16 AUGUST 1930, Page 25

Bigger and Better Business

The Business Biography of John Wanamaker. By Joseph H. Appel. (Macmillan. 21s.)

IN recommending this remarkable, indeed important, bio- graphy to our readers, we -would warn them that there is a certain amount of what we can only call blather " in the recorded speeches and writings of the great and good founder of the modern Department Store. John Wanamaker was a genius ; he may be said to be the inventor of the principles of " big business " : he treated his employees well : he was a good citizen : also he was an amazingly clever advertiser and at times we feel (perhaps unworthily) as if all the uplift and desire of service and " glad-handing " recorded by Mr. Appel may have had a purpose (perhaps unconscious) not immedi- ately visible on a surface that seems over-bright with idealisms.

Moreover, we are not convinced that it is possible to separate such an intensely individual character ' as was John-Wana-

maker's, into " business," " private," philanthropic," " political " and other aspects. We would have preferred a biography more complete, more detached, more critical. Mr. Appel writes as one whose long friendship with his subject has blinded him to all faults.

But in spite of these shortcomings, we have here an absorb- ingly interesting story of a brick-maker's son who rose by his own efforts to be one of the greatest forces in American commerce, and in American church affairs. Would that our young people might read and mark the training and the labour that went to make this man what he became ! As Wana- maker observed, a rigorous course of bodily and mental dis- cipline is observed by those preparing themselves for athletic contests : how much more thorough- should be the preparation for the business of life I When he was twelve years old, he heard a hatter speaking at a Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, who declared that although it was not long since he had become a Christian, he found that it was the best thing in the world to live by, and that the very tools of his trade seemed to have become aware of the fact that he had become a Christian, and to have grown more amenable.

" I had gotten my message," said Wanamaker of this turn- ing point in his life, " and as the people went out from the meeting, I stayed. I went up to the minister and told him that I had settled the matter that night, and had given my heart to God."

The following were his pastor's chief tenets and (according to Mr. Appel) the foundations of John Wanamaker's own belief: 1. Christ demands full surrender.

2. Every follower of Christ is His messenger of good tidings. 3. Sunday is the Lord's day ; it belongs to Him. 4. Alcohol is Satan's most powerful ally.

5. No man is beyond redemption.

Shortly after this, Wanamaker took an enormous sheet of brown paper " and wrote down on it " (to quote his words) " all the different things I would like to be. I put down Architect because I have always been interested in the making of buildings. I put down Journalist and Doctor and Clergyman. After several others which I do not now recall, I wrote Merchant. One by one I went over the list and after careful deliberation " (note the method of this child not yet in his 'teens) "struck out various words for one reason and another. Finally Merchant was left, and I turned my attention seriously to work."

He started his labours at fourteen, at $1.25 a week, as a publisher's errand boy. A few month's later he was stock- boy in a clothier's, at $2.50 a week, learning merchandise. At eighteen he demanded a large increase in salary or a part- nership in the business in which he was then serving ; but tuberculosis (or its threat : even as a child " he was always taking cod-liver-oil ") intervened, and sent him travelling West with the little money which he had already begun to save. For a time now he devoted himself to good works, signed his letters " Your humble brother in Christ," and became a Y.M.C.A. Secretary.

The Church or Business—which would he choose ? The answer was both. John Wanamaker triumphantly reconciled God and Mammon, by making the latter conform to Christian principles so far as he was himself concerned. He was not yet twenty-three, when, against the advice of his friends, he started a store of his own in Philadelphia,

" Fixed price " and " Money back if not satisfied " were the first two principles on which he built his famous business ;

and only those who have haggled in the bazaars of Cairo or Calcutta can imagine the improvements that he effected by his abolition of haggling and his insistence that the customer must be satisfied with every purchase. Once he saw a man leaving in a new overcoat which did not fit. He insisted that the customer should take it back and suit himself better : the man demurred strongly, and protested that he was thoroughly content with the coat which he had. Wanamaker prevailed, however, and it was then discovered that the coat had been stolen.

To follow his career is to read the history of the United States from the days when two-horse omnibuses clattered over the cobbles of its cities and book-keeping was all a matter of ledger entry, to the present age of rubber tyres and electric calculators. The Wanamaker maxims," chiefly written between the age of seventy-four and eighty-four (when, in spite of his age, he was still " the pioneer working with even more prodigious and creative energy ") show the range and resilience of a mind that took in the whole world as its field, and ever looked towards the light.