Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Nathan Strauss, Merchant and Philanthropist

Late one afternoon, I stopped to converse with a policeman in Central Park. Another policeman came up. Nathan Strauss was mentioned. "Well, I tell you," said the first policeman, stamping his foot, "there is a man!"

"Charities! He's the only man in New York City who gives real charities. Why, when others want to give, they go to him, and have him do it for them. He knows what's what. I tell you, he's the most respected man in New York City;" and the other said, "That's right."

Go on the east side, and ask about Nathan Strauss, and you will hear what is as pleasant as it is rare, —the poor giving a rich man unstinted praise. But do not speak to Mr. Strauss about his work as charity; he dislikes to have it called by that name.


The greatest blessing that he has conferred on New York, is helping the poor to get pure, sterilized milk. No work of beneficence ever before showed such surprising results. It has reduced the death rate of infants over fifty per cent. Formerly, almost seventy-five per cent of the children of the very poor died.

It was in the summer of 1893 that Mr. Strauss opened his first milk depot, at which milk was sold for four cents a quart; one and one-half cents a bottle for sterilized pure milk; one cent a bottle (six ounces,) for modified milk, and one cent a glass for pure milk.

It was a loss to the benefactor, but he established other depots throughout the unhealthy portions of the city and in the parks. Doctors received blanks to fill out for milk for those unable to purchase, and to such it was given free. A doctor's prescription was honored. What followed? The death rate was reduced.

At the instigation of his son ,—who died from a cold contracted in distributing coal, —coal yards had been established on the docks and elsewhere. The dealers at that time were retailing coal at ten cents and fourteen cents a basket, which made the price from twelve dollars to sixteen dollars per ton. At Mr. Strauss' depots, five-cent tickets procured twenty and twenty-five pounds; ten-cent tickets, forty and fifty pounds, and so on. Most of the coal was carried in baskets on the shoulders and backs of those who, in some cases, had walked miles to obtain it. During the last financial panic, grocery stores were started, where five cents procured a large amount of food. Lodging houses were opened, while a clean bed and a breakfast of coffee and bread could be procured for five cents, and lunch rooms where two cents purchased bread and coffee and corned beef.

The great financier, J. Pierpont Morgan, asked Mr. Strauss to be permitted to assist him in the grocery stores, and a large central depot was rented at 345 Grand street, for which Mr. Morgan furnished the money and Mr. Strauss acted as manager.

Although all these charities in which Mr. Strauss has been interested have entailed a steady loss, a great number of those he benefited and benefits are under the impression that he does not sustain a loss, and that they merely buy for less than they would pay elsewhere.


This is exactly the impression he desires them to possess, in his own words: —

"I do not wish to make a single one feel that he is receiving charity, or is in any way a pauper. Such an impression is harmful, and lowers the standard of those who have a right to consider that they are the sinews of the country. I wish them to feel only that they are buying at low prices. Suppose that those who buy five cents' worth of groceries and trudge a distance for them, are able to pay a little more. The mere fact that they walk far to save a few cents, proves that their hard-earned pennies are precious, and that there is the necessity of getting all that can be obtained for their money."


Such is the keynote of Mr. Strauss' love for humanity. He is not a "lord bountiful," but a generous man, unsolicitous of thanks. There are many records of him having helped individuals. Two young men in his employ were threatened with an early death from consumption. He sent them to a sanitarium in the Adirondacks for a year, when they returned sound in health. During their absence, their salaries were paid to their families.

In business, Mr. Strauss is a strict disciplinarian. He believes that every man should attend strictly to duty, and this is the fundamental secret of his success. In his own words, "Any man, with the ordinary amount of business instinct, can succeed. To succeed, you must be honest, believe in your own ability, and, after having selected your path in life, stick to it through thick and thin. With ordinary mental endowments, there is no reason why any young man should fail.

"Do I think the chances of today are as great as some years ago? They are greater. The thing is to take advantage of opportunities and utilize them to the best of your ability. Chances, or opportunities, come to everyone, often, in a lifetime. They should be recognized. Never let one slip; but weigh the possibilities. The great trouble is, a great many young men do not bestir themselves. They fall into a rut, and lack 'ginger.' This is a bustling world, and every young man should be wide-awake and on the lookout, constantly giving conscientious attention to duty. Duty, integrity and energy are the watchwords, and will direct you on the road to success. Remember, the opportunities of to-day are as great as ever !"


But though Mr. Strauss is a tireless worker, he finds time for a little recreation. He is one of the best gentleman drivers in New York, and he delights to race on the speedway. Still, the background of his life is charity. For many years, he desired to establish a sterilizing plant on Randall's Island, for the benefit of waifs and foundlings taken there. The death rate was very high. At length he gained his point, and a recent unsolicited letter from the matron contained the gratifying statement "that the death rate, since the installation of the plant, has been reduced fully fifty percent."

In such deeds, Nathan Strauss delights. His life is one of perpetual attention to duty and to business, and he encourages others who would succeed, by saying: "Go at it with a will, and stick to your ambitious aspirations through thick and thin!"

Mr. Strauss himself is an excellent example of the success of the principle which he urges upon others as a rule of life. His whole career has been distinguished by tireless energy and industry, and the interests which are under his control have never suffered for any lack of careful and thorough attention. He has always been deliberate and consistent in adopting and adhering to any policy, public or private, and never deserts those whom he has seen fit to honor with his confidence, save on absolute proof of their unworthiness.

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