site logo

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

practical Christianity.

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

thousand dollars.

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

for Poe.

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.