The Iron Puddler by James J. Davis

THE IRON PUDDLER MY LIFE IN THE ROLLING MILLS AND WHAT CAME OF IT by JAMES J. DAVIS Introduction by 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
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  • 1922
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Introduction by

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
JUNE, 1922.


“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 phraseology.

“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 for vagrancy.”

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 public.

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 addressing.

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.
























































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 drink.”

“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 a child.”

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 problem.

“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 attack.

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 Foraker.

“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 offered?”

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 winter.

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- downs.

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, Babe exclaimed:

“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 finish you.”

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.



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 free will.

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 sow’s ear.”

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 Golden Rule.



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 to America.”

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 overreached myself.

“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 you myself.”

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 approval.

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.



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 of capitalism.”

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 in song.



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.



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 home.

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? Tall? Fat?”

“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 the law.

An American poet in two lines told the whole truth about human courage:

“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.



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.”



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 world.

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.



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 propositions:

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 strangers.



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 a goat.”

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 forty-five.

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 time.



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 Welsh.

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 voyage.”

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 their children.

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 traveling men.”

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 his neighbors.

“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.



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- school.

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.



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 man.”

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 their years.

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 was.

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.



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 bath.

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 other poisons.

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 airs.

“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.



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 marble.”