When Aladdin rubbed
his Wonderful Lamp (so we are told in the Arabian Nights'
Entertainments) he summoned a powerful genie, who obeyed his every
behest, and was able to lay at his feet all the good things which
this world can command.
The old Eastern story was a sort of prophetic mirror of many
romantic incidents in the Modern Biography of Industry and Commerce.
In Current Literature few things have a greater charm to busy men
than any trustworthy record of successful enterprise, especially
when the story bears upon yesterday or to-day. No wonder that it is
Now, perhaps, more than ever, calm, well directed effort and
scientific insight; indomitable pluck and that ready resolution
which knows when to seize the moment of fortune are the ^grand
characteristics which give power to win a prize in the arena of
To know something, therefore, of the men who have succeeded becomes
of increasing interest to those in the thick of the fight at the
present moment. The lucky hit or the lost chance, the far-seen
enterprise demanding years of quiet, patient labour and stern
endurance, are a kind of commercial history which carries its own
lesson of elastic hope or sober caution to the eager men of to-day.
In such studies of character and energy we observe at work the ready
wit which sees a new market, and the prompt resource which supplies
it; the skilful utilisation of a waste product; the building up of
new industrial colonies, as remarkable for their social as for their
commercial advantages; the forging of links of connection between
eminent business houses and the highest offices of state; the magic
of mechanical power and inventive genius applied to the cheapening
of some article of every-day consumption; the light which casts a
brightening fancy upon even the mean utensils of the poorest
household. Above all, we can mark the influence of fidelity to
engagements, and the sagacity and wise liberality which know when to
foster a struggling industry.
All the forces, in short, which bend the powers of Nature and the
rugged products of the Earth to the comfort and the grace of man's
life are before us. We see them in full play amidst the small
beginnings and the marvelous expansion of Commercial Houses whose
members have won wealth, social rank, and a world-wide reputation.
Some years ago the Editor of this Volume, in company with various
writers, set about the task of which the result is here offered to
The endeavour has been to take down from the lips of the living,
facts not previously reduced to writing; and also to collect and
crystallise the valuable material lying about in fugitive literature
and out-of-the-w^ay storehouses.
It has been no easy matter to gather and sift the curiously
scattered information which thus gave the key to such varied efforts
as those of the men represented in this Volume. Many visits had to
be paid to different parts of the Country and numerous appeals made,
in person and by letter, to those who were found to be the sole
living depositaries of the knowledge desired. It would be tedious to
tender in detail acknowledgments for that large and generous aid
which has made this book possible — the reminiscences so kindly
placed at our service by those who have had special opportunities
for observation; the authentic anecdotes (often throwing remarkable
light on obscure beginnings), as well as the practical knowledge
which has helped us to thread our way amidst the tangled history of
complex mechanical inventions and industrial improvements.
It is hoped that this book may thus be found a genuine contribution
to our Commercial History. Those only who have been engaged in a
similar task can fairly estimate the labour involved in welding such
an enormous mass of miscellaneous matter into homogeneous form, so
as to give a clear, succinct idea of the rise and progress of Houses
which have made a very distinct mark on the Industrial and
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