This is the story of a man who began with three cents and who now has a capital of many millions.
It is the story of the man who has done most to lift up the standard of quality in both Journalism and Advertising.
He is now seventy-six years of age. His name is Cyrus H. K. Curtis. He is the owner of the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, Country Gentleman, Philadelphia Public Ledger and New York Evening Post.
His Saturday Evening Post sells at five cents and has a circulation of more than 2,600,000 a week.
His Ladies' Home Journal has a circulation of over 2,000,000 a month, at ten cents.
His income from advertising alone is now about $65,000,000 a year. And not a penny from whisky or cure-alls or any sort of catchpenny rubbish.
He is the most successful publisher in the world, and there is no scandal in his reading matter, and no humbug in his advertisements.
His father was a decorator, who lived in a small wooden house in Portland, Maine, and he was born in 1850.
One day, when he was twelve, he asked his mother for some money to spend on firecrackers. "If you want money," she said, "you must go and earn it."
He had three cents in his, pocket. He went and bought three Daily Couriers and sold them on the street-corner. At the end of the day he had nine cents. He was a tiny lad, quick but not strong; but he soon became a very competent newsboy.
When he had been selling papers for a month he had his first business idea. He ran in to the Manager of the Courier and asked for credit. "If you give me credit till tomorrow morning," he said eagerly, "I'll take a big bundle of Couriers across the river to Fort Preble."
The Manager agreed. Then young Cyrus arranged to get his papers first and to slip out of a side door. He went to Fort Preble and made a new market for the Courier. Soon he was making a profit of $2.50 a week, which was half a man's pay in those days.
The next year, when he was thirteen, he started a little paper of his own. It was a four-page boys' paper, called Young America, and it had a net sale of 100 a week. He had bought a hand press for $3 and he was doing well, when a fire burned him out. No insurance. Young America went up in smoke.
Then, for six years he worked in a drapery shop. During this time he did nothing remarkable and was probably not aware of his own nature and abilities.
At twenty he went back to the Press. He was given a job canvassing for advertisements for a half-dead paper in Boston. One day the discouraged owner offered to sell him the paper for $250. Curtis refused. "All right, then," said the owner, "you can have it for NOTHING."
Curtis took it and for the next five years he wished he hadn't. It was hopeless. At twenty-five he chucked it up, got married and went to Philadelphia.
It was his marriage that brought him his first success. He had started another paper-the Tribune-and one day his wife called his attention to the so-called "WOMAN'S PAGE."
"Who wrote that?" she asked.
"I did," replied Curtis.
"It's utterly ridiculous," she said.
"Well," said the wise Curtis, "perhaps it is. Will you write a page for me?"
She did. Her page at once became the best part of the paper. Soon it became the WHOLE paper, and it was called the Ladies' Home Journal. Today it has a circulation of 2,000,000 and is the leader of all women's magazines.
Curtis soon found that his business had grown too fast for his capital. He needed far more than the banks would give him.
The man who came to his assistance was N. W. Ayer, an advertising agent. Ayer was the first man who fully appreciated Curtis. He not only lent him $250,000, but gave his note to a paper-mill for $125,000 more.
In eighteen months Curtis had paid the whole amount back; and the N. W. Ayer Company is now the largest and richest advertising firm in the world.
One of the secrets of the success of Mr. Curtis is that he never wastes time messing and fussing with what he has already got. His policy is to go and get something else. HE LETS HIS SUCCESSES ALONE.
So, as soon as the Ladies' Home Journal was a success, he went out and bought a little weekly called the Saturday Evening Post. It had been founded by Benjamin Franklin, but it had no other assets of any account. Curtis bought it for $1,000. It was dead and buried, but Curtis is a great believer in resurrection.
Everybody made fun of him for buying a paper that had nothing but a name. But Curtis had a NEW IDEA. In 1897, he was fascinated by a book, called "CALUMET K," written by a newspaper man. This book was a romance of business. It opened his eyes. It showed him that BUSINESS is the most interesting as well as the most useful of all the activities of the world.
He dedicated his new magazine to BUSINESS.
At first, it didn't go. He lost money on it. He nearly lost ALL his money. He lost $1,500,000 on it before it started to go up.
Today it is the most profitable publication in the world. It stands in a class by itself. It charges $8,000 a page. It refuses one half of the advertising that is offered to it.
In a single issue, it has carried $1,000,000 of advertising.
Next, he bought a poor but proud little paper called the Country Gentleman. It was long on pedigree but short on subscribers. He worked at it till he had a circulation of 600,000 a week.
Then he went out and bought the Public Ledger, which also was both historic and anemic.
The real reason why he bought the Ledger, I believe, is because when he was visiting London, some one gave him a "LIFE OF JOHN DELANE." Delane was the greatest of all the editors of The Times. He was independent. He was "THE THUNDERER."
The story of his life deeply impressed Curtis.
He bought a copy of the book for every editor and reporter in his employ.
He has built up the Ledger until to day it is sold in every city in America. More recently he bought the New York Evening Post and is infusing new life into it.
Physically, Mr. Curtis is small, with kindly eyes and quiet manners. He wears an old-fashioned beard, cut short and squared.
He is a man who cannot be classified. He is both old and young. He is equally Capital and Labor. He belongs to none of the silly castes that divide one man from another.
He takes life seriously, but he runs away from pomp and ceremony. If he goes to a meeting, he takes a seat at the back. He is as simple and human as his father was.
To his friends, he is a lovable man and full of surprises. Several years ago I had the good fortune to sit beside him at several banquets. He and I were co-speakers at the American Luncheon Club, too; and I found him full of the joy of life. He is wonderfully balanced and wise.
He is a gentleman, in the highest sense. He never bullies nor swaggers.
As to his habits, he works, jokes, smokes, dances, reads, travels, plays the organ and goes to church. He is fond of yachting. He loves children.
When he has a hard problem to solve, he plays solitaire, as Theodore N. Vail always did.
He leaves detail alone, as soon as a right routine is established. His main business, he thinks, is to make suggestions for improvements and to start new lines of work.
He is non-political.
He never forgets a kindness. Long ago, when he had a poverty-stricken little paper, a Scottish printer named Allan helped him and refused to take pay for it. Twenty years after, Curtis heard that Allan was in need in a distant city. At once he went and found him, 1,500 miles away, living in a garret. Curtis gave him a cheque that banished all his money troubles for the rest of his life.