Original Document
Original Document
Automaker Charles E. Duryea, on his early years in Reading, Pennsylvania.

When I signed a contract in Reading in February, 1900, it was distinctly understood that the small capital then being advanced was for the production of a few cars with which to demonstrate my claims. The investor demanded control because it was his money-was it not equally my opportunity?-and assured me several cycle factories were available so work could begin at once and with little or no expenditure for equipment.

He further assured, "Show me three things -that the cars can be made at a cost to permit a profit; that they can be sold; and that they will stay sold-and I will provide all the men, money, and tools needed inside of 90 days." But he was wrong from the start. No factories were available and the only building was a dark tannery with a floor largely taken by liquor vats. To fix the building and equip modestly cut a big hole in available cash. But we began getting out one per week in 1901 and hoped to increase this in 1902 when a big flood came in March and caught everything in 40 feet of water on our floor, with much deeper all around. It cost us several thousands and left no profit.

The New York-Boston Endurance run that year (1902) showed Duryea superiority beyond question. The assured capital was demanded. "I haven't got it and cannot get it. Father has not yet divided his estate."

I got his permission to seek for it elsewhere. Three times I had deals that looked promising, and each time he blocked them. Apologies and excuses were hopeless, if not suspicious. I then turned to trying to create the capital by putting the men on piece work as fast as this could be arranged on a piece work basis. To this he objected. "I understand (he always had one or more spies in the place) you are padding the payroll over there." (He knew what I was trying to do because I had told him. All cards face-up on the table.) "You are paying Smitty $4.25 per day. I will be over there tomorrow to clean the place out,"

I said. "If you do, you might as well hang up a sign, 'Efficiency not wanted,' for you will wreck the business." And it proved so. The foreman, "Smitty," and one or two others were fired. What for': At $2.50 per day our crankshafts cost $22 to $25 each. By piece, $8 to $9. "Smitty" was earning his $4.25 and then some. The real reason for the move did not then appear.

Each winter, I had been forced to layoff much of our force because even a 15 per cent reduction in price would not tempt buyers before apple-blossom time and then they wanted delivery yesterday. I appealed to the banks to lend us even as little as 25 per cent on our nearly finished rigs. "Oh, we never do anything like that." I said.

"Do you not finance stockings, segars and other finished products through their dull seasons?"

"Oh, no, we never do that." Thus the winter passed and more good men found other jobs and greenies had to be trained another spring.

Then I appealed to the warehouseman. "You have a lot of stuff in here on which money has been borrowed. That is the key?"

He said, "Sure thing. Bring your goods here and take my receipt to your bank. They will lend you what you ask." And it proved even so.

That winter I got together a car-load of cars and had found in California enough prospects to make me certain of sales out there promptly. I followed the car as far as Chicago with tickets through, and stopped at Chicago Show. Then, after retiring, expecting to go on to the next morn, a telegram came. "Came back. Company in hands of receiver." My first thought was to go on, sell the cars and bring back the money to pay up any small debt that was pressing. But who was pressing? Then I woke to the truth. It was a move to grab the business. My worries to keep it going were over. I went to sleep soundly and lost midnight hours no longer.

Credit: The Historical Society of Berks County
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