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Thomas Mellon And His Times

Thomas Mellon And His Times

Foreword by David McCullough
Preface to the Second Edition by Paul Mellon
Edited by Mary Louise Briscoe
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    Thomas Mellon And His Times
    Book Description:

    In 1885, at the age of seventy-two and "in the evening of life," Thomas Mellon published his autobiography in a limited edition exclusively for his family. He was a distinguished and highly successful Pittsburgh entrepreneur, judge, and banker, and his descendants would play major roles in American business, art, and philanthropy. Two of his sons, Andrew William and Richard Beatty, were to join Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller as the four wealthiest men in the United States.Thomas Mellon was an anomaly among the great American capitalists of his time. Highly literate and intelligent, astute and deadly honest about his own life and financial success, and an excellent narrative writer with a chilly but genuine sense of humor, he wrote a perspective and self-revealing book that remains to this day a major autobiography and an important source for American social and business history.That it has found very few readers in the 114 year since its publication is due to the author himself. Warning his descendants in the preface that the book should never "be for sale in the bookstore, nor any new edition published," because it contains "nothing which concerns the public to know, and much which if writing for it I would have omitted," Thomas in effect buried a masterpiece.Nor in later years has it ever been generally available. An abridged version was prepared solely for the Mellon family in 1968, and the book also appeared years ago in an obscure fascimile. Until the University of Pittsburgh Press edition,Thomas Mellon and His Timeshas been virtually unobtainable.Born in Ulster with a Scotch-Irish heritage, Thomas Mellon immigrated to the United States in 1818 at the age of five. He was raised by his parents on a small, hilly farm at Poverty Point, about twenty miles east of Pittsburgh. When he was nine, he walked to Pittsburgh and, awe-struck, viewed the mansion and steam mill of the Negley family, "impressed . . . with an idea of wealth and magnificence I had before no conception of."Yet the true turning point of his life was a decision he made at the age of seventeen. For years his father, Andrew, had insisted that Thomas become a farmer. One summer day in 1831, leaving his son cutting timber, Andrew rode to the county seat to close on the purchase of an adjoining farm which he intended for Thomas. "Nearly crazed" by the impending collapse of all hope of "acquiring knowledge and wealth," Thomas threw down his axe and ran ten miles to stop the purchase. From this spontaneous decision flowed his later success as a judge, banker, and capitolist who caught the exhilarating tide of the American economy in the second half of the nineteenth century.For this new edition of the book, Paul Mellon, Thomas Mellon's grandson, has written a preface, and David McCullough, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Harry S. Truman, has contributed a foreword. The introduction, notes, and afterword by Mary L, Briscoe, Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and editor ofAmerican Autobiography, 1945-1980, provide the historical and social context for the autobiography. The book is illustrated with three maps and approximately twenty-five photographs, many of them rarely seen, from a variety of sources that includes Paul Mellon and other members of the Mellon family.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7168-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)
    David McCullough

    IT IS ONLY AT THE LAST, in the final chapter of this remarkable autobiography, that its author gets around to telling us what he looks like—his height, weight, color of eyes, and so forth—and it tribute to the book he has written that by then such details seem hardly necessary. For weknowthis man, so vivid, so unmistakable is his of view, so distinctive is the voice of the storyteller. We would recognize him at once were he to walk into a room, no matter his height the color of his eyes.

    There he would stand in...

  2. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Paul Mellon
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)

    IN 1823, when Thomas Mellon was ten years old, he walked to Pittsburgh from his father’s small farm outside the city, near the present-day Murrysville-Export area. A neighbor who accompanied him part of the way told the boy that he would “see more there in a day than at Poverty Point in a lifetime:” Once in the city, young Thomas understood. He later recalled viewing the mansion of Jacob Negley and other holdings of this great landowner: “The whole scene . . . impressed me with an idea of wealth and magnificence I had before no conception of .... [The...

  4. Some Events in the Life and Times of Thomas Mellon
    (pp. xxix-2)
  5. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. 3-6)
  6. Autobiography

    • Chapter I Childhood
      (pp. 9-16)

      I WAS BORN IN 1813, on the 3d of February, at the Camp Cottage on my father’s farm, Lower Castletown, parish of Cappaigh, county Tyrone, Ireland.¹ The small farm of twenty-three acres which the cottage stands was a part of my grandfather’s larger which he cut off and allotted to my father in view of his approaching marriage. The cottage itself was built by my father with the of his brother Archy, chiefly by the labor of their own hands. It is a little place on the bank of the river Strule, about a half mile below bridge. The river...

    • Chapter II Boyhood
      (pp. 17-30)

      I REMEMBER BUT LITTLE of Baltimore on the occasion of arrival there. We remained but a day or two. The weather was hot disagreeable to unacclimated comers such as we were, and we soon as transportation could be procured for ourselves and Here we parted with our particular friends the Galeys, who had our neighbors at home and our companions on the voyage, Denny Peggy, and their son Robert. Robert was of my age, and my on the ship; and twenty-five years afterward we were thrown again on life’s journey, and have been constant friends ever since. Mr. Galey obtained...

    • Chapter III Material Progress
      (pp. 31-35)

      MY PARENTS WERE of a class who never wearied in well doing; and no sooner had they the farm paid for and improved than they began to look out for new acquisitions. Money was scarce, but very little of it went far in the purchase of land at that time. Business had not recovered from the great collapse, and land was cheap. We had finest apple and peach orchard in the neighborhood, but no market for either.

      Every farmer of consequence had his own distillery to convert rye into whiskey. There were no excise laws, and no tax on whiskey....

    • Chapter IV Our Neighbors
      (pp. 36-44)

      IT IS IN PLACE NOW to advert to our neighbors. There were three or four families of Scotch-Irish stock like ourselves, but with exception of one old lady they had all been born in this country. All rest were of German descent, known as Pennsylvania Dutch.¹ These Dutch were our nearest neighbors, and by far the most numerous throughout that district. As a general rule they were good farmers comfortable circumstances, but without the ambition or energy to better their condition which inspired my parents. The English element the neighborhood, as it was known, when not spurred by necessity the...

    • Chapter V First Visit to the City
      (pp. 45-51)

      IT WAS IN 1823. I was then nine years of age,¹ and had looking forward with eagerness for an opportunity to visit the city see the wonders I had heard related of it. Among them was a grist mill reported to be in operation at Negleystown, afterwards East Liberty, and now the East End. This wonderful curiosity, as it regarded, I could take in on the way. Early in the spring my father consented to my going between the first and second corn hoeings; when the long looked for time finally arrived, preparation had made for the expense of the...

    • Chapter VI School Days
      (pp. 52-61)

      IN ALL THE STRESS of farm work and farm payments and family cares, my mother did not neglect my education. There was school within reach during the first summer, but she drilled me pretty well at home in the spelling book. The following summer a school was opened about three miles distant, which I attended perhaps two months in all. Over two miles of the way was through dense woodland and across a branch of Turtle creek, which was frequently unsafe to cross by foot log after a heavy rain. My attendance at school was on these accounts much interrupted;...

    • Chapter VII The Decision
      (pp. 62-71)

      I WAS OF AN EARNEST turn of mind, and the question of a calling was cogitated over and over again at every new phase which life presented. My father’s uniform advice was decidedly, indeed almost peremptorily in favor of farming. In his eyes no other calling seemed so honest, reliable and respectable. He was reasonably prosperous in that line himself, and looked upon the vocation of a prosperous farmer as the safest and best that any sensible young man in my position could aspire to. His opinion on the subject was so well settled that I never could get him...

    • Chapter VIII Academic Course
      (pp. 72-74)

      I FIND THE FOLLOWING memoranda in a note book which I kept at the time:

      “Monday, April 16th, 1832.—Commenced the study of Latin grammar at Tranquil Retreat Academy, under the tuition of Rev. Jonathan Gill. Tuition to be $4.00 per quarter. Board in his family, $ .75 per week-that is, from Monday till Saturday of each week.”

      “June 30th, 1834.—Left the academy and paid Mr. Gill balance for tuition, $1.50; in all, $22.00 for 59 weeks or 5-½ quarters, exclusive of board:”

      The same note book shows I had been absent from time to time, in all 55...

    • Chapter IX College Course
      (pp. 75-82)

      IN THE SUMMER 0F 1834, after leaving the preparatory school, the question which most agitated me was the college I should attend. The chief points regarding a choice were time, thoroughness and expense. The popular college in this section of the country at the time was Jefferson, located at Canonsburg.¹ My companion preparatory school, John I. Kuhn, afterwards a highly respected physician of McKeesport, for whom I had formed a warm attachment, had entered there, as also several others of my acquaintance. Accordingly I attended the September commencement in order to learn the course procedure, with a view to entering....

    • Chapter X Study of Law
      (pp. 83-91)

      ONE PART 0F MY CHIEF ambition, a college education, was now an accomplished fact. I had spent about five years for it at a valuable period of life, and about five hundred dollars in cash. The cash part may seem small, but it must be remembered that straitened circumstances compelled economy, and money went further then than does now. It was a hard struggle all through. I got little help in it except from my mother. Once or twice I nearly gave up the effort, but pertinacity to a purpose has ever been part of my nature; and now when...

    • Chapter XI Bread Winning
      (pp. 92-97)

      WHAT I DID SO FAR was merely preparatory or incidental to the real business of life. I had procured an education and a profession—had learned my trade; and now I was to apply it and find out what could be accomplished by it. My hopes were far from Apart from the casual acquaintance formed with the people attending the courts and the public offices, I was a stranger. I had no relatives or influential friends to introduce or recommend me; and I supposed, though erroneously, that it required both favor and friends to obtain business. But I felt I...

    • Chapter XII Courtship and Marriage
      (pp. 98-114)

      THIS CHAPTER INVOLVES the sentimental and emotional. From what has gone before the reader might infer that I had a hard time of it, that it was all work and no play: that my youth was one of effort and hardship with scarcely a glimpse of pleasure and enjoyment; and that I was either void of the emotions and the desire of recreation natural to youth, or that they had been dwarfed and extinguished in my struggles to rise in the world. Such inferences however would be wholly erroneous. Although my road was a pretty hard one to travel it...

    • Chapter XIII Wedding Tour and Housekeeping
      (pp. 115-120)

      NEITHER OF US HAD traveled much. She had been to Louisville on a boat excursion with some friends, and I had been to Zanesville and Portsmouth, as already related. This was the extent of our travels. So we concluded to conform to the custom not then very common, of taking a wedding trip; and we extended it considerably farther than was usual, in order to see a little more of the world before settling down to domestic life and business duties.

      A recital of the journey will show the difference between modes of travel then and now.

      Leaving Pittsburgh on...

    • Chapter XIV Professional Life
      (pp. 121-158)

      MY PROFESSIONAL LIFE of twenty years commenced in 1839 and ended in 1859. and ended in 1859. I went on the bench on the first Monday of December of the latter year; and after leaving the bench at the end of my term ten years afterwards I did not resume the practice of law, but only tried or assisted in trying an occasional case where myself or some company or corporation in which I was interested was a party. Very few such suits have arisen however, considering the extensive business enterprises which I have been engaged in at one time...

    • Chapter XV Judicial Life
      (pp. 159-181)

      THUS I ASSUMED THE duties of the judicial office, as before mentioned. The Hon. Wm. B. McClure, my colleague on the bench was a high toned gentleman of the old school, pure and honorable, and of fine literary attainments, and reasonable ability in the law; but was subject to a slight mental obliquity regarding criminals in general and homicides in particular. He was determined to let no guilty party escape; but his prejudice against the class was so great as not always to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent. Whilst giving to the accused the nominal advantage of the...

    • Chapter XVI Vexatious Litigation
      (pp. 182-223)

      LITIGATION AFFECTS THE lawyer, the judge, and the party involved in it quite differently.¹ The lawyer is animated by the spirit mastery natural to combatants; the judge regards it with cool indifferences only desirous to discover the truth; but the party involved in it is steeped in anxiety. He has more at stake than either of the others. Ambition to win, pecuniary loss, and pride of character are all but, whether much or little is involved, he can not avoid anxiety. And the intensity of feeling is greatly augmented if the litigation happens to be vexatious, unjust, or unfounded, and...

    • Chapter XVII Private Life
      (pp. 224-243)

      IN THE PRECEDING chapters I have given some glimpses of my professional and judicial life; but there is another side from that is exposed to the public, and to the individual himself this is by far the most important side. In it lies the main channel of his being, wherin his hopes and fears, joys and sorrows drift on and on to the end. through those busy years of professional and judicial labors my heart was in my home; it was there I was happy, and there my feelings centered. When married and settled, the outlines of my destiny were...

    • Chapter XVIII Before the Panic
      (pp. 244-262)

      WHEN AT LIBERTY, after my judicial term expired, I began to cast about for a new vocation. It is always better to adopt some regular business to which we are accredited, and I did not care to return to the legal profession as I had now too many pecuniary and other interests of my own to make it profitable to attend to the affairs of other people; and in view of the condition of the times, and the position it might afford for some of my younger sons, I concluded to open a banking house. Accordingly I procured a suitable...

    • Chapter XIX After the Panic
      (pp. 263-285)

      AFTER THE PANIC commenced money matters grew worse daily until a condition of affairs was reached which no one who has not gone through the like could conceive of. Money immediately disappeared from circulation and values of all kinds subsided rapidly. credit was gone, payment in money imperative but no money for the purpose. Dealings and business transactions had been carried on so generally on credit that everybody was largely both debtor and creditor, and now that clearings could no longer be made by an exchange of mutual obligations, a dead lock and general collapse was the result. Men and...

    • Chapter XX Trip to Europe
      (pp. 286-337)

      THE MIND-PICTURE OF my childhood’s home always appeared so fresh when recalled, that it often produced a desire to compare it with the original. Regarding scenery and localities I have found errors of memory when absent but a few years, and I was curious to know whether such was the case regarding Camp Hill and Kinkitt and their surroundings, from which I had been absent so long. Another circumstance increased my curiosity. In 1874 my son James with his wife on their tour in Europe, had visited these places at my request, of which I had furnished them a sketch...

    • Chapter XXI Changes of a Lifetime
      (pp. 338-380)

      ALTHOUGH THIS BOOK has already grown to a much greater size than at first intended, its purpose would not be fulfilled without mention of some of the important changes which have come about in my time, and the way I regarded them. It has been a memorable period of material progress, the most so perhaps in the world’s history; and the changes of public sentiment and condition of society have not been less remarkable. I shall confine myself to such of those changes as have come under my own observation. Whether such conclusions as I may draw from them are...

    • Chapter XXII Conclusion
      (pp. 381-386)

      AT THE OUTSET I purposed continuing my narrative until near the end of life, but whether that event is near or remote, I must hasten to a close, as my book has now grown to a size far exceeding my original intention.

      Although now in my seventy-third year I feel little the effect of age. Possibly this may be owing to regular and abstemious habits. I have all my life avoided late hours and excesses, and exercised full control over my appetites; and have been a light eater of plain food, seldom using any stimulating beverage, and no tobacco. The...

    • Afterword
      (pp. 387-392)
      Mary Louise Briscoe

      THOMAS MELLON FINISHED his autobiography on the evening of his forty-second wedding anniversary, giving the finale of his narrative a special significance, as he had many other important events in his life. He and Sarah Jane cared a great deal for the rituals of Thanksgiving and Christmas when they gathered their family for festive, if quiet dinner celebrations, though they apparently had little interest in the social life of Pittsburgh. Especially in their later years, Sarah Jane seemed happiest when their extended family was together in the big house on Negley Avenue. Thomas wrote affectionate letters to his sons on...

  7. Family History

    • Chapter I Name and Nationality
      (pp. 397-405)

      POSSIBLY INVESTIGATION as to the origin of one’s own name, and names in general, may seem more curious than useful, but curiosity is a natural feeling, and deserves some little indulgence on such an interesting subject. A good name, according to Shakespeare, is everything; but Shakespeare has reference to the quality of the article, and not to the tab attached to it. If asked what’s in a name, I should reply, very little. If its possessor has nothing else to recommend him, he is poor indeed. Still, everyone entertains a natural love and affection for his name. It is so...

    • Chapter II Ancestry
      (pp. 406-417)

      THE ANCIENT Mellon family of the province of Ulster is reported in the Irish annals and heraldic registers to have been numerous and powerful. But, in the unsettled state of orthography of those times, proper names were spelled according to sound, rather than by any fixed rule in the use of letters; therefore we find the name of this family sometimes Malon, and sometimes Melan, and again Mellon. It appears to have been wiped out entirely in the fifteenth century, however, as no trace of it is found afterwards; although individuals of the name, who are probably descendants, have always...

    • Chapter III My Grandfather Mellon’s Family
      (pp. 418-433)

      AS ALREADY RELATED, my grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1816, and settled at the Crabtree, in Unity township, Westmoreland county. His family consisted of nine children, seven boys and two girls, in the following order:Margaret, born in 1781, died November 23d, 1848, aged sixty-seven. My aunt Margaret, who was, in a measure, my nurse in childhood, spent her life with her parents, unmarried, and died soon after her mother, at her sister Mrs. Graham’s, in Ligonier. She was kind and tender-hearted to a degree amounting to weakness, and would give away anything she possessed, no matter how...

    • Chapter IV My Father’s Family
      (pp. 434-443)

      THE HISTORY of my parents is so closely interwoven with my own that it may be postponed until I come to speak of myself. I may say this much of my father, however, that he was an incessant worker. Inured to work from his childhood, it became so natural to him that the lines of Cowper regarding business men would equally apply to him as a farmer:

      Hackneyed in business, wearied at the oar,

      Which thousands once fast-tied to, quit no more.

      His case also strongly illustrates the power of habit. When I had attained to a lucrative practice in...

    • Chapter V The Negley and Winebiddle Families
      (pp. 444-456)

      A SKETCH of my wife’s family history will come in place here more appropriately, perhaps, than elsewhere.

      Jacob[Negley], my fatherinlaw, was a skillful land surveyor and mechanical engineer, and a man of great energy and enterprise. He married Anna Barbara Winebiddle, June 2d, 1795, in her seventeenth year. She was the daughter of Conrad Winebiddle, a tanner. In his lifetime my fatherinlaw accumulated a large estate, exclusive of that which he had inherited. His estate, however, was wrecked and almost swept from him in the memorable collapse of 1819, which left scarcely a dozen solvent business men in Pittsburgh;...