What Fifty Boys did in and before 1919

I decided to go back to the old photographs of older library matter from “college days”. Here is something I found entertaining from the July 19, 1919 Literary Digest.

Markdown isn’t functioning for me, so some footnotes are lost.


One1 of them, who worked for an undertaker, simply would whistle at funerals2. “He was an incorrigible whistler,” writes the undertaker, more in sorrow than anger. “He tried hard, but he couldn’t quit it. I have offered him ten dollars3 if he would not whistle another note in the next hour. I have never had to pay. If a funeral were going on in the parlor it seemed the most opportune time for him to regale the weeping relatives and friends with a ragtime obligato or a mocking-bird medley.” Another youth, a doctor’s boy, had a way of quizzing the doctor’s patients about the details of their diseases. Still another would slip at night into the establishment of the tailor who employed him, “wear customers’ suits to social functions, and then stealthily return the clothes before day.” Others were discharged for various commoner offenses, most of them capable of pointing a moral.

Many boys who have been “fired” declare that they don’t know why it happened, according to the editor of The American Boy, which is responsible for collecting a list of fifty reasons, from employers all over the country, why boys are separated from their jobs. The reasons, as collected and arranged by Mr. W. H. Piner and published in the June issue, run as follows4:

  • Seaman’s Supplies. — The time was never ripe for him to do anything. “I’ll see to that this afternoon,” “I’ll take that down in the morning,” “we won’t have time for that to-day,” “there isn’t any rush about that at present,” — these and similar expressions were characteristic. He became known as the postponer. He postponed everything except the postponing. One day a little emergency came up. “It’s only ten minutes till noon,” he said; “we can’t do anything with it in that time.” An outside boy was standing near and said: “You can do ten minutes’ worth in ten minutes.” I immediately employed that boy in place of the other.
  • Book Store. — He was a boy of some originality, but wanted to run my business on his plan. I couldn’t see it his way, and he couldn’t see it my way, so we parted company.
  • Implement House. — He complained that others did not do their duty, citing their delinquencies as causes of extra hardships on him. The fact was that his own lack of diligence kept him constantly behind, and his grumbling was only a subterfuge to excuse his own shortcomings. He saw the mote in his neighbors eye, but could not see the beam in his own.
  • River Transfer. — I had two jobs for him — a little one and a big one. He deceived me in the smaller and he never got to the larger.
  • Mining Quarters. — I am just a rugged mountaineer brought up out here among the rocks and rough men that go with my business, but one day I overheard him talking to his mother with shameful insolence. I never could endure him again.
  • Feed and Fuel. — He secretly boosted my competitor’s business when not on duty for me.
  • Printing. — We had contracted to print five thousand handbills, agreeing to place one in each home so far as they went. The work was done so quickly in one section of the city that we became suspicious of the boys honesty. He stoutly maintained a show of sincerity. Investigation proved that he had thrown thirty-seven circulars into the hall of one home. Further search revealed that he had chugged several hundred under a culvert. We have since found that this boy can not be relied on to do anything well.
  • Dry Goods. — He gave overmeasure to his friends. Business is a matter of dollars and cents to us, not of favoritism.
  • State Office. — He undertook to carry on a law course at the university outside of office hours. But he could not separate his main ambition from his temporary duties. He brought his study to his office desk, and there took up time for himself that belonged to the State. [^5] There was no alternative for me but to dismiss him.
  • Hatter. — He got into my confidence and then told my business secrets.
  • Music House. — He was profane. He couldn’t talk without swearing. Our disgust and our self-respect forced us to ask him to quit.
  • Cotton Factory. — He trusted too much to the machinery. He could not understand that intelligent attention made the machinery most productive.
  • Abstract Office. — He was continually inaccurate in the transcribing of legal forms and business documents. One error got us into the courts.
  • Clothier. — He was a hustling little sprout. His motto was: “Sell every man.” And a rattling good motto it is, but he lost himself in one pocket of it. He sold regardless of how he sold. If he couldn’t fit the customer he sold something that didn’t fit. He pulled off deals that made nondescripts of my customers. They came howling at me for running a misfit parlor[^6] and making them my victims. He sold goods for the moment; I had to build a business that would stand through the years.
  • Power and Light Company. — He was always complaining of being sick. Perhaps he was, but we noticed that he made a dependable quarterback at football.
  • Milling. — He gambled with the work hands, and we could not knowingly permit his conduct.
  • River Steamer. — We fired him before we hired him. He was left alone in the office for half an hour. In that time he handled everything in the office that he could get his hands on, even opening desk drawers and inspecting things in there. From the place where I was watching him I burst into the office and sent him ashore lest in the next minute he might rifle the safe. I do not believe he as a thief, but that his overmastering curiosity would have made him a distracting influence on me. Within another thirty minutes, had he acted differently, he would have been at work on the job.
  • Newspaper. — He was undependable on his route. It was have required and extra man to correct failures in delivery and to make peace with kicking subscribers.
  • Shirt Factory. — He was absent-minded to a degree of dreaminess. There seemed always to be something on his mind that held his interest elsewhere. We let him go to it.
  • Retail Grocery Store. — He was cruel to our horses. He whipt[^7] them mercilessly, he jerked them brutally, he poked along at a snail’s page at times and then slashed them into a breakneck speed. A little observation disclosed the fact that he was cruel to people also, especially to boys smaller than himself.
  • Food Products. — He was a good talker when we listened, but a poor listener when we talked.
  • Saddlery. — He abused me in the presence of others. He spoke lightly of my business. He was always talking about getting something that he would like. I gave him the chance to find it.
  • General Store. — He had to be told over and over every day just what to do. He couldn’t see it for himself, and we didn’t have the time to keep up the telling.
  • Curio Dealer. — He was too fond of gab. He permitted tourists to monopolize his time with questions that led him into his favorite occupation of telling where the curios came from, the difficulties in getting them, and he was never so delighted as when the questions led into a tale of Indian blood-and-thunder and other romances of the wild and woolly West. I had my curios to sell. He used them as a setting to spin yarns about.
  • Merchant Broker. — All his work appear to go wrong. I never saw his like. He reminded me of Scud East in Dr. Arnold’s book.
  • Lawyer’s Office. — He was a brilliant, precocious little scamp. He could write shorthand rapidly, but in transcribing it on the typewriter he persisted in abbreviating my letters, and sometimes changed the outline of my speeches. The result was ridiculous.
  • Hardware. — He was an expert checker-player. He know all the shrewd moves, all the professional tactics, and he was endlessly talking of certain original moves that would some day make a famous champion. He insisted on playing and on attracting to my house a troup of youngsters whose highest ambition was to “break into the kingdom.”[^8]
  • Banking House. — He wouldn’t work except at one desk—without grumbling. No emergency was ever sufficient to make him a cheerful helper at some other desk, tho his own were idle. We needed an adaptable character.
  • Transfer Company. — He overcharged our customers, and to this dishonesty he added the inexcusable habit of demanding tips.
  • Garage. — He had the speed mania. He would break up more cars than we could pay for. He several times dashed into vehicles, luckily killing nobody, but leaving us damage claims to pay.
  • Oculist. — The boy’s mother was constantly interfering. She complained frequently at the fancied hardships of her son. I knew the boy himself had manufactured tales of wo, and that he had specific motives for so doing. I noticed that these complaints were particularly numerous and importunate in their appeals for leniency just about the time the circus came to town, or a league game was to be pulled off, or an excursion was billed.
  • Sporting Goods. — His red eyes and morning headaches told us that he had been carousing the night before. Yawning and stretching and moping are bad signs for the boy who really wants to hold his job.
  • Retail Drugs. — He reveled at night, and was stupid and sleepy all next day.
  • Cigar Factory. — He wanted to argue about everything we told him to do. He had some changes to make in every order given to him, and we never know when some changes might bring us into financial loss.
  • Broom Factory. — He was addicted to some kind of drug habit—young as he was. It made him flighty at times, and at all times unreliable. It was a pitiful case of the complete surrender of a young life to some drug.
  • Ice Factory. — He gave short weights to customers that he might have an overplus of ice to sell to others on his own account as a rake-off. Any rake-off, no matter what nor how obtained, is rank dishonesty, and I could not keep a thief in my employ.
  • Railway Office. — He was stubborn about substituting his own system of bookkeeping for ours. We could not change the methods of a great railway system to accommodate him. Utter confusion followed his failure to conform to our way of doing things.
  • Telegraph Office. — The boy had wings. He could fly with or for a message. But he could not comprehend the necessity for signatures and records in keeping track of deliveries and reports. He kept us in constant trouble.
  • Lumber Industry. — He was our timekeeper. It was a very easy tho very important positions. He was too lazy or too indifferent to go to the camp to secure facts first-hand, but instead he went to the city and depended on reports from others as to how many men were at work and how many hours they were on.
  • Plantation. — He was invariably late—later than the hands on the farm, and he was angry and sullen if I suggested to him that we needed him at the start as well as at eight o’clock.
  • Livery Stable. — He drove the life out of our customers’ horses. When we sent him ten blocks for a rig, he would get into it and take a spin into the country. If it happened to be at night, he would get some friend to drive for an hour, then make untruthful excuses for his delay in getting back home.
  • Law Firm. — For the sake of his dead father I strove to make a man of him. I offered him a room in my home, with free board, laundry, lights fuel, and everything else, gave him access to my library, and plainly told him I would give him a partnership with me in my extensive practice just as soon as he could get his license. He wanted to see the world. He is still seeing it—on foot.[^9]
  • Manufacturer. — Believing that he deserved advancement, we promoted him. The promotion sent him daffy. He at once became dictatorial, bossy, assuming prerogatives wholly foreign to the position. He was disagreeable if not permitted to have his way. There was no chance for the forbearance which we would gladly have conceded to him.
  • Candy Factory. — He read novels during business hours. He often became so absorbed that customers would enter, speak to him, ask for something and leave without his ever knowing they had been there. We do not object to reading, but it doesn’t go with business.
  • Plumbing. — He was a competent workman for a young chap. He did his work faultlessly so long as it was above ground, but if dirt went on top of it you were sure to find dirt in the execution. His underground work was very defective, often requiring a second doing.
  • Medical Supplies. — When trusted to address circular letters he would omit many names on our lists, skipping over them to save time and labor for himself, thus cheating us and making him unreliable in any work where his own honesty was our only security.
  • Boarding-House. — He had a strange attracting power that drew a crowd of loafers to my place all the time. They were eating up my substance. I could not feed them. Besides, they were robbing me of my boy’s time.
  • Dentist’s Office. — He was eating from morning till night. He kept his pockets crammed with peanuts, candies, fruits, and such like, often littering the floor with hulls, paper wads, and parings, and exasperating nervous women with his noisy chewing.

  1. I can’t seem to put this in the heading, but I count 51. 
  2. It is a minor irritation that the word “funeral” begins with “fun”. 
  3. Per MeasuringWorth, 10.00 USD in 1919 would be at least 142.00 USD in 2017. 
  4. While the formatting is not identical, a bulleted list most closely agrees with the source. I’ve also inserted spaces for better flow of text. 

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A hopefully entertaining blogger, frequently of technical things, but some artistic commentary too.

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