Causes of Business Failure 1872

While it is true that business is essentially the same the world over, it is equally true that in a great city everything is accelerated. In great commercial centers business is reduced to a sort of science, and abundant scope is afforded for the play of the largest and rarest talents. Nearly every man in cities has his specialty, which he plies, paying little attention to the rest of the world. If one thought predominates over all others in the busy centers of New York, it is that of dispatch. Everything is on a run, and everybody from butcher to banker in a hurry. A clerk fresh from the country, toiling for his board, can scarcely be tolerated on account of his tardiness.

Steamboats, horse-cars, and stages are too slow to satisfy the desires of the rushing masses. Every scheme for elevated roads, underground roads, river bridges, or tunnels meets with ten thousand advocates, through the ever-present desire to hasten travel and dispatch business. If you call on a business stranger, however important your business, you must be able to state it tersely and at once, or you will be summarily dismissed without a hearing. Everything goes on the old maxim, " Time and tide wait for no man." Men get rich in a year, and poor in a day ; " up like a rocket, and down like a stick."

Causes of Business Failure

THE number of business failures in the metropolis is overwhelmingly large, and to a stranger almost incredible. Many people visit New York, witness its extravagance and glitter, trace the records of a few marvelously successful families, call on the poor boy of bygone years, and finding him a wealthy publisher or importer, dwelling in a palace of brown stone, return home confident that wealth in a great city is almost a necessity, and that the great misfortune of their, lives has been in consenting to follow the slow and modest occupation of their fathers. But success is not the rule in New York. Indeed, it is the rare exception.

 Where one truly and permanently succeeds it is almost safe to say ninety-nine fail. There are few houses established which do not sooner or later suspend ; some have reorganized and failed a dozen times ; nine-tenths of all disappear entirely after a few years, leaving here and there one that has triumphantly withstood the shocks of thirty years. The observation of the author has led to the conclusion that nearly every permanent failure may be traced to one of three causes : incompetency, extravagance, or dishonesty.

Many who have inherited wealth, and a few who have acquired it, conclude that New York opens the one grand theater upon which they ought to operate. Hence, they launch upon an untried business, in which others have succeeded, but in which they, for want of tact and skill, soon fail, many of them to rise no more. The mania for rapid fortune-making in stocks and other speculations also involves thousands. Few sufficiently understand the chances in the stock trade to deal intelligently and successfully. One or two successful blunders give assurance, which ends a little later in disaster and financial ruin, teaching the sad truth when too late, that all men cannot be successful speculators.

The temptations to extravagance in this age are also so numerous and potent, that while but few wholly escape the charge, the many are by it plunged into financial and moral ruin. But few are brave and true enough to cling to first principles amid prosperity. It is so very easy to enlarge our scale of living, and so difficult to contract it, even when necessity admonishes, that multitudes who have industriously climbed the rugged heights of fortune become so linked to fashion and pleasure, as to finally fail, and then " begin with shame to take the lowest seats." New York is largely a shoal of financial wrecks. Every month gay and attractive families that have led the fashions, and sought to be the admired of all admirers, disappear from society, and are henceforth to old associations as one dead. Ladies, whose rich parlors have been theaters of music, splendor, and fashion, retire to secluded neighborhoods and ply the needle for daily bread. Proud and petted daughters accept such humble situations as they can poorly fill, too many descending to a life of shame. All through senseless extravagance. Most of the leading salesmen in New York are bankrupt-merchants, many of whom were once wealthy and lived in costly splendor. Some of them built marble business houses on Broadway which frugality would have saved, but which now stand as monuments to mock them in their poverty.

Dishonesty is another fruitful source of failure. Permanent success is rarely or never attained without integrity. The order of the whole moral universe must be reversed before fraud and deception can hope for permanent security. Twenty-five years ago a young man opened a store in New York, and for a time rapidly prospered and amassed fortune. He then contracted the unfortunate habit of systematic lying. His brightening prospects soon waned, and bankruptcy followed. His career has since been one of crushing disappointments, and after failing in business four times he is now a servant.

 In 18 a brilliant young man with small capital opened a jewelry store in street. For twelve years he was regarded the model of probity, and the star of his fortune rose and shone with unwonted brilliancy. His reputation for thoroughness and integrity was so well established in financial circles, that he could draw fifty thousand dollars from the banks on his own security. But, alas ! his success corrupted him. He began to invest in real estate, the titles being vested in his friends, and soon the community was shocked with the report of his dishonest bankruptcy. All his later years which with continued integrity would have been the brightest and richest of his earthly career, have been darkened with litigation, reproach, and self-imposed penury. The policy of providing while in business a rich mansion with fine surroundings, vesting the title in the modest part of the family, is much resorted to, many ceasing to keep up the semblance of solvency as soon as this is accomplished. A woman is as base as a man who will consent to be the accomplice in such shocking dishonesty.

We ought here to add, perhaps, that there are also a few honest and unavoidable failures. Small houses are prostrated by the fall of great ones, and general depressions, panics, and suspensions affect all, but the honest and reliable usually soon start again and retrieve their fortunes.


Website: The History
Article Name: Causes of Business Failure 1872
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 New York and Its Institutions, 1609-1873 by J.F. Richmond, Publisher: E.B. Treat-New York 1872.
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