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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/439

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XVI. The Hard Times of 1885

THE year 1885 will never be forgotten by the "hard times" sufferers—nor by many operating telephone companies. For commercial and industrial conditions rapidly slid down to bedrock, and thousands who were thrown out of employment suffered for the bare necessities of life. Some of the local telephone companies had a fair income, but nearly all had to defend at heavy cost, a series of systematic attacks upon the rates charged for local service. In 1885 the bank clearances were over fifteen billions of dollars less than in 1883, the production of pig iron was lessened by nearly 600,000 tons, while its price fell to $18 a ton from $22 a ton in 1883. So great a commercial and industrial depression naturally affected the financial growth of the parent Bell company; and then, that its bitter cup might be full to overflowing, all the power of the United States government was brought to bear on the fundamental Bell patent, in the hope that it might be invalidated. Referring to this most unjust and discreditable attempt to lend the dignity and the power of the United States to a deliberate scheme to filch honors justly awarded, the editor of The Nation wrote that this

decision to have the validity of the Bell telephone patent tested in the courts... insures the success of one of the worst stock-jobbing schemes now before the public. The stock in trade of the companies on whose motion the suit is brought consists of a paper capital of several millions, and a few patents of insignificant value which they probably never intended to use.

In July commercial conditions in the east experienced a brief boom, brought about by the absorption of the costly West Shore line by the New York Central interests. But the farming community had invested heavily in West Shore, and following the reaction due to heavy losses distributed among a large number of grangers came increased distrust not only in railway, but in all industrial securities, including even those of the best local Bell companies.

However, the farmers were enriched by the greatest crop of corn ever grown up to that year, exceeding by one hundred and forty million bushels the bumper crop of the previous year, while the yield of cotton secured by planters in the south was nearly as large as the summer before. But the farmers harvested one hundred and fifty-five million