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Archive for the ‘Millionaires’ Category

HETTY GREEN (1834 – 1916) Miserly First Female Tycoon

In American History, Biography, Feminists, Guiness Book of Records, Millionaires, Victorian Women on November 3, 2010 at 8:11 PM

Hetty Green and Dewey

Henrietta Howland Robinson learned everything she needed to know about financial matters from her grandfather and father.  She took to heart her dad’s advice to “never owe anyone anything, not even a kindness,” which didn’t endear her to very many people.  But when cities and banks are turning to you for a bail out, it doesn’t really matter what other people think.

Green was born into a Quaker family from New Bedford, Massachusetts.  She was the only heir to a fortune made from whaling.  Her mom was sick a lot, so Green lived with her grandparents for most of her childhood.  Her grandfather’s eyes were bad, so she read the financial news to him, and by the time she was fifteen years old, she knew more about stocks and bonds than most men in the business.  She opened her first savings account when she was eight, depositing the $1.50 she received for a weekly allowance in it.  Her first business responsibility was to keep strict accounting of personal and household expenses, a practice that served her well in the future.

Green’s formal education was spotty.  She was sent to a Quaker girls’ school on Cape Cod at eleven years old, where she learned frugality.  Whatever the students didn’t eat at the previous meal, they had to eat at the next.  The school directors impressed upon the privileged students that if the rich girls didn’t learn how to economize there wouldn’t be any money left to educate the poor girls.  At 16 she attended the Friends’ Academy in New Bedford for a year, but she missed the spring semester because she got sick.  To learn the social graces, she went to finishing school in Boston for a little while.  Green was considered attractive and enjoyed going to balls and parties.  One season her dad gave her $1200 for clothes.  Green spent $200 and put the rest in savings. 

In 1861 Green moved with her father to New York.  It was there that she met Edward Henry Green of Bellows Falls, Vermont, an occasional business associate of her dad.  Six months later they were engaged.  Edward was 14 years older than Green, an easy going Episcopalian who enjoyed the finer things in life.  He had his own wealth, and the only thing Edward and Green had in common was a love for money.  Green was 30 years old when they married in 1867, and shortly after the wedding the couple moved to London.

When her father died, Green inherited five million dollars which generated several thousand dollars a week in interest.  She invested in U.S. bonds, railroad bonds, and real estate.  The largest amount of money she made in one day was $200,000.

During the post-Civil War railroad expansion, railroad bonds flooded the market causing three banks to fail in 1872.  During the following year over 11,000 companies went bankrupt and the New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days.  In this environment, the Greens wanted to be closer to their investments, so they returned to the States settling in Edward’s hometown in Vermont.  They brought with them a son, Edward Howland Robinson Green (known as Ned), and a daughter, Hetty Sylvia Ann Howland Green, who went by Sylvia.

MAKING MONEY, NOT FRIENDS                    Green didn’t fit in too well with her husband’s people.  She butted heads with Mary, the housekeeper, claiming that she was wasteful, and she did all the grocery shopping herself, buying broken cookies because they were cheaper and returning the berry boxes for a five cent refund.  At the reception for her mother-in-law’s funeral, Green served the guests with chipped every-day glasses, not the fine crystal.  This made Edward furious, and he smashed a glass before marching out of the room.

Stories circulated around Bellows Falls about Green’s stinginess, and she supported her reputation with her behavior.  One time she was missing a two cent stamp, thinking she lost it in her carriage during an outing.  Late that night she woke up the groom and insisted that he thoroughly search the coach. When that proved unfruitful, she made him return to the hotel where she spent the afternoon and search the lawn, also to no avail.  After the man had gone back to sleep, Green woke him up again to say that she found the stamp in her pocket where she had put it.

Another time, Green went into a shop and started touching the merchandise with her filthy hands.  She admitted to the distressed shopkeeper that she had been pulling old nails out of a piece of burned wood to reuse.  She was often criticized for her dowdy appearance and even scrimped on laundry.  When Green took her skirts to the cleaners, she insisted they just wash the hems since they were the only part that got dirty.   

For Green, every decision was based on a monetary consideration.  When her son, Ned, hurt his knee jumping onto a sled, Green allegedly dressed them both up in ragged clothing and took him to the free clinic. 

HOLDING THE PURSE STRINGS                        Green’s parsimony put her in a position to have an amazing amount of leverage.  In 1884, her fortune equaled over $500,000 in cash and more than $26 million in bonds, mortgages and other securities which she held in the vaults of John J. Cisco and Son, a well known Wall Street bank.  Edward also had his in assets at Cisco, although Green insisted that they keep their fortunes separate. 

Railroad bonds took a dive and some of Cisco and Son’s biggest investors defaulted, including Mr. Cisco and Edward Green.  Cisco continued to give Edward credit for investments because Edward intimated to the bank that he could use his wife’s money as collateral.  All he accomplished was to increase his debt, and Edward became Cisco’s biggest debtor while Green was their biggest depositor.  Green’s refusal to cover her husband’s debt led to the collapse of Cisco and Son. 

Green tried to move her assets to another bank, but Lewis May, the new assignee to Cisco, engaged her in a standoff that eventually wore here down.  She finally agreed to pay over $422,000 to cover Edward’s debts.  Then, she took her securities to Chemical National Bank.  Every day Green went to work at Chemical National to manage her portfolio, arriving at 7:00 each morning.  She brought dry oatmeal for lunch, adding water and heating it on the radiator.  She wore a black veil over her hat to obscure her identity as she walked around Wall Street.  People said she looked like a witch, and she was nicknamed The Witch of Wall Street.

The Cisco debacle was effectively the end of the Green’s marriage, although she and Edward never divorced.  Green took the kids and moved from Bellows Falls to Brooklyn, New York and later to Hoboken, New Jersey, renting from month to month to avoid paying property taxes.  In Hoboken, the nameplate next to Green’s doorbell read “C. Dewey,” her beloved dog, to maintain her anonymity.  Her five-room apartment cost $23 a month.  On the mantle Green displayed a bouquet of roses made from dyed chicken feathers because it was cheaper and lasted longer than a bouquet of real ones.

Green’s fortune continued to grow, and she became the go-to person for loans.  In 1898, the city of New York was broke, so Green loaned the city $1 million at only 2% interest, and another $1.5 million in 1901.  Green kept the city afloat again in 1907 by giving $1.1 million in exchange for short-term revenue bonds at 5.5%.  In 1900 Tucson, Arizona needed new water and sewer systems, so Green bought the entire $110,000 bond issue.  In 1911 Green loaned $325,000 to the Roman Catholic Church of St. Ignatius Loyola at 4.5%. 

Her children were a big part of Green’s life.  Ned was groomed to take over Green’s fortune.  He moved to Texas and became the president of Texas Midland Railroad Company.  He lived with Mabel Harlow, a former prostitute that he referred to as his “housekeeper.”  In 1910 at Green’s request, he dutifully returned to New York, with Mabel, and formed the Westminster Company to directly oversee Green’s fortune.

Sylvia was a shy girl, and she stayed by her mother’s side until she met Matthew Astor Wilkes. They were married in secret to avoid publicity, and Wilkes was paid $5,000 to sign a prenuptial agreement giving him no claim to Sylvia’s inheritance.

Edward and Green maintained affection for each other.  At the end of his life, he moved to be close to her, and she nursed him during his final days.  He was 81 years old when he died, and his estate was worth a mere $24,000. 

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU                      When Green was 78 years old she started preparing for her passing.  She was baptized in the Episcopal Church so she could be buried next to Edward in an Episcopal cemetery.  On April 17, 1916, Green had a stroke that left her partially paralyzed on the left side.  After several more minor strokes, Green died on July 3 at 81 years old.  Ned arranged for her body to be transported in his private railroad car from New York to Bellows Falls, Vermont, a luxury Green would never have approved of.  She was buried next to Edward, and her tombstone reads: “Hetty H. R. Green.  His Wife.”

There was no inventory of Green’s assets, but her estate was valued at between $100 million and $200 million dollars.  In her will she gave everything to her two children.  The Guinness Book of World Records awarded her the distinction of being the world’s “greatest miser.”

QUESTION:  How much money do you think you need to be rich?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Slack, Charles, Hetty, The Genius And Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2004.

http://www.archive.org/stream/nationalmagazine22brayrich#page/629/mode/1up

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JACK PARSONS (1914 – 1952) Rocket Scientist & Occultist

In American History, Biography, California History, Millionaires, Occult, People, Rocket Science, Trivia, Uncategorized on May 10, 2010 at 9:39 PM

Jack Parsons

 

Marvel Whiteside Parsons did not like the name he was given, but it did describe his life: it was quite a marvel.  He changed his first name to be more common, but nothing about him was conventional. 

Parsons was born into a wealthy family living on “Millionaire’s Mile” in Pasadena, California.  After graduating from a small, private high school, he shunned the upper class society of his parents. His mother divorced his father after finding out about an affair, and she turned Parsons against his dad.  

When he was 14 years old, Parsons started experimenting with fuel that could be used to propel rockets. He didn’t graduate from college but opted to work for Hercules Powder and then Halifax Explosives which was in the Mojave Desert. Professionally he went by the name “John.”   

Helen Northrup, a local girl, was the one thing that could distract Parsons from his scientific endeavors, and they married in 1935.  In his personal life, Parsons preferred to be called “Jack.”  Eventually that was the name that stuck. 

Parsons and his best friend Edward S. Forman got their kicks from experimenting with potential rocket motors in the Devil’s Gate Dam area of the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena.  They made connections at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (GALCIT), and in 1937 they exploited those friendships to get lab space at Caltech for their experiments.  As it turns out, scientists using explosive materials don’t make good neighbors.  After an explosion that damaged some of their equipment, they became known on campus as The Suicide Squad.  After the second explosion, they were sent back to the Arroyo.  Their outdoor laboratory is where Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was founded, and the current campus is virtually on the same spot.  

Since Parsons and his colleague from Caltech, Frank Malina, lived so close to Hollywood, they channeled their experiences into a screenplay.  Their story was about some guys trying to develop rockets in California, and they didn’t try very hard to disguise the similarities between themselves and the characters.  At the end of the screenplay, Parsons’ character meets an untimely death by accidentally blowing himself up while trying to stop an experiment. Nothing came of this venture, however. 

In 1939, Parsons was introduced to the works of Aleister Crowley, an occultist writer, practitioner of black magic and founder of the religion of Thelema. Crowley’s writings resonated with Parsons, and he joined the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), an international secret society led by Crowley.  Parsons joined the OTO’s local group called the Agape Lodge, which was based in Pasadena and led by Wilfred Smith.  Parsons assumed yet another name, “Frater 210,” but he only used it in the context of his occult practices.     

Parsons pursued both his scientific and spiritual interests with equal zeal.  In 1942 he, Forman, Malina and Theodore von Karman founded Aerojet Corporation whose first product was the Jet Assist Take Off (JATO) rocket motors.  Their immediate application was to give extra boosting power for military planes during World War II. 

With the money he was getting from Aerojet, Parsons could support his spiritual activities. He got a huge house on South Orange Grove Blvd. in Pasadena and relocated the Agape Lodge to the downstairs.  He and Helen lived in the largest room upstairs and turned it into a temple. The other rooms were used by Smith and many unconventional renters.  

Again, the neighbors didn’t appreciate Parsons’ activities. There was once a rumor that a naked lady was jumping through fire in the back yard, but whenever the police came to investigate such allegations, Parsons intercepted them at the door. His good looks, charming personality, sense of humor and claims of being a respected scientist at Caltech convinced them there was nothing to be concerned about.  

Drugs and illicit sex were routine.  With so many people living in such close quarters, it didn’t take long for Smith and Helen to have an affair and a son.  Parsons divorced Helen and immediately took up with her younger sister, Sara Elizabeth Northrup, known as Betty.   He convinced Betty, 11 years his junior, to drop out of USC and live with him, but they never got married.  They followed the OTO belief that jealousy was an emotion not felt by enlightened people, and even though they were committed to each other, they each had many lovers. 

In 1944, GALCIT became the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Parsons is credited with being one of the founders.  After World War II, Aerojet was bought out by General Tire.  Parsons didn’t see much of a future in rocket fuel without a war, and money wasn’t a big priority for him, so he sold his stock.  For two years he worked for Vulcan Powder Company in Pasadena. 

About that time a man named L. Ron Hubbard came on the scene.  He received a medical discharge from the Navy after having been at the Pasadena Area Station Hospital.  Hubbard and Parsons met through a common interest in science fiction and became friends.  Hubbard was looking for a place to land and moved into the house despite having a wife and two kids in Washington State.  It didn’t take Hubbard long to integrate himself into the life and practices of the group, including poaching Parsons’ girlfriend, Betty.  Parsons found it very difficult to keep his jealous feelings at bay, but that didn’t seem to jeopardize his friendship with Hubbard.  

Parsons engaged in an 11-day, multi-stage, ceremonial ritual called Babalon Working to manifest the “Scarlet Woman,” fulfilling a prophecy of Aleister Crowley.  Hubbard joined Parsons in the rituals primarily acting as the scribe and recording his visions.  When a red haired woman named Elizabeth Cameron showed up at the house one day, Parsons was convinced he had successfully conjured her. 

Parsons needed income, so he and Hubbard and Betty started a new business venture called Allied Enterprises.  They were planning to buy sail boats on the East Coast and bring them to California for resale.  Hubbard contributed about $1,100 to the company against Parsons nearly $21,000.  In April 1946, Hubbard and Betty left town with the majority of Allied’s money and were found living on a boat in Miami with no intention of returning to California.  Parsons high tailed it to Florida and discovered that Hubbard had actually bought three boats.  Parsons sued Hubbard who was ordered to give Parsons two of the boats and repay the money he absconded with, which he never did.  

This was a turning point for both men.  Hubbard married Betty, although he hadn’t divorced his first wife, and when Parsons returned to California, he married Cameron.  Parsons was ready for something different spiritually, too. He separated from OTO and sold the house. 

Parsons found work at North American Aviation Company and later Hughes Aircraft. While at Hughes Aircraft, Parsons was working with Israel to design and build a plant to develop explosives and armaments.  He used his clearance to take home confidential documents.  He claimed they were old ones he was using to add to his resume, but the FBI started investigating him for spying.  This got him fired from Hughes. 

He and Cameron left Pasadena for a while but returned to live in the carriage house on the Orange Grove property he once owned.  Parsons worked as a consultant for the movies and at a gas station, and he continued to experiment with explosives at home.  

On June 17, 1952 there was an explosion which the neighbors a mile away heard.  Parsons’ arm was blown off, and he died shortly after arriving at the hospital.  He died the same way his character in the screenplay did, foreshadowed almost 15 years earlier. He was only 37 years old. His mother lived nearby, and they had always maintained a very close relationship.  She was distraught about the death of her son, and she immediately overdosed on sleeping pills and died in her chair. 

Parsons legacy included many patents for liquid and solid fuel for rockets.  A specimen of one of his solid fuel motors is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  In 1972 he was honored by having a crater on the moon name after him.  It seems appropriate that the crater is on the dark side. 

QUESTION:   What role does religion play in your life? 

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources: 

Canter, John, Sex and Rockets, The Occult World of Jack Parsons.  Los Angeles: Feral House, 1999. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Whiteside_Parsons 

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/bb/babalon004.htm 

http://reason.com/archives/2005/05/01/the-magical-father-of-american 

http://www.aerojet.com/about/history.php

JOSEPHINE COCHRANE (1839-1913) Invented the Dishwasher

In American History, Biography, Entrepreneurs, Feminists, Inventions, Millionaires, People, Trivia, Victorian Women, women on April 20, 2010 at 9:03 AM

Josephine Cochrane

Josephine Cochrane believed that if you want something done right you better do it yourself.  But when it came time to doing the dishes, she really didn’t want to, so she invented a machine to wash them for her.

Cochrane’s early childhood is not known.  After her mother died and her sister moved out, she lived with her father, John Garis, in Ohio and Indiana.   He worked as a supervisor in mills and as a hydraulic engineer, perhaps instilling in Cochrane an instinctive knack for the mechanical.  She attended a private high school, but when it burned down, Garis sent his daughter off to live with her sister in Shelbyville, Illinois. 

After high school graduation, Cochrane’s life took a traditional turn.  At age 19 she married 27 year old William Cochran.  In 1857, after a disappointing four years trying to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush, he returned home to Shelbyville and made his mark and fortune in the dry goods business along with other investment opportunities.  No doubt the comfortable life he could offer his bride was one thing she was attracted to. 

In spite of her young age and the societal norm at the time, Cochrane was guided by her independent nature and personal confidence.  She assumed her husband’s name but preferred spelling it with an “e” on the end, a point of contention with his family. 

The Cochrans had a busy social life, and in 1870 when they moved into what could be considered a mansion, they had the perfect house for entertaining.  They threw dinner parties using heirloom china allegedly dating from the 1600s.  After one event, the servants did the washing up and carelessly chipped some of the dishes.  Cochrane discovered this the next morning while she was putting the dishes away.  She was furious and refused to let the servants handled the china any more. 

She may have regretted her decision, but she didn’t give in.  The morning after every subsequent dinner party she begrudgingly endured dishpan hands wondering why someone hadn’t invented a machine that could clean dirty dishes.  This was, after all, the late 19th century, and if someone could invent a machine to sew clothes and cut grass, then how hard could it be? 1 

One such morning while she was up to her elbows in soap suds, she had an epiphany.  Why not invent a dish washing machine herself?  Consumed with the idea, she immediately went into the library to think it through, forgetting she was holding a cup in her hand.  Within half an hour Cochrane had the basic concept for the first mechanical dishwasher.  Just like she had been doing by hand, it held the dishes securely (in a rack) while the pressure of spraying water cleaned them off.

William Cochran was a rising star in the Democratic Party, but too much alcohol led to a violent temper and illness.  While Cochrane was busy with the details of her invention, William went away for a rest. Unfortunately, he didn’t get well, and he died two weeks later in 1883.  

While the Cochrans appeared to be successful socialites to their friends, all was not well at home.  Her husband left Cochrane with a mound of debt and only $1,535.59.  Now, developing the dishwasher was not only for convenience, it was for survival.

Her creation had wire compartments for plates, cups and saucers.  They were put inside a wheel that lay flat inside a copper boiler.  A motor turned the wheel pumping hot soapy water from the bottom of the boiler over the dishes.  Cochrane showed her design to a few men for their input which ended up being a frustrating experience.  “I couldn’t get men to do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed in their own,” she said.  “And that was costly for me. They knew I knew nothing, academically, about mechanics, and they insisted on having their own way with my invention until they convinced themselves my way was the better, no matter how I had arrived at it.” 2   Finally she got help with the construction from mechanic George Butters and received her first patent on the Garis-Cochran Dish-Washing Machine December 28, 1886. 

Cochrane’s first customers were not the housewives she thought she was helping. They didn’t want to spend the money on something they didn’t really need, so she turned to hotels.  After selling a dishwashing machine to the Palmer House hotel in Chicago, she had one recommendation.  Then she did one of the hardest things she’d ever done: she made a cold call to the Sherman House hotel in Chicago, waiting in the ladies’ parlor to speak with the manager.  “You asked me what was the hardest part of getting into business,” she once told a reporter. “…I think, crossing the great lobby of the Sherman House alone. You cannot imagine what it was like in those days … for a woman to cross a hotel lobby alone. I had never been anywhere without my husband or father —the lobby seemed a mile wide. I thought I should faint at every step, but I didn’t—and I got an $800 order as my reward.”2

In 1893 Cochrane convinced restaurants at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to use her invention, and it was an exhibit in Machinery Hall.  That success led to her opening her own factory in an abandoned schoolhouse.  Her customers extended to hospitals and colleges for whom the sanitizing effects of the hot water rinse were important.  Homemakers finally started using it, too.

In 1912, at 73 years old, Cochran was still personally selling her machines.  She died in 1913.  In 1916, her company was bought out by Hobart which became KitchenAid and is now Whirlpool Corporation.  Cochrane is considered the founder.

 QUESTION:  Which modern convenience do you think it would be impossible to live without?

                       ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Sources:

 1 http://www.enchantedlearning.com/inventors/1800a.shtml

 2http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1999/2/1999_2_54.shtml

  http://www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/256.html