Read CHAPTER XXXII of Twenty Years of Hus'ling , free online book, by J. P. Johnston, on


A few days later our old Doctor was up and around, and called to see me. He diagnosed my case, and pronounced my lungs perfectly sound; and declared that if I should live an hundred years I’d never have lung trouble. He informed me that I was suffering from a complication of diseases, and general debility caused by over-work and the general excitement and hus’ling naturally attending my business; and assured me that with the energy and determination I showed in my disposition to get well, he would bring me out all right. He was much surprised, however, when called a few days later, to find me completely floored and suffering terribly. His action showed that the case was more serious than he thought. But he brought me out in very good shape in about three months.

I had previously used a part of my money in paying old debts, and part in supplying my family with suitable clothing; and after paying my doctor and druggist bills, found myself again without a dollar, when ready to start out on the fifteenth of June.

I then wrote to a young man who had lived with my parents several years, and whom I had educated in the polish business and who was then selling it through Indiana, and asked him to loan me twenty-five dollars, if he could spare it.

He immediately sent a draft for that amount, and stated in his letter that he had just eighty-five cents left, but was glad to accommodate me. In reply to his letter I assured him that I was certain of success in the jewelry business, and that as soon as I again established myself in it, and could see a chance for him, I would send for him and give him the benefit of my experience.

About a year later I brought this about; and having established a fair credit myself I had no difficulty in also establishing a credit for Albert, which he used to good advantage by hus’ling and selling lots of goods.

Later on, after I had opened a store of my own, I supplied him with goods for some time, extending all the credit he needed. This same young man is now proprietor of a wholesale jewelry house in Chicago; and I dare say that only for his prompt and liberal action in responding to my request for a loan of twenty-five dollars, there would be no such firm in existence at the present time. Therefore it illustrates how a single instance will prove the turning point in a man’s life.

Albert came to our house while we were living at the old homestead on the farm, when he was but a small boy. He was an orphan, and had left a farmer living a few miles away, whom he had lived with for some time.

The night he came there I happened home from one of my speculative trips, and after talking with the lad, asked my folks what they were going to do with him. They said he could stay over night, and after breakfast they would send him on his way rejoicing.

I urged them to let him stay, convinced that he would be of great assistance on the farm. They concluded to give him a trial, with the satisfactory result as stated above.

If the reader will pardon me more for digressing from the subject, I will here relate a little incident that occurred on the day of Albert’s arrival in the city. It only goes to show how the average young man will wriggle and tax his brain in order to get out of a tight box.

It often afforded us much amusement when narrating it, as being his initiation into the great city of Chicago. He had written me in answer to my letter, that he was ready to start at any time; and as I had received an invitation to attend a ball to be given in the city on the South Side on a certain day, I wrote him to be on hand at that time and I would meet him.

By this time I had begun selling goods on credit, and very often run a little short for cash; and it so happened that in this particular instance I arrived in the city at seven o’clock in the evening, with less than five dollars in my pocket with which to visit the barber, and pay for our suppers and tickets for the ball.

He had written me that he would have about seventy-five dollars cash, and I felt perfectly secure to start out with him, knowing I could borrow till I could raise it the next day and pay him back.

At the ball we met a couple of young ladies, daughters of a gentleman I had become acquainted with; and as he and his wife were talking of going home early and taking the girls with them, we suggested that they leave them in our care and we would escort them home later.

This was agreed to all around, and about two o’clock, when ready to leave, I said to Albert:

“Let me have five dollars to pay for a carriage.”

“I haven’t got five dollars, nor even fifty cents.”

“But you told me in your letter that you had seventy-five dollars.”

“So I have, but it’s in a draft.”

“Well, what on earth are we to do? I have spent my last dollar. Guess we’ll have to take them home in a street-car.”

We started, and reached the corner of Randolph and Clark just as it set in to rain. Upon inquiry we learned to our dismay that all-night cars were not running on Randolph street, and that none would be running before daylight.

Just across the street, standing around the Court House as usual, were any number of hack-men.

I was completely non-plussed, and I don’t recollect ever having been placed in closer quarters, or in a position where I felt more humiliated. I thought of Albert’s draft, and stepping up to him said in a low tone as quickly as possible:

“Give me your draft and I’ll get it cashed at the Sherman House.”

He replied that it was in the hotel safe. I came near fainting, then finally said:

“Ladies, please excuse me one moment. I’ll call a carriage.”

So saying I stepped across the street, wondering on the way what I would do. I had no watch to leave as security, nor a piece of jewelry of any kind. Every thing of this sort was used by me as stock in trade. I knew better than to ask for credit, and realized that my life would be in danger to hire a carriage and undertake to “stave them off” afterwards.

So the reader will readily understand that I was at my wits’ end; but at the last moment my senses came to me, and I instantly thought of a scheme to help us out. I asked a hack-man what he would charge to take us to a certain street and number on the West Side. He said two dollars. He might as well have said two hundred. I at once found fault with the price, and managed to get into an altercation with him and three or four others, and talked loud enough for Albert and the young ladies to hear.

As I approached them I did so in a very excited manner, with my hat in one hand and a large empty pocket-book in the other, and roundly cursing all the cab-men in Chicago.

“What’s the matter?” asked one of the girls.

“Matter? Great Heavens! Do you suppose I’ll give seven dollars to one of these robbers to carry us over on the West Side?”

“Indeed you will not,” shouted the brave little lady. “We’ll walk.”

“That’s just what we will do,” I cried, as I took her by the arm and hus’led her down street, fearing she might change her mind, followed by the other couple; and we made a rapid trip, pattering through the rain and mud, congratulating ourselves on our shrewdness and courage in getting even with the Chicago cab-men.

And now, after this digression, to resume:

After receiving the twenty-five dollars from Albert, I bought a few necessaries, and a ticket for Chicago, where I arrived June fifteenth, 1881, with but a few dollars. I called immediately on a firm I had dealt with a little the year before, and of whom I could buy goods at twenty-five per cent. less than from the one I first began dealing with.

After explaining my circumstances, giving references and asking the proprietor if he would sell me some stock on credit, he said he would limit me to fifty dollars, to begin with; and would increase it as my capital increased. I considered this reasonable, and selected forty dollars’ worth. I made it a point to select just this amount on account of it having exactly the amount of my very first jewelry investment years before at Columbus, Ohio, when I started out peddling.

I then a Goodrich steamer for Muskegon, Michigan, arriving there the following morning.

I started out with a determination to sell a bill of goods; and although every merchant laughed me in my face when I showed up my stock, I kept “hus’ling,” and finally struck one man who bought twenty dollars’ worth. This enabled me to take a fifteen-dollar package from the express office which I had ordered C.O.D. from the wholesaler, after buying my first stock on credit.

I now began traveling over precisely the same territory and visiting the same towns and merchants that I had called upon the year before, when on my first trip.

On my second day out, at Holton, Michigan, while sitting in the hotel, a traveling man remarked that the firm across the street was the best in the country to do business with, if a drummer could only manage to show his goods to them; but as they visited the Chicago market every two weeks they would not under any circumstances look at a drummer’s goods.

Owing to the fact that I very much enjoyed calling on those who were the hardest to be convinced, I took special delight in making this firm a visit. I carried my case with me, and after setting it on the counter in front of the proprietor, asked permission to show him my goods. He flew into a rage, and declared he would not buy from any drummer. I still persisted, and he continued to sizzle around at a fierce rate. The more he did so the more I insisted on showing him my goods.

Finally, seeing the utter uselessness of trying to get his attention, I very quietly put the key in the lock of my case and unlocked it, and returned the key to my pocket. I then took hold of the case and as I bade him good-bye swung it around off the counter as if to leave the store. Of course the top raised up and the side lid fell down, letting the trays fall out on the floor, the same as occurred on the railroad track. The jewelry scattered all over the floor, and I began to apologize, and told him of my wretched disaster once before with the same case. I was very sorry to annoy him with such an accident. He saw at once that I was to all appearances very much embarrassed, and in a sympathetic manner assured me that there was no harm done, so far as he was concerned, and began helping me to gather up the goods.

As I picked up one piece after another I would call his attention to them, and say: “That is one of the best sellers I ever saw;” “this is the latest style;” and “here is an article of the most peculiar design I ever saw.”

In the meantime he became interested, and began asking prices; and finally gave me an order for from one-half to a dozen each of a nice assortment of goods. I at once saw that he supposed I was selling by sample, and took his order for about three times the amount of my stock in trade. I sent the order in to the house, and they filled it and gave me my commission, which amounted to nearly fifty dollars.

When I returned to the hotel and informed the gentleman whom I had gotten my information from that I had taken such an order, he was much surprised. Of course I was not so indiscreet as to relate how I had accomplished it. After I had become better acquainted with this firm, and they had become regular customers, I related the facts to them, much to their amusement.

I continued to hus’le, as before. My health was not first-class, but I improved rapidly, and was very soon in a better condition physically than I had been for years. My success was fair during the summer. I visited Chicago frequently, and succeeded in establishing a limited credit of two hundred dollars with my new firm, but found it a hard matter to accomplish that much. I made good use of it, however, and when the busy season was approaching for the fall and holiday trade I determined to strike for a larger credit. This was not only with a view to extending my business, but I realized that at the rate I was progressing, I would soon want to establish a business of my own, and unless there was some wholesale jeweler to whom I could refer the Eastern manufacturers, I would have a hard time to get a start.

When I asked the manager of the concern for an extension of credit he said I could extend it a little. I therefore began selecting a stock of goods, which I insisted on having billed as fast as I picked them out. That night, when I had finished and had the goods in my cases (I now carried two), and had them charged on the books and the bills for them in my pocket, and was about ready to start for the train, the proprietor chanced to discover that I had bought nearly one thousand dollars worth. He threw up both hands in holy horror and declared I should never leave the store with all those goods.

I informed him that the goods had been properly billed and charged to me, and I had legal possession of them; and as my train was to leave soon it was my intention to take my departure.

I pointed to the front windows and reminded him and about twenty clerks who stood looking on, that we were about three stories up, and the first man who laid a hand on me or my goods would land through one of those windows on the sidewalk below, if I had to go down with him.

Saying which, I grabbed my cases, and with the further remark: “Gentlemen, make room for me now; I am ready to start,” passed out with not a word spoken, and everything as quiet as death.

Two or three of the clerks were good friends of mine, and were only too glad to see me force a credit for myself; and I doubt if they could have been induced to interfere had Mr. Streicher demanded it.

The first town I visited on this trip was Oconto, Wisconsin, which I reached the following morning; and before nine o’clock I had made a cash sale of one hundred and fifty dollars, and went immediately to the express office and remitted it to the house. And as business was brisk I remitted from one to three hundred dollars per day to them. In a few days I received a letter from Mr. S. offering me a credit of two or three thousand dollars, if I needed it.

I congratulated myself, and no one else, for this much-needed and desirable credit, realizing that had I let him have his way I would have been ten years gaining his confidence to this extent.

I now began to “turn myself loose,” and with my nice line of goods there was no such thing as failure. I found it as easy to make a hundred dollars now, as one dollar at any previous time in my life. I visited Chicago often to buy new stock.

While speaking of Mr. Streicher (pronounced Striker), a little incident connected with his name occurred about this time, which may prove interesting to the reader.

He was about to make a trip to New York, and as Albert and myself were contemplating a visit home we concluded to accompany him that far on his journey. My folks had often heard us speak of the gentleman, so when we arrived at Toledo, Albert said he would telegraph them to meet us at the depot, as they would no doubt be glad to see him. He therefore sent a message as follows: “Meet us at the noon train with Streicher.”

The telegraph operator at Clyde “bulled” the message, and copied it, “Meet us at the noon train with stretcher.”

It so happened that I met some friends at Toledo who persuaded me to remain there till the next day. Albert and Mr. Streicher went on, and when they alighted from the train at Clyde the platform was packed with people. It being Sunday, every one had turned out. The undertaker, Mr. Terry, with his ambulance, and a stretcher placed on the platform near where the express car usually stopped, Mr. Keefer and my half-sisters greatly agitated, and my mother crying, as Albert and Mr. S. approached them, both wondering at the unusual excitement.

“Where is Perry? What has happened to Perry? Is he dead, or only hurt?”

These inquiries were made hurriedly, and when informed that nothing had happened they asked why he had telegraphed for a stretcher.

“Stretcher,” said Albert, “you’re crazy! I didn’t telegraph for a stretcher, but said meet Streicher and me at the noon train.”

When the facts became known, the assemblage seemed to look upon the matter as a good joke upon themselves, and wended their way homeward looking disgusted and disappointed, plainly showing that their morbid curiosity had not been quite satisfied.

The next day, when I arrived and had been told of the occurrence, I asked Albert what my mother said.

“Well, she said she expected Perry would be killed sooner or later any how.”

“What did Mr. Keefer say?”

“Oh, he said, ‘It beat the devil.’”

We spent a few days pleasantly at home, then returned to Chicago and to business.

I continued to travel over the same territory, visiting my old customers, whom I soon became better acquainted with, and secured as regular patrons. I visited them about once every sixty days, and at the same time worked up as much new trade as possible.

I will here tell how I made my first sale to a merchant who was notorious for “firing agents out,” and who has been my customer ever since.

I was traveling through Minnesota, and when at the hotel in a small town, became engaged In conversation with several drummers, who were all loud in their condemnation of one of the leading merchants there, who had never treated any one of them civilly. I remarked that I believed I could sell him a bill of goods. One of them said if I could he would buy me a new hat.

I went out on the street and stepped up to the first country fellow I met, and handing him a two-dollar bill, said:

“I want you to go down to Mr. ’s store and wait till I come in, and as I am about to leave the store, you ask me to sell you a finger ring, and when I offer to do so you select one and pay for it with this money, and I will give you the ring for your trouble.”

He agreed to my proposition and immediately went over to the store.

With my two cases I followed directly after him, and setting them down stepped up to the proprietor and asked permission to show my goods. He was very gruff, and refused to listen to me at all. I picked up my cases saying, “Good-bye sir,” when my country friend stepped up and said: “Mister, you are selling jewelry, I see. Can’t you sell me a ring?”

“Well, yes, I can if Mr. is willing to let me show it to you in his store.”

The merchant said he had no objection, as he had no jewelry to sell and never expected to have.

I then opened the case that contained all of my carded goods, and spread all the trays out on his counter. Not finding any rings in that case, I was obliged to open the other; and as the rings were at the very bottom I was compelled to take out every tray before reaching them. These I also spread out on his counter, and finally sold the young man a ring.

In the meantime nearly all of his customers and the store was crowded were looking at my goods and handling them over. I stepped up to the merchant, and thanking him for his kindness handed him one dollar, merely mentioning the fact very quietly that I had only one price, and that I had sold the ring at just twice the wholesale price, and the dollar belonged to him. He cried out, as he took the money:

“Good gracious! I hope you didn’t charge the man that much profit.”

I assured him that such a thing was a very common occurrence; and to further satisfy him I made several sales right then and there, and in each instance gave him half the receipts.

Again thanking him for his kindness, I began packing up when he said:

“Just wait a moment,” and stepping to the stair-way, opened the door and called to his wife to come down. She did so, and in less than two hours I had sold and delivered to them nearly three hundred dollars worth, and had the cash in my pocket.

When I reported this sale to the traveling men at the hotel they could hardly believe me, and were not wholly convinced till they called at the store and saw the jewelry.

My trade continued to be first-class during the holidays, clearing me considerable money.

I lost no time after the holidays, but kept on traveling while other drummers were laying off for the dull season, and succeeded well.

When the following spring trade opened, my business increased, and continued to be good till late in the summer, when I began to think some of opening an office in Chicago, and buying direct from the manufacturers, who are almost exclusively located at Providence, Rhode Island, and Attleboro, Massachusetts.

In July I was at Escanaba, Michigan, and happened to meet Mr. Weil, of Henry Weil & Co., wholesale jewelers of Chicago; and after half an hour’s conversation with him he showed me a line of gold rings, and sold and delivered to me right on the spot, nearly five hundred dollars’ worth on four months’ time.

I then made known to him my anxiety to open an office in Chicago, and buy direct. He said he could and would help me to do so, and offered me desk room in his office till I could afford to rent a room of my own.

The following month I visited the city and called on him, and he gave me a letter of recommendation to the eastern manufacturers. I also procured letters from several others, with whom I had had either a business or social acquaintance, and started for New York, where the manufacturers all had representatives.

On my way there I stopped at Bronson, Michigan, and at Clyde, Ohio, and paid all of my old debts, with eight per cent. per annum interest for the whole time I had owed them. I paid one man two hundred and nine dollars for a note of one hundred and forty dollars, and another man one hundred and seventy-five dollars for a note of one hundred and twenty-two; and still another ninety dollars for a note of fifty, besides various open accounts for merchandise bought, and for borrowed money; in all amounting to nearly one thousand dollars.

One gentleman I called on had almost forgotten me as well as the debt I owed him, and when I said:

“I believe you have an account against me,” he looked up over his spectacles and remarked, as though he considered me foolish to refer to it:

“Yes, but it has been outlawed for some time.”

“Did the law balance your books?” I asked.

“No sir, but it canceled the debt.”

“Indeed it did not, so far as I am concerned; and for once I’ll prove myself more powerful than the law by balancing up your books, which is something it can’t or at least won’t do.”

So saying I produced a roll of bills, and after figuring up and adding eight per cent. per annum for the entire time the account had been running, paid the amount over to him.

He said he had often censured himself for having trusted me to so much; but he was now only too sorry that it hadn’t been a great deal more, as it was the first and only money he had ever drawn interest on, and in consequence had never realized how fast it accumulated.

After settling everything up in full, I let Mr. Keefer have, at his request, one hundred and fifty dollars, and proceeded on to New York. I called at my uncle’s store immediately, for the first time since my three weeks’ stay with him when a boy. He was away on a business trip, but “the old stand,” with all its fixtures, looked exactly as they did the day I left, seventeen years before.

There seemed to be no necessity, however, for any change, as trade appeared to be more brisk than ever. I was anxious to meet my uncle and have him go with me to the manufacturers’ offices and introduce me, but as he would not be home for a couple of days I considered life too short to wait, and concluded to introduce myself.

I went down town, and the first man I met in Maiden Lane was a traveling agent, a Mr. Medbury, who visited Chicago regularly, and who recognized me while I was standing on the corner, reading signs and looking for numbers. He came up and asked if I wasn’t the fellow who carried off the bulk of Mr. Streicher’s store in my endeavor to establish a credit. I told him I was. He then took me into the office of his firm, S. & B. Lederer, and after introducing me, went on to recount what Mr. Streicher used to say whenever I visited his store.

This man, Streicher, was a little sharp Hebrew, who was always looking for the best end of the bargain, but would sell goods cheaper than any other wholesaler in the country. I saw his nature at once, and immediately became as aggressive as possible, and always ready to take my own part. The result was, it seems, that I succeeded in making it very unpleasant for him. The boys used to relate that whenever my name was mentioned, he would throw up both hands and say:

“Oh, mine Gott! Every time dot fellow come in mine store he drive me crazy. I lose my head. He carry off all my nice goods and tell me to charge; and when I say I don’t do it, he say, ’I trow you out dot tree-story window;’ and if my clerks don’t suit him he discharge them and hire new ones; if I don’t buy to suit him when agents call, then he buy to suit himself and charge to me. To the devil with such a man!”

After receiving an introduction to this firm, I presented my letters, and explained what I wanted.

They assured me that my reference was perfectly satisfactory, and they would be glad to sell me all the goods I needed in their line, and thereupon sold me the first bill of goods I purchased from the manufacturers.

During the interview I mentioned that Johnston the jeweler, on the Bowery, was an uncle of mine. One of the firm replied that that was in my favor. Thereafter I did not forget to mention him to every manufacturer I called upon; and soon learned that his original scheme of buying “Duplicate Wedding Presents” had made him widely known. I was then ready to forgive him for not having made any changes in his store during my seventeen years’ absence.

I found no difficulty in buying all the goods I needed on credit, amounting to several thousand dollars’ worth, to be shipped at once, and to be paid for in from sixty days to four months.

After receiving my stock from New York, I opened up with headquarters at Mr. Weil’s office, Number 57 Washington street, and was ready to start out on the nineteenth of September. Now came the necessity for greater hus’ling than ever, as I must be prompt in the payment of my bills, if I expected to establish myself in the confidence of the manufacturers.

With this thought uppermost in my mind I worked almost day and night, and I believe I sold as many, if not more, goods in my special line in one month than was ever sold by any one man before or since. At any rate, later on, when I had seven agents on the road, not a single one of them ever sold as many goods in a whole year as I sold the first month I traveled, after establishing business for myself.

The result was, that before my bills were due I had paid up half of my indebtedness, and when the balance came due I had the money to pay up in full, and did so. Thereafter my trade was catered for by the best of manufacturers.

To give the reader a better understanding of the hard work put in by me during that first month, I will relate one instance in which I called one of my customers out at a very dubious hour and sold him a bill of goods.

It was at Boyne City, where I had arrived at one o’clock in the morning, after having worked hard all the day and evening before in selling a couple of very large bills. On reaching there I learned that the only boat leaving for Charlevoix within the next twenty-four hours was to leave at six o’clock in the morning; and as I must make that town next, I determined to rout my Boyne City customer up at once, sell him what he needed, and take the first boat.

He lived over his store, and as there was an outside stair-way, I went up and called and rapped loudly on the door.

The dog barked furiously, and judging from the noise, must have knocked the cook-stove down, and the cat got covered up in a tin boiler and made a terrible racket; the children began screaming, and my customer’s wife shouted “murder!” at the top of her voice. I stood my ground, and kept rapping. He grabbed the old shot-gun and yelled:

“Who is there?”


“Johnston the fisherman?”


“Johnston from the lumber camp?”

“No sir, Johnston the jewelry-man.”

“From Chicago?”

“Yes sir, from Chicago; and I want to sell you a bill of jewelry right away.”

“Goodness’ sakes! Can’t you call to-morrow?”

“No sir; business is too brisk. I must sell to you to-night so I can leave on the morning boat.”

The whole family got up and came down stairs in the store, and I finished up with them about five o’clock in the morning, after selling a large bill of goods.

On my arrival at Charlevoix I found several traveling men at the hotel, and among them one who was traveling for a wholesale grocery house. While I was busy arranging my jewelry before calling on my customers, I heard this man say:

“I had big sales yesterday. I sold a car-load each of rice, nutmegs, cinnamon and pepper, besides three hundred barrels of flour, and as many chests of tea.”

On hearing this statement I immediately recognized the voice, and remembered having heard the same story before, somewhere. Upon looking at the speaker I also recognized his face, and turning to those present, said:

“Gentlemen, I know this man sold that many goods, for I heard him tell the same story at St. Mary’s, Ohio, about four years ago, and I know it’s true or he wouldn’t keep telling it.”

Of course he was offended and insulted, and denied the charge; but when I recalled to his mind the hat trade I made with him and the dollar he paid me to boot, he laughed, and said he remembered it; but he laughed more heartily when I told him it was a put-up job, and how glad I was to get the dollar. I then gave him a nice rolled-plate vest-chain an article he very much needed, and which made him feel that his dollar had been well invested.

When the first of January came I found myself in very good shape, with a satisfactory profit for my year’s work.

I now began thinking about opening an establishment of my own. About this time Mr. Weil, with whom I still made my headquarters, informed me that he was going to retire from the jewelry business, and offered to sell his large safe, all the office fixtures and a large stock of jewelry, to me, and give me all the time I needed to pay for them. As his prices were low enough, and terms all that could be desired, I jumped at the chance, and in a few days found myself in his debt several thousand dollars.

When I saw his shrewdness in picking me up a total stranger and helping to push me “to the front,” and to where he could make good use of me himself, I could but admire him for it, and felt more than ever like patronizing him, as it seemed to me like encouraging enterprise to do so. I have never had reason to regret my dealings with him, and as he is a man of large means and wide influence, and has repeatedly given me to understand that he stood ready to back me for any amount, I have reason to believe that he has no complaints to make of my business transactions.

After buying him out I rented an office and store room of my own at 243 State street where I am still located, and began a genuine wholesale jewelry business.