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possible. Any one who is familiar with the exposures which resulted in

the formation of the Interstate Commerce Commission knows what is meant

by this. There was a period when rail transport was not regarded as the

servant of the traveling, manufacturing, and commercial publics.

Business was treated as if it existed for the benefit of the railways.

During this period of folly, it was not good railroading to get goods

from their shipping point to their destination by the most direct line

possible, but to keep them on the road as long as possible, send them

around the longest way, give as many connecting lines as possible a

piece of the profit, and let the public stand the resulting loss of time

and money. That was once counted good railroading. It has not entirely

passed out of practice to-day.

 

One of the great changes in our economic life to which this railroad

policy contributed was the centralization of certain activities, not

because centralization was necessary, nor because it contributed to the

well-being of the people, but because, among other things, it made

double business for the railroads. Take two staples--meat and grain. If

you look at the maps which the packing houses put out, and see where the

cattle are drawn from; and then if you consider that the cattle, when

converted into food, are hauled again by the same railways right back to

the place where they came from, you will get some sidelight on the

transportation problem and the price of meat. Take also grain. Every

reader of advertisements knows where the great flour mills of the

country are located. And they probably know also that these great mills

are not located in the sections where the grain of the United States is

raised. There are staggering quantities of grain, thousands of

trainloads, hauled uselessly long distances, and then in the form of

flour hauled back again long distances to the states and sections where

the grain was raised--a burdening of the railroads which is of no

benefit to the communities where the grain originated, nor to any one

else except the monopolistic mills and the railroads. The railroads can

always do a big business without helping the business of the country at

all; they can always be engaged in just such useless hauling. On meat

and grain and perhaps on cotton, too, the transportation burden could be

reduced by more than half, by the preparation of the product for use

before it is shipped. If a coal community mined coal in Pennsylvania,

and then sent it by railway to Michigan or Wisconsin to be screened, and

then hauled it back again to Pennsylvania for use, it would not be much

sillier than the hauling of Texas beef alive to Chicago, there to be

killed, and then shipped back dead to Texas; or the hauling of Kansas

grain to Minnesota, there to be ground in the mills and hauled back

again as flour. It is good business for the railroads, but it is bad

business for business. One angle of the transportation problem to which

too few men are paying attention is this useless hauling of material. If

the problem were tackled from the point of ridding the railroads of

their useless hauls, we might discover that we are in better shape than

we think to take care of the legitimate transportation business of the

country. In commodities like coal it is necessary that they be hauled

from where they are to where they are needed. The same is true of the

raw materials of industry--they must be hauled from the place where

nature has stored them to the place where there are people ready to work

them. And as these raw materials are not often found assembled in one

section, a considerable amount of transportation to a central assembling

place is necessary. The coal comes from one section, the copper from

another, the iron from another, the wood from another--they must all be

brought together.

 

But wherever it is possible a policy of decentralization ought to be

adopted. We need, instead of mammoth flour mills, a multitude of smaller

mills distributed through all the sections where grain is grown.

Wherever it is possible, the section that produces the raw material

ought to produce also the finished product. Grain should be ground to

flour where it is grown. A hog-growing country should not export hogs,

but pork, hams, and bacon. The cotton mills ought to be near the cotton

fields. This is not a revolutionary idea. In a sense it is a reactionary

one. It does not suggest anything new; it suggests something that is

very old. This is the way the country did things before we fell into the

habit of carting everything around a few thousand miles and adding the

cartage to the consumer's bill. Our communities ought to be more

complete in themselves. They ought not to be unnecessarily dependent on

railway transportation. Out of what they produce they should supply

their own needs and ship the surplus. And how can they do this unless

they have the means of taking their raw materials, like grain and

cattle, and changing them into finished products? If private enterprise

does not yield these means, the cooperation of farmers can. The chief

injustice sustained by the farmer to-day is that, being the greatest

producer, he is prevented from being also the greatest merchandiser,

because he is compelled to sell to those who put his products into

merchantable form. If he could change his grain into flour, his cattle

into beef, and his hogs into hams and bacon, not only would he receive

the fuller profit of his product, but he would render his near-by

communities more independent of railway exigencies, and thereby improve

the transportation system by relieving it of the burden of his

unfinished product. The thing is not only reasonable and practicable,

but it is becoming absolutely necessary. More than that, it is being

done in many places. But it will not register its full effect on the

transportation situation and upon the cost of living until it is done

more widely and in more kinds of materials.

 

It is one of nature's compensations to withdraw prosperity from the

business which does not serve.

 

We have found that on the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton we could, following

our universal policy, reduce our rates and get more business. We made

some cuts, but the Interstate Commerce Commission refused to allow them!

Under such conditions why discuss the railroads as a business? Or as a

service?

 

 

CHAPTER XVII

 

THINGS IN GENERAL

 

 

No man exceeds Thomas A. Edison in broad vision and understanding. I met

him first many years ago when I was with the Detroit Edison

Company--probably about 1887 or thereabouts. The electrical men held a

convention at Atlantic City, and Edison, as the leader in electrical

science, made an address. I was then working on my gasoline engine, and

most people, including all of my associates in the electrical company,

had taken pains to tell me that time spent on a gasoline engine was time

wasted--that the power of the future was to be electricity. These

criticisms had not made any impression on me. I was working ahead with

all my might. But being in the same room with Edison suggested to me

that it would be a good idea to find out if the master of electricity

thought it was going to be the only power in the future. So, after Mr.

Edison had finished his address, I managed to catch him alone for a

moment. I told him what I was working on.

 

At once he was interested. He is interested in every search for new

knowledge. And then I asked him if he thought that there was a future

for the internal combustion engine. He answered something in this

fashion:

 

Yes, there is a big future for any light-weight engine that can develop

a high horsepower and be self-contained. No one kind of motive power is

ever going to do all the work of the country. We do not know what

electricity can do, but I take for granted that it cannot do everything.

 

Keep on with your engine. If you can get what you are after, I can see a

great future.

 

That is characteristic of Edison. He was the central figure in the

electrical industry, which was then young and enthusiastic. The rank and

file of the electrical men could see nothing ahead but electricity, but

their leader could see with crystal clearness that no one power could do

all the work of the country. I suppose that is why he was the leader.

 

Such was my first meeting with Edison. I did not see him again until

many years after--until our motor had been developed and was in

production. He remembered perfectly our first meeting. Since then we

have seen each other often. He is one of my closest friends, and we

together have swapped many an idea.

 

His knowledge is almost universal. He is interested in every conceivable

subject and he recognizes no limitations. He believes that all things

are possible. At the same time he keeps his feet on the ground. He goes

forward step by step. He regards "impossible" as a description for that

which we have not at the moment the knowledge to achieve. He knows that

as we amass knowledge we build the power to overcome the impossible.

That is the rational way of doing the "impossible." The irrational way

is to make the attempt without the toil of accumulating knowledge. Mr.

Edison is only approaching the height of his power. He is the man who is

going to show us what chemistry really can do. For he is a real

scientist who regards the knowledge for which he is always searching as

a tool to shape the progress of the world. He is not the type of

scientist who merely stores up knowledge and turns his head into a

museum. Edison is easily the world's greatest scientist. I am not sure

that he is not also the world's worst business man. He knows almost

nothing of business.

 

John Burroughs was another of those who honoured me with their

friendship. I, too, like birds. I like the outdoors. I like to walk

across country and jump fences. We have five hundred bird houses on the

farm. We call them our bird hotels, and one of them, the Hotel

Pontchartrain--a martin house--has seventy-six apartments. All winter

long we have wire baskets of food hanging about on the trees and then

there is a big basin in which the water is kept from freezing by an

electric heater. Summer and winter, food, drink, and shelter are on hand

for the birds. We have hatched pheasants and quail in incubators and

then turned them over to electric brooders. We have all kinds of bird

houses and nests. The sparrows, who are great abusers of hospitality,

insist that their nests be immovable--that they do not sway in the wind;

the wrens like swaying nests. So we mounted a number of wren boxes on

strips of spring steel so that they would sway in the wind. The wrens

liked the idea and the sparrows did not, so we have been able to have

the wrens nest in peace. In summer we leave cherries on the trees and

strawberries open in the beds, and I think that we have not only more

but also more different kinds of bird callers than anywhere else in the

northern states. John Burroughs said he thought we had, and one day when

he was staying at our place he came across a bird that he had never seen

before.

 

About ten years ago we imported a great number of birds from

abroad--yellow-hammers, chaffinches, green finches, red pales, twites,

bullfinches, jays, linnets, larks--some five hundred of them. They

stayed around a while, but where they are now I do not know. I shall not

import any more. Birds are entitled to live where they want to live.

 

Birds are the best of companions. We need them for their beauty and

their companionship, and also we need them for the strictly economic

reason that they destroy harmful insects. The only time I ever used the

Ford organization to influence legislation was on behalf of the birds,

and I think the end justified the means. The Weeks-McLean Bird Bill,

providing for bird sanctuaries for our migratory birds, had been hanging

in Congress with every likelihood of dying a natural death. Its

immediate sponsors could not arouse much interest among the Congressmen.

Birds do not vote. We got behind that bill and we asked each of our six

thousand dealers to wire to his representative in Congress. It began to

become apparent that birds might have votes; the bill went through. Our

organization has never been used for any political purpose and never

will be. We assume that our people have a right to their own

preferences.

 

To get back to John Burroughs. Of course I knew who he was and I had

read nearly everything he had written, but I had never thought of

meeting him until some years ago when he developed a grudge against

modern progress. He detested money and especially he detested the power

which money gives to vulgar people to despoil the lovely countryside. He

grew to dislike the industry out of which money is made. He disliked the

noise of factories and railways. He criticized industrial progress, and

he declared that the automobile was going to kill the appreciation of

nature. I fundamentally disagreed with him. I thought that his emotions

had taken him on the wrong tack and so I sent him an automobile with the

request that he try it out and discover for himself whether it would not

help him to know nature better. That automobile--and it took him some

time to learn how to manage it himself--completely changed his point of

view. He found that it helped him to see more, and from the time of

getting it, he made nearly all of his bird-hunting expeditions behind

the steering wheel. He learned that instead of having to confine himself

to a few miles around Slabsides, the whole countryside was open to him.

 

Out of that automobile grew our friendship, and it was a fine one. No

man could help being the better for knowing John Burroughs. He was not a

professional naturalist, nor did he make sentiment do for hard research.

It is easy to grow sentimental out of doors; it is hard to pursue the

truth about a bird as one would pursue a mechanical principle. But John

Burroughs did that, and as a result the observations he set down were

very largely accurate. He was impatient with men who were not accurate

in their observations of natural life. John Burroughs first loved nature

for its own sake; it was not merely his stock of material as a

professional writer. He loved it before he wrote about it.

 

Late in life he turned philosopher. His philosophy was not so much a

philosophy of nature as it was a natural philosophy--the long, serene

thoughts of a man who had lived in the tranquil spirit of the trees. He

was not pagan; he was not pantheist; but he did not much divide between

nature and human nature, nor between human nature and divine. John

Burroughs lived a wholesome life. He was fortunate to have as his home

the farm on which he was born. Through long years his surroundings were

those which made for quietness of mind. He loved the woods and he made

dusty-minded city people love them, too--he helped them see what he saw.

He did not make much beyond a living. He could have done so, perhaps,

but that was not his aim. Like another American naturalist, his

occupation could have been described as inspector of birds' nests and

hillside paths. Of course, that does not pay in dollars and cents.

 

When he had passed the three score and ten he changed his views on

industry. Perhaps I had something to do with that. He came to see that

the whole world could not live by hunting birds' nests. At one time in

his life, he had a grudge against all modern progress, especially where

it was associated with the burning of coal and the noise of traffic.

Perhaps that was as near to literary affectation as he ever came.

Wordsworth disliked railways too, and Thoreau said that he could see

more of the country by walking. Perhaps it was influences such as these

which bent John Burroughs for a time against industrial progress. But

only for a time. He came to see that it was fortunate for him that

others' tastes ran in other channels, just as it was fortunate for the

world that his taste ran in its own channel. There has been no

observable development in the method of making birds' nests since the

beginning of recorded observation, but that was hardly a reason why

human beings should not prefer modern sanitary homes to cave dwellings.

This was a part of John Burroughs's sanity--he was not afraid to change

his views. He was a lover of Nature, not her dupe. In the course of time

he came to value and approve modern devices, and though this by itself

is an interesting fact, it is not so interesting as the fact that he

made this change after he was seventy years old. John Burroughs was

never too old to change. He kept growing to the last. The man who is too

set to change is dead already. The funeral is a mere detail.

 

If he talked more of one person than another, it was Emerson. Not only

did he know Emerson by heart as an author, but he knew him by heart as a

spirit. He taught me to know Emerson. He had so saturated himself with

Emerson that at one time he thought as he did and even fell into his

mode of expression. But afterward he found his own way--which for him

was better.

 

There was no sadness in John Burroughs's death. When the grain lies

brown and ripe under the harvest sun, and the harvesters are busy

binding it into sheaves, there is no sadness for the grain. It has

ripened and has fulfilled its term, and so had John Burroughs. With him

it was full ripeness and harvest, not decay. He worked almost to the

end. His plans ran beyond the end. They buried him amid the scenes he

loved, and it was his eighty-fourth birthday. Those scenes will be

preserved as he loved them.

 

John Burroughs, Edison, and I with Harvey S. Firestone made several

vagabond trips together. We went in motor caravans and slept under

canvas. Once we gypsied through the Adirondacks and again through the

Alleghenies, heading southward. The trips were good fun--except that

they began to attract too much attention.

 

* * * * *

 

To-day I am more opposed to war than ever I was, and I think the people

of the world know--even if the politicians do not--that war never

settles anything. It was war that made the orderly and profitable

processes of the world what they are to-day--a loose, disjointed mass.

Of course, some men get rich out of war; others get poor. But the men

who get rich are not those who fought or who really helped behind the

lines. No patriot makes money out of war. No man with true patriotism

could make money out of war--out of the sacrifice of other men's lives.

Until the soldier makes money by fighting, until mothers make money by

giving their sons to death--not until then should any citizen make money

out of providing his country with the means to preserve its life.

 

If wars are to continue, it will be harder and harder for the upright

business man to regard war as a legitimate means of high and speedy

profits. War fortunes are losing caste every day. Even greed will some

day hesitate before the overwhelming unpopularity and opposition which

will meet the war profiteer. Business should be on the side of peace,

because peace is business's best asset.

 

And, by the way, was inventive genius ever so sterile as it was during

the war?

 

An impartial investigation of the last war, of what preceded it and what

has come out of it, would show beyond a doubt that there is in the world

a group of men with vast powers of control, that prefers to remain

unknown, that does not seek office or any of the tokens of power, that

belongs to no nation whatever but is international--a force that uses

every government, every widespread business organization, every agency

of publicity, every resource of national psychology, to throw the world

into a panic for the sake of getting still more power over the world. An

old gambling trick used to be for the gambler to cry "Police!" when a

lot of money was on the table, and, in the panic that followed, to seize

the money and run off with it. There is a power within the world which

cries "War!" and in the confusion of the nations, the unrestrained

sacrifice which people make for safety and peace runs off with the

spoils of the panic.

 

The point to keep in mind is that, though we won the military contest,

the world has not yet quite succeeded in winning a complete victory over

the promoters of war. We ought not to forget that wars are a purely

manufactured evil and are made according to a definite technique. A

campaign for war is made upon as definite lines as a campaign for any

other purpose. First, the people are worked upon. By clever tales the

people's suspicions are aroused toward the nation against whom war is

desired. Make the nation suspicious; make the other nation suspicious.

All you need for this is a few agents with some cleverness and no

conscience and a press whose interest is locked up with the interests

that will be benefited by war. Then the "overt act" will soon appear. It

is no trick at all to get an "overt act" once you work the hatred of two

nations up to the proper pitch.

 

There were men in every country who were glad to see the World War begin

and sorry to see it stop. Hundreds of American fortunes date from the

Civil War; thousands of new fortunes date from the World War. Nobody can

deny that war is a profitable business for those who like that kind of

money. War is an orgy of money, just as it is an orgy of blood.

 

And we should not so easily be led into war if we considered what it is

that makes a nation really great. It is not the amount of trade that

makes a nation great. The creation of private fortunes, like the

creation of an autocracy, does not make any country great. Nor does the

mere change of an agricultural population into a factory population. A

country becomes great when, by the wise development of its resources and

the skill of its people, property is widely and fairly distributed.

 

Foreign trade is full of delusions. We ought to wish for every nation as

large a degree of self-support as possible. Instead of wishing to keep

them dependent on us for what we manufacture, we should wish them to

learn to manufacture themselves and build up a solidly founded

civilization. When every nation learns to produce the things which it

can produce, we shall be able to get down to a basis of serving each

other along those special lines in which there can be no competition.

The North Temperate Zone will never be able to compete with the tropics

in the special products of the tropics. Our country will never be a

competitor with the Orient in the production of tea, nor with the South

in the production of rubber.

 

A large proportion of our foreign trade is based on the backwardness of

our foreign customers. Selfishness is a motive that would preserve that

backwardness. Humanity is a motive that would help the backward nations

to a self-supporting basis. Take Mexico, for example. We have heard a

great deal about the "development" of Mexico. Exploitation is the word

that ought instead to be used. When its rich natural resources are

exploited for the increase of the private fortunes of foreign

capitalists, that is not development, it is ravishment. You can never

develop Mexico until you develop the Mexican. And yet how much of the

"development" of Mexico by foreign exploiters ever took account of the

development of its people? The Mexican peon has been regarded as mere

fuel for the foreign money-makers. Foreign trade has been his

degradation.

 

Short-sighted people are afraid of such counsel. They say: "What would

become of our foreign trade?"

 

When the natives of Africa begin raising their own cotton and the

natives of Russia begin making their own farming implements and the

natives of China begin supplying their own wants, it will make a

difference, to be sure, but does any thoughtful man imagine that the

world can long continue on the present basis of a few nations supplying

the needs of the world? We must think in terms of what the world will be

when civilization becomes general, when all the peoples have learned to

help themselves.

 

When a country goes mad about foreign trade it usually depends on other

countries for its raw material, turns its population into factory

fodder, creates a private rich class, and lets its own immediate

interest lie neglected. Here in the United States we have enough work to

do developing our own country to relieve us of the necessity of looking

for foreign trade for a long time. We have agriculture enough to feed us

while we are doing it, and money enough to carry the job through. Is

there anything more stupid than the United States standing idle because

Japan or France or any other country has not sent us an order when there

is a hundred-year job awaiting us in developing our own country?

 

Commerce began in service. Men carried off their surplus to people who

had none. The country that raised corn carried it to the country that

could raise no corn. The lumber country brought wood to the treeless

plain. The vine country brought fruit to cold northern climes. The

pasture country brought meat to the grassless region. It was all

service. When all the peoples of the world become developed in the art

of self-support, commerce will get back to that basis. Business will

once more become service. There will be no competition, because the

basis of competition will have vanished. The varied peoples will develop

skills which will be in the nature of monopolies and not competitive.

From the beginning, the races have exhibited distinct strains of genius:

this one for government; another for colonization; another for the sea;

another for art and music; another for agriculture; another for

business, and so on. Lincoln said that this nation could not survive

half-slave and half-free. The human race cannot forever exist

half-exploiter and half-exploited. Until we become buyers and sellers

alike, producers and consumers alike, keeping the balance not for profit

but for service, we are going to have topsy-turvy conditions.

 

France has something to give the world of which no competition can cheat

her. So has Italy. So has Russia. So have the countries of South

America. So has Japan. So has Britain. So has the United States. The

sooner we get back to a basis of natural specialties and drop this

free-for-all system of grab, the sooner we shall be sure of







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