“MY STORY” was written by Mr. Johnson during the last five months of his life. He did not want to write it. It was undertaken at the instance of some magazine publishers and at the earnest solicitation of a few friends who felt that his own account of his nine years’ struggle for a free city ought not to be lost to the world.
All earlier attempts to have Mr. Johnson set down in writing any of his experiences failed. He dismissed such suggestions always with the characteristic comment “There are so many more important things to do.” He was essentially a man of action and he was not willing to give a day or an hour to anything less vital that his work. He was not introspective, seldom reminiscent. Few men, probably, have lived so little in the past as did he. Anything that was unpleasant he resolutely refused to recall; he wiped it off the slate once for all. For him the game always was, “What will happen next?” When a political worker, believed by many if not by Mr. Johnson himself to have been instrumental in Mr. Johnson’s last defeat, asked the ex-mayor for an opportunity to talk things over with him, the answer was, “I am willing to talk with you about to-morrow, but I won’t talk about yesterday!”
It was therefore not until he knew that fighting was henceforth out of the question for him, that Mr. Johnson consented to write. Then he was willing to do it, not because he might expect to derive any pleasure from it, but because it was the only kind of action left him, and he had been persuaded that his story of the Cleveland fight might be of some use to other cities in their struggles to be free. By sheer force of will he dictated “My Story” after he became so ill that the slightest physical or mental effort was a severe strain. He had been wont to say that he wanted to “die in harness,” “just stub his toe and stumble into his grave!” And he did “die in harness.” The narrative breathes throughout all the strength, the good cheer, the hope, which animated his working and fighting days
Big, brave, dauntless, resourceful soul! He made his wish come true.
Had Mr. Johnson lived longer he probably would have added nothing of a personal nature to his story. It was with extreme difficulty that he was induced to include the few delightful personal anecdotes which lend such charm to the early chapters. “Those things have nothing to do with the fight against Privilege,” he would protest, and he could not be made to understand that anything which appertained solely to himself was of any interest or value.
One is disposed to respect this lack of self-consciousness almost to the point of adding nothing to the narrative. It is because the readers of this book are entitled to an account of the year and three months of Mr. Johnson’s life after he left the mayor’s office in Cleveland that the last chapter of the volume has been written.
Aside from the preparation of this last chapter the editing of “My Story” has consisted only in dividing the book into chapters and supplying their headings, and, here and there, where some principle or policy seemed to demand emphasis or explanation, in elaborating a little of the original statement. When this has been done the elaboration is given in Mr. Johnson’s words. Although he was not a writer, it happens that a public address made by him upon the question of Privilege-an address which treats so comprehensively of the cause, the results, and the cure of Privilege, that little or nothing seems to be left to be said on the subject-was taken down and preserved. This address has served as a reference from which to draw such elucidation as has seemed necessary.
For readers who did not know Mr. Johnson, and who cannot read between the lines of “My Story” much which the author has not told, a note of introduction is offered. He has said so little of the overwhelming odds against which he fought and conquered, of the fierceness of the storm which raged about him during the whole of the Cleveland conflict, of the daring and original methods in political work by which he forced achievements possible to every large city! There is humor and sweetness and poise and power to be found in “My Story,” but it is the story of a man who never knew what a momentous figure he was. No the least of his greatness is his unconsciousness of it.
Tom L. Johnson was a pioneer in politics in the doing of things because they were right rather than because they were expedient. He believed in the people, and he addressed himself to them with a sincerity, vigor, and freshness of method as unusual as they are effective. Sometimes he reached them in mass as through his “picture show” of taxation injustices, a device which antedated by many years the present use of picture illustration in all kinds of social problems. Sometimes he made his appeal personally, as when after sitting in the gallery of the State House and listening to the most violent attacks upon himself and his measures, he would hunt up the author of these attacks, never to say a word in his own defense, but always to try to convince his antagonist of the justice of the legislation in question. An anecdote illustrating his success in this direct method of argument if the following:
A few years ago when the Ohio legislature was providing for one of its periodic investigations of the city government of Cincinnati, a hostile member introduced a bill calling for a similar investigation of Cleveland. On the very heels of this action Mayor Johnson sent a message to Representative (now Senator) John N. Stockwell of the Cleveland delegation telling him that he would arrive in Columbus late that night and asking him to arrange for an immediate interview with the member who had introduced the Cleveland investigation bill.
“I wondered what in the world Mr. Johnson could want of G—-,” says Senator Stockwell in relating this incident, “but I hunted him up and arranged for the interview. G— supposed, of course, the mayor was coming to take him to task for his bill. The mayor came, saw G—, told him that what he wanted was his support of some important street railway legislation, explained the measure, convinced G— of the justice of it, and infused him with so much of his own enthusiasm that that man hustled around the whole of the night seeing other members in the interests of Mr. Johnson’s bill, and supported it upon the floor of the house the next day. Mr. Johnson went back to Cleveland without ever referring to G—‘s bill to have Cleveland investigated. When I asked him later why he chose G— of all men to push his measure and lead in the fight for it, he replied that he thought G— was a strong man and as he seemed to be our most determined enemy he was clearly the most necessary convert to our measure. He said it would have been foolish to waste precious time in seeing those who would be friendly anyway.”
Mr. Johnson’s fights with Republican legislators were mild in comparison with his fights with members of his own party. He was the first political leader in the United States to ask his supporters to vote against candidates of his own party and for those of the opposition. In his campaign for governor he violated all political precedent when he refused to spend money extravagantly, but he insisted that county committees of the Democratic party should defray the legitimate expenses of their campaigns. Seventy-five dollars he demanded from each county in which he pitched his tent as part of the expense of transporting it. He alienated all the spoilsmen, all the old line machine politicians, and every State convention found them in a struggle with him for supremacy. Sometimes he carried the day and was able to control both platform utterances and choice of candidates. Between these two he preferred always to formulate the platform, for, in his political programme, principles were ever of more importance than persons. And sometimes he lost out, leaving a defeat famous because of the fine spirit in which it was taken. One of Mr. Johnson’s epigrams connects itself with such a defeat:
At the State convention in 1908, when he was successful in forcing the adoption of a radical platform, his candidate for governor, Atlee Pomerene, was beaten by Judson Harmon. It was a crushing blow. Mr. Johnson had put up a tremendous fight.
“What will Johnson do?” was the query that buzzed over that great audience in the convention hall. Feeling was still at white heat, yet, before there was time for reflection or consideration, before the tumult had subsided, with his friends crestfallen and disappointed at his back, his enemies exultant, and yet already apprehensive, turning, as by a common impulse to look at him, Mr. Johnson spoke, and this is what he said, “I make my fights before nominations, not afterwards.”
The soundness of Mr. Johnson’s forecast of popular will is seen in many directions to-day. Hardly a progressive measure in evidence in the political thought of the hour but was anticipated and championed by him. Year after year he spent a large part of his time at the State capital urging the passage of measures freeing cities from the grip of franchise corporations. One session he took rooms with members of the Cleveland delegation and spend months about the State House endeavoring to secure juster laws on taxation, laws for municipal ownership and home rule for cities. He was on of the first to agitate for the initiative and referendum and recall, and was an enthusiastic advocate of the short ballot. After he became convinced of the justice of woman suffrage he made several speeches for it, the most notable one in the midst of his mayoralty context with Mr. Burton. There may be politicians who would do for the women’s cause now what Mr. Johnson did then, but there wasn’t another equally prominent public man in the United States who would have done it at that time.
His moral courage, coupled with an intense desire to have social wrongs corrected, caused him often to challenge the authority of those in high places. He had an hour’s interview with President Roosevelt during the latter days of the Colonel’s administration, and as he was taking his leave, Mr. Johnson said, “The difference between you and me, Mr. President, is this: you are after law-breakers, I am after the law-makers. Your would put a man in jail for stealing, I would prevent the theft.”
When the trust question was a paramount issue in American politics Mr. Johnson asked William Jennings Bryan, who was a guest in his house, what he would do to solve that problem if he were in a position of real power as President of the United States with a friendly Congress and all the machinery of government to aid him. As Mr. Bryan suggested remedy after remedy, Mr. Johnson showed him how he, a monopolist, a beneficiary of special privilege, could evade, ignore or safely violate such laws as Mr. Bryan was proposing. By practical illustrations he demonstrated the futility of all legislation which does not strike Privilege at its root which is land monopoly.
Mr. Johnson did not hesitate, upon occasion, to go to leading Democratic office-holders in his own State and give them the benefit of his experience with and observation of dishonest party workers. For their own protection and the good of the state he warned these officials against the traitors in their political camps. Such service was not always graciously received, but time usually justified Mr. Johnson’s predictions.
To his administration of Cleveland’s affairs Mr. Johnson brought, besides his native resourcefulness, all his training as a big business man. Himself efficient to the last degree he insisted up efficiency in others, and every department of the city government showed results because of this.
He applied the merit system to the water works and health department, though not required by law to do so. Flat rates were abolished for water service, meters installed and the cost of water reduced for ninety per cent. of the consumers. Waste was stopped and in the four years ending in 1909 over one million dollars had been saved to water users.
When Mr. Johnson became mayor the city was disposing of its garbage under the contract plan at an annual cost of $69,000. When the contract expired the city bought the plant, and the very first year under municipal ownership and operation reduced ten thousand more tons of garbage than under the contract method, and at a cost of $10,000 less; and this, notwithstanding a reduction in the hours of employes and an increase of their wages. Later the collection of ashes, waste paper and refuse was also undertaken by the city.
In 1900 the electric light monopoly was charging the city $87.60 a year for each light. By the time Mr. Johnson went out of office, competition of the municipal lighting plant had reduced this cost to $54.96 per light.
Mr. Johnson instituted a building code that was a model for other cities, established meat and dairy inspection, barred milk from tubercular cows, saved householders a million dollars a year by compelling the use of honest weights and measures, created a forestry department for the protection of the city’s trees, paved several hundred miles of street, and substituted for the old practice of sweeping the superior method of cleaning the streets by washing them. He build public bath-houses, comfort stations, and shelter sheds, laid out baseball diamond, cricket fields and golf links, encouraged band concerts in the part in summer and skating carnivals in winter, established May Day and Arbor Day festivities.
People were just people to Mr. Johnson and when, soon after his first election as mayor, he deprived the poor of a means of gambling with pennies and nickels by sweeping six thousand slot machines out of the city, he did not neglect to deal a blow to rich gamblers by following this action with a prohibition of pool selling at the Cleveland Driving Park when the time for the fall races arrived.
These many and varied public benefits have been accepted so much as a matter of course that one is disposed to wonder whether the citizens of Cleveland think they have been produced by some automatic agency and without human power.
All of these activities cost money, but Mr. Johnson instituted a purchasing department for the city which saved money by getting a two per cent. discount for the prompt payment of all bills, and established many business economies. The city’s assets have increased more than twice as much as her bonded indebtedness. And all of this work was carried on honestly. Cleveland, under Mayor Johnson, was free from graft. No scandal ever attached to the administration. The proof of this assertion was brought out by those who were his enemies. Year after year a hostile State Administration sent expert accountants to investigate the city’s accounts; unfriendly newspapers did the same thing; franchise corporations employed detectives to hunt for something wrong; all with the same result! There was no graft. Mr. Steffens was justified in his estimate of Mr. Johnson, as “the best mayor,” and of Cleveland as “the best governed city in the United States.”
Most of these things Mr. Johnson has ignored in his story. They were so much a part of the day’s work with him that it would no more have occurred to him to tell them than to relate that he put on his shoes when he got up in the morning.
The things he does tell are told simply, and even the most unpleasant of them without any bitterness. As a year only had elapsed between the time of his defeat as mayor of Cleveland and the day he set himself seriously to the task of telling his story this absence of bitterness cannot be attributed to the softening influences of time; nor can it be ascribed to the mellowing hand of age for Mr. Johnson was not that old. Up to his last hour of consciousness he was living ahead of the generation just born, and there are those who believe that this would have been so had he lived to be eighty-six years of age instead of dying as he did at fifty-six.
It must be, then, that even in the heat of the battle when feeling ran highest he was not affected by it, for not only had all bitterness vanished when he began to write, but he had actually forgotten many of his more trying and cruel experiences.
Contract his statement that he was hissed but once in his life and that at a meeting in Brooklyn with this from the pen of a man who participated in nearly all of Mr. Johnson’s campaigns:
“During his dozen campaigns while mayor it was his habit to insist upon questions from the audience; he asked for hard ones, ‘mean’ ones, he called them; he liked that kind best. No man was apparently more vulnerable. He had been in the street railway business all his life and he opened up his whole life to scrutiny and gayly acknowledged where acknowledgment was coming; and answered where an answer was required. Frequently his meetings were on the verge of riot; in the east end where feeling was most vindictive and but a handful of his friends would be present he would stand on the edge of a jeering, sometimes a hissing crowd that packed the tent far out to the street lines, smilingly leaning on the edge of the table until the uproar quieted. Then he would frequently win the meeting by a simple story or sweet appeal. Night after night he met this kind of thing, speaking possibly half a dozen times in from one to three tents and in as many more halls, and apparently never wearying of it. He seemed to court this kind of exposure to attack.”
Again, in discussing the Depositors Savings and Trust Company, he dismisses the relation of other banks to the Depositors in a single sentence, “A great many of the local banks were unfriendly, but a few of them acted very nicely indeed.” That is all, though it is a matter of common knowledge that the organization of the Depositors was necessary in order to provide the low-fare movement with a friendly bank and to prevent its transactions from being made public and thereby circumvented, that it had constantly to combat rumors against it set in motion by hostile interests, and that from the very beginning it was compelled to fight against a combination of the banking interests of Cleveland to which it finally had to succumb.
He says nothing to indicate that he had any personal feeling in connection with the strike inaugurated by the old and still hostile street railway managers directly after the Municipal Traction Company took possession of the street railways. He had had a strike on one of his own street railroad by once. That lasted ‘just ten minutes.’ He went in person to the men and told them that he thought what they were asking for was reasonable and he was prepared to give it to them. He had always paid good wages and had encouraged labor unions among his employes. While that Cleveland strike was on he spent hours of each day in a machine shop working with his hands on the pay enter fare-box which he had invented and with which he was preparing to equip the cars. Did he resort to manual labor and abandon his mind to the mental absorption of mechanical problems that the iron might not enter his soul? He never told.
So little reference is made to the persecutions and cruelties of the street railway company and the business interests allied with it that the reader whose only source of information is Mr. Johnson’s own story might perhaps conclude that Cleveland was quite different from Detroit and Toledo and Chicago and San Francisco and other cities where the franchises of public service corporations have been threatened. But in Cleveland, as in these other cities, there was organized as if by instinct a sympathetic, political-financial-social group whose power and influence made itself known the moment it was touched. It included the banks and trust companies with their directors. Banks that did not sympathize with this conspiracy were coerced by fear into compliance with the will of the stronger institutions. Through the banks, manufacturers, wholesale and retail merchants were reached. Business men who openly sympathized with the low-fare movement were called to the directors’ rooms in the banks and advised, sometimes in guarded language, that their loans might be called or their credit contracted. Only one bank of any size dared identify itself with the low-fare railroad and it was made to suffer some of the stings of ostracism. Many men who bought low-fare stock had to do it secretly. Contractors, professional and business men were cowed at meetings of the Chamber of Commerce by the suggestion that they would lose business; retailers who voted for Mayor Johnson and let their position be known were boycotted or threatened with boycott. The professional classes were allied with the business interests. The lawyers were almost a unit. At one time fourteen of the leading law firms of the city were employed against the movement. Many physicians and in a large measure the clergy were affiliated with this class. There were a few notable exceptions in both the Catholic and Protestant churches. Dean Charles D. Williams of Trinity Cathedral, now Bishop of Michigan, never flagged in his devotion to Mr. Johnson or to the cause for which he stood. The clerks followed in the wake of the business interests and all who were seeking favor socially, professionally or commercially, lines up with Privilege.
And there was always a portion of the press to be reckoned with! Two newspapers owned respectively the by family of one of Mr. Johnson’s most powerful political enemies and by attorneys and stockholders of the street railway company, persistently misrepresented the people’s movement, and, through paid advertisements, editorially and otherwise, they made charges of criminality and dishonesty against Mr. Johnson, implying that the movement was part of his plan to make money, to steal the street railways of the city for private profit. Brutal cartoons accompanied their news stories or illustrated their editorial point of view.
Yet when Mr. Johnson died, a little more than a year after he went out of office, these newspapers joined with thousands of others in proclaiming their belief in his sincerity and honesty. He had made mistakes, they said, but not a shadow of a suggestion of bad faith did they charge up to him.
The newspaper persecution of Mr. Johnson was not confined to Cleveland. A publicity bureau supplied the country papers of the State with material well designed to convince the unthinking and the uninformed that in the Cleveland mayor were reincarnated for the temptation and fall of Ohio all the qualities ascribed to the Satan of the early orthodox church.
To all of this was added the coercive power of social ostracism. It was carried into the clubs and employed against all who distantly believed in or liked Mr. Johnson.
“For the greater part of nine years,” writes Frederic C. Howe, “Cleveland was an armed camp. There was by one line of division. It was between those who would crucify Mr. Johnson and all of his friends, and those who believed in him. I doubt if any of the border cities like Washington and Covington during the Civil War were more completely rent asunder than was Cleveland during those years. It is doubtful if the wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines in the Italian cities were more bitter, more remorseless, more cruel than this contention in Cleveland. If any kind of cruelty, any kind of coercion, any kind of social, political or financial power was left untried in those years to break the heart of Mr. Johnson, I do not know what or when it was.”
How he contrived to keep his spirit strong and glad is something one may not hope to comprehend. At one period in the street railway fight when the entire city of Cleveland seemed to have united in a clamor for settlement and when even his most trusted friends and loyal followers were urging concessions which Mr. Johnson’s far-seeing vision would not permit him to make, when, for a time, he stood utterly alone, not a word of discouragement, not a sigh of irritation escaped him. But when his “boys” finally rallied to his support and a united plan of action was agreed upon once more, the mayor was so happy that a friend, knowing nothing of the occurrence just past, commented upon his gaiety. In explanation he related who had happened. An expression from his listener of admiration at the patience and sweetness of his attitude brought from him this answer: without speaking he took from his inside breast pocket a little worn brown card and handed it to her.
“The man who is worthy of being a leader of men will never complain of the stupidity of his helpers, of the ingratitude of mankind, nor the in appreciation of the public.
“These things are all a part of the great game of life, and to meet them and not go down under them in discouragement and defeat is the final proof of power.”
“I should like to keep this card long enough to copy the quotation,” the friend said, after a moment.
“You may have it,” replied Mr. Johnson, “I don’t need it anymore.”
Much of Mr. Johnson’s success in public affairs as in his mastery of himself must be attributed to the fact that he did not go into the fight against Privilege with the confusion of ideas and multiplicity of aims which have destroyed the usefulness of so many good, well-intentioned men in similar service. If it be that there are men in who the sense of justice is more highly developed than it was in Mr. Johnson, in the history of our country, at least, there has been none who has given fuller expression in action to that sense of justice. He was a rich man, made rich by special privilege. He did not blink the fact. When Mr. George’s writing opened his eyes to the truth about the established order, he went out to destroy the conditions which make his own class possible.
Inequality of opportunity with its concomitant result, involuntary poverty, was the social wrong. To restore equality of opportunity by securing to each worker the product of his own labor, thereby depriving a privileged few from monopolizing rewards which belong to the many, was the social wrong. His programme was definite and complete. His philosophy must have been tremendously satisfying, for by means of it he worked out a simple, effective solution to every political problem that might arise, and the answers to his personal problems as well.
That there was a marked development in the noblest qualities in Mr. Johnson’s character during the last five or six years of his life none of his friends will gainsay; yet from the very beginning of his interest in social questions there was something different, something extraordinary about him. One of the ablest of American editors, a man who had been closely associated with Mr. Johnson in the earlier days and one who knew him intimate for twenty-five years, said of him a few days after his death,”I don’t know how it was, but somehow Johnson never had to reason things out. No matter what the question that came up, no matter how laboriously I might have to study it in order to work my way out, he knew as if by instinct the proper and just solution of it.”
Another of the man who was closest to Mr. Johnson from 1901 to 1911 says,
“I can only understand Tom L. Johnson by saying that his qualities were of a different kind than those of other men; his courage, his intellect, his insight, his sympathy, his love were on a something more than human plane. He saw his mental pictures, reached his decisions, carried his Herculean load for more than forty years because he was endowed with a gift of a different caliber, of another kind than those of any of his contemporaries. There was nothing ordinary about him except his kinship with ordinary people. He might easily have been a Morgan of finance had he chose to pursue this field of exploit; he might easily have been one of our greatest inventors, one of our greatest electrical expert. He was a wonderful mathematician, a great manager of men and things, a political philosopher of the rarest kind with something of the intuitive point of view of Jefferson. He knew the street railway business from the standpoint of the motorman, the conductor, the manager, the electrician, the financier. He had been all of these things. He had mastered the iron and steel business in the same exhaustive way. For years he arose at five o’clock and began the day with a study of French or some other subject with an instructor, and closed it with the study of some work on political science in which he was interested. He was an orator of the most effective kind and in quick exchange of repartee or in answering questions, a master. As a parliamentary leader of the English sort he would probably have been the greatest of his generation, for he not only knew more about more things that any man I have ever met, but he also had a philosophy of life which clarified every question into its logical crystals. That was one of the rarest qualities of the man. He did not reason things out; they simply straightened out when they came in contact with his mind. Did a proposition make for liberty? It was approved. Did it make for special privilege in any of its forms? It was wrong. Did legislation open up opportunity, promote personal or political freedom, make it easier for all men to achieve their best? It required no other argument. I have frequently heard him say that if he had the choice of leaving his children with millions or with equal opportunity he would not hesitate which to choose.”
No picture of this man would be complete without a view of him at play, for Mr. Johnson played on as gigantic a scale as he worked. Had he chosen to make his play his serious work he would probably have been one of the greatest inventors of his time. He had intended to tell as part of this story, in narrative form and so simply that every layman might understand it, something of his invention which, for want of a better name, was known to his friends as “greased lightning.” Even after he was stricken by his final illness and confined to his bed he talked about this and still hoped to be able to dictate it. This was not to be, but we are able to give the story to the readers of Mr. Johnson’s book, for Frederic C. Howe, remembering it as Mr. Johnson told it to him, has written it for us. Mr. Howe’s assistance not only in the matter of the following story of the invention but in the preparation of this entire introduction had been invaluable.
“Mr. Johnson’s most Titanic recreative exploit was what his friends called ‘Greased Lightning’ or ‘Slip-Slide.’ One day in the midst of a conference at the city Hall a man waited to see the mayor. When his turn came he said, ‘Mr. Johnson, I have an invention out in Chicago-a street railway operated by magnets laid between the rails. It does away with the trolley.’ Mr. Johnson replied: ‘That interests me. For years I have been thinking of a railway operated by magnets between the rails; but that does not interest me so much. What I want to do is, to get rid of the wheels. They are the obstacle to speed. You cannot go much faster than the present rate of speed because when you do the wheels fly asunder from the rapidity of the revolutions. Now there must be a way of running a train without the wheels and that is what I am most interested in. We ought to be able to travel three or four hundred miles an hour but we can’t do it so long as we are dependent on wheels.’
“He finally went to Chicago and saw the invention. Shortly after his return trucks loaded with great square timbers and pieces of steel drew up in front of his mansion on Euclid avenue. The area ways to the basement floor were opened up and the unwieldy freight was pushed into the basement. Electrical machinery followed. The Mr. Johnson picked out the best electrician he could find in the city and explained his idea. It seemed too absurd for the trial but they went to work. Day after day and month after month in the early morning and late at night he worked in the cellar with these strange appliances for solving the problem of rapid locomotion. He jokingly told his friends what he was planning to do. They laughed at his monster plaything which covered the floor of the cellar and extended as a track for ninety feet from one end to the other. It was given the derisive name of ‘Greased Lightning.’ There were not wheels above the tracks, only a rough car on steel shoes like flat bottomed skates. Below and between the tracks were steel magnets. That was all, with the exception of powerful electrical devices connected with similar machinery in the backyard. The underlying idea in non-technical terms was to propel the car by a series of magnets laid between the tracks, which would act in succession, the current being cut off as the car passed over the one below it. This was the propelling power. But this power was downward. There was nothing to relieve the friction of the shoes on the tracks, nothing to lift the car so that the forward movement would be possible. Finally the day was set for the trial. Powerful currents were turned on and by the carefully studied electrical formulas the car should have moved forward. Instead of that the magnetic power under the care was so strong that it crushed the structure to the earth. ‘Greased Lightning’ failed to move.
“For weeks Mr. Johnson studied the problem. He went over his calculations. They were theoretically correct. Of that he was sure. He had his processes proved up by his mechanician. They he threw away the road bed, the car and the appliances which had cost thousands of dollars and reversed the arrangement.
“A structure was built across the top of the cellar and consisted of a series of magnets that were energized at the proper time to lift the car and carry it forward. At the top of the car were shoes which were made to fit loosely between upper and lower tracks located on the elevated structure. To the shoes were attached light contact fingers made of a spring bronze which touched the tracks slightly in advance of the shoes. The car when not in motion would hang by the shoes upon the lower track. The contact fingers would be in tight contact with the same. The instant the controller was turned on the current would pass through the contact fingers energizing lifting magnets sufficiently to lift the car and shoes from the bottom track. If, however, it were lifted sufficiently for the contact fingers to touch the top track the current in the lifting magnet would be reduced so as to float the car practically half way between the two tracks. Thus the car theoretically would float in the air and when the magnets designed for forward propulsion were energized it would move forward in proportion to the speed at which these magnets were energized.
“This is a description of what he planned to do as explained to my non-technical mind. It was finally completed, after many delays, and the current turned on. ‘Greased Lightning’ actually moved. The car was propelled forward and backward as rapidly as it was safe to permit in the short ninety feet of track in the cellar. It was interesting to watch the loading of the car, for as each additional passenger stepped on there would be a slight downward movement until the contact finger touched the lower rail when it would immediately resume its former position.
“The car in motion was necessarily absolutely noiseless and without the least vibration. With eyes closed, at the slight rate of speed at which it was necessary to move in the cellar, the occupant could not tell whether the car was in motion or not. Had the speed been greater the only difference would have been the feeling of the air current.
“Mr. Johnson was satisfied that he had demonstrated the correctness of his long study of the subject. If the device was theoretically correct it must be practically correct, he argued. But he had not time and not sufficient money to build a large model. That would require hundreds of thousand of dollars. It would also revolutionize locomotion and scrap the railroads of the country. For, as he said, with ‘Slip-Slide’ one could go from Chicago to New York in four or five hours; from Net York to Philadelphia in half an hour. There was an end of space; an end of the tenement and the slum. Here was a means of making the ends of American touch one another.
“He went to Schenectady and interested the General Electric Company. They were incredulous. But they sent three expert electricians to Cleveland. They spend weeks there studying the device. They checked up every process in the reasoning and finally reported that the project was scientifically sound and correct. The General Electric was still unconvinced so they sent their chief electrician to Cleveland. After investigation he, too, was convinced that space was annihilated. He so reported to the company. Then there were conferences between Mr. Johnson and the company. Contracts were drawn for the building of a model and the trial of the project.
“It was practically agreed that the General electric was to furnish the money for an experiment on a large scale; a two-mile track was to be built at Schenectady. The General Electric was to have certain rights of manufacture and Mr. Johnson certain selling rights, but before the contract was signed it was found that the proposed experiment would cost at least half a million dollars. The company decided that it would not be justified in expending so large an amount on an experiment, and it was then proposed that a number of individuals join in financing the experiment on some equitable basis of division of final profits. This arrangement was never completed, for at about that time the panic of 1907 interfered and Mr. Johnson was immersed in his political fight to the exclusion of all interests of a personal nature. Negotiations were stopped, no further progress was made on the invention which Mr. Johnson fully believed would have practically annihilated space and joined the two sides of the continent more closely together than Boston and New York now are.”
With all his resources, all his interests, all the dominating traits of character which were his, Mr. Johnson was as dependent on his friends for happiness as a little child is dependent on its mother for care. His play like his work had to be shared. Friends were the supreme necessity of his life. When reduced fortunes compelled him to give up the spacious mansion on Euclid avenue where he had lived for years in luxury, that had been generously shared with friends and kinsfolk, it is inconceivable that the sacrifice cost him no pang. Yet, he made it smiling, and more than once was heard to say, “It was worth losing money to find friends. I know now who my real friends are.” And they had to be real friends; for he who gave friendship in such royal measure demanded genuine affection and plenty of it in return. “I cannot stand the counterfeit,” he often said.
What history will do with the name of Tom L. Johnson we do not know. But this we know, that it was this human quality in him, this love of his kind, that sent him into the people’s fight and kept him in it to the end. It was this which made him turn aside from money-getting, this which made him forego the keen pleasures of mechanical pursuits, this which made the loss of wealth and of what men call success, the loss of health, yes, of life on earth itself, seem of small account to him. And because he loved much, he lived much. No one who reads his story can fail to realize that he lived more in almost any ten years of his adult life than it is given to most men to live in a long, long lifetime; nor can they fail to see that his living was a complete and constant giving-a giving of the greatest gift within man’s power to give-HIMSELF.
“The man who is worthy of being a leader of men will never complain of the stupidity of his helpers, of the ingratitude of mankind, nor of the inappreciation of the public.
“These things are all a part of the great game of life, and to meet them and not go down under them in discouragement and defeat is the final proof of power.”