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The Life of Judge (Elbert H.) Gary: The…
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The Life of Judge (Elbert H.) Gary: The Story of Steel

by Ida M. Tarbell, Ida M. Tarbell

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Ida Tarbell, the author here, is most known for writing a series of articles in McClure's magazine called The History of the Standard Oil Company, later issued in book form. That series of articles and the book got her something of a reputation as a muckraker (Now there is a word which is somewhat archaic). She also wrote The Life of Abraham Lincoln, a biography. She was active writing books and articles around the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

I became interested in Elbert Gary for two reasons. One, I was employed for a time heading commercial real estate lending by the Gary-Wheaton Bank in Wheaton, DuPage County, Illinois and related banks, it's now part of J.P. Morgan Chase. He was the "Gary" part of the name and a founder of it, along with Jesse Wheaton, a relative by marriage.

The mention of the bank in the book is without name and incidental to the story. Gary and Wheaton did manage the bank successfully through an era when bank runs were common.

And two, one of my father's uncles was a surveyor of Gary, Indiana, named for Elbert Gary, and I have a photograph of several men in front of a tent on a sand dune in northwest Indiana, including my unrecognizable relative. Perhaps it's just family folklore... Gary, Indiana was founded by U.S. Steel as a company town with a large related steel plant.

Gary was quite the entrepreneur being mayor of the town of Wheaton, the co-founder of the bank and instrumental in the founding of U.S. Steel. He also ran the family farm in the area and enlarged it considerably. He was a lawyer and a judge and served government in several capacities and at a high level. Mostly he is known for his work at U.S. Steel as a founder and as the first Chairman.

Tarbell's biography of Gary is glowing about the subject, to say the least. I probably never have read a bio so positive about the subject. Gary's life is nonetheless very interesting and covers many interesting facets of business around the turn of the century. Tarbell had access to Gary's records, letters and other material.

Because of Gary's activities around the founding of and becoming first Chairman of U.S. Steel, he was deeply connected with top level business men and with government people, including the U.S. presidents at the time. He appears to genuinely been a leader of good relations with the men (mostly) working day-to-day at U.S. Steel right up to allowing them in invest in company stock, an unusual "perk" at the time.

Tarbell's biography is interesting, well written and documented and is enjoyable. As stated before, it is a quite glowing biography and that gives me some pause. Much of the positive aspect of the book seems corroborated by letters and other documentation. It provides, I think, a good insight into business in the early part of the 20th century.

As an aside, I bought the book by mail from a used bookseller for about $10, including shipping. The description of the book said that it was "new" which, for a book from 1925, seemed unlikely. When the book arrived it was wrapped in a light tan paper which could well have come from the 1920s and many of the pages, printed on a somewhat rough textured paper, had to be separated before reading. Perhaps I'm not trusting enough.

I have Tarbell's 'The History of the Standard Oil Company and I'm looking forward to reading it. ( )
2 vote bookblotter | Nov 9, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ida M. Tarbellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Tarbell, Ida M.main authorall editionsconfirmed
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