Friday, November 23, 2012

The Cinder Buggy - part 16 - Chapters XXIII and XXIV; Birthing the steel industry; Wood Street; "law of self-interest;" vertical integration; steel nails

Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.

In Chapter XXIII, John begins to build the nail business in Pittsburgh. The old Enoch-Aaron dispute is hinted at and foreshadowed, but does not dominate the story. The same is true of the "triangle" developed in the previous several chapters. It is apparent that both of these conflicts will gather strength and play a major role in the final @ 130 pages of the book.

On page 212, Garrett writes of the building of the business - "[O]ne's capital may exist in the idea."

The method by which John financed the acquisition of the new company's assets is explained in relatively simple and straightforward terms. This explanation (pp. 214, 217-218) stands in sharp contrast to modern literature and fiction, in which "Wall Street finance" is compared to wizardry or sorcery. Modern corporate finance is today portrayed as something dark, mysterious and always dishonest and illegal. Modern fictional corporate officers (especially on television) are portrayed as staying one step ahead of some regulatory agency, while their actual business is never fully explained. (Does any viewer really know what Conrad Grayson, Chester Tate, Mr. Big or Carlos Solis actually do for a living except sit in large offices, make mysterious deals, drink expensive liquor and cheat on their wives?) Corporate business is now the great unknowable activity that serves only as a backdrop for sexual impropriety or other ratings-driven stories.  But in Cinder Buggy, understanding how John financed the company is key to understanding the conflicts that will soon re-emerge. And maybe this realistic approach to business plots helps to explain why Garrett's influence continues into the 21st century, while those characters mentioned in the last paranthetical will be forgotten by the next generation of fiction fans.

Chapter XXIII also provides historical background by describing the infancy of the steel industry in Pittsburgh during (I believe) the 1870's.  (See part 10 of my review for details of this time estimate.)  Garrett describes the business climate of that time and place, the bankers and financiers that operated on "Wood Street" at that time and the importance of those bankers to the entreprenuers that gave birth to the steel industry:

There is the legend of a man, afterward one of the great millionaires, who drove one mare so often to Wood Street and from one bank to another in a zigzag course that the animal came to know the stops by heart, made them automatically, and would not be made to go in a straight line through this lane of money doors.
(pp. 215-216).

While Wood Street is an actual street in downtown Pittsburgh, I do not know if the banking characters described by Garrett (including Lemuel Slaymaker) are based on actual historical figures.

Earlier in the chapter, Garrett made an analogy to describe the chaotic nature of the changes facing Pittsburgh and the economy of the United States (and the world) in the 1870's:

Pittsburgh at this time was not a place prepared.  It was a sign, a pregnant smudge, a state of phenomena. The great mother was undergoing a Caesarian operation. An event was bringing itself to pass,  The steel age was about to be delivered.
(p, 214).  Garrett continues for another paragraph with the birthing analogy.  The analogy works.

Garrett goes on to narrate the sequence of events involving John presenting his idea for the nail business to a banker on Wood Street - Lemuel Slaymaker. I found Garrett's characterization of John's presentation to be helpful for purposes beyond this book:
When he had finished the idea was lucid, complete in every part and self-evident.  Therein lay the secret of his extraordinary power of persuasion.  He seemed never to argue his case.  He expressed no opinion of his own to be combatted.  He merely laid down a state of facts with an air of looking at them from the other man's point of view. 
(p. 217).  Garrett closed Chapter XXIII with a quotation that has been lost to generations of people that, not coincidentally, have no understanding of economics, philosophy or government - "There is a law of self-interest one takes for granted." (p. 219).  That concept would play a pivotal role the re-emergence of the main conflict in Cinder Buggy

Chapter XXIV consisted more of a narrated sequence of events than the philosophical summaries and quotes that enlivened Chapter XXIII.  On page 221, Garrett described improvements in John and Thane's nail factory in terms that would make a modern union leader froth with rage:
Everything else had been relocated with one aim in view, which was to eliminate all unnecessary human motion and shorten the train of events from the raw material straight through to the finished nail packed in the keg and stored.

On page  223, the old Aaron-Enoch battle began again.  This time, the nail industry of the world was affected.  At this point (p. 225), Garrett introduces the concept of vertical integration - not as some evil to be regulated or destroyed, but as a means of achieving efficiency and saving the nail industry.  John then introduces steel nails (p. 226) as an alternative to iron nails.  As a result, the foreshadowing on p. 188 comes another step closer to fruition.

update - click here for part 17.



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