Quick Navigation

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Founders' Building Hours: Founders' Reference Desk: Founders' Circulation Desk:
All Locations Hours

A.T. Stewart by Horatio Alger, Jr.

Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: A. T. Stewart.
In: Golden Argosy, Vol. 1, no. ? (March 10, 1883)
Published: [New York : Frank A. Munsey, 1882].
Format: 2 columns ; 28 cm.
Other Name: Miller, Paul.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Notes: From the Golden Argosy, Vol. 1, no. ? (March 10, 1883).
Location: PS 1029 .A3 A7 1882a (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
DeKalb, IL

In the year 1818, a poor Irish boy landed In New York in quest of fortune. He was sixteen years of age, and, though he brought little money with him, was the fortunate possessor of a good education, including not only the English branches, but a fair knowledge of Latin and Greek. I have called him an Irish boy, but he was really Scotch-lrish, though born near Belfast, and possessed in large measure the shrewdness and prudence which are characteristic of those who are born north of the Tweed.

I am sure that many of my readers will already have guessed the name of this poor Irish boy. In after years that name became a household word, not only in the city of his residence, but throughout the United States. That name was Alexander Turney Stewart.

The boy tried first to obtain a mercantile situation, but he who in after years was destined to employ thousands, at one time could find no one to employ him. Still he was not at the end of his resources. For besides his education, he looked older than his years. Somehow he contrived to obtain the post of assistant in a commercial school. He was able to live, but not luxuriously, for his pay was less than six dollars a week. I may remark, however, that six dollars at that time probably amounted to as much as twelve now-a-days. Board could be had for two dollars a week, and as for the spending-money which boys of sixteen now think they must have, there was little to spend money for. Extravagance, which has now become so general, was of later growth.

However, young Stewart was not content, as long as he could better himself. He was soon able to do so. He applied for, and obtained a better position In another school of the same character, where he received the magnificent salary of three hundred dollars a year. Probably he saved something out of this. At any rate, I am sure he didn't allow himself to spend much money for amusements, or any articles that were not necessary. He was not destined to remain a teacher long. The commercial instinct was strong within him. He gave up teaching and opened a retail dry foods store on an humble scale. He was still a mere boy, for when he closed up his business he was but nineteen. He did not close up on account of business embarrassments, but on account of a piece of good fortune, of which he heard in 1821.

The good fortune was the news of an inheritance left him by his grandfather in Ireland. Naturally, he returned to his native country to look after it. It proved to amount to about five thousand dollars, which was no small fortune In that day. Young Stewart had no sooner secured his money than he invested it in "insertions" and "scallop trimmings," and returned to New York. He lost no time in renting a store at No. 183 Broadway, and going to work in earnest. He did not leave his business to look after itself, but overlooked every detail, working from fourteen to eighteen hours daily. He did nearly everything himself. He was his own cashier, bookkeeper, and salesman, and did not even disdain to be his own porter. If the young men who to-day start in business on limited capital would follow his example, they might not indeed reach his success, for not every common soldier can become a Napoleon, but they would be pretty sure to meet with some measure of success.

I wish here to record certain principles of business which Stewart adopted at that time, and from which he never deviated, to which we may attribute his subsequent fortune. These were: (1) Strict honesty in all dealings with customers. (2) One price for all. (3) Cash on delivery. (4) Business to be done as business, and without reference to any other consideration. (5) Courtesy to all, of whatever rank. In the days of his greatest prosperity a poor Irish woman was as welcome in his large store as a lady dressed in silks, and the clerk who should presume to treat her with impertinence would have been instantly discharged. All these rules I can unreservedly commend, with the exception of the fourth, which Mr. Stewart carried too far.

Of course the young merchant was shrewd. He bought to the best advantage, and so made his profit as large as fairness would allow. Naturally, he prospered, and in six years be was obliged to take a larger store. It was not till the year 1846 that be completed and opened the store at Chambers street and Broadway, which afterwards became his wholesale store. It was later still that he built the marble store, filling an entire square, and bounded by Broadway aud Fourth Avenue, Ninth and Tenth Streets. Here he was when the war broke out. He obtained valuable contracts for army blankets and supplies and his fortune was increased by millions.