George W Childs
The "Public Ledger" of Philadelphia, and its owner, are known the world
over. Would we see the large-hearted, hospitable millionaire, who has
come to honor through his own industry, let us enter the elegant
building occupied by his newspaper.
Every portion is interesting. The rooms where editors and assistants
work are large, light, and airy, and as tasteful as parlors. Alas! how
unhomelike and barren are some of the newspaper offices, where gifted
men toil from morning till night, with little time for sleep, and still
less for recreation. Mr. Childs has thought of the comfort and health of
his workmen, for he, too, was a poor boy, and knows what it is to labor.
He has also been generous with his men in the matter of wages. "He
refused to reduce the rate of payment of his compositors,
notwithstanding that the Typographical Union had formerly sanctioned a
reduction, and notwithstanding that the reduced scale was operative in
every printing-office in Philadelphia except his own. He said, 'My
business is prosperous; why should not my men share in my prosperity?'
This act of graciousness, while it endeared him to the hearts of his
beneficiaries, was commented on most favorably at home and abroad. That
his employes, in a formal interview with him, expressed their
willingness to accept the reduced rates, simply augments the generosity
of his act." Strikes among laborers would be few and far between if
employers were like George W. Childs.
Each person in his employ has a summer vacation of two or more weeks,
his wages being continued meantime, and paid in advance, with a liberal
sum besides. On Christmas every man, woman, and boy receives a present,
amounting, of course, to many thousands of dollars annually. Mr. Childs
has taken care of many who have become old or disabled in his service.
The foreman of his composing-room had worked for him less than twelve
months before he failed in health. For years this man has drawn his
weekly pay, though never going to the establishment. This is indeed
Besides caring for the living, in 1868 this wise employer of labor
purchased two thousand feet in Woodlands for a printers' cemetery, and
gave it to the Philadelphia Typographical Society, with a sum of money
to keep the grounds in good order yearly. The first person buried beyond
the handsome marble gothic gateway was a destitute and aged printer who
had died at the almshouse and whose dying message to Mr. Childs was that
he could not bear to fill a pauper's grave. His wish was cordially
But after seeing the admirable provision made for his workmen, we must
enter the private office of Mr. Childs. He is most accessible to all,
with no airs of superior position, welcoming persons from every clime
daily, between the hours of eleven and one. He listens courteously to
any requests, and then bids you make yourself at home in this elegant
office, that certainly has no superior in the world, perhaps no rival.
The room itself in the Queen Anne style, with exquisite wood-carving,
marble tiles, brass ornaments, and painted glass, is a gem. Here is his
motto, a noble one, and thoroughly American, "Nihil sine labore," and
well his life has illustrated it. All honor to every man or woman who
helps to make labor honored in this country. The design of the ceiling
was suggested by a room in Coombe Abbey, Warwickshire, the seat of the
Earls Craven, fitted up by one of its lords for the reception of Queen
Elizabeth. Over a dozen valuable clocks are seen, one made in Amsterdam
over two hundred years ago, which, besides the time of day, gives the
phases of the moon, the days of the week, and the month; another, a
clock constructed by David Rittenhouse, the astronomer of the
Revolution, in the old colonial days, which plays a great variety of
music, has a little planetarium attached, and nearly six thousand teeth
in wheels. It was made for Joseph Potts, who paid six hundred and forty
dollars for it. The Spanish Minister in 1778 offered eight hundred for
it, that he might present it to his sovereign. Mr. Childs has about
fifty rare clocks in his various homes, one of these costing six
Here is a marble statuette of Savonarola, the Florentine preacher of the
fifteenth century; the little green harp which belonged to Tom Moore,
and on which he used to play in the homes of the great; a colossal suit
of antique French armor, one hundred and fifty years old; a miniature
likeness of George Washington, handsomely encased in gold, bequeathed by
him to a relative, a lock of his hair in the back of the picture; a
miniature ship, made from the wood of the Alliance Frigate, the only
one of our first navy, of the class of frigates, which escaped capture
or destruction during the Revolutionary war. This boat, and a silver
waiter, presented after the famous battle of New Orleans, were both the
property of President Jackson, and were taken by him to the Hermitage.
Here, also, is a photograph of "Old Ironsides" Stewart, in a frame made
from the frigate Constitution, in which great victories were achieved,
besides many portraits given by famous people, with their autographs.
After a delightful hour spent in looking at these choice things, Mr.
Childs bids us take our choice of some rare china cups and saucers. We
choose one dainty with red birds, and carry it away as a pleasant
remembrance of a princely giver, in a princely apartment.
Mr. Childs has had a most interesting history. Born in Baltimore, he
entered the United States navy at thirteen, where he remained for
fifteen months. At fourteen he came to Philadelphia, poor, but with
courage and a quick mind, and found a place to work in a bookstore. Here
he remained for four years, doing his work faithfully, and to the best
of his ability. At the end of these years he had saved a few hundred
dollars, and opened a little store for himself in the Ledger Building,
where the well-known newspaper, the "Public Ledger," was published.
He was ambitious, as who is not, that comes to prominence; and one day
he made the resolution that he would sometime be the owner of this great
paper and its building! Probably had this resolution been known, his
acquaintances would have regarded the youth as little less than crazy.
But the boy who willed this had a definite aim. Besides, he was never
idle, he was economical, his habits were the best, and why should not
such a boy succeed?
In three years, when he was twenty-one, he had become the head of a
publishing house,--Childs & Peterson. He had a keen sense of what the
public needed. He brought out Kane's "Arctic Expedition," from which the
author, Dr. Kane, realized seventy thousand dollars. Two hundred
thousand copies of Peterson's "Familiar Science" were sold. Allibone
dedicated his great work, "Dictionary of English and American Authors,"
to the energetic and appreciative young publisher.
He had now acquired wealth, sooner almost than he could have hoped.
Before him were bright prospects as a publisher; but the prize that he
had set out to win was to own the "Public Ledger."
The opportunity came in December, 1864. But his paper was losing money.
His friends advised against taking such a burden; he would surely fail.
But Mr. Childs had faith in himself. He expected to win where others
lost. He bought the property, doubled the subscription rates, lowered
the advertising, excluded everything questionable from the columns of
his paper, made his editorials brief, yet comprehensive, until under his
judicious management the journal reached the large circulation of ninety
thousand daily. For ten years he has given the "Ledger Almanac" to every
subscriber, costing five thousand dollars annually. The yearly profits,
it is stated, have been four hundred thousand dollars. All this has not
been accomplished without thought and labor.
Fortune, of course, had come, and fame. He built homes, elegant ones, in
Philadelphia and at Newport, but these are not simply places in which to
spend money, but centres of hospitality and culture.
His library is one of the most charming places in this country. The
wood-work is carved ebony with gold, the bookshelves six feet high on
every side, and the ceiling built in sunken panels, blue and gold. In
the centre is a table made from ebony, brought from Africa by Paul du
Chaillu. One looks with interest upon the handsome volumes of the
standard authors, but other things are of deeper interest.
Here is an original sermon of Rev. Cotton Mather; the poems of Leigh
Hunt, which he presented to Charles Dickens; the original manuscript of
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Consular Experiences"; the first edition of the
"Scarlet Letter," with a note to Mr. Childs from the great novelist;
Bryant's manuscript of the "First Book of the Iliad"; James Russell
Lowell's "June Idyl," begun in 1850 and finished eighteen years
afterward; the manuscript of James Fenimore Cooper's "Life of Captain
Richard Somers"; and Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue,"
seventeen pages of large paper written small and close.
Here is an autograph letter from Poe, in which he offers to his
publishers thirty-three short stories, enough to fill two large volumes,
"On the terms which you allowed me before; that is, you receive all
profits and allow me twenty copies for distribution to friends." From
this it seems that Poe had the usual struggles of literary people.
One of the most unique things of the library is the manuscript of "Our
Mutual Friend," bound in fine brown morocco. The skeleton of the novel
is written through several pages, showing how carefully Dickens thought
out his plan and his characters; the paper is light blue, written over
with dark blue ink, with many erasures and changes. Here are also
fifty-six volumes of Dickens' works, with an autograph letter in each,
from the author to Mr. Childs. Here is Lord Byron's desk on which he
wrote "Don Juan." Now we look upon the smallest book ever printed,
Dante's "Divina Commedia," bound in Turkey gilt, less than two and
one-fourth inches long by one and one-half inches wide.
The collection of Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall, now the property of Mr.
Childs, letters and manuscripts from Lamb, Hawthorne, Mary Somerville,
Harriet Martineau, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Browning, and hundreds of
others, is of almost priceless value. In 1879 Mrs. Hall gave the Bible
of Tom Moore to Mr. Childs, "an honored and much loved citizen of the
United States, as the best and most valuable offering she could make to
him, as a grateful tribute of respect, regard, and esteem."
Another valuable book is made up of the portraits of the presidents,
with an autograph letter from each. Dom Pedro of Brazil sent, in 1876, a
work on his empire, with his picture and his autograph. George Peabody
sat for a full-length portrait for Mr. Childs. The album of Mrs. Childs
contains the autographs of a great number of the leading men and women
of the world.
One could linger here for days, but we must see the lovely country-seat
called "Wootton," some distance out from the city. The house is in Queen
Anne style, surrounded by velvety lawns, a wealth of evergreen and
exquisite plants, brought over from South America and Africa. The farm
adjoining is a delight to see. Here is the dairy built of white
flintstone, while the milkroom has stained glass windows, as though it
were a chapel. The beautiful grounds are open every Thursday to
Here have been entertained the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, the Duke
of Sutherland, Lord Rosse, Lord Dufferin, Sir Stafford Northcote,
Herbert Spencer, John Waller, M.P., of the "London Times," Dean Stanley,
Thomas Hughes, Dickens, Grant, Evarts; indeed, the famous of two
With all this elegance, befitting royalty, Mr. Childs has been a
constant and generous giver. For his own city he was one of the foremost
to secure Fairmount Park, and helped originate the Zoological Gardens,
the Pennsylvania Museum, and the School of Industrial Arts. He gave ten
thousand dollars for a Centennial Exposition. He has been one of General
Grant's most generous helpers; yet while doing for the great, he does
not forget the unknown. He gives free excursions to poor children, a
dinner annually to the newsboys, and aids hundreds who are in need of an
He has placed a stained glass window in Westminster Abbey, in
commemoration of George Herbert and William Cowper; given largely to a
memorial window for Thomas Moore at Bronham, England; for a stone to
mark Leigh Hunt's resting-place in Kensal Green; and toward a monument
Mr. Childs has come to eminence by energy, integrity, and true faith in
himself. He has had a noble ambition, and has worked towards it. He has
proved to all other American boys that worth and honest dealing will win
success, in a greater or less degree. That well-known scientist, Prof.
Joseph Henry, of the Smithsonian Institute, said, "Mr. Childs is a
wonderful man. His ability to apply the power of money in advancing the
well-being of his fellow-men is unrivalled. He is naturally kind and
sympathetic, and these generous feelings are exalted, not depressed, by
his success in accumulating a fortune.... Like man in the classification
of animals, he forms a genus in himself. He stands alone; there is not
another in the wide world like him."
* * * * *
Mr. Childs died at 3.01 A.M. February 3, 1894 from the effects of a
stroke of paralysis sustained at the Ledger office on January 18. He was
nearly sixty-five years of age. He was buried on February 6, in the
Drexel Mausoleum in Woodland Cemetery beside his life long friend.