Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Thomas Collier Platt

Thomas Collier Platt has succeeded in business and in politics in a phenomenal manner. The reason is, he has had the native sagacity, energy and working ability of two ordinary men, and has fairly earned his place as a senator of the United States, as one of the political leaders of the nation, and as president of the United States Express Company. Last summer, as I sat on the porch of the Oriental Hotel at Manhattan Beach, for Mr. Platt's return from his office, he came up the steps two at a time, with the elasticity of a man of forty. As I waited for him in the Fifth Avenue Hotel the other day, he came into the lobby looking very much jaded. He said: "I am very tired, after a week's session of the senate at Washington. I have had a very busy day in New York. Come up to my room."

Members of the legislature, local politicians, statesmen of national renown, sent their cards to the senator's room before we were fairly seated. Wearied amid this great press, Mr. Platt took time to say some things about himself, and to indicate some of the elements of his success as an encouragement and inspiration to young men in the struggle of life.

"Where were you born ?"

"In Owego, Tioga County, New York.

"My ancestors were Americans. They were Yankees that came from Connecticut and Massachusetts to New York state."

"Do you believe in hereditary tendencies ?"

"I do, most certainly. Blood tells. There is nothing so absolutely true as that blood tells in cattle, horses and men. My father was a devoted, consistent Presbyterian. The preachers almost counted my father's house a home when I was a boy. My father was my ideal of a man every way. He was one of the few men I ever saw whose everyday life completely harmonized with the Christian profession."

"In your Puritan home, you had to toe the mark, did you not?"

"Yes, my parents were strict; but very tender. They never used the rod, because we were such exceptionally good children. We did not need it. I never saw father or mother raise their hand against a child. My father was a lawyer. He afterward became interested in real estate, taking charge of extensive timber and farm lands in the northwest, owned by a gentleman in Philadelphia."


"To what do you attribute the start you got as a boy on the road to success?"

"To the principles of truth, honor, love, and labor which were instilled into my mind in our quiet village home."

"Where were you educated?"

"I attended the Owego Academy. There was nothing out of the ordinary line in teacher or scholar. In the academy I prepared for Yale College, which I entered in 1849. Ill health compelled me to give up my college course at the close of my sophomore year. Our class contained some of the most distinguished men ever graduated from the college. Wayne Mc-Veigh, Edmund Clarence Steadman, Isaac Brumley, Judge Shiras, of the Supreme Court of the United States; Andrew D. White, ambassador to the court of Berhn, were among the number. Yale has grown marvelously since my day, and the student now has increased opportunity for knowledge, but I do not think that the grade of talent today is any better than in our time. In 1876, Yale conferred on me the degree of master of arts."

"Would you advise a young man, having a business life in view, to attend college?"

"I would! The intellectual discipline, the social advantages, the mental stimulus will be of profit to a young man entering business in times of great enterprises and heated competitions."


"Were you a reader of books?"

"I have always been fond of reading, and have read books to advantage, but for forty years I have been so engaged with business and politics that I have not had the time to gratify my taste for literature, which is strong. Reading is of great advantage to a young man, —that is, the reading of good books.

"I was fortunate in my early friendships. A man's character and success are greatly effected by his friends. A man is known by the company he keeps. It used to be that a man was known by the newspaper he read. That is not so now."


"Because there are so many and so cheap that a man can and does take and read more than one. I read them all, —those which agree and those which disagree with me politically."

"You are reputed to have been a fine singer when a young man."

"I had a voice which gave me much delight and seemed to please others. I was for many years the leader of the Owego Glee Club, which was very popular. We used to be called for as far as Elmira, Ithaca, Auburn, and Binghamton. With Washington Gladden to write the verses, our glee club to sing them, and Benjamin Tracy, a young lawyer of the town, to make the speeches, we gave considerable inspiration to the social and political gatherings of our community."


"What was your first venture in business?"

"On my return from Yale, I started a retail drug store in my native town, and continued it for fifteen years. I then branched out in the lumber business in Michigan. I became connected with several local enterprises, among them the bank, and a wagon factory."

"You invested in a western mine, did you not?"

"Yes! I owned a third interest in a mine at Deadwood, and in the winter of 1877 I decided to go out and see it. It was my first trip west, and I was not prepared for the hardships. I had to ride sixty hours from the end of the railroad to the camp. The Indians were on the war path and had killed a passenger on the stage that preceded ours. As I started to enter the coach, the driver said: 'Are you armed ?' 'No,' said I. Taking a gun from the top of the stage, he gave it to me, and said, 'You will need it.' I told him I was a tenderfoot and did not know how to shoot. He showed me, and I took the gun with me. Luckily I did not need it. About the first thing I saw when I reached the camp was an example of frontier justice. Men, with a rope, were hunting for those who had been guilty of holding up the stage. I found the claim in which I was interested to be one of the richest in the vicinity, according to indications. We spent $60,000 in working the claim. I was offered half a million dollars for my interest in the property, which I declined. Just as we got to paying expenses, the mine played out."

"Did you make any of your money in speculation?"

"I never made much money any way, and I never made any in speculation, or in politics. My political experience has cost me—not brought me money."

"How happened you to come to New York ?"

"I came to New York as the general manager of the United States Express Company, and soon after, in 1879, I was elected president, which position I have held ever since."

The United States Express Company began business in 1854, and had in New York City eight wagons and twenty men, including officers. Its mileage was less than 600 miles. It now operates 30,000 miles of railroads, which is a larger mileage than that of any other single express company in the country. It has ten thousand employees and five thousand offices. In New York City alone it has six hundred horses and two hundred and fifty wagons; and other great cities of the country are correspondingly well equipped. For a dozen years the company has had the entire responsibility of carrying all government money and securities, except in a few states and territories, and it has transported hundreds of millions of gold and silver and paper money without the loss of a penny to the government. The executive ability, tireless industry, ceaseless vigilance and courteous and honest dealing of President T. C. Platt has had much to do with the success of the company.


"What do you consider essential elements for success in business?"

"Adaptability to the calling, hard work, strict attention to business and honest dealing.

"Young men should remember that it is not the amount made, but that which is saved that indicates financial success. The habit of economy is important in getting along in the world."

"When did you turn you attention to politics?"

"Very early in my history, and I have been in its seething, boiling steam about ever since. I was first elected clerk of my county, and soon after was sent to congress, where I served two terms. I was elected to the United States senate in 1881, and again two years ago this last January."

"It is said that the speech you made on the Treaty of Paris was your maiden speech in the senate."

"It was."

"Why should a man who can make such a speech as that have been silent so long?"

"I am dragged almost to death with my hard work, and I have had no time to prepare fine speeches. I have tried to do my duty in my appropriate sphere as a representative of my state in the senate."

"To what do you attribute your political success?"

"To fidelity to the political principles professed, and especially to my loyalty to my friends."


"Would you advise a young man to enter the political field?"

"By no means ! I should advise him to keep out of it. It is vexatious, unsatisfactory and unremunerative. I have requested my sons to keep out of politics, and they have wisely heeded the request."

"Do you not think that it is the duty of a young man to hold office or in some way bear his share of the burdens of state?"

"Certainly I do. That is a different thing. I referred to the undesirable calling of a professional politician."

"What would you call the essential elements of success in life?"

"Not one thing, or two things, but a number of them harmoniously blended, and crowned by a true sterling character. True success is not in making money, nor in securing power, nor in winning praise. It is in the building up of true manhood that merits and enjoys these things and employs them for the benefits and happiness of mankind."

"I forgot to ask you about your health?"

"It has never been robust, but it has been good. I have been very careful in my habits, and have preserved what bodily energy I needed for my life plans. Bodily vigor is necessary to the highest success in any business or profession,"


The senator spoke like the courteous gentleman that he is. His bearing is simplicity and sincerity personified. He made answer to my questions in a voice as delicate as a woman's, giving no hint of the dynamite behind it. I understand that it is his habit to economize his strength and use no more on each occasion than is really required. Mr. Piatt is a serious man and yet he has a deep vein of humor. He likes a good joke and tells one well. He has a hearty laugh. He has great patience, but makes a hard fight when provoked. He is not tyrannical in victory or vengeful in defeat. He has a knowledge of human nature, a keen insight into men's motives, and has skill in playing upon them. He is a master in adjusting himself to events. He has a masterful will, but a remarkable faculty also for disarming instead of exciting antagonism. Altogether he seems well qualified to be a leader of men.

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