Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: George W. Childs

No one can read the life of George W. Childs without a feeling slowly coming over him that the possibilities of our country are indeed very great. Certain it is that when we see so many examples showing what has been done by poor boys from the farm, we are forced to exclaim that we live in a free country; despite what some say we reiterate, our country is free.

George W. Childs, at the age of ten, became an errand boy in a book-store in Baltimore, and after a period of over a year in the Navy which he served later, he removed to Philadelphia and once more entered a book-store—his natural calling. After four years’ apprenticeship, when less than twenty, with his savings he opened a small book-store on his own account.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” so believed young Childs. He determined to one day be proprietor of the Philadelphia Public Ledger. “Aim high that you may not strike low,”—how true that adage is. When you see a boy make up his mind to do something; if he makes his actions correspond with his words, you can rest assured that it will be done. Sickness may come; disappointments will follow, but all must be overcome.

Jerome B. Rice determined to succeed in the seed business, but just as success seemed about to crown his efforts that terrible disease, rheumatism, came and deformed him. He lost the entire use of his lower limbs, but his brain was spared, and his determination was unshaken. An invalid chair was bought, a colored man wheels him every morning to his office door where loving hands gently lift him, chair and all, up the steps of the beautiful building now occupied and owned by Jerome B. Rice & Co. Nearly thirty years have passed and Jerome B. Rice has not taken a step, but during that time, despite all obstacles, the firm of Jerome B. Rice & Co. has become one of the leading seed-growing concerns of America. Young men with the same chance he had are apt to say, “It’s no use.” We answer, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” “To think a thing impossible is to make it so.”

George W. Childs determined to own the Public Ledger. He determined to own the leading paper of the great city of Philadelphia, and he was a poor boy. Was this presumption? If it was he has proved its practicability. If he was building an air-castle he has since placed a firm foundation under it. He labored hard in this little store of his; he built his own fires; he did his own sweeping,—it was the same old story; he hired done nothing that he could himself do. He made some money—not very fast—but a good average profit, and he saved what he did earn. He mastered the publishing business, and he developed a marked business capacity in that line. A man usually fills the notch for which he is fitted: I was about to say—I will say that he fits himself to the notch which he does fill. Sometime we see men in subordinate positions who apparently are capable of the best, but a careful study reveals a screw loose somewhere; there is a weak point, and invariably that point is the one thing which stands between them and victory. “Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candle stick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house.” So said Christ eighteen hundred years ago; is it not so to-day? As young Childs had ability, and it was apparent, what matter it how old he was or where he came from? All the world asks is, “What can he do”?

The publishing firm of R. E. Peterson & Co. sought his alliance, and the firm of Childs and Peterson became known far and near. Do our readers call this luck? He now became a successful publisher, and seemingly his cup was running over, so far as this world was concerned, but it will be remembered that years ago he determined to own the Public Ledger, provided he lived. He was alive and his purpose still remained. He was waiting and watching. The Ledger was a penny paper—the war broke out—stock went up—the management was weakened by death and other complications, the Public Ledger was losing nearly $500 every time it went to press. The paper, great as it was, was losing $3,000 a week—at the rate of $150,000 a year. Now was Mr. Child’s chance. In vain did friends entreat; in vain did wise business men shake their heads; Mr. Childs felt that his time had come, and he bought the paper, paying for it nearly $150,000. The new proprietor changed things; the paper was made a two cent issue, and into the Public Ledger he now threw his whole soul. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.” It is even so; he had purchased the Ledger at the right time.

Not one man in a hundred can successfully edit a newspaper; not one editor in twenty could edit the Public Ledger with success. Yet, Mr. Childs is one man out of the hundreds—he is the oneeditor out of that twenty. He determined to publish only the truth; all claim to do that, but Mr. Childs does it. The paper grew, and on the 20th of June, 1867, the Public Ledger took possession of its new building. This new building cost half a million of dollars, and is one of the finest in the city. At its formal opening many of the most distinguished men in the country were present.

Mr. Childs has been largely instrumental in establishing a small city at Wayne Station. He owns a large tract of land which he has divided into building lots of about an acre each. Any one desiring a home can get one by paying one-third down, and he is also furnished plans from which to select his ideal of a home. The houses built from these plans cost from $2,000 to $8,000 each. Mr. Childs and his partner, Mr. Drexel, have expended about $2,000,000 exclusively for beautifying the city.

Years ago Mr. Childs told a gentleman that he meant to prove that a man could be at once liberal and successful as a man of business, and the princely hospitality of this good man has demonstrated, beyond doubt or contradiction, its practicability. Dinners to newsboys and life insurance policies given to the wives of his employes; such acts make up the history of his life. The late Chief Justice of Pennsylvania once said in a speech: “Some men pursue military glory, and spend their time and energies in the subjugation of nations. Cæsar and Napoleon may be named as types of this character. But the tears and blood which follow violence and wrong maculate the pages of history on which their glory is recorded. Others erect splendid palaces for kingly residences, and costly temples and edifices for the promotion of education and religion in accordance with their particular views. But views of education and religion change, buildings waste away, and whole cities, like Herculaneum and Pompeii, are buried in the earth. Others again win public regard by the construction of means of communication for the furtherance of commerce. The canals, railroads, and telegraph are glorious specimens of their useful exertion for the public good. But the marts of commerce change. Tyre and Sidon, and Venice are no longer commercial centres. The shores of the Pacific are even now starting in a race against the great commercial emporium of our continent. But Mr. Childs has planted himself in the human heart, and he will have his habitation there while man shall dwell upon earth. He has laid the foundation of his monument upon universal benevolence. Its superstructure is composed of good and noble deeds. Its spire is the love of God which ascends to Heaven.” Such a monument is, indeed,

“A Pyramid so wide and high
That Cheops stand in envy by.”

Is not that glorious success? But if the name of George W. Childs was not a synonym for charity and philanthropy, the fact that he has demonstrated beyond doubt the possibility of making a newspaper not only pure and clean, but also proving that people will buy wholesome news, as well as trash, and thus refuting the opinion that the people are wholly responsible for the vile matter that is circulated, ought alone to commend him to the world as a great benefactor. Worldly reasoners and great financiers, wiseacres and successful editors prophesied its failure, but what mattered this to George W. Childs? When a boy he determined to one day own the Public Ledger; he accomplished that. When a man he determined to elevate the tone of a newspaper, and thus prove the fallacy of the opinion that “A newspaper must print all the news, no matter what, or else fail”;—he has here also fulfilled his desires. Surely, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”