THE AMERICAN BUSINESS MAN
The business man is the national hero of America, as native to the soil and as typical of the country as baseball or Broadway or big advertising. He is an interesting figure, picturesque and not unlovable, not so dashing perhaps as a knight in armor or a soldier in uniform, but he is not without the noble (and ignoble)qualities which have characterized the tribe of man since the world began. America, in common with other countries, has had distinguished statesmen and soldiers, authors and artists and they have not all gone to their graves unhonored and unsung but the hero story which belongs to her and to no one else is the story of the business man.
Nearly always it has had its beginning in humble surroundings, with a little boy born in a log cabin in the woods, in a wretched shanty at the edge of a field, in a crowded tenement section or in the slums of a foreign city, who studied and worked by daylight and firelight while he made his living blacking boots or selling papers until he found the trail by which he could climb to what we are pleased to call success. Measured by the standards of Greece and Rome or the Middle Ages, when practically the only form of achievement worth mentioning was fighting to kill, his career has not been a romantic one. It has had to do not with dragons and banners and trumpets, but with stockyards and oil fields, with railroads, sewer systems, heat, light, and water plants, telephones, cotton, corn, ten−cent stores and we might as well make a clean breast of it chewing gum.
We have no desire to crown the business man with a halo, though judging from their magazines and from the stories which they write of their own lives, they are almost without spot or blemish. Most of them seem not even to have had faults to overcome. They were born perfect. Now the truth is that the methods of accomplishment which the American business man has used have not always been above reproach and still are not. At the same time it would not be hard to prove that he and here we are speaking of the average with all his faults and failings (and they are many), with all his virtues (and he is not without them),is superior in character to the business men of other times in other countries. This without boasting. It would be a great pity if he were not.
Without trying to settle the question as to whether he is good or bad (and he really can be pigeonholed no better than any one else) we have to accept this: He is the biggest factor in the American common wealth today. It follows then, naturally, that what he thinks and feels will color and probably dominate the ideas and the ideals of the rest of the country. Numbers of our magazines and they are as good an index as we have to the feeling of the general public are given over completely to the service or the entertainment of businessmen (the T. B. M.) and an astonishing amount of space is devoted to them in most of the others.
It may be, and as a matter of fact constantly is, debated whether all this is good for the country or not. We shall not go into that. It has certainly been good for business, and in considering the men who have developed our industries we have to take them, and maybe it is just as well, as they are and not as we think they ought to be.
There was a time when the farmer was the principal citizen. And the politician ingratiated himself with the people by declaring that he too had split rails and followed the plow, had harvested grain and had suffered from wet spells and dry spells, low prices, dull seasons, hunger and hardship. This is still a pretty sure way to win out, but there are others. If he can refer feelingly to the days when he worked and sweated in a coal mine, in a printing shop, a cotton, wool, or silk mill, steel or motor plant, he can hold his own with the ex−farmer's boy. We have become a nation of business men. Even the “dirt” farmer has become a business man he has learned that he not only has to produce, he must find a market for his product.
In comparing the business man of the present with the business man of the past we must remember that he is living in a more difficult world. Life was comparatively simple when men dressed in skins and ate roots and had their homes in scattered caves. They felt no need for a code of conduct because they felt no need for one another. They depended not on humanity but on nature, and perhaps human brotherhood would never have come to have a meaning if nature had not proved treacherous. She gave them berries and bananas, sun shine and soft breezes, but she gave them trouble also in the shape of wild beasts, and savages, terrible droughts winds, and floods. In order to fight against these enemies, strength was necessary, and when primitive men discovered that two were worth twice as much as one they began to join forces. This was the beginning of civilization and of politeness. It rose out of the oldest instinct in the world self preservation.