When a young man begins to think of making his fortune, his first notion
usually is to go away from home to some very distant place. At present,
the favorite spot is Colorado; awhile ago it was California; and old men
remember when Buffalo was about as far west as the most enterprising
person thought of venturing.
It is not always a foolish thing to go out into the world far beyond the
parent nest, as the young birds do in midsummer. But I can tell you,
boys, from actual inquiry, that a great number of the most important and
famous business men of the United States struck down roots where they
were first planted, and where no one supposed there was room or chance
for any large thing to grow.
I will tell you a story of one of these men, as I heard it from his own
lips some time ago, in a beautiful village where I lectured.
He was an old man then; and a curious thing about him was that, although
he was too deaf to hear one word of a public address, even of the
loudest speaker, he not only attended church every Sunday, but was
rarely absent when a lecture was delivered.
While I was performing on that occasion, I saw him sitting just in front
of the platform, sleeping the sleep of the just till the last word was
Upon being introduced to this old gentleman in his office, and learning
that his business was to make hammers, I was at a loss for a subject of
conversation, as it never occurred to me that there was anything to be
said about hammers.
I have generally possessed a hammer, and frequently inflicted damage on
my fingers therewith, but I had supposed that a hammer was simply a
hammer, and that hammers were very much alike. At last I said,--
"And here you make hammers for mankind, Mr. Maydole?"
You may have noticed the name of David Maydole upon hammers. He is the
"Yes," said he, "I have made hammers here for twenty-eight years."
"Well, then," said I, shouting in his best ear, "by this time you ought
to be able to make a pretty good hammer."
"No, I can't," was his reply. "I can't make a pretty good hammer. I make
the best hammer that's made."
That was strong language. I thought, at first, he meant it as a joke;
but I soon found it was no joke at all.
He had made hammers the study of his lifetime, and, after many years of
thoughtful and laborious experiment, he had actually produced an
article, to which, with all his knowledge and experience, he could
suggest no improvement.
I was astonished to discover how many points there are about an
instrument which I had always supposed a very simple thing. I was
surprised to learn in how many ways a hammer can be bad.
But, first, let me tell you how he came to think of hammers.
There he was, forty years ago, in a small village of the State of New
York; no railroad yet, and even the Erie Canal many miles distant. He
was the village blacksmith, his establishment consisting of himself and
a boy to blow the bellows.
He was a good deal troubled with his hammers. Sometimes the heads would
fly off. If the metal was too soft, the hammer would spread out and wear
away; if it was too hard, it would split.
At that time blacksmiths made their own hammers, and he knew very little
about mixing ores so as to produce the toughest iron. But he was
particularly troubled with the hammer getting off the handle, a mishap
which could be dangerous as well as inconvenient.
At this point of his narrative the old gentleman showed a number of old
hammers, such as were in use before he began to improve the instrument;
and it was plain that men had tried very hard before him to overcome
One hammer had an iron rod running down through the handle with a nut
screwed on at the end. Another was wholly composed of iron, the head and
handle being all of one piece. There were various other devices, some of
which were exceedingly clumsy and awkward.
At last, he hit upon an improvement which led to his being able to put a
hammer upon a handle in such a way that it would stay there. He made
what is called an adze-handled hammer, the head being attached to the
handle after the manner of an adze.
The improvement consists in merely making _a longer hole_ for the handle
to go into, by which device it has a much firmer hold of the head, and
can easily be made extremely tight.
With this improvement, if the handle is well seasoned and well wedged,
there is no danger of the head flying off. He made some other changes,
all of them merely for his own convenience, without a thought of going
into the manufacture of hammers.
The neighborhood in which he lived would have scarcely required half a
dozen new hammers per annum. But one day there came to the village six
carpenters to work upon a new church, and one of these men, having left
his hammer at home, came to David Maydole's blacksmith's shop to get
"Make me as good a hammer," said the carpenter, "as you know how."
That was touching David upon a tender place.
"As good a one as I know how?" said he. "But perhaps you don't want to
pay for as good a one as I know how to make."
"Yes, I do," replied the man; "I want a good hammer."
The blacksmith made him one of his best. It was probably the best hammer
that had ever been made in the world, since it contained two or three
important improvements never before combined in the instrument.
The carpenter was delighted with it, and showed it, with a good deal of
exultation, to his five companions; every man of whom came the next day
to the shop and wanted one just like it. They did not understand all the
blacksmith's notions about tempering and mixing the metals, but they saw
at a glance that the head and the handle were so united that there never
was likely to be any divorce between them.
To a carpenter building a wooden house, the mere removal of that one
defect was a boon beyond price; he could hammer away with confidence,
and without fear of seeing the head of his hammer leap into the next
field, unless stopped by a comrade's head.
When all the six carpenters had been supplied with these improved
hammers, the contractor came and ordered two more. He seemed to think,
and, in fact, said as much, that the blacksmith ought to make _his_
hammers a little better than those he had made for the men.
"I can't make any better ones," said honest David. "When I make a thing,
I make it as well as I can, no matter who it's for."
Soon after, the store-keeper of the village, seeing what excellent
hammers these were, gave the blacksmith a magnificent order for two
dozen, which, in due time, were placed upon his counter for sale.
At this time something happened to David Maydole which may fairly be
called good luck; and you will generally notice events of the kind in
the lives of meritorious men. "Fortune favors the brave," is an old
saying, and good luck in business is very apt to befall the man who
could do very well without it.
It so happened that a New York dealer in tools, named Wood, whose store
is still kept in Chatham Street, New York, happened to be in the village
getting orders for tools. As soon as his eye fell upon those hammers, he
saw their merits, and bought them all. He did more. He left a standing
order for as many hammers of that kind as David Maydole could make.
That was the beginning. The young blacksmith hired a man or two, then
more men, and made more hammers, and kept on making hammers during the
whole of his active life, employing at last a hundred and fifteen men.
During the first twenty years, he was frequently experimenting with a
view to improve the hammer. He discovered just the best combination of
ores to make his hammers hard enough, without being too hard.
He gradually found out precisely the best form of every part. There is
not a turn or curve about either the handle or the head which has not
been patiently considered, and reconsidered, and considered again, until
no further improvement seemed possible. Every handle is seasoned three
years, or until there is no shrink left in it.
Perhaps the most important discovery which he made was that a perfect
tool cannot be made by machinery.
Naturally, his first thought, when he found his business increasing, was
to apply machinery to the manufacture, and for some years several parts
of the process were thus performed. Gradually, his machines were
discarded, and for many years before his retirement, every portion of
the work was done by hand.
Each hammer is hammered out from a piece of iron, and is tempered over a
slow charcoal fire, under the inspection of an experienced man. He looks
as though he were cooking his hammers on a charcoal furnace, and he
watches them until the process is complete, as a cook watches mutton
I heard some curious things about the management of this business. The
founder never did anything to "push" it. He never advertised. He never
reduced the price of his hammers because other manufacturers were doing
His only care, he said, had been to make a perfect hammer, to make just
as many of them as people wanted, and _no more_, and to sell them at a
fair price. If people did not want his hammers, he did not want to make
them. If they did not want to pay what they were worth, they were
welcome to buy cheaper ones of some one else.
For his own part, his wants were few, and he was ready at any time to go
back to his blacksmith's shop.
The old gentleman concluded his interesting narration by making me a
present of one of his hammers, which I now cherish among my treasures.
If it had been a picture, I should have had it framed and hung up over
my desk, a perpetual admonition to me to do my work well; not too fast;
not too much of it; not with any showy false polish; not letting
anything go till I had done all I could to make it what it should be.
In telling this little story, I have told thousands of stories. Take the
word _hammer_ out of it, and put _glue_ in its place, and you have the
history of Peter Cooper. By putting in other words, you can make the
true history of every great business in the world which has lasted
The true "protective system," of which we hear so much, is _to make the
best article_; and he who does this need not buy a ticket for Colorado.