Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Charles M. Schwab, Self-reliance Promotes Him from $10 a Month to One Hundred Thousand a Year

Nowhere except in America, and seldom even there, could such a story as this be told. It is the story of a man who rose, without influence, from poverty to wealth, who climbed the difficult ladder of achievement by the force of his own daring will, who helped to make others wealthy at the same time, and who passed, within a few short years, from the humble environment of a stake driver in an engineer corps to the leadership of forty-five thousand men in an industry so vast that the mythical tales of the Titans of old are exceeded by the modern reality.

Such is the marvelous record of Charles M. Schwab, recently president of the United States Steel Corporation. At seventeen he was earning one dollar a day in that great hive of human endeavor, the Carnegie Steel Works at Braddock, Pa. At thirty-seven years of age, he was in supreme control.

There is a reason for it, of course. Why did this boy, among thousands of other boys who had the same chance, rise to fame, while they did not? What is the kernel in the nut? How did he do it ?

When I called upon Mr. Schwab, it was unnecessary for me to make an elaborate explanation of the spirit of my errand. "If my example will prove of interest or help to others," he said, promptly, "you are welcome to it. There are certainly some lessons I have learned, and some rules of conduct I have observed, which are of general value."


We plunged at once into the story of his life; how he first acquired a public school education in his native village of Loretto, Pennsylvania, and, at fifteen years of age, drove a mail wagon between Loretto and Crescent, a neighboring town. A year later found him working in a grocery store at Braddock, at ten dollars a month and board. There he worked hard all day, and slept in the store at night, as a watchman. Occasionally, he was given a few hours for recreation, and these he invariably spent in the steel works at Braddock, which had a fascination for him. In 1880, to his great joy, he obtained a place in the Carnegie works. The plant then was not the great concern it is now, nor was the young man's position a lucrative one; yet the opportunity to gratify his inclination was a most welcome one. He became a stake driver in the engineer corps at thirty dollars per month, during the erection of some buildings. Every stake he drove proved to be a mark of his own progress, binding him more and more closely to the works. In just seven years, of study and work, he became chief engineer, and was sent, in that capacity, to build the great Homestead steel plant, which he managed for two years after its completion. Then he was sent to be manager of the Edgar Thompson Steel Works for two years.

"How do you explain your rapid promotion," I asked.

"In the first place," replied Mr, Schwab, "I always stood on my own feet, —always relied upon myself. It is really a detriment to have anyone behind you. When you depend upon yourself, you know that it is only on your merit that you will succeed. Then you discover your latent powers, awake to your manhood, and are on your mettle to do your utmost. It is a very good motto, to depend upon yourself. I am a great believer in self-reliant manliness, which is manhood in its noblest form.

"There was one thing that I discovered very early, — that it would be well to make myself indispensable, instead of continually looking at the clock. Employers appreciate, to the full, men who may be trusted to do their work as if they were working for themselves, and endeavoring to carve out fortunes.

"We do everything in our power to make men realize their importance. Once a week, every Saturday, I have the heads of the various departments, upward of forty, take luncheon with me. Not a word of business is permitted during the meal; but, after everything is cleared away, we discuss matters in hand and exchange opinions. Every one of the gentlemen present is at liberty to advise, to suggest, and to air his ideas. The value of these meetings is very great. Another thing I have learned, and that is that, while one may have many conceptions, when he must speak them before an audience, he gives them more careful consideration, and generally they prove of permanent value. Always be sure of your facts. You lessen the esteem of your superiors if you are not.

"On Monday, the gentlemen who have lunched with me call their head men together, and have similar meetings.

"When I first went to work for Mr. Carnegie, I had over me an impetuous hustling man. It was necessary for me to be up to the top notch to give satisfaction. I worked faster than I otherwise would have done, and to him I attribute the impetus that I acquired.My whole object in life then was to show him my worth and to prove it. I thought and dreamed of nothing else but the steel works. In consequence, I became his assistant. I attribute my first great success to hard and active work. I found that those who were quickest were those to be promoted."


"At that time science began to play an important part in the manufacture of steel. My salary, at the age of twenty-one, warranted me in marrying, so I had a home of my own. I beheve in early marriages, as a rule. In my own house I rigged up a laboratory, and studied chemistry in the evenings, determined that there should be nothing in the manufacture of steel that I would not know. Although I had received no technical education, I made myself master of chemistry, and of the laboratory, which proved of lasting value."


His biographers delight in saying that his marriage to Miss Emma Dinkey was the culmination of a boyish love affair; that he went to school with her in Loretto when she was a little girl with her hair in plaits. This is a touch of imaginary romance. While in the Edgar Thompson Works, he boarded at her home, and there his bride-to-be, while a young woman, waited on the table. He married her when he was twenty-one years old. There is something in the disposition of some women that is a source of inspiration to men. There are enviable ends man will strive to attain, if only for the gratification of a woman and the pride she takes in him. Mrs. Schwab, a stately woman of refinement, has been always a source of great inspiration to her husband. She encouraged him in his work in his private laboratory and studied chemistry to assist him.


The strength and superior qualities of American armor plate, —the substantial strength of our battleships and cruisers, —are largely due to Mr. Schwab, who raised the standard of armor, and this may be followed back to his first experiments in his laboratory. "The point I wish to make," continued he, "is that my experimental work was not in the line of my duty, but it gave me greater knowledge. Achievement is possible to a man who does something else besides his mere duty that attracts the attention of his superiors to him, —as one who is equipping himself for advancement. An employer picks out his assistants from the best informed, most competent and conscientious."

At this point I asked if Mr. Carnegie had not proved a factor in his encouragement.


"Yes," said he, "Mr. Carnegie and others took a general interest in me, which I tried to foster by doing my level best. A man who is not susceptible to encouragement will not succeed. I never encourage those who are not susceptible to encouragement, —those who are willing to continue in the even tenor of their ways. They are not extraordinary individuals. They attract no attention, are overlooked, or drop out. You see the point. A man must be wide-awake and up to date. His future mostly depends upon himself."

"Do you think the chances for a young man, today, are as great as they were when you began?"

"There were never before so many opportunities for the right kind of young men. For example, one of my head men told me that he had been three weeks trying to find a man competent to take charge of an important position, and, when I last saw him, he had not succeeded. Employers everywhere are on the lookout for competent, pushing, 'get there' men; and, when they are found, they do not easily part with them."

It has been shown how Mr. Schwab tried to make himself indispensable. One day, after he had risen to be general manager of the Carnegie Steel Company, a gentleman from England walked into the office, and ofifered him a larger salary than the President of the United States receives, if he would take charge of his English works. Mr. Schwab refused, but did not tell Mr. Carnegie. Some months afterward Mr. Carnegie heard of it, and took pains to say to Mr. Schwab that he "must not think of it."

"It is not what I want," he replied.

"What is it you do want?" asked Mr. Carnegie.


"To be a partner in your company," said Mr. Schwab.

He became one, and, in 1896, was elected president.

"Here is another point," he continued; "first be master of what you undertake, and the money will follow."

"But you believe in a college education?" I ventured.

"Not for a business man. I have noted how few successful business men have received a college education. In the first place, a man, to understand his business, must start at the bottom of the ladder and work himself up. To do so, he must commence when young, when he learns quickly and may be led. A college man seldom rivets his whole attention on his work. He is in dreamland most of the time, gives his evenings to society, and tries to combine work and pleasure. He is not wrapped up in his work. It is remarkable how few in our works who hold responsible positions have even received technical education. One day Mr. Wittkenstein, the Carnegie of Austria, attended my Saturday meeting. Glancing over those present, he asked: 'How many of these gentlemen, Mr. Schwab, received a technical education?' That had never occurred to me before, and, on inquiry, it was found that only three of those present had. The rest had risen from the ranks, and solely on their merits. Nothing else cuts any figure with us. It is a great mistake to think that young men are not wanted for responsible positions. Any prejudice that existed long since died.

"I do not mean to say that I am not a believer in education," continued Mr. Schwab. "I am a great believer in self-education, after graduation from a high grade of public school. A man, to be successful even as a specialist, should have a good general knowledge, and, therefore, ought to read and study much. A well informed man is always the brighter for it. All through my life I have read and studied."

Mr. Schwab delights in humor, and beheves that fehcity is a great aid to business. He is frequently called to speak before the industrial societies of Pittsburg and other places, in which he takes personal and pecuniary interest. These addresses are instructive and interesting, but they are interspersed always with jokes and witticisms, for he believes that humor is the lubricator of public speech.

Mr. Schwab is unostentatiously benevolent, and takes pleasure, in a practical way, in forwarding the interests of deserving young men. He established the Homestead Industrial School at a personal cost of $24,000, and has encouraged other institutions of a similar nature. He is not a strict churchman, although he is religious. It has always been his custom to celebrate Christmas by going to church with his mother. In Loretto, his early home, he recently built a new Catholic church, at a cost of $150,000. From miles around people drive in their wagons to Loretto to attend this church.

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