« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
THE ADAMS EXPRESS COMPANY.-ALVIN ADAMS, ITS FOUNDER.-HIS
EARLY LIFE.—EXPRESS OPERATIONS IN NEW ENGLAND, NEW
WHEN We consider the vast extension of the Express service, both in area and importance, since the death of Harnden, we cannot but wonder that so gigantic a growth should have sprung from the enterprise and persevering energy of a few men who began the good work, with neither capital nor rich relations, nor high social position to back them. Indeed, more than one of them had not enjoyed even the advantages of a first-rate common school education. Several of the most successful commenced their business with scarcely a dollar to their names, and all have to congratulate themselves that they have attained to their present standing, not by any adventitious aids, but solely by their own personal talents, united to the most indefatigable application to the work. The labor has not all been manual, as many imagine; they have performed a great deal of head work, and the result is a degree of harmony in the operation of the Express service throughout the whole country, notwithstanding the different, and oftentimes apparently opposing interests of the numerous proprietors.
Mere executive men could never have brought the business to the prominent and influential position which it now holds in every considerable community. Fortunately for its early success, it was not retarded by falling into the hands of persons competent only to run of errands and deliver parcels. Mind as well as muscle-mental sagacity as well as physical energy were demanded for its development.
Alvin Adams, happily, united in his own person both of those characteristics. He had the iron constitution, and the aspect of health, which he had brought with him from his native home among the mountains of Vermont, twenty years
before, when he came to Boston, a fatherless and motherless boy, to seek his fortune; and he had, too, the clear head and strong intellect for which the people of the Green hills are famous. His fifteen or twenty years of experience in Boston, before he started in the Express business with P. B. Burke, had been marked by every variety of fortune, but he had never attained to wealth. Beginning it in the humble situation of an office assistant in the Lafayette Hotel, his intelligence, regularity, temperance and habits of industry speedily secured his promotion, and rendered him an invaluable aid to the landlord. The characteristics which we have named, being accompanied by a frank, cordial manner, a gentlemanly address, and an obvious hearty desire to make all around him quite comfortable, admirably fitted Adams for the charge of a first-class hotel, which the "Lafayette" was at that time; but his ambition did not turn in that direction. The celebrated inn was the starting place of several stage lines, and their stable was directly in rear of the house. Staging was a very important business in those days, as we have said; and as the lines from the hotel connected Boston with the great cities of New York and Albany, they stood very high in the esteem of young Adams. It was a common thing, in those days, for a driver to own his team, and this fact contributed not a little to the respectability of the occupation. The Stage Company at the Lafayette Hotel carried the U. S. mail, and was rich in commodious and elegant coaches, and two hundred of the handsomest and most spirited horses that ever kicked up a dust on the Dedham turnpike. The drivers were substantial, solid men; both popular and respected; and Alvin Adams fancied that he would like to be one of them. He had always been a lover of good horses, and to drive four-in-hand, with a fine coach-load of passengers, and the U. S. mail behind, was no less an honor than it was a pleasure. He probably calculated, too, that he might some day be the proprietor of a line of his own. His predilection for the box, however, was (as he himself told me) successfully combatted by the stage agent, who insisted upon it that he was made for better things. He then betook himself to a mercantile occupation, and became either as an employee, or, upon his own account, a family grocer or dealer in pro
visions. Subsequently he was a produce merchant, and enjoyed a term of prosperity. Whoever is familiar with the latter business knows how liable it is to extreme fluctuations, by which fortunes are made or lost in a single month. Adams enjoyed no immunity from the reverses by which his neighbors were suffering. He failed, and lost every dollar. When the tide of fortune again turned in his favor he paid up all of his old debts. One of those from whom we had the story, was himself a beneficiary of this act of unusual justice. The debt was some years old, and the creditor had forgotten it, when he was surprised by Alvin Adams stopping him in the street, reminding him of it, and requesting him to send it to him for payment.
In May, 1840, Alvin Adams and P. B. Burke started an Express in direct competition with Harnden, under the style of Burke & Co. After a few months of "uphill work" Burke retired, and Mr. Adams executed all the business of the
opposition" himself. He was its messenger, cashier, receiptclerk, label boy, and porter. He employed no wagon, nor did Harnden, until a year or two elapsed, for they had only small and valuable parcels to deliver in those days.
We believe that Burke never returned to the Express business.
For the first week or two, Adams could have stowed it all in his hat; nor did he carry anything more than a valise for several months from the commencement. For a long time he found it the hardest kind of work to obtain a share of the public patronage sufficient to pay his expenses, so strong a hold had the prosperous Original Expressman obtained upon the confidence and good-will of the community. Indeed, very many people regarded Adams as an interloper upon a field of enterprise fairly won by Harnden, and manifestly his "by the right of discovery." It is more than probable that not a few of Adams' personal friends looked upon his new business disapprovingly, or damaged it by faint praise. We know that some of them had no sympathy with it. Thy thought, with the majority, that there would never be enough business of the kind for more than one Expressman; never dreaming that in less than eighteen years afterwards it would furnish employ
ment for more than five thousand persons. Indeed, that was not a time to be sanguine about business of any kind except politics. It was the memorable year of the Harrison Presidential Election, and
“Tippecanoe and Tyler too"
monopolized more attention than the mart or the countingroom. For an unprecedented length of time the industry and mercantile interests of the whole country had been depressed and almost ruined. Any change of rulers, it was said, could not but be for the better, and the people were full of the idea of a revolution in the national administration, with a view to improving affairs in general, and business in particular.
Subjected to the double disadvantage of an unpropitious period for a new enterprise, and a degree of antagonism to it in the community on the part of the very people upon whose favor it was dependent for a support, it is not to be wondered at that Burke should so soon have abandoned the undertaking. It certainly was very discouraging, but Alvin Adams was not the man to back down. After Burke left him, in 1840, he conducted the Express, as we have said, entirely alone. He had no capital, nor, indeed, had Harnden at that time. Shortly afterwards, he took Ephraim Farnsworth into copartnership, and gave him the charge of the New York office; but the connection did not last long. Farnsworth died some years ago. We speak of what the second Express had to contend with, the better to illustrate the innate energy and perseverance of Haruden & Co.'s earliest competitor, and his remarkable fitness for the occupation, which in calm disregard of sneers and remonstrances, and still stronger opposition, he persisted in following. It has been often said, that neither Harnden nor Adams, nor anybody else, could possibly have anticipated, at the outset, that the Express business would ever attain to the importance that it has; and doubtless that was so; but no one can look upon the intelligent countenance and ample forehead of Alvin Adams without the conviction, that he had the sagacity to look forward to the realization of far greater results from the enterpise than any other man. It is difficult to believe that a person of his mental power and business experience