Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Potter Palmer

A hotel that has averaged five hundred and fifty daily arrivals for a dozen years. This naturally awakens interest; where is it? Who built it? How does it look? In answer, we speak of the Palmer House, of Chicago, the ‘Palace Hotel of America,’ built by Potter Palmer. The building is as nearly fire-proof as any building can be made, and is swarming with servants.

You are accommodated with a room which satisfies your desires financially; and upon entering the dining-room you can choose between the American and European plans. This hotel is, indeed, first-class in every respect. It certainly enjoys the widest reputation as such of any on the continent, and is undoubtedly the finest hotel in America, save possibly the Palace Hotel, in San-Francisco, which is a rival in magnificence.

Mr. Palmer was born near Albany, New York, where he worked summers among the farmers as a day-laborer, and attended the district school winters. This kind of life was maintained until he was nearly nineteen years of age when he entered a store at Durham, New York, as a clerk. Here he allowed nothing to escape his attention and, by industry, coupled with frugality, he was enabled to enter a business on his own account when twenty-one. Mr. Palmer, like all other young men who have risen from poverty to affluence, was constantly alive to the problems of the day; especially did the subject of this narrative watch the indications of progress in his native country.

Being filled with the idea that Chicago was to be the city of America, he in 1852 moved ‘West’ to that city. Here he opened a dry-goods business which grew to mammoth proportions for those days. After fourteen years of successful trade he retired, investing heavily in real estate. When the great fire came much of his vast gains were swept away, but with that indomitable will and courage which has always characterized his efforts, he succeeded in forming a company which successfully brought to completion the magnificent hotel before mentioned. Probably no man has been more closely identified with the project of improving the streets of Chicago.

When Palmer first entered the city he found it situated in a slough. It was generally supposed that the ground upon which the city was built was a natural swamp, and when Palmer, among others, advocated the idea of raising the streets they were ridiculed. But subsequent tests proved that beneath the surface there was a solid rock bottom, therefore it was impossible for the water to leach through. When this was an established fact, and therefore the grumblers were deprived of this excuse, the cry was raised that the city could not afford it. Against all obstacles the measure was carried, however, and State Street was widened, making it one of the grandest and most ‘stately’ streets among any that can be found in any city on the entire globe. Indeed, it is difficult to estimate the possible benefit Chicago may have derived, directly or indirectly, through the influence of Potter Palmer.