The Tales of a Traveler/Part 2
On the Track of An Independent Business
In December, 1806, while still traveling for the florist supply house, I happened to arrive in St. Louis Union Station about four o'clock in the morning. I cannot recall now whether I could not get any sleeping accommodations, or whether because of my habit of economy I deliberately failed to engage them. Be that as it may, I found myself on that momentous morning at the large, well-lighted, warm Union Station. I say momentous, because during that morning I formulated a plan of action that was the beginning of my future independence. It was the result of a sudden flash of thought, which I seized upon and there and then worked out in full detail. Often events of great consequence in the history of nations and of individuals have come about as a result of a similar "flash." It occurred to me that if I was worth twenty dollars a week to the supply house, plus two per cent, on my sales, plus traveling expenses, why could I not pay my own expenses, and instead of carrying a line of supplies only, just as well take up a number of other lines such as seed, fertilizers, pots. Carnation cuttings. Rose plants, palms, bulbs, and so on—and thus not only make sure of my salary and expense but my independence of "bossism" as well. A capital idea!
Starting on My Own Account
On the first of January, 1897, I was ready for the radical change. I was ready to carry my "capital idea" into action. First of all, I approached my employer. I explained to him that it might best pay both of us if instead of employing me on salary and commission he would let me carry his line on a commission basis only, I paying my own expenses. I furthermore told him that in addition to his line it was my intention to take up other things, such as I have mentioned above. He, too, thought that I had the right idea.
But here my difficulties began. Practically a stranger to the wholesale seed and horticultural houses, my applications met for a time with no response. Discouragement stared me in the face. Then the thought of having perhaps acted prematurely upon my plan, and thereby sacrificed my weekly salary, which after all was a certainty, naturally had a depressing effect upon my spirit and energies. But the idea was a good one in spite of all, and there was no reason why I should not carry it out. I stuck to it. I applied to Henry F. Michell Company for its line. Mr. Henry F. Michell, as all who know him will agree, is a man of keen perception and remarkable business qualifications. His own business successfully attests my statement. He saw my idea at a glance, and agreed to let me have his lines. To his credit be it said, his terms were liberal and his treatment from the time I undertook his line until I embarked in business for myself invariably was fair and square.
Palms were greatly in demand, and I thought that if I had a suitable line I could readily sell them. But where was I to obtain such a line? I applied to two prominent local growers, of whom I shall have occasion to speak later, but my application for their lines was rejected. They could dispose of all the palms themselves without having to pay any commission. Daunted, but not fully discouraged, I applied to Siebrecht & Wadley, at that time a prominent wholesale horticultural concern, and was rewarded with an answer bidding me come to New York and talk over terms. I got that line.
The Carnation business seemed alluring to me. I knew even during my supply days that Carnations were grown extensively, and that rooted cuttings were being sold in quantities. If I had Carnation cuttings, I could surely sell them. I wrote a number of letters to different growers, many of whom, if not all, had at that time never suspected my existence, with the result that I never got any answer. Again I was determined to get a Carnation line if there was any possibility of doing it. Chance favored me. I soon met Albert M. Herr, of Lancaster, who at that time was one of the most prominent Carnation growers in the country; and after explaining to him my plan and assuring him of good accounts only, I got his line. It is interesting to me to look back on that first beginning of what has turned out to be one of the most active and remunerative parts of my business.
And now I needed flower pots. It seemed to me that I could sell pots by the stacks, though in this particular I was quite disappointed. At that time there was a war going on between flower pot manufacturers in different sections of the country, and for a short time at least I had the chance to obtain a line and sell pots at cut rate prices, prices that did not perhaps pay for the clay, let alone the manufacture and overhead expense. This was, however, the manufacturers' business and no concern of mine.
Jardinières came next in line, and after that other things seemed to follow each other in rapid succession. I had things to sell which I never saw in my life, and which I could not explain to customers. One instance I well recall. A party in the upper part of New York State wanted to know what I thought of the merit of Martha Washington Pelargonium as compared with some other variety. As a matter of course, that question was beyond me. Not only could I not tell him the comparative merits, but I wouldn't have recognized a Pelargonium if I met it. Yet it would not do to confess my ignorance. I had to play the part of know-it-all. I had to tell him "frankly" that the only way really to ascertain the comparative values of the two was to grow them both, and that I could supply stacks of either if he said so.
Selling Things From a "Toothpick to an Auto"
I became a veritable walking department store, as some of my competitor friends chose to call me. It became generally known (through the courtesy of those same friends) that I was selling things all the way from a toothpick to an automobile and a greenhouse. And here I may remark that I did help to sell a greenhouse establishment, but of this later. I have never succeeded, though, in selling an automobile; and there was good reason for it—I never had any automobiles for sale.
One prominent house never failed to play a joke at my expense by telling florists that I was peddling Asparagus seed out of my pocket. The humorous part of it is that that very same house soon made every one of its salesmen do likewise, adding to Asparagus seed other items, such as Pansies, Primulas, Cinerarias, and so on. That same concern thought wise and proper, as a matter of business policy, to put all sorts of stumbling blocks in the way of my progress. If, for example, a new Carnation was put on the market, the introducer was given implicit instructions that unless I was barred out from handling it they would not catalogue it nor offer it to the trade. Such narrow-mindedness has my heart-felt sympathy to this very day.
On the Road Again
So, having gathered together several lines, I started out on the road, I must confess not with a very light heart, for after all, my future was still a closed book to me. It was a curious coincidence that the first town I reached was Columbia, Pa., the very town I mentioned in a former place when I first started out with florists' supplies. To my former benefactor, Mr. William Ahern, who had encouraged me eight years before, I went for my first order. I was not disappointed this time either. Mr. Ahern received me in his customary kindly manner, and after telling him about my extensive lines in a way that perhaps confused him at first, I finally succeeded in booking an order for a few pots, some florists' supplies, a few packages of seed, and a can of lemon oil. I distinctly remember that order, for it was the first one of the kind I took; and details pertaining to first events in one's life impress themselves indelibly on one's memory.
That first order was a source of great encouragement to me. I felt that I was on the right track. And since all I required was persistency, I determined to be persistent. I wound up that day at York, Pa.
In the evening I figured up my sales and found that not only had I paid expenses (which by the way were in noways commensurate with those of today), but I found that I was about six dollars on the right side of the ledger.
Victor and Flora Hill Carnations
I continued traveling, making an extensive trip through Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, everywhere doing what I considered a fair business. The Victor Carnation (a sport of Daybreak), and Flora Hill, which had been put on the market the year previous, were much in demand among the growers. I saw my chance, and despite my efforts to remain "neutral," I evinced a special partiality for these two varieties. I was assured by the growers, whose stock I handled, that these were two good commercial varieties, the bread-and-butter kind; and I found it no difficult matter to book orders right and left. As I recall the event today, it appears to me that parrot-like I adopted the very vocabulary descriptive of Carnations. Yet I did not fail to realize that other lines must have my consideration. If I did well with Carnation growers, I must do equally as well for the H. F. Michell Co., for the pot man, palm grower, and the rest. I began to push all lines alike, but to my utter dismay I found it impossible to do justice to all. If a grower, for example, gave me a fair-sized order for Carnation cuttings, he thought that he did enough for me. If he had any bulbs or other things to order, it was policy to reserve his orders for some other man. The fact that I could not talk knowingly about the lines I handled, in other words, that I lacked practical experience to give them pointers of value, may have served to hamper my success along all the lines. I decided to study up things, to be better posted, to meet men from whose very conversation I could learn things that would come in good stead for me.
Albert M. Herr of Lancaster is perhaps the first man to whom I am indebted for instruction on Carnations. The merits and demerits of a commercial variety he clearly pointed out to me on several occasions. I made notes of these points, and profited by them much in my business contact with growers.
Carnations in those days) as the older florists well remember, were not of the same high standard as the Carnation of today. Nor had the public expected or dreamed of the 4in. Carnation which John Thorp predicted about a quarter of a century ago, and which prediction has been amply fulfilled.
Lizzie McGowan, Daybreak, William Scott were in those days the money-makers for the small as well as for the large grower. Flora Hill came in later, and by degrees began to replace the ragged Lizzie.
Concentrating on a Smaller Line
I soon learned that the more I knew of my lines the better I was received. My first trip further taught me that the less articles I represented and talked about, the more I could concentrate my attention on particular lines and the more remunerative would be the results in the end. To be more explicit, I could not possibly interest a florist by offering him jardinières, chiffon, floral art albums, supplies, Carnations, Lemon oil, seeds, bulbs, all practically in one breath, and expect to book a large order for all. Paradoxical though it may sound, the less things I mentioned the better were my results in the end. I must concentrate my lines; and the first things to go were supplies, ribbons, and jardinières, things that do not interest the average grower, whose product goes to the wholesale market.
Casting About for a Good Palm Concern
On my return home after my maiden trip for myself, I began to reorganize my "department store," eliminating spaces that did not pay, and enlarging on those that did. I was still in need of a good palm concern, and applied once again to the two firms who had formerly declined my application. Thanks to Mr. Henry F. Michell, whose influence aided me in the matter, I succeeded this time in getting the lines from William K. Harris and Robert Craig. With such two lines I felt that my success was practically assured. For who could resist purchasing stock from two such reputable firms, whose names were practically household words in every florist's establishment throughout the country?
William K. Harris and Robert Craig
I wish to deviate here and say a few words about the late William K. Harris. Mr. Harris, or "Deacon" Harris, as many of his closest friends were wont to call him, was in many respects a remarkable personality. When I first met William K. Harris, I saw that here was a man of no ordinary calibre. Simple in manner, direct in expression, reserved but cordial, he was a man who abhorred boastfulness, and who was most readily approachable by the shortest route—namely, that of the truth. Once he was approached by that route, he was to be counted upon for genuine friendship. It is with pardonable pride that I state that our friendship was both genuine and mutual from the time I met him until the time of his demise. And among the very few friends that called upon him when he was on his sick-bed, I was of the privileged ones.
On that first visit, when I stated to him the object of my call, he told me that he would make an exception in my case and permit me to handle his line on a commission basis, with the proviso, however, that I confine myself strictly to the goods he had to offer, that I sell to none but reliable parties, that I make no promises that he could not fulfill. I agreed to these conditions, and accomplished my object. His line being somewhat limited in scope, I needed likewise that of Robert Craig. Knowing the friendship that existed between him and Mr. Harris, and realizing that a word from the latter would go a good way toward securing me the line from Mr. Craig, I asked Mr. Harris there and then to aid me in the matter. He promised to do so, and that promise was fulfilled that very week. Reinforced not only with two substantial lines, but likewise with the reputation of these two concerns behind the lines, I felt that my road to success was open.
Trip to St. Louis and Chicago
During the month of April, 1897, I made my second trip for myself, which extended as far as St. Louis and Chicago. In those days there were no wholesale plant growers in the vicinity of Chicago. My success, therefore, was facilitated. I had no hesitancy in approaching the best of the trade; and such men as Ernest Wienhoeber, C. A. Samuelson, Kidwell Brothers, A. McAdams, the George Wittbold Company, and many others (I mention these names, because they were among the most conservative men in the trade, and therefore the most difficult of approach) gave me orders for William K. Harris and Robert Craig. My gain was twofold; I did the business I aimed at and made acquaintance with men who in all likelihood would perhaps never have given me a chance in the supply line. I began to acquire new customers, men whom I had never met before. And whereas in former years I had confined myself to the stores exclusively, now I found it necessary to make the outskirts of the cities to visit greenhouses. Naturally this took more of my time; but time did not count so long as it paid. I was perfectly satisfied with my results, and the future looked bright and promising.
The Department Store on Handling Florists' Stock
Twenty years ago the horticultural business was exclusively in the hands of florists. Department stores had not as yet entered the field. It was John Wanamaker, of Philadelphia, who first conceived the idea of adding a line of foliage plants to his numerous other lines. The older florists may remember that a prominent concern in Philadelphia refused to sell to him, and by doing so enhanced its standing among the florists, the impression going abroad that the concern safe-guarded the florists from the invader, or invasion into a line belonging exclusively to them. Nothing daunted, however, John Wanamaker's buyer turned to William K. Harris and purchased a lot of plants. I never knew of this incident until I reached Cincinnati. In that city I learned it for the first time in this manner: Approaching a prominent florist one fine morning with a line of Areca lutescens, which I was told he could use, I informed him that I represented a house whose stock I knew would please him.
"And whose house is that?" he inquired.
"William K. Harris, of Philadelphia," I replied promptly, taking it for granted that the very name would insure an immediate order.
To my great surprise, he blurted out:
"You may as well save your time and breath. I wouldn't buy from William K. Harris if I could not get a plant anywhere else in the world!"
"What's the trouble?" I asked.
"Any concern that sells a department store need expect no trade from florists. Why," he added after a moment, "the florists of Philadelphia itself have boycotted him!"
This incident gave me a new point of view, however, and for a while I was somewhat guarded and abstained from mentioning the name of Wm. K. Harris wherever I deemed it wise not to do so. Here again I must refer to the character of the man whom I admired so much. He could foresee things which were to happen in the near future, and like all great men in advance of their times was bound to be misunderstood and condemned for a while by his contemporaries. The fact that one large concern refused to sell to a department store he well knew would not deter the department stores from entering the field of horticulture if they found it to their advantage to do so. When John Wanamaker came to Mr. Harris's place to purchase rubber plants, Pandanus Veitchii, Arecas, and so on, he could see no reason why John Wanamaker's money should be powerless to purchase his plants. As he later told me himself, the florist business, like any other, is a matter of dollars and cents, and not sentiment; and you cannot draw the line against a department store any more than a department store can draw the line against the florist handling jardinières or other paraphernalia handled by department stores.
"The time will come, and very soon, too," he said, "when every grower will be only too glad to market his output wherever marketable. The fact that I am the first one to sell to a department store may help some for the time being; but they will all come around to my way of thinking before long. As to the florists who seem to have it in for me because of John Wanamaker, I am not in the least disturbed by them. They have the privilege to buy wherever they please."
Needless to add, William K. Harris's words were realized.
My second trip ended in July, 1897. I had managed to save a few dollars, enough at least to keep myself and family in comfortable circumstances until the Fall season commenced. Not wishing to waste my time during the enforced leisure at home, I took up a line of iron plant stands from a Western house, and managed to sell quite a few in Philadelphia.
Specializing on the Carnation
In the Fall of 1897, I made my third trip. At this time I had no more "tooth-picks and automobiles" to offer, but managed to get along quite nicely with the few lines I had. In fact, I found it greatly to my advantage to reduce my lines, and to make the best of those I had. The Carnation business held out special charms for me. Unquestionably the flower itself, its aesthetic rather than its business side, appealed to my fancy. While pushing the other lines, I made of the Carnation a specialty. The introduction of new varieties on my own account never occurred to me then. I was well satisfied with the varieties offered by reputable houses, and endorsed by growers who saw them in different stages of growth. I may add here that I was always scrupulously careful not to lend myself to the dissemination of any variety the merit of which was questionable.
It was about this time that the late E. Marquise of Syracuse was about to introduce his new pink Carnation Marquisee, a gem of its time. The Carnation convention was held in February, 1898, in the city of Philadelphia. Mr. Marquise's success was most gratifying to him. The judges at the convention (I cannot now recall their names) awarded him the silver medal. At the banquet, I remember ex-Mayor Smith of Philadelphia, who happened to be toastmaster, presented the medal to Mr. Marquise, and made an appropriate speech in his own inimitable style, concluding with these words:
"Mr. Marquise, permit me to congratulate you; for you have made your mark—see? (Marquisee)."
I took up that Carnation and helped in its dissemination with all the energy and hard work I could muster. In connection with this Carnation, I made something of a mark myself. By actual count, I sold about thirty thousand. My commission on the sales netted me a nice little sum, more money than I had ever had at any one time.
But aside from the monetary consideration, my success with Marquisee bore other fruit. It stimulated my energies and proved to me beyond any shadow of doubt that hard work, coupled with enthusiasm and a thorough belief in the merit of the article itself, could not possibly fail to accomplish results. I saw great possibilities in the horticultural line; I saw a great future, well realizing that the florists' business was still in embryo. I became an enthusiast, feeling that I was somewhat of a factor in helping to fulfill those latent possibilities.
Carnation Queen Louise
Queen Louise, introduced by J. L. Dillon, was the next variety on my list. Queen Louise was a small bloom, a variety that would have no possible chance today; but in its time it was most meritorious in every respect. The late Mr. Dillon spoke to me about it a year prior to its introduction, and when he finally concluded to put it on the market, he equipped me with photographs taken from time to time, calculated to show its manner of growth and productiveness during various periods of the Winter season. His idea was a novel one, and it would be well for growers introducing new varieties to follow that idea today.
My success with Carnation Queen Louise was as encouraging as with my first Carnation venture. I marketed quite a quantity, and I may add that no grower was ever disappointed with the variety. Thus I continued from season to season, plunging more and more into things horticultural and floricultural, and I am quite sure that had I the means at the time I should in all likelihood have built a Carnation range myself.
The Nelson Seedling
Along about February, 1899, I happened to be in Indianapolis, and among others I paid a visit to E. A. Nelson. I had never met nor heard of Mr. Nelson prior to that time. Entering his shed, I walked along looking into one greenhouse and another, but could not see anyone around the place. One of the greenhouses attracted my especial attention, and I wanted to enter it. To my surprise it was locked. I could see through the glass an excellent crop of pink Carnations, a variety which it seemed to me I had never seen before. A few minutes later, Mt, Nelson appeared. I introduced myself and stated the object of my call. He received me kindly, and volunteered to show me through his place. Unlocking the door, he let me into the Carnation house.
"What sort of variety is this, anyway?" I said. "It does not look like Scott—in my estimation it looks much finer than Scott."
"Why, this is a seedling of my own, which I have had for the last three years," he replied.
"What do you intend to do with it?"
"I have not fully decided yet. One grower offered me three hundred dollars for the stock, but I would not dream of letting it go at such a price."
"Neither would I," I concurred. "You have a mighty fine thing in this Carnation and you ought to make money."
Mr. Nelson thought so, too, but found it hard to put it on the market. It required money; besides, it entailed a lot of work for which he had not the facilities.
"Can you propagate it" I asked.
"Yes, indeed! It propagates like a weed."
I saw my chance, and right on the spot I made him a proposition.
"Mr. Nelson," said I, "I think, in fact I am sure, that I am the man to put it on the market for you. I have an extensive acquaintance among growers: I have handled successfully two varieties, such as Marquisee and Queen Louise, and I can see no reason why you and I should not get together on this deal. Of course I am a stranger to you. But I can easily assure you as to my honesty and reliability. Ask Anthony Wiegand, or E. G. Hill, or dozens of growers whom I can mention if you wish. Besides, there will be no outlay of money on your part. I will undertake to pay all advertising and travelling expenses; you will grow the stock and attend to the shipment of all orders; and at the end of the season we will apportion our profits, I getting a certain percentage of the gross receipts."
My idea appealed to him, and I was to see him the following morning to settle upon definite terms. On the day following I called again, and our bargain was clinched. The Carnation was to appear the year following. It gave me a year's time to talk about it, to introduce it, to lay out my plan of campaign. I felt that here was my chance, which could not possibly get away from me. First of all, I wrote up a descriptive circular, and had printed a great number of copies. I spread this broadcast over the length and breadth of this great land of ours. The Nelson Carnation must become well known to every grower having any ambition at all to grow the best. I induced several dealers in the East and in the West to catalog it, to put it in the hands of their salesmen; in a word, there was nothing left undone in so far as my end of the work was concerned. As a consequence, long before a Carnation cutting was put in the bench, I had thousands upon thousands sold. I was making money so fast and furiously that I was simply overwhelmed with the enormity of my "great fortune"—wasn't I literally making money while I slept? If Henry F. Michell, J. C. Vaughan, or Henry A. Dreer, sold E. A. Nelson cuttings, didn't that mean so much money in my pocket?
Yes, just think how tempting and alluring it is to count your fortune before it actually materializes! The very thought of its possibility is irresistible. We allow ourselves all sorts of luxuries spending it in our imagination, and perhaps that gives us almost as much pleasure as spending it in reality!
Every order booked I forwarded at once to Mr. Nelson, accompanying each order with roseate and most optimistic letters. I never neglected to remind him of the great fortune in store for us both. The enthusiasm I acquired became contagious; for Mr. Nelson himself became quite enthusiastic over his prospects, so much so, in fact, that on the fortune to come a year hence he contracted to build a range of Rose houses which he was anxious to finish that very Fall.
But this undertaking was the unsuspected rock that wrecked our glowing hopes. In the Spring of 1890 the Carnation show was to take place in Indianapolis. Aside from the quantity already sold I expected that many more thousands would be booked right at the show when the growers assembled there would go out to Mr. Nelson's place and see the variety for themselves. But alas, things took a different turn, much to our discomfiture and financial loss. The first intimation I had of Mr. Nelson's failure with the variety was in December, 1899, when Mr. Albert M. Herr wrote me a pointed though friendly letter, intimating that there was something wrong with the "E. A. Nelson," that in the first place he had received but a small part of his order, and in the second the cuttings received were of a very inferior quality, being infected with fungus, weak and altogether worthless. A similar letter soon reached me from another source. I was then in Pittsfield, Mass., intending to make my New England trip in time to go West and reach Indianapolis during the week of the Carnation show convention. I felt too uneasy, however, to delay investigating conditions with the Carnation. I spoke about my troubles to John White, the old-time florist of Pittsfield. He suggested to me that my place in the circumstances was in Indianapolis, not in Pittsfield. I acted upon his suggestion, and boarded a train direct for Indianapolis.
Nelson Carnation Fails to Root
I arrived there the evening of the following day, too late to see Mr. Nelson. It was a worried and sleepless night for me. I had forebodings that things were going wrong, that not only had my anticipated fortune melted away, but my chances for doing business for the future were being impaired. I had backed this thing so warmly; and I was afraid that growers who had bought on my recommendation would doubt my judgment and my representations in the future.
The following morning, bright and early, I went out to see Mr. Nelson. My appearance seemed to strike him with something like fear; he stammered something or other, evidently greatly confused. I tried to relieve the situation by diverting the subject to other things, but I finally came to the point.
"What was the trouble?" I asked.
He broke down, and cried like a child.
"The blamed thing wouldn't root," he said. "I can't account for it. I gave it all kinds of treatment, bottom heat, and no heat, but the results are disastrous."
I saw our finish there and then. There I beheld thousands of cuttings in the benches; every one of them sold at seventy-five dollars per thousand, ready to go on the dumps. In other words, so many dollars were cast into the rubbish heap. It was unfortunate; it was nothing short of a calamity. But what were we to do?
It was still December. We had promised no deliveries until January. There was still a chance to redeem ourselves and our fortune as well. There were plenty of stock plants in sight, with thousands of cuttings to be stripped. Who could tell but that the next lots might behave better? So why despair?
I suggested to Mr. Nelson to cast his gloom aside and to take up the good work of rooting the cuttings. He agreed with me, though I perceived an expression of doubt on his face. I bade Mr. Nelson good-bye, and took my departure for Indianapolis, to return four weeks later when the Carnation show would be in session.
At the Carnation Show
The four weeks passed. The Carnation show was a successful affair. In this respect Indianapolis may pride itself upon its good work. The florists of that enterprising city always work in unison; and whatever they undertake, whether it be a Carnation show in the Spring or a Chrysanthemum show in the Fall, their work is always carried out without a hitch. It would be indeed hard to point out a body of men more progressive and enterprising than the State Society of the Indiana florists in general, and the florists of Indianapolis in particular.
So when the show was opened at Tomilson Hall, everything in sight promised well. The blooms were staged in time, the judges were ready to do their work, visiting florists were scattered about the hall, viewing the magnificent display and making notes about the varieties that caught their fancy. I noticed that E. A. Nelson variety attracted especial attention. The vase of a hundred blooms was indeed a magnificent sight. What a pity that this grand flower should behave so provokingly at a time when the fortunes of two men depended so much upon it!
I well knew that quite a number of growers, practically all the visiting florists, would evince a desire to go out to Mr. Nelson's place and see the variety at its own habitat. And so it happened. That same afternoon about fifty florists went out to Mr. Nelson's place. Some of these men had already placed their orders, others intended to do so. I shall never forget the embarrassment of Mr. Nelson when he was confronted by this large body of his brother florists. Failure and shame invariably go hand in hand. In the same measure that we feel proud of our success we are ashamed of our failures, whether we be responsible for them ourselves or whether they come upon us through a combination of unfortunate circumstances.
The Speculation That Failed
Mr. Nelson that afternoon was borne down by the weight of his failure, and the visit of the florists was very painful to him. Yet he had to face the situation in spite of himself. He took them through the house, and showed them the propagating benches. A glance at the stock sufficed to convince almost everyone of them that the variety was doomed. To the credit of the visitors let it be said, sympathy rather than disgust and condemnation was expressed in every one's face. They saw a fellow member in trouble, and their impulse was to help him. Suggestions flew thick and fast; some thought a little more bottom heat would do the trick, others that no heat at all would save the variety. Others again suggested one kind of sand in preference to another kind. One prominent Chicago grower volunteered to purchase five thousand unrooted cuttings, and root them himself. E. G. Hill (and of him I will have a little more to say later) offered his services to help out Mr. Nelson by rooting the cuttings in Richmond. Quite a number of smaller growers were willing to risk the unrooted cuttings. We felt more encouraged. Unfortunately the variety refused to respond to the most expert treatment and proved a failure in the end. Those who succeeded with part of the stock found it to be a very meritorious variety, and what was most surprising to us, its behavior during the next few seasons was splendid. It rooted well, and produced excellent blooms throughout the Winter months.
My experience with the Nelson variety had for the time being knocked my enthusiasm into the proverbial cocked hat. The failure of the Carnation was later easily explained. In his eagerness to finish the new range of greenhouses, Mr. Nelson killed the goose that laid the golden egg. By neglecting to lift the plants from the field in the proper time (he left them out in the field late into October), he impaired their vitality, and the cuttings would not root.
Acquaintance with the Sage of Indiana
My acquaintance with E. G. Hill dates back to 1898 when I first met him at a Chicago show. I had often heard of Mr. Hill before (and who in the trade has not?) and it was my pleasure now to meet the Sage of Indiana face to face. Mr. Hill possesses many charming qualities, chief of which is that of making a stranger perfectly at ease and avoiding any semblance of superiority which might embarrass him. He has the faculty of putting himself on a level with his visitor, a faculty that might to good advantage be studied and emulated by many a man who has achieved much less in life than has Mr. Hill. And by achievement I do not mean only in the matter of worldly goods. To be sure, Mr. Hill has not failed in that respect either. Mr. Hill in the first place is a man who thoroughly knows his business. In the world of horticulture he will ever be known as one of its chief exponents. His contributions toward the improvement of the flower are well known to all. Some of the best Chrysanthemums, standards of today, are the results of his painstaking efforts and intelligent selection. The best Carnations of a generation ago, such as Flora Hill, Armazindi, Jubilee, Triumph, and others, are to be credited to Mr. Hill. The Richmond Rose is still a standard of today among red Roses, and his recent introductions of Sunburst and Ophelia need not be dwelt upon at length here. It is true the last two varieties are foreign Roses; but it was E. G. Hill who brought them to this side, tested their merit, and gave them to the Rose lovers of this country. It often takes a keen eye to see a good thing. Mr. Hill is endowed with that particular faculty. He knows a good thing when he sees it.
Sarah A. Hill, the Woman Horticulturist
About a year after this first meeting I had the pleasure of being introduced to Mr. E. G. Hill's family. A highly interesting family it is. Mrs. Hill, a kindly intelligent woman, who upon many occasions has bade me welcome and given me the hospitality of her home, his two interesting daughters, both happily married, Flora to Fred H. Lemon and Mary to Earl Mann, Joe Hill who is proving himself a fitting inheritor of the mantle of his father, and Miss Sarah Hill, his sister, constitute his household. Miss Sarah Hill is perhaps the best known woman horticulturist in the country. Her knowledge of floriculture is remarkable. It is generally known that Miss Sarah Hill has been to her brother as able an assistant as any man could possibly wish for. Her handwriting, in the days before typewriting came into general use, was familiar to almost every florist in the country; nor was it the handwriting alone, but a certain characteristic quality in the substance of the letters that made letters from the E. G. Hill Company just a little different from ordinary business communications. Her annual descriptive catalogs have been commented upon not only in this country but in Europe as well, for the lucidity and precision of her way of describing every flower and variety.
My business connection with the E. G. Hill Company has been both profitable and pleasant for the past eighteen years.
During my younger days, in Russia, I often entertained the aspiration of becoming a journalist; in fact, my imagination carried me much further than that. I had visions of myself startling the world with great poetry, novels, and plays. Alas for the dreams of youth! Upon my landing in this country, I was correspondent for a while for a few Russian papers. For a time I entertained the same idea here. But Fate decreed otherwise. I married and had a family. As Bacon has said, "He who hath a wife and children hath given hostages to fortune." It is a matter of debate whether a man is spurred on to greater efforts by the responsibility that rests upon him when he is accountable for other lives besides his own, or whether that responsibility hampers him and impedes his race for success. In any event, certain it is that a married man must lay aside his dreams and deal with practical issues. Whether he is the better or the worse for that is the question.
Translating for the Newspapers
In my particular case it meant that my dreams of authorship had to make way for some more practical activity. I found it, as I have already set forth, first in florists' supplies, and thence by a natural step in horticulture. But something of the old impulse remained with me. I conceived the idea of translating some of the Russian works, and in the evenings, when my day's work was over, I would give myself up to translations.
Some of the writer's Russian translations appeared in the Philadelphia Times, now extinct, in The Evening News, and in the Sunday School Times. Before that I had translated, in conjunction with Mr. Nathan Haskell Dole, a well-known man of letters now in Boston, a novel called "The Vital Question," which in the '60's created quite a furore in Russian society. We got a publisher for it, and the little sum it brought in was a very opportune help to me. That was in the early days before my association with the florists' business. When I say that just about then I had had printed in one of the newspapers an article, "How to live on $8 a week," which was based upon sober experience, it will be well understood how opportune that help was.
Entering the Field of Trade Journalism
My journalistic tendencies naturally led me to turn toward trade journalism. The little sum I could realize every week would be a welcome addition to my legitimate income. So one day while in Chicago I called upon Mr. G. L. Grant, at that time editor of the American Florist, and suggested to him the idea of supplying him with trade notes from various towns on my route. Mr. Grant agreed to accept my notes, and pay for them, providing I would confine myself to matter of interest to the trade, outlining the work I was to do. In addition, he offered me the chance to solicit subscriptions to the journal, and advertisements. I commenced my work, and for a few years thereafter I supplied him with weekly notes from many centers on my route, signing my articles "Homo." The work, at first dull and arduous, became quite a pleasant task in the end. I would do this work in the trains, now and then at the railroad station while waiting for a train, and more often on Sunday morning at the hotel. Much as I endeavored to hide my identity, "Homo" and I soon became one to the florists. I was often welcomed, not as a representative of horticultural houses, but as a correspondent for the American Florist. It was amusing how some little grower would take me through his house, and show me some insignificant seedling, expecting me to give at least a column of glowing description to it. Again some would call my especial attention to a Tomato plant, considering it meritorious enough to deserve a large photograph on the first page, with a two-column description in the body of the journal.
One incident in particular comes back to me. It happened in a small town in the interior of Ohio. The florist on whom I called, a man of about forty-five, short and stocky of build, not especially prepossessing in appearance, with an accent that might have been a cross between Irish and Swedish, upon being told who I was immediately proceeded to address me by the name of "Mr. Homo."
"And you are just the man I wanted to see," he said.
From the tone of his voice I gathered that my visit afforded him some pleasure, and that he intended to avail himself of my services in some manner.
"Now let me show you something," he went on.
"I am always glad to see things," I replied.
And thereupon he ushered me into a little rickety greenhouse, the rafters of which were badly in need of replacement, and proceeded to show me a geranium which in his opinion was bound to make a mark and put all other Geraniums out of existence. I confess I never was and am not today, a Geranium specialist. Nevertheless, little as I knew about Geraniums, I could readily see that the man was too enthusiastic about his product, and that the "special merit" that placed it above all other Geraniums was not in the least in evidence in that variety. If I remember rightly, it was cerise color, rather dull, single, of no vigorous growth, and altogether anything but attractive.
"And what is the special merit about it?" I inquired.
"Why, can't you see?" he answered in a tone of surprise. "Look at the color! Look at the habit! It's a wonder, I tell you—it's a wonder! Blooms all the time. If that Geranium was in the hands of some big fellow he could make a fortune of it in no time. Of course, I am a small man, not known."
"Well and good," I said. "But what can I do about it to help you?"
"You can do a lot," he said. "Give it a good write-up in the paper, and let the trade know what a good Geranium means. You are handling Geraniums, I understand; what would be your commission?"
I never thought of that. Disregarding my lack of response, he proceeded to offer me liberal returns. He would pay me fifteen per cent, commission on all sales I made, and for my "write-up," especially if it were a good one, he would reward me with two or three dollars.
"Glad you came, glad you came!" he concluded, cheerily.
The pleasure, however, was one-sided, for such undertakings never appealed to me. I broached my goods, by way of changing the subject, and was rewarded by selling him a few packages of seeds amounting to less than a dollar.
At another time, I came across a man who was in possession of a "gem" in the form of a Carnation seedling.
"You are just in time, Mr. Correspondent," he greeted me.
"An order, sure," I thought to myself. "I am always glad to be on time," I added, aloud.
"Now come on and I'll show you an eye-opener!" he said.
Taking up the lantern, for it was growing dark, he preceded me to the Carnation house, and there amidst the plants he pointed out one or two. Holding his lantern close to one of the blooms, he wanted to know immediately my unqualified opinion about the merits of his discovery.
"What is it—a sport?" I inquired.
"A sport, nothing!" was the answer. "It's a seedling."
"How many plants have you got of these?" I asked.
"Two," he replied. "I put out about a dozen in the field, but the boys neglected them. Besides they were put out too late in the season, and all I saved was two. But look at them! Now what do you think?"
I could not possibly enter into his spirit and enthusiasm.
"And what is the cross, may I ask?"
"Cross? I can't tell you exactly," he said. "But talk about your hybridizers and all that rot—I just took a fine camel's hair brush, combed down the pollen of one Carnation, and slapped it on to another one and here's the result."
I could hardly suppress a smile.
"Do you intend to put it on the market?" I asked.
"Well, I can't tell yet. But say, you ought to give it a good write-up! Something that would make them sit up and take notice."
I promised to do something, and the following week among my notes appeared the following:
"Mr. X —————— of Spondulick has a Carnation seedling which, in his opinion, is a gem. He has only two plants, the remainder of a dozen. Mr. X —————— may put it on the market, if the two should happen to survive and multiply."
My write-up didn't cause any special sensation among the trade, and I never heard of any grower's sitting up and taking notice; nor did Mr. X —————— of Spondulick ever take any notice of me after that.
Corresponding for The Florists' Exchange
A few years later, 1 decided to extend my journalistic work in another direction. The Florists' Exchange, of New York, appealed to me as a journal most likely to accept my services as itinerary correspondent. I wrote to the late Alexander Wallace, whom I had met a few times before, and whom I learned to admire for his many remarkable qualities. Mr. Wallace was indeed a great man, modest and unassuming to a fault. He was regarded by all who knew him as a potent factor in the process of horticultural development. He always aimed for the higher standards in horticulture, floriculture, and their allied branches. In horticultural journalism he carried his ideal ever onward, disregarding expediencies and circumstances. To be sure he made some enemies, but what great man does not? I formed an especial attachment for Mr. Wallace, and felt a keen delight in spending an occasional hour in conversation with him. When I applied for the position as correspondent, I never doubted that the response I would receive would be a favorable one. And so it happened. Mr. Wallace wrote me a friendly letter, giving me the benefit of his best experience, making several practical suggestions, and wishing me success in my work. For upwards of a year I continued to correspond for The Exchange, under the pseudonym of "Itinerant."
I was now correspondent for two trade journals. The income I derived from my pen fully sufficed to keep me in clothes and tobacco. While I corresponded regularly for the two journals, I was scrupulously careful that my notes did not conflict with each other. For all practical purposes, "Homo" and "Itinerant," like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, were two distinct individuals.
Termination of Journalistic Career
My journalistic career, however, had to come to a close, and it happened in this manner:
A very much infuriated florist from some place that I need not mention, wrote a very indignant letter to the American Florist, complaining about my partiality to a rival of his in the same town. It happened that the rival he spoke of was rather a prominent man and a good customer of mine. As usual I made a few notes about his place and doings, but failed to mention a word about the other man. I cannot recall the exact words that were addressed to the editor of the American Florist, but in substance it meant that if they intended to retain the indignant writer of the letter as subscriber, and if they wanted to deal out justice to all, they should instruct their correspondent to be fair to all and give every one of the florists an equal write-up. I suspected all along before this incident happened that while I was making friends on the one hand I was making enemies on the other. It was utterly impossible to deal equally with all since some florists by virtue of the superior stock they grew, their modern equipment, and so on, deserved more notice than the man who could produce a Tomato plant or a Geranium of no merit at all. I thought it best, under the circumstances, to cut my journalistic career short. After all, it was a side issue, and I could not let it act as a deterrent in my regular business.
Contrasting Events of a Generation Ago
As I look back over the years and contrast events of a generation ago with those of today, the tremendous changes that have taken place stand out startlingly. Let us look at the business methods, for example, of the florist of a generation ago, and contrast them with those of the florist of today. Twenty-five years ago the modern, well-equipped, well-regulated flower store that one now sees on every side even in smaller towns, was practically unknown. The florist did his business at the greenhouse, and it was no uncommon sight to behold a well-dressed lady step into the shed to purchase flowers. The florists in those days, the majority of them, anyway, thought very little of clean collars, and much less of neckties, during working hours. Some went even so far, in the easy democracy of their attitude, as not to deem it necessary to remove their pipes from their mouths when dealing with their feminine patrons.
The long-stemmed flowers were not thought of in those days; anything in the shape of a flower was salable. (I am speaking particularly of conditions in the smaller towns.) If a lady, for example, asked for some flowers, it meant a bouquet of miscellaneous truck, such as Tuberoses in season, Calendulas, and Zinnias; and even Geranium and Verbena blooms were pressed into service. Wire played an important part, and when the whole mass was wired up and gathered together, the bouquet paper would come out and the thing was ready.
The cut flower boxes of today were then unknown. Anything in the shape of a box answered the purpose. It now and then happened that a lady would receive a box of flowers or a bouquet with an inscription on the box: "Men's fine balbriggan undershirts." I have often seen a florist holding a bunch of flowers in one hand while with the other he picked up a dusty newspaper to wrap with.
Years ago, the greenhouses as a rule were anything but neat and tidy. The walks were always wet and dirty; and if a lady volunteered to go through them she had to be very careful if she wanted to avoid falling or soiling her clothes.
Stores Then and Now
Even in the large cities the flower stores were but mere apologies for stores, as we know the term today. The J. M. Gasser Co., on Euclid ave., in Cleveland, had a little store about one-third the size of the present establishment, with nothing of the equipment that belongs today even to the most modest store in a small town. John Breitmeyer & Sons, of Detroit, occupied a small store on the corner of Gratiot ave. and Randolph St., to be sure, the best in its day, but very small in comparison with modern stores in much smaller towns than Detroit. I mention these two firms in particular, for I have known both for upwards of a quarter of a century, and I have watched their growth and development.
Today the store of John Breitmeyer & Sons is in a class of its own, not only in point of size and equipment, but in the magnitude of the business transacted and the modern methods adopted in its management. The J. M. Gasser Co. has likewise grown into an establishment that is in every respect strictly first-class. Now let us look at the methods of today. No florist establishment of any size can dispense with a downtown store, whether the owner himself, his wife, or an assistant is in charge of it. A neat appearance is the first requisite. The window must be kept attractively trimmed, the ice-box must be both commodious and attractive, the counters orderly, the articles displayed about the store arranged with an eye to artistic effect. Instead of the men's undershirt box, the florist must have a folded box of his own, appropriately inscribed. He must have a selection of fine chiffons and ribbons. The wire designs, moss, tinfoil and toothpicks must be kept out of sight altogether, and anything that would mar the appearance of the place must be eliminated. The quality of the stock, if one aspires to the best trade, must be of the best and the freshest. Long stemmed Killarneys, Am. Beauty Roses, and Carnations, the finest of orchids procurable, the very best bulbous stock, rather than Tuberoses and cheap annuals, must fill his vases. The public's taste has been cultivated during the past quarter of a century, and the florist of today, if he is alive at all, fully understands it.
In the method of producing stock, and the very equipment of the establishment, a like change has taken place. The antiquated little greenhouse with its low roof and in many cases brick flues has been demolished, and in its place modern greenhouses built of cement and iron, with the best boilers procurable, tall chimneys, and so on, have been erected. Like in many another industry, and in a measure more so than in some, the old had to yield to the new with the florist.
To the credit of the florists be it said, I have yet to hear any old time florists talk mournfully about the "good old times." If the old times are brought into discussion at all, the word good is generally transferred to the present order.
Changes in Methods of Distribution
I must not omit here to mention the radical change that has taken place in the method of wholesale distribution. Those who have been in the harness a quarter of a century and more well remember how the wholesale grower of that day had to market his flowers. It was no unusual thing for him to get up at four o'clock in the morning, and prepare his team while his wife was preparing his breakfast. At half-past four, or five, he was on his way downtown to peddle his flowers from store to store. It was an arduous and unremunerative task at its best. The time consumed in the process, the wear and tear on the team, the neglect of work at the greenhouse—all this meant financial loss to the wholesale grower of that day. Aside from this, the cost of production could not always be adequately considered, under certain circumstances. Let me make this a little clearer. If for example a tricky storekeeper meant to take advantage of the weary grower, he would tell him that he could not use any flowers that day, but that he would take the chance if they were given to him as a special bargain. If the market was dull, and the grower could not always ascertain whether it was dull or not, he would readily acquiesce rather than bring his goods back home again with him. In the end, it meant hard work and low profits, and in some cases no profits.
Today the wholesale grower is sought after—no peddling from store to store for him! He ships his flowers to the commission men, and the latter attend to the distribution. It is the commission man's business to watch out for his patrons' interests. And unless the market is very dull indeed he will always manage to market the product and make good returns to the grower. The waste of time and loss of sleep of former days are eliminated from the life of the modern grower. And who will say that this new order of things isn't better than the old!
What I have just said of cut flowers is equally true of plants. Before the advent of the trade papers, and the numbers of traveling men that we have today, there was a great deal of waste in products. On the one hand, frequently the man with excellent stock had no market for it. On the other hand, very often a ready market was unable to get hold of the needed stock. The methods of today have remedied these evils. If John Smith, of Podunk, has more Geraniums than he can use, there is Tim Brown of Squedunk, two hundred miles away, who is ready and anxious to use them. Instead of being consigned to the dump, they are packed up in a case, and expressed to Mr. Brown. How did it come about? By the simplest of methods, to be sure: Mr. Smith has plants to sell, and makes that fact known in the trade paper. Mr. Brown needs the plants and consults the trade paper. Hence the business relation between Smith & Brown, and waste is eliminated.
A Sale on Commission
The alert traveler of today has in no small measure contributed his mite towards the achievement of this condition of interchange. Whether directly or indirectly interested in a florist's goods, the alert man will never fail to make note of things and bring them to the attention of another florist whenever an opportunity presents itself. This reminds me of a case of my own, and indeed I often wonder now whether it was not this incident, trifling in itself, that diverted my entire business life into the channels where it now flows. About twenty-two years ago, while I was still selling florists' supplies, I called upon Mr. C. F. Baker, in Utica, N. Y. After I was through with my business—Mr. Baker was always one of my favorable customers—he remarked to me casually:
"By the way, Skidelsky, I have a fine lot of assorted ferns. Should any of your customers on the road wish to have some, let me know; and if I sell some through your efforts, I'll pay you a commission."
To reciprocate the favor of his order, I promised to bear it in mind. On the following day I chanced to be at Pittsfield, Mass., and called upon John White, the old time florist of that city. Mr. White, who happened to be out of ferns, asked me if I knew of anyone who had some to offer. Here was my chance. To be sure I knew of a good place. C. F. Baker of Utica had them, in quality and quantity.
Mr. White asked me to write to Mr. Baker, and in a few days he had his ferns. A week or so later I received my little check for the commission. I have since had many such an interchange of products for dollars, and vice versa.
Advertising a Quarter of a Century Ago and Today
A quarter of a century ago advertising would have meant a waste of good dollars to the average florist. Today in one form or another he must come before the public and make known his product, else he is a back number and need expect no results. In some cities the florists have found it profitable to advertise co-operatively for special occasions—Memorial Day, Mother's Day, and other holidays where flowers play a large part. Only recently I had the privilege of being present at the Detroit florists' meeting. (And when I mention Detroit florists, I must add that they represent a progressive, wide-awake, cultured body of men.) The subject under discussion, and one that demanded immediate action, was co-operative advertising for Mother's Day. It was in no sense an academic discussion, either. Everyone realized that it meant a great deal for each individual concerned. The subscriptions toward defraying the expense of advertising came forward quick and fast; and within half an hour enough money was subscribed to cover liberal space in six newspapers, with enough left for the nucleus of a similar undertaking on another occasion.
Marked Development in Southern Florists' Establishments
Nowhere has the change among the florists been more marked in these last twenty-five years than in the Southern section of the country. Twenty-five years ago it would have been hard to find extensive greenhouses or well-equipped flower stores in any part south of the Mason and Dixon line. In a measure perhaps, it was due to the fact that a quarter of a century ago the South had not as yet fully recovered from the disastrous effects of the Civil War, and was still in the midst of its reconstructive period. At any rate, my several trips through Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana never proved remunerative enough to induce me to continue in that direction. I do not mean to imply that the Southern people were devoid of aesthetic taste and made no response to the appeal of flowers. It was the general business conditions rather than a lack of refinement and cultivation of taste that were responsible for the lack of enterprise in the floral direction.
How things have changed since! When I resumed my journeys about fifteen years later, to that interesting part of the country where the sun shines almost all of the time, where birds sing and plants luxuriate in the pleasant warmth, my surprise was great. The downtown districts in almost every city that I had known of old seemed to have become transformed as by the wand of a magician. The old-fashioned Southern structures had given way to modern business establishments. The hustle and bustle on the streets reminded me of the Northern cities. The hotels had become modernized, and even the food seemed to taste better than that of the former hotels. Apace with the general progress was that of the florists. My surprise may be better imagined than described when I beheld the mammoth greenhouse establishment of the Joy Floral Co. at Nashville, Tenn., and their excellent store on Church st., right in the heart of the business district. The Joys, three generations of them, represent a remarkable family. Mr. Joy the grandfather, a venerable old gentleman in the late seventies, is still alert and active, though long since retired from business. Thomas Joy the son, the genius of the present flourishing business, is a man of keen business perceptions, one who not only recognizes a good thing when he sees it, but is quick to see the advantage of making it his own. Under his able management his business has prospered beyond his own expectations. Mr. Joy believes in growing the best stock that could possibly be grown, and with that end in view he never deems it wise to economize in any manner that would have a deterring effect upon his products. The best Carnations and Roses introduced always find room in his greenhouses. Unlike the ultra-conservative grower, who is always inclined to have some other fellow pay for the experience—a "try it on the dog" attitude—Mr. Joy is ready to take the risk and make the experiment himself. If he happens to hit upon a good thing, he is that much ahead of the other fellow. If he misses, he takes the result as a matter of course, and tries again. Men of such calibre truly represent the progressive elements in our ranks. Thomas Joy, the grandson, has the store in his care, and has proven himself an able administrator.
More About the South
The Geny Brothers have likewise modernized and enlarged their facilities of former years. Their new range of houses, in West Nashville, is not only large in scope but in production as well. They grow with success Carnations, Roses, ferns and bulb stock of all sorts; and their retail store in town bears every stamp of able management and progressive spirit.
At Knoxville, Tenn., a similar change has taken place. The antiquated little range of houses with which C. L. Baum started out a number of years ago has long since been demolished. Instead an extensive range of glass, modern in every respect, has been erected. I have known C. L. Baum for a number of years, and aside from his many other qualifications he possesses that of perpetual youth. Mr. Baum never seems to change, the years weighing but lightly upon his head. And his youthful spirit keeps pace with his youthful appearance. (Perhaps the first is responsible for the second.) Since enlarging and modernizing his place Mr. Baum has grown very successfully Carnations, Roses, and orchids. He likewise grows quantities of Lilies and all sorts of bulbous stock. His loyalty to the interests of the S. A. F. and O. H. has won the recognition of the society and he is now one of its directors. Not only does he consider it his duty to attend every annual convention himself, but he likewise strives to induce other members of the society to accompany him on those pilgrimages. The organization of the Florists' Club of Knoxville is largely due to his efforts.
Mr. Baum's loyalty and devotion is not limited only to his human friends, but they are carried to the lower animals as well. In his younger days he purchased a young and faithful horse. In consideration of the many services of this animal, or as he himself expressed it, in consideration of the fact that the horse helped him make his living in his less affluent days, he considers it his duty to pension the horse, to feed him on Clover and oats for the rest of his life.
In his greenhouses he has the able assistance of his younger son, a young man of about nineteen, giving much promise as a horticulturist. His magnificent store in town is under the very efficient management of his older son Karl, whose constant alertness to introduce new ideas contributes to the growing success of the concern.
Mr. McNutt has succeeded C. W. Crouch; I made his acquaintance at a much later date. From all appearances Mr. McNutt will prove a very worthy successor to Mr. Crouch, whose success is a matter of general knowledge in that section of the country. Mr. McNutt will continue the business along the same lines as his predecessor, improving upon it as conditions may require.
In Atlanta, Ga., generally conceded to be the New York of the South, great changes have taken place during the same period of time. The C. A. Dahl Co. has expanded in a manner that is simply surprising. Its greenhouse range is a model of modern equipment, and the company's very beautiful store holds its own with any of the finest in the country. Mr. Thompson, the general manager, deserves much credit for the success of this company.
The Wachendorf Brothers, an old established firm, have likewise expanded, and are doing a good business. They have made numerous improvements, and are keeping abreast of the times. I might go on indefinitely, speaking of many other southern cities, and the valued friendships I have formed in my travels through them; but what I have said before will suffice to illustrate in general southern progress.
Founding of the S. A. F. and O. H.
One of the most potent factors in the growth and development of the florist industry in this country was the founding of the Society of American Florists and Ornamental Horticulturists, and the hearty co-operation of all its members to make it a live and flourishing organization. Its influence upon the trade cannot be overestimated. There is after all nothing like an interchange of views and opinions upon matters concerning the interests of the members of an organization. When people are brought closer together, and acquaintanceships are formed, acquaintanceships that often ripen into permanent friendships, good results invariably follow. I can recall instance after instance where some of my friends in the trade at first spurned the idea of belonging to the society, and later became enthusiastic members, as the full value of doing so was borne in upon them. In former years it was more customary than it is today to read papers on subjects directly concerning the interests of the members present. If E. G. Hill or Robert Craig were on the program to read a paper on Roses, Chrysanthemums, or plants of any sort, it was certain there would be an audience of eager listeners, ready to profit by the remarks and apply them to their own needs as the circumstances required.
The closer acquaintanceships and friendships formed were not only among members at distances from each other, but strange as it may seem, among men of the same city as well. I will cite one case which I recall at this moment. J. F. Sullivan and the late Mr. Taplin of Detroit never met in their own city. But they were introduced to each other at the convention in Chicago. They were close friends until the time of Mr. Taplin's death.
Robert Craig, in the early days of the society's existence, took a special interest in its affairs, as indeed he has done ever since. My acquaintance with Mr. Craig dates back to the memorable time when I applied for his line of palms. His easy and amiable manner won me completely at first sight. I had heard of Mr. Craig before. His reputation long preceded my personal acquaintance with him. At the time I met him, he was still in the full vigor of manhood, clear cut in his remarks, and to the point, impressing one that here was a man who did not waste any words but whose every word carried weight. Mr. Craig, though rather careless in dress, is a man whose face once seen is never forgotten. He has the noble cast of head and features that we associate with the old Roman emperors, and that leads one to expect at once a mental capacity that is out of the commonplace. Mr. Craig's appearance indeed does not belie his mind; he is not only an able horticulturist, but a scholar as well. Mr. Craig has all his life been a student of philosophy and a great reader; and while he can tell you what is the best kind of fertilizer for a certain kind of plant, or what temperature is required for another kind, he can talk very intelligently, too, on all sorts of questions outside the field of his own special business. But that doesn't by any means intend to say that Mr. Craig has any artificial ideas about "dignity." When it comes to a frolic of any sort, he can be counted upon to be the life of the party. Mr. Craig has a good-sized repertoire of charming old songs, and it is a. never-failing pleasure when he can be induced to give them. Not that he takes very much inducing, either; he is whole-souled and spontaneous, and always ready to contribute to the entertainment of his colleagues in horticulture.
The annual conventions of the S. A. F. and O. H. are indeed a source of great pleasure to its members everywhere, and are looked forward to with much enthusiasm. Entertainment features are being carried on on a more and more elaborate scale every year, though in this respect it might be well for the society to abstain from over-indulgence. I have often heard remarks that such elaborate entertainments are burdensome to a good many cities. Since no city wants to be outdone by another, quite a number seem rather reluctant to extend the invitation. If I may make a suggestion while on the subject, it would be well for the society to map out its own program, including all the entertainment features in store, and bear the cost itself. The Carnation Society has already recognized the wisdom of such procedure; its annual banquets, given during its conventions, are paid for by each individual member wishing to attend the feast. Another feature might be mentioned in connection with this, and that is the feasibility of curtailing the sporting features of these occasions. Not that I deplore sport as such, but it seems to me that too much prominence is given this part, to the detriment of the chief object of the conventions. After all, it is a trade organization, and as such it must never lose sight of its real purpose. When sessions are in progress, a full attendance should be in order. Subjects of general interest should be presented and fully discussed. The trade exhibitors, who undertake a great deal of trouble and expense in making their exhibits, should be considered and given the opportunity to do business during the few days that the convention lasts. There should be no outside attractions sanctioned by the officials that prove detrimental to their interests. I have heard many an exhibitor vow time and again that this is his last; fortunately as a year passes his rancor dies down, and he appears again. Without the trade exhibits, I question if the conventions would be nearly so successful.
Our society should follow the example of the nurserymen's association, the fruit growers' association, the canners' association, and many other strictly trade associations, having for their object the promulgation of trade interests for the benefit of all their members. I am heartily in favor of setting a day aside for entertainment and sport; but I question the wisdom of taking up one afternoon with bowling, a second with clay-pigeon shooting, and a third with baseball and automobile rides through the town. As in the case of the individual, with the society it should be business before pleasure, if the best results are to ensue.
The S. A. F. and O. H. is responsible for the organization of the numerous florists' clubs throughout the country. The latter indeed seem to be offspring of the mother society. The good that these clubs have already accomplished is a sure indication of the great benefits that will come to each member if he remains loyal to his organization and does all within his power to promote the interests of the whole. I have attended meetings of many of these clubs, upon many occasions, and I know whereof I speak when I say that "in union there is strength." Is there any better place to discuss the subject of supply and demand, the subject of prices, the merits of plants and cut flowers, than a florists' club? If John Smith is accustomed to sell his four-inch Geraniums at ten cents per plant, or three plants for a quarter, and carry on this low scale of prices all along the line, in the end wondering how it happened that he did not save sufficient money to pay last year's coal bill or bulb bill, a progressive member of the florists' club, who pursues a different method, can give Mr. Smith the benefit of his experience by which he not only meets all bills but has a tidy little surplus in the bank. If Mr. Brown has a badly affected lot of Lilies, short and belated, he is apt to find out at the florists' club from a brother member the cause of his troubles, and the remedy. The florists' clubs are great organizations indeed. The smaller towns in various sections of the country are falling into line with the larger ones in this respect. Many florists' clubs and State florists' associations are springing up from time to time.
Playing the Carnation Game Again
My sad experience with the Nelson Carnation, though discouraging for awhile, did not deter me from playing the Carnation game again. It was about 1900 that I first met Fred Dorner and his two sons, Fred, Jr., and Theodore. I had long heard of Mr. Dorner as the father of the American Carnation. He introduced numerous varieties, long since gone and forgotten, which in their day were grown extensively by every Carnation grower throughout the country. Indeed the names Dorner and Carnation were synonymous. There were other Carnation hybridizers, such as Simmons, of Geneva, N. Y., William Swayne, of Kennett Square, Pa., John Breitmeyer, of Detroit, Mich., and a few others; but Mr. Dorner was a specialist of the Carnation, and not only was he a specialist, but a lover of the Divine Flower as well.
When I met and introduced myself to Mr. Dorner, his kindly benevolent manner sufficed to reassure me as to the result of the object of my call. I wanted his line, for not only would this enable me to do a successful business, but his reputation counted for much. To introduce a Carnation put on the market by Mr. Dorner meant to have the guarantee of a man whose honesty and strict business integrity were known to every florist that ever had any business relations with Mr. Dorner. He was a man of the simplest manner, unostentatious and quiet; but his lack of effulgence in speech did not indicate a lack of sympathetic interest. Mr. Dorner had heard also of me, and so my application was favorably received, and our business relations commenced. Mr. Dorner's line proved a source of income to me. Any variety that had his stamp of approval I offered unhesitatingly to the trade; and with but rare exceptions his Carnations became the standard of their day.
In the earlier days new varieties were not bought by the thousands as they are today, nor was there any readiness to purchase novelties which might and might not prove paying propositions. It was a common occurrence to hear a grower say:
"Lizzie McGowan is good enough for me! So why spend my money on something new?"
Here Dorner's name stood me in good stead.
"And do you think," I would retort, "that Mr. Dorner would lend himself to putting a variety on the market that is worthless? Hasn't he given you things before that have helped to build your trade and your fortune? Don't you think he deserves some consideration when he says that this or that variety is an improvement on your Lizzie McGowan and your other standards?"
An order would usually follow. It used to be said once upon a time that a salesman was highly efficient if he succeeded in selling to a man something that that man didn't want. It is easy enough to sell to anybody who wants a thing, was the idea; but it takes a salesman to sell to a man who doesn't. The fallacy of such a theory has been proved long since by every progressive business house, no matter what the line. Temporary success, after all, rests upon sand; while a permanent success must be built upon bed-rock. The salesman who strives after orders regardless of means stands in his own light. His customer looks upon him as his enemy, as one bent upon exploiting him. On the other hand, the salesman who takes a personal interest in his client, selling him things which he knows he can use, and dissuading him from buying things that might prove a loss to him, is the man who may count on friends and on lasting success. Often, however, the customer himself may be ignorant of his own needs; and the salesman who is keen enough to open the customer's eyes to his own interests, making him see the true wisdom of purchases to which at first he was disinclined, is the man whose order book totals highest in the long run. It requires enthusiasm, in other words a thorough knowledge of and faith in your article, to make your customer view it with your own eyes.
White Carnation Lady Bountiful
While not wishing to pose as a keen or especially capable salesman, I can say that my enthusiasm and faith in Dorner's varieties have helped me many a time in my selling of Carnations. I remember once calling upon a grower in central Missouri. I was then introducing Lady Bountiful.
"What!" exclaimed the florist, upon my suggestion that he try a few hundred of this variety, "not on your tintype!"
"What's the trouble?" I demanded.
"Trouble enough! Let some other feller try them new varieties; I'm done with 'em!"
But I had great faith in Lady Bountiful; and as the man appeared to be a successful Carnation grower, I could see no reason why he should fail with Lady Bountiful. Here my enthusiasm and my faith came in good stead. I summoned all my powers of persuasion, determined to convince the man that he stood in his own light, that I meant well, and that he need not hesitate for a moment to give me his order. I can almost recall the argument at this minute.
"Lady Bountiful," I said, "is the best white Carnation, the most prolific variety that Dorner or any other introducer has ever put on the market. While I want your order, I would not have it if there was a profit ten times the amount involved, if I had the least doubt about the merit of the variety. In fact, I would not lend myself to any scheme calculated to deceive the grower; neither would Mr. Dorner. My object in calling upon you is not to sell you a few things and bid you good-bye forever, but to gain your confidence as well, so as to be able to call upon you again and again and to sell you more things in the future. Now let me assure you, Mr. X——————, that what I am telling you is the absolute truth. And furthermore," I concluded, "if the variety should prove worthless to you, taking into consideration that you know how to handle Carnations, I will refund you your money without any question."
I could see I had made an impression. The man relented, and gave me an order for five hundred cuttings. His success was as I had predicted. Lady Bountiful was a bountiful variety to him. He grew it for years afterward, long after Mr. Dorner had discarded it himself; and the confidence which I had thus inspired in him has never waned. I sold him in later years numerous other varieties, some perhaps that did not suit his soil, and were not altogether satisfactory; and though he may have questioned my judgment at times, I am quite sure that he never questioned the honesty of my intention.
The History of Fiancée Carnation
Other varieties followed each other in quick succession. I handled them all, selling quantities of each; and with but rare exceptions Dorner's varieties were profitable wherever grown. One of the exceptions I refer to was the famous Fiancée, a product of Dorner, but introduced by the Chicago Carnation Company of Joliet, Ill. The history of this sensational Carnation is undoubtedly remembered by every grower. Mr. Dorner himself would never have introduced it as a commercial variety. The tempting sum offered him he accepted with reluctance. I clearly remember the deal. A vase of this most magnificent flower was brought to Chicago. Its appearance created a sensation among the Carnation growers, the like of which had never been known before. The late Jimmie Hartshorn was as gleeful as a ten-year-old in acquiring a new toy when he took possession of the Fiancée. It was something indeed to startle the world. To be sure, the Carnation growers were startled. Mr. Hartshorn was to put a half a million cuttings on the market, at least that many. For a year prior to its debut, flowers were sent to every exhibition. The Carnation growers, even the older men of the trade, became interested, some quite enthusiastic. I saw my opportunity, and I must confess here that like Mr. Hartshorn himself I was ensnared by the beauty of the variety and blinded to its shortcomings. I pushed it for all the traffic would bear. A month later I had the sale of ten thousand to my credit. Another month, and my sales had doubled, then trebled, and quadrupled. In fact, the variety sold itself, without any special effort on my part. It was the customary thing to receive letters as follows:
"You have my order for 500 Fiancée, for January delivery. Please make it a thousand, and see that I get good stock and in due time."
Those who ordered a thousand doubled and trebled their orders. Thus time passed on.
During the Summer months I paid a few visits to Joliet to see for myself how the stock was coming on. I found Mr. Hartshorn in high spirits. Everything was coming along splendidly, no need worrying about it. Why, Fiancée was a wonder, a wonder indeed! Poor man, he never suspected for a moment what troubles his "wonder" had in store for him.
Another Carnation Failure
January came. There was a scramble for the cuttings from all growers everywhere, each one expecting his stock ordered a year before. But alas, there were no cuttings in sight. Letters became more frequent and more urgent; some buyers insisted upon getting their stock immediately without threats; others accompanied their demands with threats to withdraw all their future trade from me. Here was a dilemma that I had to face. A second Nelson, only somewhat more complicated.
I wrote to Mr. Hartshorn, at one time imploringly, at another almost threateningly, enclosing my customers' letters to prove to him how dire was the situation in which I was placed. But all my communications were met with silence. I wired. At last a letter came. With trembling hands I opened the envelope, and found the following:
"Don't tell us of your troubles. We have plenty of our own."
My heart sank. But rising to the occasion, I decided at once to make a trip to Joliet. I arrived early in the morning, and immediately made my way to the establishment of the Chicago Carnation Company. Jim Hartshorn was not as yet in the office. I could see a pile of letters strewn about his desk, which I surmised had considerable to do with the ill-fated Fiancée. I went through the green-houses and learned that the "blame thing" was a mighty poor rooter, and that Fiancée in general was not what it was cracked up to be; that they split "like the devil," and had many other attributes unworthy of a "wonder."
Mr. Hartshorn came in. I took him to task; but poor man, he looked so forlorn and dejected. He began to unfold to me a tale of woe that could not but awaken my sympathy for him. But something had to be done. I had a few especially urgent customers on the list, who wanted their stock, as it were, "dead or alive." I told him about it; and if he could give me enough cuttings to satisfy those insistent ones, I would be grateful to him for the rest of my natural days. Furthermore, I was ready to give him a check for all the stock he could give me, right on the spot. Jimmie accepted my proposition. Yes, he had a batch of cuttings that looked quite promising, a batch of about ten or twelve thousand, ready to be taken up now. And although he promised this stock to another house that kept after him without any let-up, he would let me have them. I was glad I had made the trip.
After glancing through a few of his letters he cast them aside as something unworthy of notice and asked me to accompany him to his club. There we sat for the remainder of the day, alternating drinks with sandwiches, and telling each other tales of woe in our experience with Carnation cuttings.
Jim Hartshorn told of many experiences with Carnation cuttings and of the failure of Fiancée in particular. Among other things Mr. Hartshorn told me that the letters he received daily, taking him to task for the non-fulfilment of his promises, would suffice to break down a Sandow in physique or a Bismarck in iron will power.
"Why," he concluded, "the people are crazy! Can't they understand that Fiancée is a disappointment to me? Why don't they shut up and let up, instead of hounding me to death? Let us have another drink and drown our troubles."
A few other drinks were swallowed before we parted, never to meet again.
For in the Summer of that year Jimmie Hartshorn, the genial Jimmie, so much beloved and so well thought of by all his friends, died from the effect of an operation. Some of his closest friends claim that Fiancée was in a great measure a contributing cause of his illness and untimely demise.
There was a humorous side to the situation. There are very few situations in life, happily, that have not their humorous side. For months thereafter I was constantly receiving letters from my florist friends to the effect that a rival concern that had ordered Fiancée through another agent had received cuttings long ago, and that they were sorry they had not entrusted their orders with the other agent, a lesson well worth remembering. But meanwhile the other "agent" had similar letters regarding his unreliability, that orders entrusted to Skidelsky were delivered, that they were sorry, etc., etc. Furthermore, the grower who received his cuttings congratulated himself on his good fortune, while his seemingly less fortunate brother florist bewailed his ill-luck in not getting his. The following year the tables were turned; the man in possession of Fiancée wished he had never had them, while the other fellow jubilated that he had escaped.
I continued to handle Dorner's Carnations, and am doing so to this very day. My relations with Fred, Jr., and Theodore prior to and since their father's demise, have been of the friendliest nature. They follow in their father's footsteps in sturdy upright business principles, and it is a pleasure at all times to have dealings with them.
The demand for new and better varieties of Carnations became widespread. The most conservative growers, men who thought that the Lizzie McGowan and Scott were good enough for their purpose, began to realize that their patrons wanted flowers of a better grade. The demand had to be met.
Richard Witterstaetter Introduces Evelina, Estelle and Adonis
Richard Witterstaetter of Cincinnati was already known to a wide circle of growers as a careful and painstaking hybridizer. About 1896 he introduced Evelina, a white and most productive variety, one that promised well at the outset. Unfortunately, however, it did not fulfil its promise. A few years later, he introduced Estelle, a scarlet variety, which regardless of its minor faults, behaved splendidly in many sections.
Then came Adonis, one of the most beautiful scarlet varieties up to that date. When E. G. Hill and Robert Craig purchased the stock from Mr. Witterstaetter, the growers, so to speak, "sat up and took notice." It was the consensus of opinion that Adonis would replace the scarlet varieties that were growing at that time. But in this case, too, far from replacing such varieties as Estelle, Crane, and others, Adonis proved a failure. Some contended that the stock, after it left its original place, was overfed and overpropagated. At any rate, the life of Adonis was of short duration.
About 1904, the late William Murphy of Cincinnati, and the late J. Hartshorn, representing the Chicago Carnation Company, purchased the stock of Cardinal, a scarlet variety, from Richard Witterstaetter. The Cardinal was indeed one of the finest Carnations of that time; and in point of color there is nothing today to equal it. On Mr. Witterstaetter's place it was simply ideal. But Mr. Witterstaetter had a number of other seedlings on hand, and realizing the tremendous responsibility involved in the dissemination of a Carnation he thought it wise to sell the stock. The late Mr. Murphy, who had already embarked in the wholesale commission flower business, found it necessary to dispose of his share in order to give his own business the undivided attention it required. He offered his share to Mr. Hill and myself, and we purchased it.
Thus three partners, namely, the Chicago Carnation Company, E. G. Hill, and I, undertook the introduction of Cardinal. The sale, though not very extensive, proved nevertheless quite satisfactory and the variety itself was by no means disappointing in many quarters.
Other Introductions by Mr. Witterstaetter
A few years later. Aristocrat was introduced by Mr. Witterstaetter; and this variety Mr. Hartshorn bought outright. He did not live, however, to see its introduction. He died four months prior to its dissemination.
The introduction of Afterglow, by Mr. Witterstaetter himself, was perhaps the most successful of his undertakings. Afterglow did well in many places, and especially so in the New England States.
One of the things I could never understand is the fact that a Carnation behaving remarkably well in its own habitat should act so differently with other growers. Were this a general rule, the thing could be easily understood. While Mr. Fisher's and Mr. Dorner's varieties, with but rare exceptions, did well not only in this country but in many parts of Europe as well, most of Mr. Witterstaetter's varieties seemed to act in an opposite way. With the exception of Estelle and Afterglow, all the other varieties he introduced did not fulfil their promise.
A more honorable, painstaking, careful hybridizer it would be hard to point out. In fact, Mr. Witterstaetter perhaps is too critical for his own benefit. He has several varieties on his place today that would unquestionably prove a great acquisition if he were to put them on the market. Many growers and experts have urged him to do so. But Mr. Witterstaetter refuses. He wants to be absolutely sure, and he carries caution to the uttermost limits. But there is no question in my mind that his new seedlings are well worthy of trial by every grower. I have seen a good many varieties in my day, and I think I may safely say that I have learned to know a good thing when I see it.
The popularity of Richard Witterstaetter himself—"Dick," as he is called by his many friends—is not altogether because of his conscientious efforts as a hybridizer. He is a prince of hosts; he is always ready to put himself out to do someone else a good turn; he has a ready sympathy for the other fellow's joys and sorrows.
He has acted as a judge at the Carnation Society's conventions and has won the admiration of all; for his judgment is always straightforward and impartial. The S. A. F. and O. H. has no more loyal member than Mr. Witterstaetter. Surely he deserves the affection felt for him by his fellow-florists!
William Murphy and the White Carnation Output
The late William Murphy is another man that was held in great esteem by his colleagues of Cincinnati, as well as by all others who came into contact with him. I had known Mr. Murphy for twenty-six years, and from the time I met him until the day of his death, my regard for him never diminished. It is no easy matter for a wholesale commission man to satisfy both the consignor and the retail florist; but Mr. Murphy possessed the happy faculty of reconciling both elements, both finding him always strictly honorable in his dealings. He was a man not easily discouraged, and not to be bull-dozed. He always stood his ground. An incident worth relating is the following:
A few years ago Mr. Murphy actually cornered the white Carnation output in Cincinnati for one day, when there happened to be an oversupply, and made the retailers pay a reasonable figure, in order to prove to the other commission men that one must not yield to unreasonable demands. He knew that the demand for the Carnations was normal, and perhaps above normal; for there was plenty of funeral work on that day. He also understood the trend of the retail florists, and that is to buy as cheap as they can, especially when there is an abundance of flowers. So when the retail men began to pile in and inquire what white Carnations were worth, he told them two cents was the price.
"Two cents!" they expostulated. "You want too much money. I can get them at So-and-so's for half."
"Do it," replied Mr. Murphy, calmly. "That is your privilege."
Realizing the need of teaching a lesson not only to the retail men but to the other commission men as well, he sent out one of his men to purchase all the white Carnations in sight, from every commission man in the town. Thus fortified, Mr. Murphy was master of the situation that day.
As good luck would have it, he received a telegram from the South, ordering several thousand white Carnations. When the retailers began to pile in, Mr. Murphy's price rose half a cent more. There were expostulations and objections on all sides.
"Why, you asked only two cents this morning!"
"That's right. But now they are worth more. You know flowers fluctuate. Look at the order being packed for the South. Two and a half cents is the price—and that's all there is to it."
The upshot of the thing was that by three o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. Murphy was cleaned out of every white Carnation in the house; and the other commission men unquestionably profited by the lesson.
The death of Mr. Murphy was a source of genuine sorrow to his numerous friends throughout the country. He is succeeded by his son, Ray Murphy, who bids fair to continue the success that his father began.
Introduction of the Lawson Carnation
The introduction of the Lawson Carnation marks a new epoch in the history of Carnations in this country. Outside of the merits of the Carnation itself, and I need not enlarge upon this subject, because it is so well known, the sensational method with which it was introduced was an unmistakable innovation. Peter Fisher, regarded as the latter day Carnation wizard of this country, supplied Galvin & Co., the retail florists of Boston, with his output. Mr. Fisher had produced seedlings before, but those were of local fame, and little known outside of New England territory. The Lawson Carnation sprang into pre-eminence, not only in this country, but throughout the civilized world wherever Carnations are cultivated. And this is how it came about:
Mr. Galvin handled his new seedling. Its color, size, and keeping qualities appealed to him. It was not as yet named. A Carnation of this sort was worthy of a name befitting its excellence. There was Thomas W. Lawson, a man of wide reputation, wealthy, æsthetic in his taste, and a personal friend of Mr. Galvin himself. A capital idea! This seedling should be christened "Mrs. Thomas W. Lawson." It further occurred to Mr. Galvin that in addition to handling the blooms in the retail business, he might as well have the control of the output of rooted cuttings. This idea was still in the mind of Mr. Galvin when the Chicago Carnation Company became aware of the Boston sensation. J. D. Thompson, who was at that time general manager of the Chicago Carnation Company, called a council of the directors; and it was decided to purchase the stock from Mr. Fisher and transfer it to Illinois soil. Down to Boston Mr. Thompson came.
J. D. Thompson soon found Mr. Peter Fisher. A proposition, the nature of which I cannot exactly tell, was made to Mr. Fisher, and after some consideration Mr. Fisher was about ready to accept it. One fine afternoon, when Mr. Fisher and Mr. Thompson were going to close the deal, a messenger appeared at the hotel with an urgent request that before doing anything in the matter Mr. Fisher see Galvin and Lawson. J. D. Thompson was reluctant to part with Mr. Fisher before the deal was closed, but there was no alternative. That very evening the transaction was consummated, not between Mr. Fisher and the Chicago Carnation Company, but between Mr. Fisher and Galvin. Disappointed and discouraged, Mr. Thompson returned to his home in Illinois without the Mrs. Thomas W. Lawson.
Thirty Thousand Dollars for a Carnation
The plan conceived was a novel one. This seedling was to be put on the market with great fanfare of trumpets. First of all the Associated Press must take it up, as a great and important piece of news, worthy of heralding. Columns upon columns of Lawson matter appeared in the daily papers throughout the country. Was it ever heard or even dreamed of that a financier like Mr. Lawson should pay thirty thousand dollars for a Carnation? It was startling, sensational in the extreme. Not only had the general public been taken in with such a news item, but the florists themselves were sitting up and taking notice. A Carnation that could bring in thirty thousand dollars was worthy to be exhibited. Orders came thick and fast to Mr. Galvin for blooms. Mr. Galvin was in nowise slow to respond to such calls, and any florist wishing blooms could readily have them at five or six dollars per dozen. But price or no price, the progressive florists had to have them in their window, in order to satisfy their curious customers who read all about the thirty thousand dollar Lawson Carnation in the newspapers.
Thus the success of the "Lawson" was instantaneous. When the cuttings were put on the market it was not so much a question of how many could be sold as it was a question of how many could be produced. Every grower, large or small, wanted it. In Boston, Galvin's window was a center of attraction. People kept gazing at the blooms, wondering how in the name of good sense any man could pay thirty thousand dollars for a Carnation. The curiosity aroused was general. Even newsboys and working girls and working men talked about the sensational "Lawson." A rival of Mr. Galvin's, I recall, conceived the idea of playing a trick. Why let Mr. Galvin have all the glory and all the benefit? Couldn't he just as well fool the public, without doing any especial harm? There was the "Francis Joost," a beautiful pink Carnation that could well deceive the uninitiated. So one fine day there appeared a beautiful vase of Francis Joost in the florist's window, with a conspicuous card, "Mrs. Lawton, the great Carnation of today."
His trick, however, did not last long, for Mr. Galvin took the matter to court; and as the deception was so obvious, the court imposed a fine of a hundred dollars, with a warning to abstain from such tricks in the future.
The Lawson indeed proved to be a great Carnation, free, sturdy, with splendid lasting qualities; it was grown everywhere here and in Europe with great success. While Carnations have appeared since that are ahead of it, for a number of years the Lawson was the standard among growers. So well known was it before it was introduced to the general trade, that people would often come into florists' shops and ask for the Lawson Carnation. One day a young man from New York entered Niemeyer's store, in Erie, and asked if he had a Lawson Carnation to sell.
"The Lawson?" interrogated Niemeyer. "Why, we haven't got the Lawson."
"Oh, you're not in it at all," rejoined the young man.
"What color is the Lawson?" asked Mr. Niemeyer.
"It comes in all colors," was the reply.
It may have seemed humorous at the time, but the fact of the matter is that the young man predicted, though unconsciously, what actually has come to pass; for the Lawson has sported into a white, red, variegated, and two or three shades of lighter pinks. The well-known Winsor itself is to this day believed to be a sport of Lawson.
Success of the Lawson Carnation
The introduction of the Lawson, as I said before, marked a new epoch in the history of the American Carnation. The old William Scott was no longer the standard among the growers. It had served its time, and served well. It was now the Lawson that every grower turned his attention to. But other good varieties were in sight. The advent of Enchantress was hailed with especial pleasure, for its delicate color and size of bloom marked it distinctly from any variety that had ever appeared.
Peter Fisher's Enchantress, Beacon and Benora
About a year or two prior to the introduction of Enchantress, J. D. Thompson had severed his connection with the Chicago Carnation Company and had embarked in business for himself under the name of The J. D. Thompson Carnation Company. It was Mr. Thompson's good luck to purchase the entire stock of Enchantress from Peter Fisher, and a mighty profitable deal it proved to him, and to put it on the market.
Peter Fisher, as I have already said of him, has become the latter day Carnation wizard. His introduction of these two splendid varieties has made him famous among Carnation growers everywhere. In fact the names of Dorner and Fisher conjured up in the minds of the Carnation growers, as they do to this very day, meritorious varieties well worth trying. Peter Fisher, as everybody knows him, is a man who boasts but little of his achievements. He lets his own work speak for itself. Nor is he a man who has ever evinced any signs of enthusiasm in his manner. He is cold in his attitude, rather reserved, though in many ways outspoken, yet at the same time a man whose honesty of purpose and absolute integrity in business transactions are not to be questioned for a moment. During one of the Carnation shows in Boston, a number of growers went out to his place at Ellis to view Beacon, at that time not yet on the market. Mr. Fisher took us through the place, and to the surprise of everybody, rather than expand upon its merits, he began to point out the faults of the variety. It was an orange red, inclined to fade in the hot weather; its color was by no means ideal; but, he concluded, it was a producer, a variety that would yield the blooms and bring money to the grower. Beacon has long since verified all of Mr. Fisher's claims about it. Beacon has held out longer than any red Carnation, maintaining its reputation to this very day.
Several years after the advent of Beacon, Mr. Fisher introduced the Benora, a splendid variegated variety, well known to every grower. Among the growers who went out to view it, there was a prominent man who was now and then inclined to resort to a "bracer" by way of a drink. Since Mr. Fisher never volunteered to "set 'em up"—Mr. Fisher is a teetotaller—the grower aforementioned asked him if he knew of a place in the neighborhood where cocktails or highballs were to be had.
"If you are thirsty, Mr. X——————," rejoined Mr. Fisher, "we can readily accommodate you. Here is the dipper and there is the pump. Drink all you can hold—and it will do you more good than a cocktail."
The pump, if I remember rightly, was not tapped at that moment.
Carnation Boston Market
On one occasion I happened to be in Utica, N. Y., at a florists' meeting. A small Carnation show was in progress at the club room. Among the Carnations shown was the Boston Market, which Mr. Fisher at the request of the club had sent in. There were a number of the growers favorably impressed with the variety, and ready to place orders. A general order amounting to about twenty-five hundred was made up, and since I was there it was decided to let me have the order. As my acquaintance with Mr. Fisher was very slight at the time, I mailed him that order rather hesitatingly. (Boston Market antedates Beacon, which latter really commenced my business relations with Mr. Fisher.) I wrote him at the same time to be sure to send the goods, and that if he saw fit to allow me a commission on the sale, well and good, else to send it anyway, and I would forego my commission. Since I undertook to fill the order, I felt that I was bound to do so. In the course of a week or so, I received a curt letter from Mr. Fisher, to the effect that the order had been sent, and that he was quite surprised to receive it through me, since he never authorized me to take orders for him. Not a word was mentioned about the commission.
When I met him a few months later, I referred to the subject (not to the commission end of it, though.)
"You did not receive my first letter, did you?" he asked.
"I received your letter, yes," I answered.
"I know," he said, "but not the first one. Because the first one I tore up!"
I imagined at the time that the first letter, which he tore up, must have been, to put it mildly, rather pointed.
When Beacon came on the market I was sure there would be great demand for it, and I was determined to be on the ground floor with the variety. So one day I took a train from Boston for Ellis, Mass. Mr. Fisher already knew who I was, so any formal introductions were unnecessary. I stated the object of my call. Yes, he could see no reason why he couldn't sell me any Beacon if I paid him the scheduled prices, governed by quantity, of course. I knew I could use twenty thousand, and so without hesitation I gave him my order for that quantity.
I took my departure. On the following morning I received a letter at my Boston Hotel, which ran as follows:
"I have booked your order for twenty thousand Beacon, for January delivery, terms cash in advance."
Since my faith in Mr. Fisher himself, no less than his variety, was unshaken, the "cash in advance" terms proved no deterrent to the transaction. In due course of time Mr. Fisher had his checks in advance, and my customers had their excellent rooted cuttings.
I have dealt with Mr. Fisher time and again since, our business transactions amounting to thousands of dollars. But never has Mr. Fisher asked me for cash in advance since that time. My confidence in him became reciprocal; our business relations have been pleasant, and my visits to Ellis are always one of the agreeable features in my trips through New England, personally as well as from the business standpoint. Mr. Fisher is today one of my most esteemed friends among the trade.
More About Enchantress
But let us return to Enchantress. No sooner had Mr. Thompson announced the consummation of his deal with Mr. Fisher than orders began to come to him thick and fast from every section of the country. I undertook the task of helping disseminate it, as many other dealers did; and it was a profitable task indeed. No order I took among my customers was complete unless it contained Enchantress cuttings. True, the monetary consideration played a large part; but outside of that, I felt enthusiastic about the Enchantress myself. Consciously or unconsciously, I had arrived at the conclusion that here was a factor that would go a good way toward the uplift of floriculture in our country. I felt that I was one of the men exerting themselves toward that uplift. Business has other compensations than the profits that one counts in money; there is a genuine satisfaction in doing part of the constructive work in the growth of an industry. The Enchantress variety, with but very rare exceptions, has proved a profitable investment to every grower everywhere. The few exceptions at the time were among the smaller growers who never grew any varieties profitably. In the long run, such failures did not count.
Like the Lawson, the Enchantress soon began to show its sporting proclivities. A few years after its introduction, there appeared several white sports in various sections of the country. F. R. Pierson, of Tarrytown, N. Y., had one of a creamy shade. Mr. Benson, of Denver, Col., had one of a pure white. So did Thomas Browne, of Greenfield, Mich., and the late A. C. Canfield, of Springfield, Ill. White Enchantress, like the original variety, was greatly in demand the first year, and for a few years thereafter; so much so that the demand was far in excess of the supply.
Rose Pink Enchantress
About 1904 another sport of the Enchantress appeared. It was a beautiful shade of pink; and it was I who had the privilege of christening it Rose Pink Enchantress, a name by which it became known to the trade. The Rose Pink Enchantress first made its appearance upon B. Schroeter's place in Detroit, Mich. Mr. Schroeter spoke to me about it a year or two prior to its introduction. He was not quite sure whether or not he would put it on the market at all, but if he decided to disseminate it he would give me a chance at it. One day in December, 1904, I received a letter in Philadelphia from Mr. Schroeter to the effect that he had decided to put Rose Pink Enchantress on the market, that his stock was rather limited, and that if I intended to handle it to advise him immediately, as another house was after it.
Certainly I wasn't going to let any such opportunity slip through my fingers. Acting on my first impulse, I wrote an advertisement for the trade papers, setting forth to the best of my ability the various good points about the variety, as well as the advantages of growing an Enchantress of a much deeper color than the original. Then a thought flashed through my mind which made me change my first intention. A sport of Enchantress in a limited quantity should sell readily without especial advertising. In fact, I calculated, it would be really a question whether Mr. Schroeter could supply enough cuttings to meet the demand. So instead of advertising it broadcast, I decided to write a few letters to growers who I knew would be interested, in view of the great success they had made with the original Enchantress. I enlisted the services of my daughter in making copies of the letter that I concocted. She had aspirations at the time toward a college education; and I told her half jestingly that Rose Pink Enchantress was going to send her to college. It did.
I sent a number of these letters out, and the answers came promptly. To be sure, they wanted it. One grower, Thomas Joy of Nashville, wrote me to put him down for one thousand, and that should I come across any good sports of Enchantress to be sure to bear him in mind.
"What a pity," I thought later, "that Mr. Schroeter has not worked up a stock tenfold what he has to offer! We could have sold every cutting."
About the beginning of March, orders came in so thick and fast that we were at our wits' end to fill them. Numerous checks and post-office money orders had to be returned. To the credit of Mr. Schroeter be it said, he grew the stock most carefully; for not only did he have no complaints, but he had many complimentary letters, a thing so encouraging to every Carnation disseminator.
B. Schroeter, the Grand Old Man of Detroit
Mr. B. Schroeter, whom I have known since my first visit to Detroit during the Fall of 1889, may be called the "grand old man" of Detroit. He is today seventy-six years of age, but years do not seem to count with him. His activity in his own business and his keen interest in things in general seem to have lightened the burden of old age, in his case. Six years ago, upon his seventieth birthday, the Detroit florists in a body tendered him a banquet, and presented him with a suitable token of their esteem and admiration. This incident goes to prove in what esteem Mr. Schroeter is held by his brother florists in Detroit. I have yet to meet a man who would speak of Mr. Schroeter in any but the highest terms; and it is no surprise that it should be so. My own experience with him has been of the friendliest nature; and it is always a source of great pleasure to me to call upon "the grand old man" and talk to him on all sorts of topics. For Mr. Schroeter is a well-posted man, and a voracious reader of the German classics, such as Goethe and Schiller, some of whose masterpieces he almost knows by heart. It is also an inspiration to a younger man to hear him plan things for the future. Here is a man of seventy-six living as if he had his whole life before him. You never hear him refer to the past as "the good old days." On the contrary, his general attitude is that of Robert Browning—
"Grow old along with me—
The best is yet to be."
Rose Pink Enchantress proved a profitable undertaking, not only the year of its dissemination but the second year as well.
My enthusiasm for the Carnation end of my business kept on growing in proportion with my faith in the future of floriculture in general. Among my friends I became known as a Carnation specialist, and although I never grew a Carnation in my life, many a grower often extended me a hearty welcome because he thought I could give him pointers that might be of value to him. I remember one case when a dispute arose between two rival disseminators as to the merits of two respective seedlings, both red. Along with the few prominent growers who were invited by one of these disputants to be his guests over Sunday, and see his seedling for themselves, I was asked to come. My reputation extended even beyond our own borders, for I often had letters of inquiry and orders from Canada and England. Some of the most conservative growers in our own country would often consult me before investing in a variety. I was proud of this fact, because it proved to me that my sincerity of intention was not questioned and that I inspired these men with faith in my judgment. Unfortunately my judgment was not always correct; but is there a man in any line of endeavor who is absolutely infallible? If I have erred at times in my judgments, I have never wilfully or with malice aforethought misrepresented any article. It is one of the most valued compliments I have ever received, that a certain grower remarked to my son: "There's" one thing sure—if your father recommends a Carnation, I feel pretty safe in assuming it's a good thing. And if by any chance it isn't, I know he's been fooled about it himself."
I think most of my friends in the trade are equally sure that if a thing doesn't turn out all I predict for it, it is as much of a disappointment and surprise to me as it is to them. This confidence which I think they have in my honesty of purpose is one of the great compensations which I feel my business career has had for me.
White Carnation Seedling Fred Burki
I was in quest of other good things, spurred on anew by the success of Rose Pink Enchantress. John Murchic, of Sharon, Pa., had a white Carnation seedling, which he named Fred Burki. That seedling looked good and promising. Growers in the immediate vicinity thought a great deal of it, more so in fact than did Mr. Murchie himself, and were ready to place large orders. Mr. Murchie thought I was the man to put it on the market, and so did I.
At the Detroit Carnation Show it was given a certificate of merit. It was a clear road now toward launching another winner. I got ready for the occasion, and in due time I introduced it. Unfortunately, the Fred Burki, unlike the man after whom it was named, proved anything but popular. It seemed to be one of those varieties that while behaving admirably at the introducer's place manifest all sorts of unsuspected caprices when taken away from its first habitat. Fred Burki Carnation did not last very long, and like many another variety of its kind in the past it died a natural death, and was soon forgotten.
William Murphy's Carnation Delhi
Another variety which I undertook to introduce, conjointly with its hybridizer, the late William Murphy, of Cincinnati, was the red Carnation Delhi. I had often seen it during my visits to Cincinnati, and while it never impressed me as a great improvement on existing varieties, I nonetheless saw some merit in it. Its productiveness was one of its chief meritorious characteristics. It came into full crop for Christmas, and continued blooming throughout the season and late into the Spring and Summer, never losing its color. I thought, as did many growers in Cincinnati (among whom was the late Max Rudolph, in whose judgment I placed reliance), that there was room for Delhi. As the case proved in the end, quite a number of growers were delighted with its habit. In the South especially, it did well, and there are some who still consider it the best all around red Carnation for their purposes.
The Carnation Enthusiast, C. W. Ward
C. W. Ward, of Queens, L. I., is another Carnation enthusiast. He wrote a book, "The American Carnation and How to Grow It," tracing the evolution of the "Divine Flower" from its humble origin to its present stage of perfection. He did much in a practical way for the improvement of the Carnation. He introduced several varieties years ago, such as Maceo, Gomez, Harry Fenn, and a white one whose name I do not recall at this moment, and in later years Mrs. C. W. Ward, Alma Ward, and Matchless. These varieties were grown successfully in various parts of the country, and Mr. Ward became known as a successful Carnation hybridizer. When the Carnation convention met at Washington in 1908, he had a particularly attractive white seedling. If I remember rightly, it was Alma Struss, although I am not sure. Its size, substance, and perfect form attracted the attention of every grower present.
The Carnation convention of Washington was not so successful in certain ways as it might have been, though in others it proved to be a memorable one to every grower that attended. William Gude thought it would be interesting for the delegates to meet the strenuous Theodore Roosevelt, then still in the White House. The suggestion of course was hailed without a voice of dissent. So on the second day we departed in a body for the historic White House. A magnificent vase of Mr. Ward's new white seedling was already there. We were ushered into one of the large reception rooms, and arranged ourselves in a semi-circle. It was the intention of Mr. Ward to present these flowers to Mr. Roosevelt, and to tell him something of the history of the American Carnation.
Mr. Roosevelt soon appeared. If anybody had any intention of addressing him, he soon learned that it was "no go." Mr. Roosevelt did all the talking. I cannot recall what he said, for my attention was riveted upon the man himself. I remember, however, that he turned to Master Herr, aged seven, who accompanied his father, with the words: "I am pleased to see so young a delegate among you!"
Then came our turn to shake hands. We passed along in line, each receiving a hearty handshake. I remember having formulated in my mind a suitable little speech, but when my turn came the speech vanished into thin air.
William Craig, who preceded me, put a Carnation into Mr. Roosevelt's buttonhole, remarking: "Mr. President, they didn't treat you right! They should have thought of putting a Carnation in your buttonhole. Permit me to do it."
Mr. Roosevelt smiled, and thanked him for the courtesy, saying: "Yes, that was unpardonable, indeed!"
When Peter Fisher approached him, I noticed that he lingered for a few moments, talking in his usual earnest manner to the President. I was interested in what he might have told him, and later asked Mr. Fisher what the conversation was about.
"Nothing much," said Mr. Fisher, "except that I told him how much I admired his backbone, whether or not I agreed with all his policies—that when I get home I'll try to cultivate some of that backbone myself."
A year prior to the Carnation convention, namely, in 1907, the Rose Society met in Washington. On that occasion, too, the members of the society met "the strenuous one" in a body. A magnificent vase of the Richmond Roses was presented to him and Mr. Robert Craig, the "silver-tongued orator," was chosen to make the presentation speech. Mr. Craig, as might have been expected, was equal to the occasion. He told Mr. Roosevelt briefly the history of the American Rose, and the progress it had made within the last few years.
"Up to within a few years ago," he said, in substance, "we depended upon England, Ireland, France, and other countries for our Roses. But the time has come when the American Rose grower will not only supply the needs of his own country, but will send his Roses abroad. Here, Mr. President (pointing to the vase) is the Richmond Rose, a magnificent specimen produced by a man of Richmond, Ind."
Mr. Craig got no further.
"Is there anybody here from Richmond, Ind.?" interrupted the President.
Mr. E. G. Hill stepped forward.
"Do you know Mr. Folk, of Richmond?" asked Mr. Roosevelt.
"I know him very well indeed," replied Mr. Hill. "He is a friend of mine, and almost a next-door neighbor."
Mr. Roosevelt then dropped the subject, and spoke to the delegates of things American in general. And Mr. Craig was given no opportunity to finish his speech.
It's a bad thing for anybody else to want the floor when Mr. Roosevelt is around!