These experiences with my father remind me that in the early days there was often much discussion as to what should be paid for the use of money. Many people protested that the rate of 10 per cent. was outrageous, and none but a wicked man would exact such a charge. I was accustomed to argue that money was worth what it would bring—no one would pay 10 per cent., or 5 per cent., or 8 per cent. unless the borrower believed that at this rate it was profitable to employ it. As I was always the borrower at that time, I certainly did not argue for paying more than was necessary.
Among the most persistent and heated discussions I ever had were those with the dear old lady who kept the boarding-house where my brother William and I lived when we were away from home at school. I used to greatly enjoy these talks, for she was an able woman and a good talker, and as she charged us only a dollar a week for board and lodging, and fed us well, I certainly was her friend. This was about the usual price for board in the small towns in those days, where the produce was raised almost entirely on the place.
This estimable lady was violently opposed to loaners obtaining high rates of interest, and we had frequent and earnest arguments on the subject. She knew that I was accustomed to make loans for my father, and she was familiar with the rates secured. But all the arguments in the world did not change the rate, and it came down only when the supply of money grew more plentiful.
I have usually found that important alterations in public opinion in regard to business matters have been of slow growth along the line of proved economic theory—very rarely have improvements in these relationships come about through hastily devised legislation.
One can hardly realize how difficult it was to get capital for active business enterprises at that time. In the country farther west much higher rates were paid, which applied usually to personal loans on which a business risk was run, but it shows how different the conditions for young business men were then than now.
Speaking of borrowing at the banks reminds me of one of the most strenuous financial efforts I ever made. We had to raise the money to accept an offer for a large business. It required many hundreds of thousands of dollars—and in cash—securities would not answer. I received the message at about noon and had to get off on the three-o’clock train. I drove from bank to bank, asking each president or cashier, whomever I could find first, to get ready for me all the funds he could possibly lay hands on. I told them I would be back to get the money later. I rounded up all of our banks in the city, and made a second journey to get the money, and kept going until I secured the necessary amount. With this I was off on the three-o’clock train, and closed the transaction. In these early days I was a good deal of a traveller, visiting our plants, making new connections, seeing people, arranging plans to extend our business—and it often called for very rapid work.