in
love with the daughter of the captain of a whaler.
They were neighbors and had been schoolmates together.
Henry talked it over with Abbie Gifford it
was war or the oil-fields of Pennsylvania! And
love had its way, just as it usually has. The
ayes had it, and with nearly a thousand dollars of
hard-earned savings he went to the oil-fields.
At that time most of the crude oil was shipped to
tidewater and there refined. In the refining
process, only twenty-five per cent of the product
was saved, seventy-five per cent being thrown away
as worthless. It struck young Rogers that the
refining should be done at the wells, and the freight
on that seventy-five per cent saved. To that end
he entered into a partnership with Charles Ellis,
and erected a refinery between Titusville and Oil
Rogers learned by doing. He was
a practical refiner, and soon became a scientific
one. The first year he and Ellis divided thirty
thousand dollars between them.
In the Fall of Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two,
when he went back to Fairhaven to claim his bride,
Rogers was regarded as a rich man. His cruise
to Pennsylvania had netted him as much as half a dozen
whales. The bride and groom returned at once
to Pennsylvania and the simple life. Henry and
Abbie lived in a one-roomed shack on the banks of Oil
Creek. It was love in a cottage all right, with
an absolute lack of everything that is supposed to
make up civilization. It wasn’t exactly
hardship, for nothing is really hardship to lovers
in their twenties but separation. Still they
thought, talked and dreamed of the bluefish, the blueberries,
the blue waters, and the sea-breezes of Fairhaven.
About this time, Charles Pratt of
Brooklyn, a dealer and refiner of oils, appeared upon
the horizon. Pratt had bought whale-oil of Ellis
in Fairhaven. Pratt now contracted for the entire
output of Rogers and Ellis at a fixed price.
All went well for a few months, when crude suddenly
took a skyward turn, owing to the manipulation of speculators.
Rogers and Ellis had no wells and were at the mercy
of the wolves. They struggled on, trying to live
up to their contract with Pratt, but soon their surplus
was wiped out, and they found themselves in debt to
Pratt to the tune of several thousand dollars.
Rogers went on to New York and saw
Pratt, personally assuming the obligation of taking
care of the deficit. Ellis disappeared in the
The manly ways of Rogers so impressed
Pratt that he decided he needed just such a man in
his business. A bargain was struck, and Rogers
went to work for Pratt. The first task of young
Rogers was to go to Pennsylvania and straighten out
the affairs of the Pennsylvania Salt Company, of which
Pratt was chief owner. The work was so well done
that Pratt made Rogers foreman of his Brooklyn refinery.
It was twenty-five dollars a week,
with a promise of a partnership if sales ran over
fifty thousand dollars a year.
How Henry Rogers moved steadily from
foreman to manager, and then superintendent of Pratt’s
Astral Oil Refinery, is one of the fairy-tales of
America. Pratt finally gave Rogers an interest
in the business, and Rogers got along on his twenty-five
dollars a week, although the books showed he was making
ten thousand dollars a year. He worked like a
pack-mule. His wife brought his meals to the “works,”
and often he would sleep but three hours a night,
as he could snatch the time, rolled up in a blanket
by the side of a still.
Then comes John D. Rockefeller from
Cleveland, with his plans of co-operation and consolidation.
Pratt talked it over with Rogers, and they decided
that the combination would steady the commercial sails
and give ballast to the ship. They named their
own terms. The Rockefellers sneezed, and
then coughed. The next day John D. Rockefeller
came back and quietly accepted the offer exactly as
Rogers had formulated it.
The terms were stiff, but Rockefeller,
a few years later, got even with the slightly arrogant
Rogers by passing him this: “I would have
paid you and Pratt twice as much if you had demanded
it.” “Which you are perfectly safe
in saying now since the past is a dry hole.”
And they shook hands solemnly. Rockefeller ordered
a glass of milk and Rogers took ginger-ale.
Rockefeller was only one year older
than Rogers, but seemed twenty. John D. Rockefeller
was always old and always discreet; he never lost his
temper; he was warranted non-explosive from childhood.
Henry Rogers at times was spiritual benzine.
In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-two there
were twenty-six separate oil-refineries in Cleveland.
Refined oil sold to the consumer for twenty cents
a gallon; and much of it was of an unsafe and uncertain
quality it was what you might call erratic.
Some of the refineries were poorly equipped, and fire
was a factor that made the owners sit up nights when
they should have been asleep. Insurance was out
of the question.
One of these concerns was the Acme
Oil Company, of which John D. Archbold was President.
Its capital was forty thousand dollars, some of which
had been paid in, in cash. William Rockefeller
was at the head of still another company; and John
D. Rockefeller, brother of William, and two years
older, had an interest in three more concerns.
Outbidding each other for supplies,
hiring each other’s men, with a production made
up of a multiplicity of grades, made the business one
of chaotic uncertainty. The rule was “dog
Then it was that John D. Rockefeller
conceived the idea of combining all the companies
in Cleveland and as many elsewhere as possible, under
the name of The Standard Oil Company. The corporation
was duly formed with a capital of one million dollars.
The Pratt Oil Company, with principal works in Brooklyn,
but a branch in Cleveland, was one of the twenty concerns
that were absorbed. The stocks of the various
concerns were taken up and paid for in Standard Oil
And so it happened that Henry H. Rogers,
aged thirty-two, found himself worth a hundred thousand
dollars, not in cash, but in shares that were supposed
to be worth par, and should pay, if rightly managed,
seven or eight per cent. He was one of the directors
in the new company.
It was an enviable position for any
young man. Of course there were the wiseheimers
then as now, and statements were made that The Pratt
Oil Company had been pushed to the wall, and would
shortly have its neck wrung by John D. Rockefeller
and have to start all over. But these prophets
knew neither Rockefeller nor Rogers, and much less
the resources and wants of the world. In very
truth, neither the brothers Rockefeller, Rogers, nor
Archbold, nor any one of that score of men who formed
The Standard Oil Company, ever anticipated, even in
their wildest dreams, the possibilities in the business.
The growth of America in men and money has been a
thing unguessed and unprophesied. Thomas Jefferson
seemed to have had a more prophetic eye than any one
else, but he never imagined the railroads, pipe-lines,
sky-scrapers, iron steamships, telegraphs, telephones,
nor the use of electricity and concrete. He did,
however, see our public-school system, and he said
that “by the year Nineteen Hundred the United
States will have a population of fifty million people.”
This is why he made that real-estate deal with Napoleon,
which most Americans of the time thought a bad bargain.
Rogers had great hope and an exuberant imagination,
but the most he saw for himself was an income of five
thousand dollars a year, and a good house, unencumbered,
with a library and a guest-room. In addition,
he expected to own a horse and buggy. He would
take care of the horse himself, and wash the buggy,
also grease the axles. In fact, his thoughts were
on flowers, books, education, and on cultivating his
John D. Rockefeller was sorely beset
by business burdens. The Standard Oil Company
had moved its headquarters to New York City, where
its business was largely exporting. The brothers
Rockefeller found themselves swamped under a mass
of detail. Power flows to the men who can shoulder
it, and burdens go to those who can carry them.
Here was a business without precedent,
and all growing beyond human thought. To meet
the issues as they arise the men at the head must grow
with the business.
Rogers could make decisions, and he
had strength like silken fiber. He could bend,
but never break. His health was perfect; his mind
was fluid; he was alive and alert to all new methods
and plans; he had great good-cheer, and was of a kind
to meet men and mold them. He set a pace which
only the very strong could follow, but which inspired
all. John D. Rockefeller worked himself to a
physical finish, twenty years ago; and his mantle
fell by divine right on “H. H.” with
John D. Archbold as understudy.
Since John D. Rockefeller slipped
out from under the burden of active management of
The Standard Oil Company, about the year Eighteen Hundred
Eighty-eight, the business has more than quadrupled.
John D. Rockefeller never got mad,
and Rogers and Archbold made it a rule never to get
mad at the same time. When the stress and strife
began to cause Rockefeller to lose his hair and his
appetite, he once pulled down his long upper lip and
placidly bewailed his inability to take a vacation.
Like many another good man, he thought his presence
was a necessity to the business.
“Go on with you,” said
H. H.; “am I not here? Then there is Archbold he
is always Johnny on the spot.” Rockefeller
smiled a sphinx-like smile, as near as he ever came
to indulging in a laugh, and mosied out of the room.
That night he went up to the Catskills. The next
day a telegram came from Rockefeller addressed to
“Johnny-on-the-Spot, Twenty-six Broadway.”
The message was carried directly to John D. Archbold,
without question, and duly receipted for.
Since then the phrase has become almost
a classic; but few people there be who know that it
was Rogers who launched it, or who generally are aware
that the original charter member of the On-the-Spot
Club was Johnny Archbold.
H. H. Rogers was a trail-maker, and
as a matter of course was not understanded of the
people who hug close to the friendly backlog and talk
of other days and the times that were.
Rogers was an economist perhaps
the greatest economist of his time. And an economist
deals with conditions, not theories; facts, not fancies.
A few years ago, all retail grocers
sold kerosene. The kerosene-can with its spud
on the spout was a household sign. Moreover, we
not only had kerosene in the can, but we had it on
the loaf of bread, and on almost everything that came
from the grocer’s. For, if the can did not
leak, it sweat, and the oil of gladness was on the
hands and clothes of the clerk. The grocers lifted
no howl when the handling of kerosene was taken out
of their hands. In truth, they were never so happy,
as kerosene was hazardous to handle and entailed little
profit the stuff was that cheap! Besides
that, a barrel of forty-two gallons measured out to
the user about thirty-eight gallons. Loaded into
cars, bumped out, lying in the sun on station-platforms,
it always and forever hunted the crevices. Schemes
were devised to line the inside of barrels with rosin,
but always the stuff stole forth to freedom. Freight,
cartage, leakage, cooperage and return of barrels
meant loss of temper, trade and dolodocci. Realizing
all these things, H. H. Rogers, aided by his able
major-general, John D. Archbold, revolutionized the
The man who now handles your kerosene
does not handle your sugar. He is a specialist.
In every town in America of more than
one thousand people is a Standard Oil agency.
The oil is delivered from tank-cars into iron tanks.
From there it is piped into tank-wagons. This
wagon comes to your door, and the gentlemanly agent
sees that your little household tank is kept filled.
All you have to do is to turn a faucet. Aye, in
this pleasant village of East Aurora is a Standard
Oil agent who will fill your lamp and trim the wick,
provided you buy your lamps, chimneys and wicks of
And this service is Standard Oil Service it
extends from Halifax to San Diego; from New Orleans
to Hudson Bay. In very truth, it covers the world.
This service, with prohibition in
the South, has ruined the cooper’s trade, the
trade that introduced H. M. Flagler into the Standard
The investment in cooperage used in
the oil business has shrunk from a hundred millions
to less than five millions, while the traffic in oil
And the germ of this service to the
consumer came from the time when Henry Rogers worked
a grocery route for a co-operative concern that cut
out the expensive middleman and instead focused on
a faultless service to the consumer.
The name “petroleum” is
Latin. The word has been in use since the time
of Pliny, who lived neighbor to Paul in Rome, when
the Apostle abided in his own hired house, awaiting
trial under an indictment for saying things about
the Established Religion.
Until within sixty years, the world
thought that petroleum was one simple substance.
Now we find it is a thousand, mixed and fused and
blended in the crucible of Time.
Science sifts, separates, dissolves,
analyzes, classifies. The perfumes gathered by
the tendrils of violet and rose, in their divine desire
for expression, are found in petroleum. Aye,
the colors and all the delicate tints of petal, of
stamen and of pistil, are in this substance stored
in the dark recesses of the earth.
Petroleum has yielded up over two
thousand distinct substances, wooed by the loving,
eager caress of the chemist. All the elements
that go to make up the earth are there. Hundreds
of articles used in commerce and in our daily lives
are gotten from petroleum. To secure these in
a form fit for daily use was the tireless task of
Henry H. Rogers. Not by his own hands, of course,
for life is too short for that, but the universities
of the round world have been called upon for their
men of brains.
Rogers’ business was to discover
men. This is a phase of the history of The Standard
Oil Company that has not yet been written, but which
is of vastly greater importance than the motions of
well-meaning but non-producing attorneys, whose mental
processes are “dry holes.”
“Science is classification,”
said Aristotle to his bad boy pupil, Alexander, three
hundred forty years before Christ. “Science
is commonsense classified,” said Herbert Spencer.
“Science eliminates the worthless and the useless
and then makes use of it in something else,”
said Thomas A. Edison.
H. H. Rogers utilized the worthless;
and the dividends of The Standard Oil Company are
largely a result of cashing-in by-products. Rogers
not only rendered waste products valuable, but he
utilized human energies, often to the great surprise
of the owner.
That gentle Tarbell slant to the effect
that “even the elevator-boys in The Standard
Oil offices are hired with an idea of their development,”
is a great compliment to a man who was not only a great
businessman, but a great teacher. And all influential
men are teachers whether they know it or
not. Perhaps we are all teachers of
good or ill I really do not know.
But the pedagogic instinct was strong
in Rogers. He barely escaped a professorship.
He built schoolhouses, and if he had had time he would
have taught in them. He looked at any boy, not
for what he was, but for what he might become.
He analyzed every man, not for what he was, but for
what he might have been, or what he would be.
Humanity was Rogers’ raw stock,
not petroleum. And his success hinged on bringing
humanity to bear on petroleum, or, if you please, by
mixing brains with rock-oil, somewhat as Horace Greeley
advised the farmer to mix brains with his compost.
In judging a man we must in justice
to ourselves ask, “What effect has this man’s
life, taken as a whole, had on the world?”
To lift out samples here and there
and hold them up does not give us the man, any more
than a sample brick gives you a view of the house.
And viewing the life of Rogers for years, from the
time he saw the light of a whale-oil lamp in Fairhaven,
to the man as we behold him now, we must acknowledge
his initiative and his power. He gave profitable
work to millions. He directly made homes and
comforts possible for thousands upon thousands.
He helped the young, without number, to find themselves
in their work and at their work. In a material
way he added vast millions to the wealth of the world
by the utilization of products which were considered
He gloried in the fresh air, in the
blasts of Winter, or in the zéphyrs of Spring.
The expanse of heaving, tossing ice was just as beautiful
to him as the smooth flow of Hendrick Hudson’s
waters, as they hasten to the sea.
The storied “Twenty-six Broadway”
is no den of ogres, no gambling-resort of dark
and devious ways. It is simply an office-building,
full of busy men and women workers who waste
neither time nor money. You will find there no
figureheads, no gold lace, no pomps and ceremonies.
If you have business there, you locate your man without
challenge. All is free, open, simple and direct.
On the top floor is a restaurant,
where all lunch in a common, fraternal way, jolly
and jocund, as becomes men who carry big burdens.
The place is democratic to a fault,
for the controlling spirits of Twenty-six Broadway
are men who have come by a rocky road, having conquered
great difficulties, overcome great obstacles, and while
often thirsting for human sympathy have nevertheless
been able to do without it.
Success is apt to sour, for it begets
an opposition that is often cruel and unjust.
Reorganization gives the demagogue his chance; and
often his literary lyddite strikes close.
But Rogers was great enough to know
that the penalty of success must be paid. He
took his medicine, and smiled.
Time was when a millionaire was a
man worth a million dollars. But that day is
Next, a millionaire was a man who
made a million dollars a year. That, too, is
obsolete. The millionaire now is the man who spends
a million dollars a year. In this new and select
class, a class which does not exist outside of America,
H. H. Rogers was a charter member.
“He was a royal gentleman,”
said Booker T. Washington to me. “When I
was in need, I held H. H. Rogers in reserve until
all others failed me, then I went to him and frankly
told my needs. He always heard me through, and
then told me to state the figure. He never failed
Rogers gave with a lavish hand, but
few of his benefactions, comparatively, were known.
The newspapers have made much of his throwing a hawser
to Mark Twain and towing the Humorist off a financial
sand-bar. Also, we have heard how he gave Helen
Keller to the world; for without the help of H. H.
Rogers that wonderful woman would still be like unto
the eyeless fish in the Mammoth Cave. As it is,
her soul radiates an inward light and science stands
uncovered. But there were very many other persons
and institutions that received very tangible benefits
from the hands of H. H. Rogers.
One method he had of giving help to
ambitious young men was to invest in stock in companies
that were not quite strong enough financially to weather
a gale. And very often these were very bad investments.
Had Rogers stuck to Standard Oil his fortune would
have been double what it was. But for the money
he did not much care he played the game.
Mr. Rogers was too wise to give to
individuals. He knew that mortal tendency referred
to by Saint Andre de Ligereaux as “Hubbard’s
Law,” or the Law of Altruistic Injury.
This law provides that whenever you do for a person
a service which he is able and should do for himself,
you work him a wrong instead of a benefit. H.
H. Rogers sought to give opportunity, not things.
When he invested a million dollars in a tack-factory
in Fairhaven, it was with intent to supply employment
to every man or woman, or boy or girl, in Fairhaven,
who desired work.
He wanted to make poverty inexcusable.
Yet he realized that there were cases where age and
disease had sapped the person’s powers, and to
such he gave by stealth, or through friends whom he
loved and trusted. Mrs. W. P. Winsor, of Fairhaven,
for instance, worked days and months overtime on the
bidding of Mr. Rogers, caring for emergency cases,
where girls and boys were struggling to get an education
and care for aged parents and invalid brothers and
sisters; or where Fate had been unkind and God, seemingly,
Houses were painted, mortgages were
lifted, taxes paid, monuments erected, roadways laid
out, books furnished, trees planted, ditches dug,
bathrooms installed, swamps drained, bridges built,
in hundreds of instances.
This is not philanthropy of a high
order, perhaps, but Rogers hated both the words “charitable”
and “philanthropic” as applied to himself.
All he claimed to be was a businessman who paid his
debts and who tried to make others pay theirs.
The people he helped were the people he knew, or had
known, and they were folks who had helped him.
He never forgot a benefit nor a wrong.
He was a very human individual. To give to a
person where the account is not balanced by a mutual
service is, probably, to add an enemy to your list.
You have uncovered the weakness of your man he
is an incompetent and he will never forgive
you for making the discovery.
When H. H. Rogers paid off Mark Twain’s
indebtedness to the tune of ninety thousand dollars,
he did not scratch a poet and find an ingrate.
What he actually discovered was a philosopher and a
prophet without a grouch.
Somewhere I have said that there were
only two men in America who could be safely endowed.
One is Luther Burbank and the other Booker T. Washington.
These men have both made the world their debtors.
They are impersonal men sort of human media
through which Deity is creating. They ask for
nothing: they give everything.
Mark Twain belongs in the same select
list. The difference between Mark Twain and Luther
Burbank is this: Mark hoes his spiritual acreage
in bed, while Luther Burbank works in the garden.
Luther produces spineless cacti, while Mark gives
spineless men a vertebra. Mark makes us laugh,
in order that he may make us think.
The last time I saw H. H. Rogers was
in his office at Twenty-six Broadway. Out through
a half-doorway, leading into a private conference-room,
I saw a man stretched out on a sofa asleep. A
great shock of white hair spread out over the pillow
that held his head; and Huck Finn snores of peace,
in rhythmic measures, filled the room.
Mr. Rogers noticed my glance in the
direction of the Morpheus music. He smiled and
said, “It’s only Mark he’s
taking a little well-earned rest he was
born tired, you know.”
If Mark Twain were not a rich man
himself, rich in mines of truth, fields of uncut fun,
and argosies sailing great spiritual seas, coming
into port laden with commonsense, he would long since
have turned on his benefactor and nailed his hide
on the barn-door of obliquity. As it is, Mark
takes his own, just as Socrates did from Mr. and Mrs.
Pericles. Aye, or as did Bronson Alcott, who
once ran his wheelbarrow into the well-kept garden
of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Orphic One was loading
up with potatoes, peas, beans and one big yellow pumpkin,
when he glanced around and saw the man who wrote “Self-Reliance”
gazing at him seriously and steadily over the garden-wall.
The father of the author of “Little Women”
winced, but bracing up, gave back stare for stare,
and in a voice flavored with resentment and defiance
said, “I need them!”
And the owner of the garden grew abashed
before that virtuous gaze, murmured apologies, and
retreated in good order.
And Mark Twain used to explain it
thus: “You see, it is like this: Rogers
furnishes the plans and I foot the bills.”
And this was all there was about it. Only a big
man can take his own without abasement.
Mark Twain has made two grins grow
where there was only a growl before. I don’t
care where he gets his vegetables nor where
he takes a well-earned nap and neither
The average millionaire believes in
education, because he has heard the commodity highly
recommended in the newspapers. Usually, he is
a man who has not had college advantages, and so he
is filled with the fallacy that he has dropped something
out of his life. We idealize the things that
are not ours. H. H. Rogers was an exception he
was at home in any company. He took little on
faith. He analyzed things for himself. And
his opinion was that the old-line colleges tended to
destroy individuality and smother initiative.
He believed that the High School was the key to the
situation, and to carry the youth beyond this was to
run the risk of working his ruin. “The boy
who leaves the High School at seventeen, and enters
actual business, stands a much better chance of success
than does the youth who comes out of college at twenty-one,
with the world yet before him,” he said.
He himself was one of the first class
that graduated from the old Fairhaven Grammar School.
He realized that his success in life came largely
from the mental ammunition that he had gotten there,
and from the fact that he made a quick use of his
knowledge. Yet he realized that the old Fairhaven
High or Grammar School was not a model institution.
“It has a maximum of discipline and a minimum
of inspiration,” he used to say. The changing
order of education found a quick response in his heart.
He never brooded over his lack of advantages.
On the other hand, he used often to refer to the fact
that his childhood was ideal. But all around
he saw children whose surroundings were not ideal,
and these he longed to benefit and bless.
And so in Eighteen Hundred Eighty,
when he was forty years of age, he built a Grammar
Manual-Training School and presented it to the town.
It was called the Rogers School. Such a gift
to a town is enough to work the local immortality
of the giver. But the end was not yet. In
a few years, Rogers or Mrs. Rogers, to
be exact presented to the village a Town
Hall, beautiful and complete, at a cost of something
over two hundred fifty thousand dollars. Next
came the Millicent Public Library, in memory of a
When his mother passed away, as a
memorial to her he built a church and presented it
to the Unitarian denomination. It is probably
the most complete and artistic church in America.
Its cost was a million dollars.
The Fairhaven Waterworks System was
a present from Mr. Rogers. And lastly was the
Fairhaven High School, as fair and fine an edifice,
and as completely equipped, as genius married to money
could supply. The only rival this school has
in America is the Stout High School in Menominee,
Wisconsin, which is also the gift of an individual.
No municipality in the world has ever erected and
completed so good a school the taxpayers
would not allow it. Into our schoolteaching go
the cheese-paring policies of the average villager.
In truth, George Bernard Shaw avers that we are a
nation of villagers.
The big deeds of the world are always
done by individuals. One-man power is the only
thing that counts. The altruistic millionaire
is a necessity of progress he does magnificent
things, which the many will not and can not do.
So we find the model town of Fairhaven molded and fashioned
by her First Citizen. Everywhere are the marks
of his personality, and the tangible signs of his
The only political office to which
Henry H. Rogers ever aspired was that of Street Commissioner
of Fairhaven. He filled the office to the satisfaction
of his constituents, and drew his stipend of three
dollars a day for several years. Good roads was
his hobby. Next to this came tree-planting and
flowers. His dream was to have the earth transformed
into a vast flower-garden and park and given to the
His last item of public work was an
object-lesson as to what the engineering skill of
man can do. He took a great bog or swamp that
lay to the north of the village and was used as a
village dumping-ground. He drained this tract,
filled in with gravel, and then earth, and transformed
it into a public park of marvelous beauty.
The last great business effort of
H. H. Rogers was the building of the Virginian Railroad.
This road connects the great coal-fields of West Virginia
with tidewater. The route is four hundred forty-three
miles long. “By this line a thousand million
dollars’ worth of coal is made available to
the world,” said a great engineer to me.
And then he added, “It will take twenty years,
however, to prove fully the truth of H. H. Rogers’
prophetic vision.” This was the herculean
task of a man in his thirties not for one
approaching his seventieth milestone.
But Rogers built this road alone.
He constructed and equipped it in a style so complete
that it has set a pace in railroading. You who
know the history of railroads realize that the first
thing is to get the line through. Two streaks
of rust, a teakettle, and a right of way make a railroad.
This allows you to list your bonds. But H. H.
Rogers had neither bonds nor stock for sale.
What other man ever put forty millions of money and
his lifeblood into a railroad? Was the work worth
the price? It were vain to ask. The work
is done, the man is dead; and that his death was hastened
by the work no one can doubt.
Rogers had the invincible heart of
youth. He died as he had lived, always and forever
in the thick of the fight. He had that American
trinity of virtues, pluck, push and perseverance.
Courage, endurance, energy, initiative, ambition,
industry, good-cheer, sympathy and wonderful executive
ability were his attributes.