In 1884, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, while prominent figures such as Andrew Carnegie, J.D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and a few other men whose achievements on such a massive scale had earned them their place in history (as well as still being household or at least familiar names to this day), James Parton, an English biographer, began researching and writing short stories about men of more common pursuits. In two series he published the lives and successes of forty-six men (which can be viewed here), many of whom had very ordinary talents and only a few who had truly original ideas. Some who died rich and some who died poor, and some who never gained much at all in their pursuits but left their small part of the world a better place. However, all of the men had similar virtues which allowed them to become successful; Perseverance & Industry being chief among them.
In the preface of the compilation Captains of Industry or Men of Business Who Did Something Besides Making Money the author makes this wonderful statement:
“In this volume are presented examples of men who shed lustre upon ordinary pursuits, either by the superior manner in which they exercised them or by the noble use they made of the leisure which success in them usually gives. Such men are the nobility of republics.” – James Parton, Captains of Industry
Perseverance and Industry: The Virtues of Success
In modern American English we typically associate the term industry with a particular type of business such as the textile industry or food industry. However, the virtue of Industry refers to being industrious, which goes a bit further than hard-working. Ben Franklin describes industry in his thirteen virtues:
Industry – Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
One of the common traits of successful people is the use of their time always in pursuit of something good. We have an example of this in Ben Franklins Daily Schedule, but a more fitting example may be from Parton’s recording of Elihu Burritt also known as the Learned Blacksmith:
To show how he passed his days, I will copy an entry or two from a private diary he then kept:–
‘Monday, June 18. Headache; 40 pages Cuvier’s Theory of the Earth; 64 pages French; 11 hours forging.’
Tuesday, June 19. 60 lines Hebrew; 30 pages French; 10 pages of Cuvier; 8 lines Syriac; 10 lines Danish; 10 lines Bohemian; 9 lines Polish; 15 names of stars; 10 hours forging.’
‘Wednesday, June 20. 25 lines Hebrew; 8 lines Syriac; 11 hours forging.’
Theodore Roosevelt was another great example of this. In any moment of spare time, 5-10 minutes even between meetings, could be caught reading a book on some subject that fascinated him.
It’s not uncommon for a person to start something, even a very good idea, but it is entirely a man of different character that can see an idea from the point of conception, when the thoughts and dreams keep him interested, and through the mundane aspects and setbacks that require him to succeed. I’m sure most of you have seen an idea of yours show up on the shelves of the store or in an infomercial. It’s maddening! However, behind so many small successes is a mountain of red tape, early mornings and late nights, missed family time, lost friendships, and financial sacrifice. The rewards don’t always add up to the investment that is necessary to succeed.
You may not have aspirations of being a wealthy inventor, but a doggedness in other aspects of life will make you a better husband, father, leader, and man.
True Captains of Industry
To be considered a true Captain of Industry there is another quality that should come from your work; the benefit of other lives outside your own. This is what Parton means when he says “…the noble use they made of the leisure which success in them usually gives.” Successful men do often find themselves with advantages that others do not have, both in time and money, but also in influence. Recognizing the responsibility and power you have while also never considering yourself above others is difficult when success is had.
What is considered a noble use of success? While some have built colleges, others have devoted their time and expertize. Some simply provided a work environment where hard work and talent were rewarded and where their boss was approachable and set an example for everyone to follow. If you remain focused on success you may miss it, but if you focus on quality and benefiting others you will find success in the smallest and most unnoticeable places.
Wolf & Iron Captains of Industry
When first thinking about Wolf & Iron I knew I wanted to have an ongoing series of articles interviewing men that have been particularly successful in unique pursuits. I had wanted to call them Captains of Industry but wasn’t sure if my definition would fit with the typical usage of that term, as it applies most often to the giants of industry. I was so happy to find Parton’s works which used the term as I intended to and did so over 100 years ago.
So, who are the modern Captains of Industry? I will venture to discover them over the life of Wolf & Iron. I have a few in mind but if you know any man who stands out in his trade and has great character qualities let me know. Perhaps their life can be used to inspire others.