Part 1 out of 3
THE IRON PUDDLER
MY LIFE IN THE ROLLING MILLS AND
WHAT CAME OF IT
by JAMES J. DAVIS
JOSEPH G. CANNON
The man whose life story is here presented between book covers
is at the time of writing only forty-eight years old. When I
met him many years ago he was a young man full of enthusiasm.
I remember saying to him then, "With your enthusiasm and the
sparkle which you have in your eyes I am sure you will make good."
Why should so young a man, one so recently elevated to official
prominence, write his memoirs? That question will occur to those
who do not know Jim Davis. His elevation to a Cabinet post marks
not the beginning of his career, but rather is the curtain-rise
on the second act of one of those dramatic lives with which
America has so often astounded the world. Bruised and bleeding in
a southern, peon camp, where he and other hungry men had been
trapped by a brutal slave driver, he drank the bitter cup of
unrequited toil. And from this utter depth, in less than thirty
years, he rose to the office of secretary of labor. There is
drama enough for one life if his career should end to-day. And
while this man fought his way upward, he carried others with him,
founding by his efforts and their cooperation, the great school
called Mooseheart. More than a thousand students of both sexes,
ranging from one to eighteen years, are there receiving their
preparation for life. The system of education observed there is
probably the best ever devised to meet the needs of all humanity.
The brain of James J. Davis fathered this educational system.
It is his contribution to the world, and the world has accepted
it. The good it promised is already being realized, its fruits
are being gathered. Its blessings are falling on a thousand young
Americans, and its influence like a widening ripple is extending
farther every day. It promises to reach and benefit every child
in America. And to hasten the growth of this new education, James
J. Davis has here written the complete story. I have known Mr.
Davis many years and am one of the thousands who believe in him
and have helped further his work.
The author of this autobiography is indeed a remarkable man. He
is sometimes called the Napoleon of Fraternity. Love of his
fellows is his ruling passion. He can call more than ten thousand
men by their first names. His father taught him this motto: "No
man is greater than his friends. All the good that comes into
your life will come from your friends. If you lose your friends
your enemies will destroy you." Davis has stood by his friends.
As a labor leader and a fraternal organizer, he has proved his
ability. Thousands think he is unequaled as an orator, thinker
and entertainer. His zeal is all for humanity and he knows man's
needs. He has dedicated his life to the cause of better education
for the workers of this land. His cause deserves a hearing.
J G Cannon
WASHINGTON, D. C.,
"Where were you previous to the eighth and immediately
subsequent thereto?" asked the city attorney.
The prisoner looked sheepish and made no answer. A box car had
been robbed on the eighth and this man had been arrested in the
freight yards. He claimed to be a steel worker and had shown the
judge his calloused hands. He had answered several questions
about his trade, his age and where he was when the policeman
arrested him. But when they asked him what he had been doing
previous to and immediately subsequent thereto, he hung his head
as if at a loss for an alibi.
I was city clerk at the time and had been a steel worker. I
knew why the man refused to answer. He didn't understand the
"Where were you previous to the eighth and immediately
subsequent thereto?" the attorney asked him for the third time.
All the prisoner could do was look guilty and say nothing.
"Answer the question," ordered the judge, "or I'll send you up
Still the man kept silent. Then I spoke up:
"John, tell the court where you were before you came here and
also where you have been since you arrived in the city."
"I was in Pittsburgh," he said, and he proceeded to tell the
whole story of his life. He was still talking when they chased
him out of court and took up the next case. He was a free man,
and yet he had come within an inch of going to jail. All because
he didn't know what "previous to the eighth and immediately
subsequent thereto" meant.
The man was an expert puddler. A puddler makes iron bars. They
were going to put him behind his own bars because he couldn't
understand the legal jargon. Thanks to the great educational
system of America the working man has improved his mental muscle
as well as his physical.
This taught me a lesson. Jargon can put the worker in jail. Big
words and improper phraseology are prison bars that sometimes
separate the worker from the professional people. "Stone walls do
not a prison make," because the human mind can get beyond them.
But thick-shelled words do make a prison. They are something that
the human mind can not penetrate. A man whose skill is in his
hands can puddle a two hundred-pound ball of iron. A man whose
skill is on his tongue can juggle four-syllable words. But that
iron puddler could not savvy four-syllable words any more than
the word juggler could puddle a heat of iron. The brain worker
who talks to the hand worker in a special jargon the latter can
not understand has built an iron wall between the worker's mind
and his mind. To tear down that wall and make America one nation
with one language is one of the tasks of the new education.
If big words cause misunderstandings, why not let them go? When
the stork in the fable invited the fox to supper he served the
bean soup in a long-necked vase. The stork had a beak that
reached down the neck of the vase and drank the soup with ease.
The fox had a short muzzle and couldn't get it. The trick made
him mad and he bit the stork's head off. Why should the brain
worker invite the manual worker to a confab and then serve the
feast in such long-necked language that the laborer can't get it?
"Let's spill the beans," the agitator tells him, "then we'll all
get some of the gravy."
This long-necked jargon must go. It is not the people's dish.
With foggy phrases that no one really understands they are trying
to incite the hand worker to bite off the head of the brain
worker. When employer and employee sit together at the council
table, let the facts be served in such simple words that we can
all get our teeth into them.
When I became secretary of labor I said that the employer and
employee had a duty to perform one to the other, and both to the
Capital does not always mean employer. When I was a boy in
Sharon, Pennsylvania, I looked in a pool in the brook and
discovered a lot of fish. I broke some branches off a tree, and
with this I brushed the fish out of the pool. I sold them to a
teamster for ten cents. With this I bought shoe blacking and a
shoe brush and spent my Saturdays blacking boots for travelers at
the depot and the hotel. I had established a boot-blacking
business which I pushed in my spare time for several years. My
brush and blacking represented my capital. The shining of the
travelers' shoes was labor. I was a capitalist but not an
employer; I was a laborer but not an employee.
"Labor is prior to and independent of capital," said Lincoln.
This is true. I labored to break the branches from the tree
before I had any capital. They brought me fish, which were
capital because I traded them for shoe blacking with which I
earned enough money to buy ten times more fish than I had caught.
So labor is prior to capital--when you use the words in their
right meaning. But call the employee "labor" and the employer
"capital," and you make old Honest Abe say that the employee is
prior to and independent of the employer, or that the wage earner
is independent of the wage payer or, in still shorter words, the
man is on the job before the job is created. Which is nonsense.
Capital does not always mean employer. A Liberty Bond is
capital but it is not an employer; the Government is an employer
but it is not capital, and when any one is arguing a case for an
employee against his employer let him use the proper terms. The
misuse of words can cause a miscarriage of justice as the misuse
of railway signals can send a train into the ditch.
All my life I have been changing big words into little words so
that the employee can know what the employer is saying to him.
The working man handles things. The professional man plies words.
I learned things first and words afterward. Things can enrich a
nation, and words can impoverish it. The words of theorists have
cost this nation billions which must be paid for in things.
When I was planning a great school for the education of
orphans, some of my associates said: "Let us teach them to be
pedagogues." I said: "No, let us teach them the trades. A boy
with a trade can do things. A theorist can say things. Things
done with the hands are wealth, things said with the mouth are
words. When the housing shortage is over and we find the nation
suffering from a shortage of words, we will close the classes in
carpentry and open a class in oratory."
This, then is the introduction to my views and to my policies.
They are now to have a fair trial, like that other iron worker in
the Elwood police court. I know what the word "previous" means. I
can give an account of myself. So, in the following pages I will
tell "where I was before I came here."
If my style seems rather flippant, it is because I have been
trained as an extemporaneous speaker and not as a writer. For
fifteen years I traveled over the country lecturing on the
Mooseheart School. My task was to interest men in the abstract
problems of child education. A speaker must entertain his hearers
to the end or lose their attention. And so I taxed my wit to make
this subject simple and easy to listen to. At last I evolved a
style of address that brought my points home to the men I was
After all these years I can not change my style. I talk more
easily than I write; therefore, in composing this book I have
imagined myself facing an audience, and I have told my story. I
do not mention the names of the loyal men who helped work out the
plans of Mooseheart and gave the money that established it, for
their number is so great that their names alone would fill three
volumes as large as this.
I THE HOME-MADE SUIT OF CLOTHES
II A TRAIT OF THE WELSH PEOPLE
III NO GIFT FROM THE FAIRIES
IV SHE SINGS TO HER NEST
V THE LOST FEATHER BED
VI HUNTING FOR LOST CHILDREN
VII HARD SLEDDING IN AMERICA
VIII MY FIRST REGULAR JOB
IX THE SCATTERED FAMILY
X MELODRAMA BECOMES COMEDY
XI KEEPING OPEN HOUSE
XII MY HAND TOUCHES IRON
XIII SCENE IN A ROLLING MILL
XIV BOILING DOWN THE PIGS
XV THE IRON BISCUITS
XVI WRESTING A PRIZE FROM NATURE'S HAND
XVII MAN IS IRON TOO
XVIII ON BEING A GOOD GUESSER
XIX I START ON MY TRAVELS
XX THE RED FLAG AND THE WATERMELONS
XXI ENVY IS THE SULPHUR IN HUMAN PIG-IRON
XXII LOADED DOWN WITH LITERATURE
XXIII THE PUDDLER HAS A VISION
XXIV JOE THE POOR BRAKEMAN
XXV A DROP IN THE BUCKET OF BLOOD
XXVI A GRUB REFORMER PUTS US OUT OF GRUB
XXVII THE PIE EATER'S PARADISE
XXVIII CAUGHT IN A SOUTHERN PEONAGE CAMP
XXIX A SICK, EMACIATED SOCIAL SYSTEM
XXX BREAKING INTO THE TIN INDUSTRY
XXXI UNACCUSTOMED AS I AM TO PUBLIC SPEAKING
XXXII LOGIC WINS IN THE STRETCH
XXXIII I MEET THE INDUSTRIAL CAPTAINS
XXXIV SHIRTS FOR TIN ROLLERS
XXXV AN UPLIFTER RULED BY ENVY
XXXVI GROWLING FOR THE BOSSES BLOOD
XXXVII FREE AND UNLIMITED COINAGE
XXXVIII THE EDITOR GETS MY GOAT
XXXIX PUTTING JAZZ INTO THE CAMPAIGN
XL FATHER TOOK ME SERIOUSLY
XLI A PAVING CONTRACTOR PUTS ME ON THE PAVING
XLII THE EVERLASTING MORALIZER
XLIII FROM TIN WORKER TO SMALL CAPITALIST
XLIV A CHANCE TO REALIZE A DREAM
XLV THE DREAM COMES TRUE
XLVI THE MOOSEHEART IDEA
XLVII LIFE'S PROBLEMS
XLVIII BUILDING A BETTER WORLD BY EDUCATION
THE IRON PUDDLER
THE HOME-MADE SUIT OF CLOTHES
A fight in the first chapter made a book interesting to me when
I was a boy. I said to myself, "The man who writes several
chapters before the fighting begins is like the man who sells
peanuts in which a lot of the shells haven't any goodies." I made
up my mind then that if I ever wrote a book I would have a fight
in the first chapter.
So I will tell right here how I whipped the town bully in
Sharon, Pennsylvania. I'll call him Babe Durgon. I've forgotten
his real name, and it might be better not to mention it anyhow.
For though I whipped him thirty years ago, he might come back now
in a return match and reverse the verdict, so that my first
chapter would serve better as my last one. Babe was older than I,
and had pestered me from the time I was ten. Now I was eighteen
and a man. I was a master puddler in the mill and a musician in
the town band (I always went with men older than myself). Two
stove molders from a neighboring factory were visiting me that
day, and, as it was dry and hot, I offered to treat them to a
cool drink. There were no soda fountains in those days and the
only place to take a friend was to the tavern. We went in and my
companions ordered beer. Babe, the bully, was standing by the bar.
He had just come of age, and wanted to bulldoze me with that fact.
"Don't serve Jimmy Davis a beer," Babe commanded. "He's a
minor. He can't buy beer."
"I didn't want a beer," I said. "I was going to order a soft
"Yes, you was. Like hell you was," Babe taunted. "You came in
here to get a beer like them fellers. You think you're a man, but
I know you ain't. And I'm here to see that nobody sells liquor to
I was humiliated. The bully knew that I wanted to be a man, and
his shot stung me. My friends looked at me as if to ask: "Are you
going to take that?" And so the fight was arranged, although I
had no skill at boxing, and was too short-legged, like most
Welshmen, for a fast foot race. Babe had me up against a real
"Come on over the line," he said.
Sharon was near the Ohio border and it was customary to go
across the state line to fight, so that on returning the local
peace officers would have no jurisdiction. We started for the
battle ground. Babe had never been whipped; he always chose
younger opponents. He was a good gouger, and had marked up most
of the boys on the "flats" as we called the lowlands where the
poorer working people lived. A gouger is one who stabs with his
thumb. When he gets his sharp thumb-nail into the victim's eye,
the fight is over. Biting and kicking were his second lines of
As we walked along I was depressed by the thought that I was
badly outclassed. There was only one thing in my favor. I hated
Babe Durgon with a bitter loathing that I had been suppressing
for years. It all went back to the summer of 1884 when I was
eleven years old. Times were hard, and the mill was "down."
Father had gone to Pittsburgh to look for work. I was scouring
the town of Sharon to pick up any odd job that would earn me a
nickel. There were no telephones and I used to carry notes
between sweethearts, pass show bills for the "opry," and ring a
hand-bell for auctions. An organized charity had opened
headquarters on Main Street to collect clothing and money for the
destitute families of the workers. I went up there to see if they
needed an errand boy. A Miss Foraker--now Mrs. F. H. Buhl--was in
charge. She was a sweet and gracious young woman and she
explained that they had no pay-roll.
"Everybody works for nothing here," she said. "I get no pay,
and the landlord gives us the use of the rooms free. This is a
public charity and everybody contributes his services free."
I saw a blue serge boy's suit among the piles of garments. It
was about my size and had seen little wear. I thought it was the
prettiest suit I had ever seen. I asked Miss Foraker how much
money it would take to buy the suit. She said nothing was for
sale. She wrapped up the suit and placed the pack. age in my
arms, saying, "That's for you, Jimmy."
I raced home and climbed into the attic of our little four-
dollar-a-month cottage, and in the stifling heat under the low
roof I changed my clothes. Then I proudly climbed down to show my
blue suit to my mother. "Where did you get those clothes, James?"
she asked gravely.
I told her about Miss Foraker.
"Did you work for them?"
"No; everything is free," I said.
Mother told me to take the suit off. I went to the attic,
blinking a tear out of my eyes, and changed into my old rags
again. Then mother took the blue suit, wrapped it up carefully
and putting it in my hands told me to take it back to Miss
"You don't understand, James," she said. "But these clothes are
not for people like us. These are to be given to the poor."
I have often smiled as I looked back on it. I'll bet there
wasn't a dime in the house. The patches on my best pants were
three deep and if laid side by side would have covered more
territory than the new blue suit. To take those clothes back was
the bitterest sacrifice my heart has ever known.
A few days later there was a fire sale by one of the merchants,
and I got the job of ringing the auction bell. Late in the
afternoon the auctioneer held up a brown overcoat. "Here is a
fine piece of goods, only slightly damaged," he said. He showed
the back of the coat where a hole was burned in it. "How much am
I knew that I would get fifty cents for my day's work, so I bid
ten cents--all that I could spare.
"Sold," said the auctioneer, "for ten cents to the kid who rang
the bell all day."
I took the garment home and told my mother how I had bought it
for cash in open competition with all the world. My mother and my
aunt set to work with shears and needles and built me a suit of
clothes out of the brown overcoat. It took a lot of ingenuity to
make the pieces come out right. The trousers were neither long
nor short. They dwindled down and stopped at my calves, half-way
above my ankles. What I hated most was that the seams were not in
the right places. It was a patchwork, and there were seams down
the front of the legs where the crease ought to be. I didn't want
to wear the suit, but mother said it looked fine on me, and if
she said so I knew it must be true. I wore it all fall and half
The first time I went to Sunday-school, I met Babe Durgon. He
set up the cry:
"Little boy, little boy,
Does your mother know you're out;
With your breeches put on backward,
And the seams all inside out!"
This was the first time that my spirit had been hurt. His words
were a torment that left a scar upon my very soul. Even to this
day when I awake from some bad dream, it is a dream that I am
wearing crazy breeches and all the world is jeering at me. It has
made me tender toward poor children who have to wear hand-me-
To-day psychologists talk much of the "inferiority complex"
which spurs a man forward to outdo himself. But Babe Durgon and I
didn't go into these matters as we trudged along through the dark
on our way to do battle "over the line." At the foot of the hill,
"What's the use of going any farther? Let's fight here." It was
in front of a new building--a church-school half completed. We
took off our coats and made belts of our suspenders. Then we
squared off and the fight began. Babe rushed me like a wild boar
and tried to thrust his deadly thumb into my eye. I threw up my
head and his thumb gashed my lips and went into my mouth. The
impact almost knocked me over, but my teeth had closed on his
thumb and when he jerked back he put me on my balance again. I
clouted him on the jaw and knocked him down. He landed in the
lime box. The school had not yet been plastered, and the
quicklime was in an open pit. I started in after the bully, but
stopped to save my pants from the lime. There was a hose near by,
and I turned the water on Babe in the lime bath. The lime
completely covered him. He was whipped and in fear of his life.
Choking and weeping he hollered, "Nuff." We got him out, too weak
to stand, and gently leaned him up in a corner of the school
building. There we left the crushed bully and returned to town.
But before I went I gave him this parting shot:
"Do you know why I licked you, Babe? It wasn't what you said in
the tavern that made me mad. I didn't want a glass of beer, and
you were right in saying I was a minor. Where you made your
mistake was when you made fun of my breeches, seven years ago.
And do you remember that blue suit you had on at the time? I know
where you got that blue suit of clothes, and I know who had it
before you got it. If you still think that a bully in charity
clothes can make fun of a boy in clothes that he earned with his
own labor, just say so, and I'll give you another clout that will
All bullies, whether nations, parties or individuals, get
licked in the same way. They outrage some one's self-respect, and
then the old primordial cyclone hits them.
A TRAIT OF THE WELSH PEOPLE
My family is Welsh, and I was born in Tredegar, Wales. David
and Davies are favorite names among the Welsh, probably because
David whipped Goliath, and mothers named their babies after the
champion. The Welsh are a small nation that has always had to
fight against a big nation. The idea that David stopped Goliath
seemed to reflect their own national glory. The ancient invasions
that poured across Britain were stopped in Wales, and they never
could push the Welshmen into the sea.
The Welsh pride themselves on hanging on. They are a nation
that has never been whipped. Every people has its
characteristics. "You can't beat the Irish" is one slogan, "You
can't kill a Swede" is another, and "You can't crowd out a
Welshman" is a motto among the mill people.
I didn't want to leave Wales when my parents were emigrating.
Though I was not quite eight years old I decided I would let them
go without me. The last act of my mother was to reach under the
bed, take hold of my heels and drag me out of the house feet
first. I tried to hang on to the cracks in the floor, and tore
off a few splinters to remember the old homestead by. I never was
quite satisfied with that leave-taking, and nearly forty years
later when I had car fare, I went back to that town. I never like
to go out of a place feet first, and I cleared my record this
time by walking out of my native village, head up and of my own
On that trip I paid a visit to the home of Lloyd George in
Cricuth. Joseph Davies, one of the war secretaries to the prime
minister, invited me to dinner and we talked of the American form
of government. (Note the spelling of Davies. It is the Welsh
spelling. When my father signed his American naturalization
papers he made his mark, for he could not read nor write. The
official wrote in his name, spelling it Davis and so it has
remained.) "You have this advantage," said Mr. Davies. "Your
president is secure in office for four years and can put his
policies through. Our prime minister has no fixed term and may
have to step out at any minute."
"Yes," I replied jokingly, "but your prime minister this time
is a Welshman."
Since then four years have passed and our president is out. But
Lloyd George is still there (1922). And he'll still be there, for
all I know, until he is carried out feet first. The instinct of a
Welshman is to hang on.
These things teach us that racial characteristics do not
change. In letting immigrants into this country we must remember
this. Races that have good traits built up good countries there
abroad and they will in the same way build up the country here.
Tribes that have swinish traits were destroyers there and will be
destroyers here. This has been common knowledge so long that it
has become a proverb: "You can't make a silk purse out of a
Proverbs are the condensed wisdom of the ages. Life has taught
me that the wisdom of the ages is the truth. The Proverbs and the
Ten Commandments answer all our problems. My mother taught them
to me when I was a child in Wales. I have gone out and tasted
life, and found her words true. Starting at forge and furnace in
the roaring mills, facing facts instead of books, I have been
schooled in life's hard lessons. And the end of it all is the
same as the beginning: the Proverbs,--the Commandments,--and the
NO GIFT FROM THE FAIRIES
From my father I learned many things. He taught me to be
skilful and proud of it. He taught me to expect no gift from
life, but that what I got I must win with my hands. He taught me
that good men would bring forth good fruits. This was all the
education he could give me, and it was enough.
My father was an iron worker, and his father before him. My
people had been workers in metal from the time when the age of
farming in Wales gave way to the birth of modern industries. They
were proud of their skill, and the secrets of the trade were
passed from father to son as a legacy of great value, and were
never told to persons outside the family. Such skill meant good
wages when there was work. But there was not work all the time.
Had there been jobs enough for all we would have taught our trade
to all. But in self-protection we thought of our own mouths
first. All down the generations my family has been face to face
with the problem of bread.
My Grandfather Davies, held a skilled job at the blast furnace
where iron was made for the rolling mill in which my father was a
puddler. Grandfather Davies had been to Russia and had helped the
Russians build blast furnaces, in the days when they believed
that work would make them wealthy. Had they stuck to that truth
they would not be a ruined people to-day. Grandfather also went
to America, where his skill helped build the first blast furnace
in Maryland. The furnace fires have not ceased burning here, and
Russia is crying for our steel to patch her broken railways. Her
own hills are full of iron and her hands are as strong as ours.
Let them expect no gift from life.
Grandfather told my father that America offered a rich future
for him and his boys. "The metal is there," he said, "as it is in
Russia. Russia may never develop, but America will. A nation's
future lies not in its resources. The American mind is right. Go
And because my father believed that a good people will bring
forth good fruit, he left his ancient home in Wales and crossed
the sea to cast his lot among strangers.
I started to school in Wales when I was four years old. By the
time I was six I thought I knew more than my teachers. This shows
about how bright I was. The teachers had forbidden me to throw
paper wads, or spitballs. I thought I could go through the motion
of throwing a spitball without letting it go. But it slipped and
I threw the wad right in the teacher's eye. I told him it was an
accident, that I had merely tried to play smart and had
"Being smart is a worse fault," he said, "than throwing
spitballs. I forgive you for throwing the spitball, but I shall
whip the smart Aleckness out of you."
He gave me a good strapping, and I went home in rebellion. I
told my father. I wanted him to whip the teacher. Father said:
"I know the teacher is a good man. I have known him for years,
and he is honest, he is just, he is kind. If he whipped you, you
deserved it. You can not see it that way, so I am going to whip
He gave me a good licking, and, strange to say, it convinced me
that he and the teacher were right. They say that the "hand
educates the mind," and I can here testify that father's hand set
my mental processes straight. From that day I never have been
lawless in school or out. The shame of my father's disapproval
jolted me so that I decided ever after to try to merit his
To-day there is a theory that the child ought never to be
restrained. Solomon said: "Spare the rod and spoil the child." We
have no corporal punishment at Mooseheart, but we have
discipline. A child must be restrained. Whenever a crop of
unrestrained youngsters takes the reins I fear they will make
this country one of their much talked of Utopias. It was an
unrestricted bunch that made a "Utopia" out of Russia.
Anyhow, my father lived his life according to his simple rules.
He is living to-day, a happy man in the cozy home he won, by his
own work. The things he taught me I have seen tested in his long
life, proved true. He never expected any gift from life. I
thought once to surprise him. I wanted to buy a fine house and
give it to him. He wouldn't have it. He stayed in his own little
cottage. It was not in his theory of life that a house should
come to him as a gift. It was a sound theory, and like a true
Welshman, he hangs on to it to the end. He is a good man, and the
fruits that his life of labor has brought forth are good fruits.
SHE SINGS TO HER NEST
From my mother I learned to sing. She was always working and
always singing. There were six children in the house, and she
knitted and sewed and baked and brewed for us all. I used to
toddle along at her side when she carried each day the home-made
bread and the bottle of small beer for father's dinner at the
mill. I worshiped my mother, and wanted to be like her. And
that's why I went in for singing. I have sung more songs in my
life than did Caruso. But my voice isn't quite up to his! So my
singing has brought me no returns other than great chunks of
personal satisfaction. The satisfaction was not shared by my
hearers, and so I have quit. But my heart still sings, and always
will. And this I owe to my mother.
I can see her yet in our tiny Welsh cottage, her foot on a
wooden cradle rocking a baby, my baby brother, her hands busy
with her knitting, her voice lifted in jubilant song for hours at
a time. And all her songs were songs of praise.
She thanked God for life and for strong hands to labor for her
little ones. In those days furniture was rare, and few were the
pieces in a worker's home. It took a dozen years for her to
acquire two feather beds. And when at last we owned two
bedsteads, we rated ourselves pretty rich. We boys slept five in
a bed. Why were bedsteads in those days harder to get than
automobiles are to-day? Because the wooden age still lingered,
the age of hand work. And it took so long to make a bed by hand
that people came into the world faster than beds. But within my
lifetime the iron mills have made possible the dollar bedstead.
The working man can fill his house with beds bought with the wage
he earns in half a week. This, I suppose, is one of the "curses
I have heard how "the rights of small peoples" have been
destroyed by capitalism; and if the right to sleep five in a bed
was prized by the little folks, this privilege has certainly been
taken away from them. At the Mooseheart School we are pinched for
sleeping room for our fast-growing attendance. I suggested that,
for the time being, we might double deck the beds like the berths
in a sleeping car. "No," cried the superintendent. "Not in this
age do we permit the crowding of children in their sleeping
quarters." So this is the slavery that capitalism has driven us
to; we are forced to give our children more comforts than we had
ourselves. When I was sleeping five in a bed with my brothers,
there was one long bolster for five hot little faces. The bolster
got feverish and a boy sang out: "Raise up." We lifted our tired
heads. "Turn over." Two boys turned the bolster. "Lie down." And
we put our faces on the cool side and went to sleep.
Those were not hardships, and life was sweet, and we awoke from
our crowded bed, like birds in a nest awakened by their mother's
morning song. For, as I have said, my mother was always singing.
Her voice was our consolation and delight.
One of the most charming recollections of my boyhood is that of
my mother standing at our gate with a lamp in her hands, sending
one boy out in the early morning darkness, to his work, and at
the same time welcoming another boy home. My brother was on the
day shift and I on the night, which meant that he left home as I
was leaving the mills, about half past two in the morning. On
dark nights--and they were all dark at that hour--my mother,
thinking my little brother afraid, would go with him to the gate
and, holding an old-fashioned lamp high in her hands, would sing
some Welsh song while he trudged out toward the mills and until
he got within the radius of the glare from the stacks as they.
belched forth the furnace flames. And as he passed from the light
of the old oil burner into the greater light from the mills, I
walked wearily out from that reflection and was guided home by my
mother's lamp and song on her lips.
Happy is the race that sings, and the Welsh are singers. After
the tiring labor in the mills we still had joy that found its
voice in song. When I was six years old I joined a singing
society. The whole land of Wales echoes with the folk songs of a
people who sing because they must.
The memory of my mother singing, has made my whole life sweet.
When blue days came for me, and hardship almost forced me to
despair, I turned my thoughts to her, singing as she rocked a
cradle, and from her spirit my own heart took hope again. I think
the reason I have never cared for drink is this: the ease from
mental pain that other men have sought in alcohol, I always found
THE LOST FEATHER BED
I didn't care very much for day school. The whipping that I got
there rather dulled the flavor of it for me. But I was a prize
pupil at Sunday-school. Father had gone to America and had saved
enough money to send for the family. I asked my mother if there
were Sunday-schools in America, but she did not know. In those
days we knew little about lands that lay so far away.
My boy chums told me we were going to Pennsylvania to fight
Indians. This cheered me up. Fighting Indians would be as much
fun as going to Sunday-school. A trip to America for such a
purpose was a sensible move. But when mother exploded the Indian
theory and said we were going to work in a rolling mill, I
decided that it was a foolish venture.
This shows how much my judgment was worth. I thought it foolish
to go to America merely to better our condition. But I thought it
a wise move to go there and kill Indians to better the living
conditions of the Americans. I know grown men to-day with the
same kind of judgment. They are unwilling to do the simple things
that will save their own scalps; but they are glad to go fight
imaginary Indians who they believe are scalping the human race.
"Capitalism" is one of these imaginary Indians. And Lenin and
Trotsky are the boy Indian-fighters of the world. These poor
children are willing to go to any country to help kill the Indian
of capitalism. Meanwhile their own people are the poorest in the
world, but they do nothing to better their condition. Such men
have minds that never grew up.
When our household was dissolving and we were packing our
baggage for America, I tried to break up the plan by hiding under
the bed. Mother took the feather ticks off the two bedsteads and
bundled them up to take to America. Then she reached under the
bedstead and pulled me out by the heels. She sold the bedsteads
to a neighbor. And so our household ended in Wales and we were on
our way to establish a new one in a far country.
As I said before, the feather beds were mother's measure of
wealth. Before she was married she had begun saving for her first
feather bed. It had taken a long time to acquire these two
tickfuls of downy goose feathers. The bed is the foundation of
the household. It is there that the babies are born. There sleep
restores the weary toiler that he may rise and toil anew. And
there at last when work is done, the old folks fall into a sleep
that never ends.
We traveled steerage to Castle Garden. Having passed the
immigrant tests, we found ourselves set out on the dock, free to
go where we pleased. But our baggage had disappeared. Some one
had made off with our precious feather beds!
This was the first real tragedy of my mother's life. All the
joy of setting foot in the new land was turned to dismay. The
stored-up pleasure with which she awaited the greeting of her
husband was dashed in a moment, like sweet water flung upon the
ground. When I saw the anguish in my mother's face, I was sobered
to life's responsibilities. The song had died out of her heart,
and I must make it sing again. While she was crying in
distraction, I wrapped my own tearful face in her skirts and
prayed to God that I might grow up in a day--that He would make
my arms strong so I could go to work at once earning money to
replace the lost feather beds. I was then not quite eight years
old. It was early in April, 1881. Before the month was out I had
found a job in the new country and was earning money. I gave all
my earnings to my mother. I have been earning money ever since.
As long as I lived at home I turned over all my wages to my
mother. When I went away I sent her weekly a percentage of my
earnings. This I have ever continued to do.
My love for my mother and her grief at the loss of the feather
beds turned a careless boy into a serious money-maker. This led
to the study of economics and finance. A man's destiny is often
made by trifles light as feathers.
HUNTING FOR LOST CHILDREN
The loss of our baggage was only the beginning of our troubles
in New York. With the feather ticks went also the money mother
had got from selling the bedsteads and other furniture. She had
nothing with which to buy food and while we were walking the
streets we smelt the delicious odor of food from the restaurants
and became whining and petulant. This was the first time mother
had ever heard her children crying for bread when she had none to
give them. The experience was trying, but her stout heart faced
it calmly. In the Old World, her folks and father's folks had
been rated as prosperous people. They always had good food in the
larder and meat on Sunday, which was more than many had. They
were the owners of feather beds, while many never slept on
anything but straw. True they could not raise the passage money
to America until father came and earned it--that would have been
riches in Wales. Now we were in America hungry and penniless, and
hard was the bed that we should lie on.
From Pittsburgh father had sent us railroad tickets, and these
tickets were waiting for us at the railroad office. All we would
have to do would be to hold our hunger in check until we should
reach Hubbard, Ohio, where a kinsman had established a home. But
while mother was piloting her family to the depot, two of the
children got lost. She had reached Castle Garden with six
children and her household goods. Now her goods were gone and
only four of the children remained. My sister was ten and I was
eight; we were the oldest. The baby, one year old, and the next,
a toddler of three, mother had carried in her arms. But two boys,
Walter and David, four and six years old, had got lost in the
traffic. Mother took the rest of us to a hotel and locked us in a
room while she went out to search for the missing ones. For two
days she tramped the streets visiting police stations and making
inquiry everywhere. At night she would return to us and report
that she had found no trace of little Walter and David. To try to
picture the misery of those scenes is beyond me. I can only say
that the experience instilled in me a lasting terror. The fear of
being parted from my parents and from my brothers and sisters,
then implanted in my soul, has borne its fruit in after-life.
Finally mother found the boys in a rescue home for lost
children. Brother David, curly-haired and red-cheeked, had so
appealed to the policeman who found them that he had made
application to adopt the boy and was about to take him to his own
After finding the children, mother stood on Broadway and,
gazing at the fine buildings and the good clothes that all
classes wore in America, she felt her heart swell with hope. And
she said aloud: "This is the place for my boys."
Every one had treated her with kindness. A fellow countryman
had lent her money to pay the hotel bill, telling her she could
pay it back after she had joined her husband. And so we had
passed through the gateway of the New World as thousands of other
poor families had done. And our temporary hardships had been no
greater than most immigrants encountered in those days.
I later learned from a Bohemian of the trials his mother met
with on her first days in New York. He told me that she and her
three children, the smallest a babe in arms, tramped the streets
of New York for days looking in vain for some one who could speak
their native tongue. They slept at night in doorways, and by day
wandered timid and terrified through the streets.
"At last a saloon-keeper saw that we were famishing," the
Bohemian told me. "He was a--a--Oh, what do you call them in your
language? I can think of the Bohemian word but not the English."
"What was he like?" I asked to help find the word. "Red-headed?
"No; he was one of those people who usually run clothing stores
and are always having a 'SALE.'"
"Jew," I said.
"Yes, he was a Jew saloon-keeper. He took pity on us and took
us into his saloon and gave us beer, bread and sausages. We were
so nearly starved that we ate too much and our stomachs threw it
up. The saloon-keeper sent word to the Humane Society, and they
came and put us on the train for Chicago, where our father was
waiting for us."
The Bohemians saved from starvation by the pity of a Jewish
saloon-keeper is a sample of how our world was running fifty
years ago. Who can doubt that we have a better world to-day? And
the thing that has made it better is the thing that Jew
exhibited, human sympathy.
When I found myself head of the Labor Department one of my
earliest duties was to inspect the immigrant stations at Boston
and New York. In spite of complaints, they were being conducted
to the letter of the law; to correct the situation it was only
necessary to add sympathy and understanding to the enforcement of
An American poet in two lines told the whole truth about human
"The bravest are the tenderest,
The loving are the daring."
Tenderness and human sympathy to the alien passing through Ellis
Island does not mean that we are weak, or that the unfit alien is
welcome. The tenderer we treat the immigrant who seeks our
hospitality, the harder will we smash him when he betrays us.
That's what "the bravest are the tenderest" means. He who is
tenderest toward the members of his household is bravest in
beating back him who would destroy that house.
For example, I received a hurry-up call for more housing at
Ellis Island in the early days of my administration. The
commissioner told me he had five hundred more anarchists than he
had roofs to shelter.
"Have these anarchists been duly convicted?" I asked.
He said they had been, and were awaiting deportation.
I told the commissioner not to worry about finding lodging for
his guests; they would be on their way before bedtime.
"But there is no ship sailing so soon," he said. "They will
have to have housing till a ship sails."
Now this country has a shortage of houses and a surplus of
ships. There aren't enough roofs to house the honest people, and
there are hundreds of ships lying idle. Let the honest people
have the houses, and the anarchists have the ships. I called up
the Shipping Board, borrowed a ship, put the Red criminals aboard
and they went sailing, sailing, over the bounding main, and many
a stormy wind shall blow "ere Jack come home again."
On the other hand I discovered a family that had just come to
America and was about to be deported because of a technicality.
The family consisted of a father and mother and four small
children. The order of deportation had been made and the family
had been put aboard a ship about to sail. I learned that the
children were healthy and right-minded; the mother was of honest
working stock with a faith in God and not in anarchy. I had been
one of such a family entering this port forty years ago. Little
did I dream then that I would ever be a member of a President's
Cabinet with power to wipe away this woman's tears and turn her
heart's sorrowing into a song of joy. I wrote the order of
admission, and the family was taken from the departing ship just
before it sailed. I told the mother that the baby in her arms
might be secretary of labor forty years hence.
HARD SLEDDING IN AMERICA
It had been our plan to go from New York to Pittsburgh, but the
mill that father was working in had shut down. And so he had sent
us tickets to Hubbard, Ohio, where his brother had a job as a
muck roller--the man who takes the bloom from the squeezer and
throws it into the rollers. That's all I can tell you now. In
later chapters I shall take you into a rolling mill, and show you
how we worked. I believe I am the first puddler that ever
described his job, for I have found no book by a puddler in any
American library. But I wanted to explain here that a muck roller
is not a muck raker, but a worker in raw iron.
When we boarded the train for Ohio, mother had nothing to look
after except the six children. When the porter asked her where
her baggage was, she smiled sadly and said that was a question
for a wiser head than hers to answer. She was glad enough to have
all her babies safe. Everything we owned was on our backs. Our
patient father had toiled for months in Pittsburgh and had sent
us nearly every cent to pay our transportation from the Old
World. Now he was out of a job, and we were coming to him without
as much as a bag of buns in our hands.
Before leaving New York, I want to tell what kind of city it
was in those days.
In a recent magazine article a writer picturing our arrival at
Castle Garden said that we "climbed the hill into Broadway and
gazed around at the highest buildings we had ever seen." But
there were no tall buildings in New York at that time. The spires
of Trinity Church and St. Paul's towered above everything. And we
had seen such churches in the Old Country. Brooklyn Bridge had
just been built and it overtopped the town like a syrup pitcher
over a plate of pancakes. The tallest business blocks were five
or six stories high, and back in Wales old Lord Tredegar, the
chief man of our shire, lived in a great castle that was as fine
as any of them.
The steel that made New York a city in the sky was wrought in
my own time. My father and his sons helped puddle the iron that
has braced this city's rising towers. A town that crawled now
stands erect. And we whose backs were bent above the puddling
hearths know how it got its spine. A mossy town of wood and stone
changed in my generation to a towering city of glittering glass
and steel. "All of which"--I can say in the words of the poet--
"all of which I saw and part of which I was."
The train that was taking us to Ohio was an Erie local, and the
stops were so numerous that we thought we should never get there.
A man on the train bought ginger bread and pop and gave us kids
a treat. It has been my practice ever since to do likewise for
alien youngsters that I meet on trains.
When we reached Hubbard, father met us and took us to an
uncle's. We did not stop to wash the grime of travel from our
faces until after we had filled our stomachs. Once refreshed with
food, our religion returned to us, in the desire to be clean and
to establish a household. I learned then that food is the first
thing in the world. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but
food is ahead of them all, and without food man loses his
cleanliness, godliness and everything else worth having. When I
wish to sound out a man, I ask him if he has ever been hungry. If
I find he has never missed a meal in his life, I know his
education has been neglected. For I believe that experience is
the foremost teacher. I have learned something from every
experience I ever had, and I hold that Providence has been kind
to me in favoring me with a lot of rather tough adventures.
Our hardships on entering America taught me sympathy and
filled me with a desire to help others. I have heard aliens say
that America had not treated them with hospitality, and that this
had made them bitter, and now these aliens would take revenge by
tearing down America. This is a lie that can not fool me. My
hardships did not turn me bitter. And I know a thousand others
who had harder struggles than I. And none of them showed the
yellow streak. The Pilgrim Fathers landed in the winter when
there were no houses. Half of them perished from hardship in a
single year. Did they turn anarchists?
The man who says that hard sledding in America made a yellow
cur out of him fools no one. He was born a yellow cur. Hard
sledding in America produced the man who said: "With malice
toward none; with charity for all."
MY FIRST REGULAR JOB
We stayed a week with father's brother in Hubbard. Then we went
to Sharon, Pennsylvania, where father had a temporary job. A
Welshman, knowing his desperate need of money, let him take his
furnace for a few days and earn enough money to move on to
Pittsburgh. There father found a job again, but mother was
dissatisfied with the crowded conditions in Pittsburgh. She
wanted to bring up her boys amid open fields.
In those days the air was black with soot and the crowded
quarters where the workers lived offered no room for gardens.
Mother wanted sunlight and green grass such as we had about
Tredegar. There Lord Tredegar had his beautiful castle in the
midst of a park. On certain days this great park was open to the
villagers, and the children came to picnic, and Lord Tredegar
gave them little cakes and tea in doll-size cups. Doubtless he
looked upon us as "my people."
But the lords of steel in Pittsburgh were too new at the game
to practice the customs of the nobility in beautifying their
surroundings. The mills had made things ugly and the place was
not what mother thought it ought to be for bringing up children.
So father took us back to Sharon, and there we had sunlight and
grass and trees. We rented a neat little company-house with a big
garden in the rear, where we raised enough potatoes to supply our
table. There were window boxes filled with morning-glories, and
lilacs grew in the yard. They company had planted those lilacs to
nourish the souls of the worker's children. They gave me joy, and
that is why the Mooseheart grounds are filled with lilac bushes.
As soon as we landed in Sharon I started out to earn money.
Those feather beds were on my mind and I couldn't rest easy until
we should replace them. Neither could the rest of the family. I
have often told how I scraped up some capital and invested it in
a shoe-shining outfit. Nearly every traveling man who came to the
hotel allowed me to shine his shoes. The townsfolk let their
shoes go gray all week, but the gay commercial travelers all were
dudes and dressed like Sunday every day. They brought the new
fashions to town and were looked upon as high-toned fellows.
Their flashy get-up caught the girls, which made the town-boys
hate them. But I liked them very well because they brought me
revenue. "Where a man's treasure is, there is his heart also,"
says the proverb, and my experience proved it true. On my first
visit to the hotel I got acquainted with the landlord and he put
me on his pay-roll. Behind the hotel was a cow pen where the milk
for the guests was drawn fresh from the cows. The cows had to be
driven to a pasture in the morning and back at night. I got a
dollar and a quarter a month for driving the cows. And so I had
found a paying job within thirty days after landing in America.
The cost of pasturage was a dollar a month for each cow. That was
less than four cents a day for cow feed to produce two gallons of
milk, or about two cents a gallon. The wages of the girls who
milked them and my wages for driving them amounted to three cents
a gallon. In other words, the cost of labor in getting the milk
from the cows more than doubled the cost of the milk. This was my
first lesson in political economy. I learned that labor costs are
the chief item in fixing the price of anything.
The less labor used in producing milk, the cheaper the milk
will be. The reason wages were high in America was because
America was the land of labor-saving machinery. Little labor was
put on any product, and so the product was cheap, like the
landlord's milk. In the iron industry, for instance, the coal
mines and iron ore lay near the mills, as the landlord's pasture
was near his hotel. To bring the coal and ore to the blast
furnaces took little labor, just as my driving in the cows cost
the landlord but four cents a day. Next to the blast furnaces
stood the mixer, the Bessemer open hearth furnaces, the ingot
stripper building, the soaking pits and then the loading yards
with their freight cars where the finished product in the form of
wire, rails or sky-scraper steel is shipped away.
Because the landlord had his cows milked at the back door of
his hotel the milk was still warm when it was carried into his
kitchen. And so the steel mills are grouped so closely that a
single heat sometimes carries the steel from the Bessemer hearth
through all the near-by machines until it emerges as a finished
product and is loaded on the railroad cars while it is still
warm. It was this saving of labor and fuel that made American
steel the cheapest steel in the world. And that's why the wages
of steel and iron workers in America are the highest in the
Father was in the mills getting these good wages, though no
puddler was ever paid for all the work he does, and all of us
young Davises were eager to grow up so that we could learn the
trade and get some of that good money ourselves. My hands itched
for labor, and I wanted nothing better than to be big enough to
put a finger in this industry that was building up America before
my very eyes. I have always been a doer and a builder, it was in
my blood and the blood of my tribe, as it is born in the blood of
beavers. When I meet a man who is a loafer and a destroyer, I
know he is alien to me. I fear him and all his breed. The beaver
is a builder and the rat is a destroyer; yet they both belong to
the rodent race. The beaver harvests his food in the summer; he
builds a house and stores that food for the winter. The rat
sneaks to the food stores of others: he eats what he wants and
ruins the rest and then runs and hides in his hole. He lives in
the builder's house, but he is not a builder. He undermines that
house; he is a rat.
Some men are by nature beavers, and some are rats; yet they all
belong to the human race. The people that came to this country in
the early days were of the beaver type and they built up America
because it was in their nature to build. Then the rat-people
began coming here, to house under the roof that others built. And
they try to undermine and ruin it because it is in their nature
to destroy. They call themselves anarchists.
A civilization rises when the beaver-men outnumber the rat-men.
When the rat-men get the upper hand the civilization falls. Then
the rats turn and eat one another and that is the end. Beware of
breeding rats in America.
THE SCATTERED FAMILY
For three years after we came to Sharon I went to school, and
in my spare time worked at my shoe shining and other odd jobs. We
had bought feather beds again and our little home was a happy
one. By hanging around the depot spotting traveling men who
needed a shine, or their grips carried, I got acquainted with the
telegraph agent. And so I got the job of telegraph messenger boy.
Few telegrams were sent, and then only when somebody died. So
whenever I carried a telegram I knew that I was the bearer of bad
news. Accidents happened in the mines and iron mills. And when a
man was killed, it often meant his wife and babies would face
hunger, for the jobs were not the kind for women and children;
muscular men were needed. Aside from the occupation of housewife,
there was nothing for a woman to do in those days except to take
in washing or sewing.
Of the many death messages that I bore to the workers' homes in
Sharon, few found a home that was able to last a day after the
burial of the bread-winner. He had failed to make provision for
such an accident,--no savings in the bank, no life insurance. As
soon as the worker was stricken his children were at the mercy of
the world. I saw so much of this, that the pity of it entered
deep into my boy-heart and never afterward could I forget it.
I talked with the station agent, the banker and the hotel
keeper. The station agent had money in the bank which he was
saving to educate his boy to be a telegrapher. He also carried
life insurance. "If I should die," he said, "my wife would
collect enough insurance to start a boarding-house. My boy would
have money enough to learn a trade. Then he could get as good a
job as I have." The hotel keeper told me that if he should die
his wife could run the hotel just the same, it being free of debt
and earning enough money so that she could hire a man to do the
work he had been doing. The banker owned bonds and if he died the
bonds would go right on earning money for his children.
These men were capitalists and their future was provided for.
Most of the mill-workers were only laborers, they had no capital
and the minute their labors ended they were done for. The workers
were kind-hearted, and when a fellow was killed in the mill or
died of sickness they went to his widow and with tears in their
eyes reached into their pockets and gave her what cash they had.
I never knew a man to hang back when a collection for a widow was
being taken. Contributions sometimes were as high as five
dollars. It made a heartrending scene: the broken body of a once
strong man lying under a white sheet; the children playing around
and laughing (if they were too young to know what it meant); the
mother frantic with the thought that her brood was now homeless;
and the big grimy workers wiping their tears with a rough hand
and putting silver dollars into a hat.
With this money and the last wages of the dead man, the widow
paid for the funeral and sometimes bought a ticket to the home of
some relative who would give her her "keep" in return for her
labor in the house. Other relatives might each take one of the
children "to raise," who, thus scattered, seldom if ever got
together again. When I became an iron worker there were several
fellows in our union who didn't know whether they had a relative
on earth. One of them, Bill Williams, said to me: "Jim, no wonder
you're always happy. You've got so many brothers that there's
always two of you together, whether it's playing in the band, on
the ball nine or working at the furnace. If I had a brother
around I wouldn't get the blues the way I do. I've got some
brothers somewhere in this world, but I'll probably never know
where they are."
Then he told how his father had died when he was three years
old. There were several children, and they were taken by
relatives. He was sent to his grandmother, whose name was
Williams. That was not his name. Before he was seven both his
grandparents died and he was taken by a farmer who called him
Bill. The farmer did not send him to school and he grew up barely
able to write his name, Will Williams, which was not his real
name. He didn't even know what his real name was.
"Probably my brothers are alive," he said, "but what chance
have I got of ever finding them when I don't know what the family
name is. Maybe they've all got new names now like I have. Maybe
I've met my own brothers and we never knew it. I'd give
everything in the world, if I had it, to look into a man's face
and know that he was my brother. It must be a wonderful feeling."
These things are the tragedies of the poor. And although such a
misfortune never happened to me, this problem stared me in the
face when I began carrying those fatal telegrams. I tackled the
problem with a boyish mind. I soon resolved it into these
When a laborer dies his little children are scattered to the
winds. Brothers and sisters may never see one another again.
When a man with property dies, his children are kept together.
Their future is made safe by the property.
Labor provides for to-day. Property provides for to-morrow.
That truth was driven into my mind when I saw one family after
another scattered by the death of a laborer. A merchant in Sharon
died, and his children, after the funeral, kept right on going to
school. There was no doubting the truth of my rule: Labor makes
the present day safe--but the present day only. Capital
safeguards the future.
From that day on, I argued that we should buy a home and save a
little every day for capital. It was our duty thus to protect
ourselves, should our father die, against being scattered among
MELODRAMA BECOMES COMEDY
Every race gets a nickname in America. A Frenchman is a "frog,"
a negro a "coon" and a Welshman a "goat." All the schoolboys who
were not Welsh delighted in teasing us by applying the
uncomplimentary nickname. This once resulted at the Sharon
operahouse, in turning a dramatic episode into a howling farce.
I was acting as a super in the sensational drama She, by H.
Rider Haggard. Two Englishmen were penetrating the mysterious
jungles of Africa, and I was their native guide and porter. They
had me all blacked up like a negro minstrel, but this wasn't a
funny show, it was a drama of mystery and terror. While I was
guiding the English travelers through the jungle of the local
stage, we penetrated into the land of the wall-eyed cannibals.
The cannibals captured me and prepared to eat me in full view
of the audience while the Englishmen behind the trees looked on
in horror. The cannibals, who were also supers led by an actor of
the "troupe," set up a hot pot to boil my bones in. I was bound
hand and foot, while the cannibals, armed with spears, danced
around me in a heathen ceremony, chanting a voodoo chant and
reciting a rigmarole by which cannibals are supposed to make
their human feast on a sacred rite. As they danced about me in a
circle, they sang:
"Is it an ox? Him-yah, him-yah." And they jabbed their spears
into me. Some of the supers jabbed me pretty hard, among them
Babe Durgon, who delighted in tormenting me.
"Is it a sheep? Him-yah, him-yah." Again they jabbed me, and I
was so mad I was cussing them under my breath.
"Is it a pig? Him-yah, him-yah."
The audience was breathless with tense excitement.
"Is it a goat?"
The entire gallery broke into a whirlwind roar: "Yes! yes! He's
Laughter rocked the audience. They all knew I was Welsh and saw
the joke. The horror and suspense had been so great that when it
broke with comic relief the house was really hysterical. It
stopped the show.
I played supernumerary parts in many shows that winter
including Richard III and other Shakespearean plays. At the
battle of Bosworth field where Richard cries: "A horse, a horse;
my kingdom for a horse," the supers in the army were clattering
their swords on the opposing shields in a great hubbub and
shouting, "Hay, hay hay!" I was of a thrifty turn of mind, and
said: "Hold on, boys. Don't order too much hay until we see
whether he gets the horse or not."
A hypnotist came to the opera-house and I volunteered to be
hypnotized. He couldn't hypnotize me. I felt rather bad about it.
I was out of the show. Later I learned that all of the
"Perfessor's" best subjects came with him under salary, and the
local boys who made good were faking like the professionals. The
whole thing was a cheat and I had not caught on. I was too
serious-minded to think of faking. But several of the boys took
to it naturally, and among them was Babe Durgon, the bully. He
could be hypnotized and I couldn't. But several years later I had
the satisfaction of "hypnotizing" him myself, as I told about in
my first chapter.
Although I always regarded myself as a humorist, the impression
I made on my comrades was that of a serious and religious fellow.
I quoted the Bible to them so often that they nicknamed me "the
Welsh Parson." I was the general errand boy of the town.
Everybody knew me. And when there was a job of passing hand-bills
for the operahouse, or ringing bells for auction sales, I always
got the job. Every nickel that rolled loose in the town landed in
my pocket and I took it home to mother. Mother was my idol and
what she said was law. One night I heard the band playing and
started down-town. Mother told me to be sure to be in bed by nine
o'clock. I found that a minstrel show had been thrown out of its
regular route by a flood and was playing our town unexpectedly.
The stage hands knew me and passed me in. I was seeing a high-
priced show for nothing. But when it came nine o'clock, I went
home. I told my mother that I had walked out of the most gorgeous
minstrel show. She asked me why and I told her because she wanted
me to be in bed by nine o'clock.
"Why, Jimmy," she said, "I wanted you to be in bed so you
wouldn't be in bad company. It would have been all right for you
to have stayed at the minstrel show. All I want to know is that
you are in good company."
I guess mother thought I was a bit soft, but I had seen the
best part of the show, as in those days the curtain rose at seven
Minstrel shows were the greatest delight of my youth. I learned
to dance and could sing all the songs and get off the jokes.
Dupree & Benedict's were the first minstrels I ever saw. I
marched in their parade and carried the drum. George Evans (Honey
Boy) was a life-long friend. We were born within three miles of
each other in Wales and came to this country at about the same
KEEPING OPEN HOUSE
Our little four-room company-house in Sharon had its doors open
to the wayfarer. There was always some newcomer from Wales,
looking for a stake in America, who had left his family in Wales.
Usually he was a distant kinsman, but whether a blood relation or
not, we regarded all Welshmen as belonging to our clan. Our house
was small, but we crowded into the corners and made room for
another. His food and bed were free as long as he stayed. We
helped him find a job, and then he thanked us for our hospitality
and went out of our house with our blessings upon him. This form
of community life was the social law in all the cottages of the
It was like the law of tobacco among Americans. Tobacco has
always been "nationalized" in America, and so have matches. Your
pipe is your own, but your tobacco and matches belong to
everybody. So it was with food and shelter in the Welsh colony at
Sharon. Each newcomer from the Old Country was entitled to free
bed and board until he could get a job in the mills. When he
found a job his money was his; we never expected him to pay for
the food he had eaten any more than you would expect pay for the
tobacco and matches you furnish your friends.
These sojourners in our family were heroes to us kids. They
brought us news from the Old World, and each one had tricks or
tales that were new to us. One man showed us that we could put
our hand on the bottom of a boiling teakettle and find the bottom
cool. Another told us about milking goats in the Old Country. We
asked him how much milk a goat would give. He said, "About a
thimbleful," and we thought him very witty. Another had shipped
as an "able seaman" to get his passage to America. When out at
sea it was discovered he didn't know one rope from another.
During a storm he and the mate had a terrible fight. "The sea was
sweeping the deck and we were ordered to reef a shroud. I didn't
know how, and the mate called me a name that no Welshman will
stand for. I thought we were all going to be drowned anyhow, and
I might as well die with my teeth in his neck. So I flew into him
and we fought like wildcats. I couldn't kill him and he couldn't
kill me. And the sea didn't sweep us overboard. But after that
fight the mate let me do as I pleased for the rest of the
Knowing how strong are the arms of an iron worker and what a
burly man is a ship's mate, we realized that the fight must have
been a struggle between giants.
We were fluent readers, much better readers than our parents,
but we had no books. We took the Youth's Companion, and it was
the biggest thing in our lives. Every week we were at the post-
office when the Companion was due. We could hardly wait, we were
so eager to see what happened next in the "continued" story.
Surely so good a children's paper as the Youth's Companion could
never be found in any country but America. America was the land
of children, and that's why parents broke their old-home ties and
made the hard pilgrimage to America; it was for the benefit of
Our home was a happy one, for we children were fond of one
another and all loved the father and mother who worked so hard
for us. We were the first to realize that our home was insecure,
upheld by a single prop, our father's labor. The breaking of his
right arm might have broken up our home. We wanted to acquire
property so that mother would be safe. For we knew that God was a
just God. He did not ordain that one class should labor and be
insecure while another class owned property and was safe. I
learned that the banker, the hotel keeper and the station agent
had all been poor boys like myself. They started with nothing but
their hands to labor with. They had worked hard and saved a part
of their wages, and this had given them "a start." The hotel
keeper had been a hack driver. He slept in the haymow of a livery
stable. He had to meet the train that came at two o'clock in the
morning. No other man was willing to have his sleep broken at
such an hour. He hated to lose the sleep, but he wanted the
money. At the end of four years he had saved a thousand dollars.
He wanted to buy a hotel but needed more money. The banker,
knowing he was a stayer, lent him the cash he needed, and so he
became a property owner. He no longer slept in the haymow but had
a room of his own and other rooms to rent to the "high-toned
From this I learned that laborers became capitalists when they
saved their money. Right then I made up my mind that some day
mother would own a home. If father couldn't save the money to buy
it, I would. Years afterward a wealthy Pittsburgh man who had
just built a fine residence in the fashionable section of that
town found himself in difficulties and unable to occupy the
house. He offered it to me at a bargain. So I took my parents to
this place and told them it was to be theirs. Mother declared
that she certainly never dreamed of having a "magnificent home
like this." She seemed to be greatly pleased. But now I know that
the sparkle in her eyes was for me. Her boy had done all this for
his mother. If I had given her a pair of shoes that pinched her
feet, she would have worn them smiling for my sake. Father looked
out the windows at the neighboring residences. "Who lives there?"
he asked. "And who lives yonder?" I told him the great names of
"Son," he said, "you do not wish to lock your parents up in a
prison, do you?"
Then he explained: "We do not know these people. We are too old
to make new friends. We would never be at ease here, we would be
lonely. We like the little home that we bought with our own
savings. It has become a part of ourselves; it fits us like the
wrinkles on our faces. If we moved here our old friends would
never come to see us. This magnificence would scare them away.
No, son. We thank you for offering us this house, but it is not
for us. We will stay in the little cottage where our old friends
will be free to come and light a pipe and chat and drowse away
the evening hours that yet remain.
How wise he was! He knew the fitness of things. His simple
comforts, his old friends, these he valued more than riches, and
the valuation that he put upon them was the right one.
MY HAND TOUCHES IRON
When I was eleven I got a regular job that paid me fifty cents
a day. So I quit school just where the Monitor had sunk the
Merrimac in the "first fight of the ironclads." Thereafter my
life was to be bound up with the iron industry. My job was in a
nail factory. I picked the iron splinters from among the good
nails that had heads on them. This taught me that many are marred
in the making. Those that are born with bad heads must not be
used in building a house or the house will fall. In the head of
the nail is its power to hold fast. Men are like nails, some have
the hold-fast will in their heads. Others have not. They were
marred in the making. They must be thrown aside and not used in
building the state, or the state will fall.
I put the good nails into kegs, and the headless nails and
splinters were sent back to be melted into window weights.
Handling sharp nails is hard on the hands. And the big half-
dollar that I earned was not unmarred with blood. Every pay-day I
took home my entire earnings and gave them to mother. All my
brothers did the same. Mother paid the household expenses, bought
our clothing and allotted us spending money and money for Sunday-
This is a cynical age and I can imagine that I hear somebody
snicker when I confess the fondness I had for the Sunday-school.
I don't want any one to think I am laying claim to the record of
having always been a good little boy; nor that everything I did
was wise. No; I confess I did my share of deviltry, that some of
my deeds were foolish, and (to use the slang of that time) I
often got it in the neck. Once I bantered a big fat boy to a
fight. He chased me and I ran and crawled into a place so narrow
that I knew he couldn't follow me. I crawled under the floor of a
shed that was only about six inches above the ground. Fatty was
at least ten inches thick and I thought I was safe. But he didn't
try to crawl under the floor after me. He went inside the shed
and found that the boards of the floor sank beneath his weight
like spring boards. And there that human hippopotamus stood
jumping up and down while he mashed me into the mud like a mole
under a pile-driver. I had showed that I had "a head on me like a
nail" when I crawled under that floor and let Fatty step on me.
There is a saying, "You can't keep a good man down." But Fatty
kept me down, and so I must admit he was a better man than I was.
Some people say you should cheer for the under-dog. But that
isn't always fair. The under-dog deserves our sympathy, the
upper-dog must be a better dog or he couldn't have put the other
dog down. I give three cheers for the winner. Any tribe that
adopts the rule of always hissing the winner has found a real way
to discourage enterprise.
I owned a part interest in some pigeons with a boy named Jack
Thomas. The pigeons' nests were in Jack's back yard. He told me
that my share of the eggs had rotted and his share had hatched,
so that my interest in the young pigeons had died out and they
were all his now. I was sure it was a quibble and that he was
cheating me. It made me mad and I sneaked up to the pigeon loft
and put a tiny pin prick in all the eggs in the nests. This was
invisible but it caused the eggs to rot as he said mine had, and
I felt that this was only justice. Turn about is fair play.
When Jack's eggs didn't hatch he suspected me, for I had been
so foolish as to predict that his eggs wouldn't hatch. And so he
was sure I was responsible, although he didn't know how. In fact
his mother had seen me enter the barn and had told Jack about it.
One day when I went to the pasture to get the hotel keeper's
cows, I ran into Jack hunting ground squirrels with his dog. He
set his dog chasing the cows and then ran away out of my reach.
The dog yelped at the cows heels and they galloped about the
pasture in a panic. I shouted to Jack to call off his dog or
there would be trouble the next time I met him. But Jack, who was
out of reach, shouted encouragement instead. Round and round the
cattle raced with that howling dog scaring them into fits. At
last the dog tired of the fun and trotted off to join Jack, who
was disappearing over the hill. I then tried to round up the cows
and get them out of the pasture. But the brutes were wet with
sweat and as wild as deer. I saw that they could not be milked in
that condition and felt that Jack's conduct was outrageous. He
had not only made trouble for me; he had injured the hotel
keeper. There would be no milk that night fit to be used.
I started straight for Jack's home to tell his mother of his
lawless act. As I went along, I turned the case over in my mind,
and the case grew stronger and stronger all the time. Before I
reached Jack's door I had, satisfied myself that his mother would
be shocked at the news and would at once cut a big switch to give
Jack the licking he deserved.
But when I began to tell Mrs. Thomas of her son's crime, she
sided with Jack and wouldn't listen to me. "Don't come to me with
your troubles, you nasty little whiffet," she cried. "You started
the whole thing when you sneaked in and ruined Jack's pigeon
eggs. Now that you've got the worst of it you come here with your
tattle-tales. You ought to be ashamed to show your face--" She
had become so threatening that I turned and ran. My whole case
had gone to pieces on her sharp tongue like a toy balloon pricked
with a pin. I had been blowing it up until it got so big I
couldn't see anything else. It burst right in my face, and there
wasn't even a scrap of rubber to tell where it had been.
This taught me one of the best lessons I ever learned. By
looking only at his side of a case a man can kid himself into
thinking that he is wholly right, that his cause is greater than
himself and represents the rights of the entire community. But a
counter-blast from the other side will deflate his balloon in a
second and he'll come down to earth without even a parachute to
soften the jolt when he lands.
I learned that blood is not only thicker than water, but it is
thicker than curdled milk, and you can't line up a mother against
her own child even if he chased the cows until they got so wild
they gave strawberry pop instead of milk. Any argument that goes
contrary to human nature has struck a snag before it is started.
A man must come into court with clean hands. I had started by
rotting the other fellow's eggs and he finished by souring my
milk. I wanted justice and I got it, but I didn't recognize it
when it landed on me with all four feet. Chickens come home to
roost, and my pigeons had found a nesting-place on my anatomy;
and the spot they had chosen was right in the neck.
SCENE IN A ROLLING MILL
The rolling mill where father worked was Life's Big Circus tent
to me, and like a kid escaped from school, eager to get past the
tent flap and mingle with the clowns and elephants, I chucked my
job sorting nails when I found an opening for a youngster in the
rolling mill. Every puddler has a helper. Old men have both a
helper and a boy. I got a place with an old man, and so at the
age of twelve I was part of the Big Show whose performance is
continuous, whose fire-eaters have real flame to contend with,
and whose snake-charmers risk their lives in handling great
hissing, twisting red-hot serpents of angry iron.
In this mill there is a constant din by day and night. Patches
of white heat glare from the opened furnace doors like the teeth
of some great dark, dingy devil grinning across the smoky vapors
of the Pit. Half naked, soot-smeared fellows fight the furnace
hearths with hooks, rabbles and paddles. Their scowling faces are
lit with fire, like sailors manning their guns in a night fight
when a blazing fire ship is bearing down upon them. The sweat
runs down their backs and arms and glistens in the changing
lights. Brilliant blues and rays of green and bronze come from
the coruscating metal, molten yet crystallizing into white-hot
frost within the furnace puddle. Flaming balls of woolly iron are
pulled from the oven doors, flung on a two-wheeled serving tray,
and rushed sputtering and flamboyant to the hungry mouth of a
machine, which rolls them upon its tongue and squeezes them in
its jaw like a cow mulling over her cud. The molten slag runs
down red-hot from the jaws of this squeezer and makes a luminous
rivulet on the floor like the water from the rubber rollers when
a washer-woman wrings out the saturated clothes. Squeezed dry of
its luminous lava, the white-hot sponge is drawn with tongs to
the waiting rollers--whirling anvils that beat it into the shape
they will. Everywhere are hurrying men, whirring flywheels,
moving levers of steam engines and the drum-like roar of the
rolling machines, while here and there the fruits of this toil
are seen as three or four fiery serpents shoot forth from
different trains of rollers, and are carried away, wrought iron
fit for bridging the creek, shoeing the mule and hooping the
barrel that brings the farmers apples into town.
"Life in these mills is a terrible life," the reformers say.
"Men are ground down to scrap and are thrown out as wreckage."
This may be so, but my life was spent in the mills and I failed
to discover it. I went in a stripling and grew into manhood with
muscled arms big as a bookkeeper's legs. The gases, they say,
will destroy a man's lungs, but I worked all day in the mills and
had wind enough left to toot a clarinet in the band. I lusted for
labor, I worked and I liked it. And so did my forefathers for
generations before me. It is no job for weaklings, but neither
was tree-felling, Indian fighting, road-making and the subduing
of a wild continent to the hand of man as was done by the whole
tribe of Americans for the sheer joy of conquering the wild.
There is something in man that drives him forward to do the
world's work and build bigger for the coming generations, just as
there is something in nature that causes new growth to come out
of old dirt and new worlds to be continually spawned from the
ashes of old played-out suns and stars. When nature ceases to
mold new worlds from the past decay, the universe will wither;
and when man loses the urge to build and goes to tearing down,
the end of his story is at hand.
A tired Thomas whose wife supported him by running a rooming
house once asked me:
"How many do you 'spose there are in the United States that
don't have to work?"
"None," I replied, "except invalids and cripples. Every healthy
man in this country has to work just the same as he has to
breathe. If you don't want to work it is because you're sick. I'm
a well man, and I've got to be working all the time or I'd go
crazy. I have no more desire to be idle like you than I have a
desire to wear women's clothes. It is contrary to normal nature,
and that's why I say that any man that gets that way is a sick
The fellow was a "free thinker," as he called himself. He was
too lazy to shave and his beard was always about two weeks ahead
of him. He was working out a plan for communism in the United
States. He believed that enough work had now been done to supply
the race forever. It was just a question of so evenly dividing
the goods that all men instead of a few could loaf the rest of
He had such a tired feeling that he didn't have the ambition of
an oyster. He didn't have enough energy to realize he was all in.
He took it for granted that the whole race was as tired as he
He thought he needed one of the Utopias they talk so much
about. What he needed was a dose of castor-oil. I never knew a
communist in my life that was a well man.
BOILING DOWN THE PIGS
An iron puddler is a "pig boiler." The pig boiling must be done
at a certain temperature (the pig is iron) just as a farmer
butchering hogs must scald the carcasses at a certain
temperature. If the farmer's water is too hot it will set the
hair, that is, fix the bristles so they will never come out; if
the water is not hot enough it will fail to loosen the bristles.
So the farmer has to be an expert, and when the water in his
barrel is just hot enough, he souses the porker in it, holding it
in the hot bath the right length of time, then pulling it out and
scraping off the hair. Farmers learned this art by experience
long before the days of book farming.
And so the metal "pig boiler" ages ago learned by experience
how to make the proper "heat" to boil the impurities out of pig-
iron, or forge iron, and change it into that finer product,
wrought iron. Pig-iron contains silicon, sulphur and phosphorus,
and these impurities make it brittle so that a cast iron
teakettle will break at a blow, like a china cup. Armor of this
kind would have been no good for our iron-clad ancestors. When a
knight in iron clothes tried to whip a leather-clad peasant, the
peasant could have cracked him with a stone and his clothes would
have fallen off like plaster from the ceiling. So those early
iron workers learned to puddle forge iron and make it into
wrought iron which is tough and leathery and can not be broken by
a blow. This process was handed down from father to son, and in
the course of time came to my father and so to me. None of us
ever went to school and learned the chemistry of it from books.
We learned the trick by doing it, standing with our faces in the
scorching heat while our hands puddled the metal in its glaring
And that is the way the farmer's son has learned hog scalding
from the time when our ancient fathers got tired of eating
bristles and decided to take their pork clean shaven. To-day
there are books telling just how many degrees of heat make the
water right for scalding hogs, and the metallurgists have written
down the chemical formula for puddling iron. But the man who
learns it from a book can not do it. The mental knowledge is not
enough; it requires great muscular skill like that of the
heavyweight wrestler, besides great physical endurance to
withstand the terrific heat. The worker's body is in perfect
physical shape and the work does not injure him but only
exhilarates him. No iron worker can be a communist, for
communists all have inferior bodies. The iron worker knows that
his body is superior, and no sour philosophy could stay in him,
because he would sweat it out of his pores as he sweats out all
The old man that I worked with when I first entered the rolling
mill was gray with his sixty years of toil. Yet his eye was clear
and his back was straight and when he went to the table he ate
like a sixteen-year-old and his sleep was dreamless. A man so old
must conserve his strength, and he made use of his husky helper
whenever he could to save his own muscles and lengthen his
endurance. My business was to do the little chores and save time
for the helper. I teased up the furnace, I leveled the fire, I
dished the cinders in to thicken the heat, and I watched the
cobbles. During the melting of the pig-iron the furnace had to be
kept as hot as coal could make it.
Before the use of coal was discovered, the ancient iron makers
used charcoal. So iron could only be made where there were
forests to give fuel. Even as late as 1840 the iron smelters in
Pennsylvania were using wood in their furnaces. Our forefathers
did not know that coal would burn. And yet here lay the coal, the
ore and the limestone side by side, which meant that Pittsburgh
was to be the iron capital of the world. But Americans will not
long sleep in the presence of such an opportunity. Other races
will. The Chinese have slumbered for five thousand years above a
treasure trove of oil, coal and iron. They never discovered its
uses. Instead of oil they lit themselves to bed with mutton
tallow. Instead of burning coal they put on two pairs of pants
when winter came. In place of steel plows drawn by oil-burning
tractors they scratched the ground with a wooden stick, and when
the crop failed they starved to death by millions. With our steel
ships we send bread to China to save them. If they had the wit to
use their resources they could save themselves. In man's fight
against the hostile forces of nature, his safety lies in applying
his wit to the resources that nature gave him. The Americans can
do that. There are others that can not.
I was riding on a train in Indiana when a gypsy-looking youth
came in and sat beside me. His hair was black, his skin was
yellow and he was dressed in flashy American clothes. He had a
cock-sure air about him that attracted my attention. I have
seldom seen a young man more pleased with himself. He was
entirely too cocky for me. He began talking. He said he was a
Syrian and was worth a thousand dollars. Soon he would be worth a
million, he said. He was already putting on his million-dollar
"While selling bananas and ginger pop, he told me, "I made some
money and learned the American ways. I have a brother in South
Bend who has made some money shining shoes. I am going to get my
brother and we will go back to the old home in Asia Minor. The
hills where we were born are full of coal. The people call it
black stone. They do not know that it will burn. We will go back
there with our American knowledge and set the world on fire."
There is a people who have been kicking coal around for five
thousand years and have not yet learned that it will burn. Those
hills produced gypsies who travel around cheating, dickering and
selling gewgaws that are worth nothing. They come among a people
who have used their heads. From these people they learned to heat
a banana stand with a little coal stove. Having mastered that
coal-stove principle, they are going back to their native hills
with black magic up their sleeves.
"What a superior man am I," thought that young tribesman
swollen with vanity, although he had done nothing.
This taught me that some of these thick-headed tribes can be
all swelled up with pride when they have little to be proud of.
THE IRON BISCUITS
In the Sharon town band I played the clarinet from the time I
was thirteen until I left that town several years later to chase
the fireflies of vanishing jobs that marked the last
administration of Cleveland. A bands-man at thirteen, I became a
master puddler at sixteen. At that time there were but five boys
of that age who had become full-fledged puddlers. Of these young
iron workers, I suppose there were few that "doubled in brass."
But why should not an iron worker be a musician? The anvil,
symbol of his trade, is a musical instrument and is heard in the
anvil chorus from Trovatore. In our rolling mill we did not have
an anvil on which the "bloom" was beaten by a trip-hammer as is
done in the Old Country. The "squeezer" which combines the
functions of hammer and anvil did the work instead.
When I became my father's helper he began teaching me to handle
the machinery of the trade. The puddling furnace has a working
door on a level with a man's stomach. Working door is a trade
name. Out in the world all doors are working; if they don't work
they aren't doors (except cellar doors, which are nailed down
under the Volstead Act). But the working door of a puddling
furnace is the door through which the puddler does his work. It
is a porthole opening upon a sea of flame. The heat of these
flames would wither a man's body, and so they are enclosed in a
shell of steel. Through this working door I put in the charge of
"pigs" that were to be boiled. These short pieces of "mill iron"
had been smelted from iron ore; they had taken the first step on
their journey from wild iron to civilized iron. There isn't much
use for pig-iron in this world. You've got to be better iron than
that. Pig-iron has no fiber; it breaks instead of bending. Build
a bridge of it and a gale will break it and it will fall into the
river. Some races are pig-iron; Hottentots and Bushmen are pig-
iron. They break at a blow. They have been smelted out of wild
animalism, but they went no further; they are of no use in this
modern world because they are brittle. Only the wrought-iron
races can do the work. All this I felt but could not say in the
days when I piled the pig-iron in the puddling furnace and turned
with boyish eagerness to have my father show me how.
Six hundred pounds was the weight of pig-iron we used to put
into a single hearth. Much wider than the hearth was the fire
grate, for we needed a heat that was intense. The flame was made
by burning bituminous coal. Vigorously I stoked that fire for
thirty minutes with dampers open and the draft roaring while that
pig-iron melted down like ice-cream under an electric fan. You
have seen a housewife sweating over her oven to get it hot enough
to bake a batch of biscuits. Her face gets pink and a drop of
sweat dampens her curls. Quite a horrid job she finds it. But I
had iron biscuits to bake; my forge fire must be hot as a
volcano. There were five bakings every day and this meant the
shoveling in of nearly two tons of coal. In summer I was stripped
to the waist and panting while the sweat poured down across my
heaving muscles. My palms and fingers, scorched by the heat,
became hardened like goat hoofs, while my skin took on a coat of
tan that it will wear forever.
What time I was not stoking the fire, I was stirring the charge
with a long iron rabble that weighed some twenty-five pounds.
Strap an Oregon boot of that weight to your arm and then do
calisthenics ten hours in a room so hot it melts your eyebrows
and you will know what it is like to be a puddler. But we
puddlers did not complain. There is men's work to be done in this
world, and we were the men to do it. We had come into a country
built of wood; we should change it to a country built of steel
and stone. There was grandeur for us to achieve, like the Roman
who said, "I found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of