This post is an excerpt from the book, The Life and Times of Warren Webster, by Warren Webster, Jr.
“In 1903,” recounted my father, “Warren Webster & Company made a deal with the Atmospheric Heating Company, of London, England. We licensed them under our patents. They could sell as they wanted and we guaranteed the validity of the patents. The Atmospheric Heating Company agreed to pay a flat sum per foot for each installation for the use of the patent rights.
“Two English lawyers met us in New York. We thought it would take two or three days, but we were eleven days finishing the business.
“Soon after this the Atmospheric Heating Company filed suit against two competitors for infringement of the Webster patents. As yet they had made no payment on license fees, but they nevertheless asked that we bear the cost of the lawsuit.
“When I was married in 1891, I told those present that I intended one way or another to go to Europe when I was forty—or in 1903. This trouble coming up, I made up my mind to go over and settle things personally. So I cabled the Atmospheric Heating Company: ‘Will be over to meet your board and adjust matters.’
On the trip I was accompanied by my brother Theodore.
“At my first meeting with the directors of the Atmospheric Heating Company, I asked: ‘Gentlemen, have any of you talked with the two men whom you are suing?’ They said, ‘No, we have not. No one has been authorized to do so.’
“I said, ‘Does anyone object to my seeing them?’
“They said, ‘How?’ I replied, ‘They are in London, aren’t they? They have a telephone? I think I will be able to see them personally.’
“So I went to see them. Over there you’ve got to go ‘according to Hoyle.’ You need an introduction. Nevertheless, I went straight to the first fellow and told him I represented the American interests.
“He received me pleasantly and said he didn’t want to be connected with a lawsuit—that it would hurt his business. I said:
‘How much has it cost you to date for your patent, experiments, and so forth? $200?’ He replied, ‘It has cost me $500 at least.’
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘if you will assign your patent to the Atmospheric Heating Company, I will pay you $500 for it, providing you take the $500 and buy stock in the Atmospheric Company. Moreover, I will see that you are placed on the board of directors.’
“He said, ‘I will let you know tomorrow.’
“The next day he accepted. I then went to see the other man. He was an engineer fop the government—a pompous kind of fellow, with three or four draftsmen working for him.
“‘In the first place,’ said he, ‘this is most unusual for you to come to see me and I must think it over.’
“I said, ‘All right, take your time. I am perfectly open in every transaction I go in. I have been told you are one of the best engineers in London and I want to see you interested in the Atmospheric Heating Company.’
“He said, ‘But these people are suing me!’
“I said: ‘You want to get rid of the suit. You have got these patents and they won’t recognize them. They say you infringe their patents. You have spent money—I suppose eight hundred or a thousand dollars?’
“‘ I have spent $2500’ he interrupted.
“I said, ‘Very well, I will pay you $2500 if you will assign your patents to the Atmospheric Heating Company and invest the $2500 in stocks of the Company, and I will also place you on the board of directors, as I have the right to name two of the members. This is to my interests, also, as it will end the litigation, the expenses of which I am paying.’
“After thinking it over for a day, he accepted the proposition. Then I made my report to the board. In a short time this engineer was instrumental in obtaining several large government jobs.
“However, I went to the board and said:
“‘Under the present agreement you are paying us on every job whether you make any profit or not. I would like our remuneration to be based on your profits. If you will release us from the obligation of guaranteeing the validity of the patents and give us $10,000 worth of stock, we will cancel the license fee.’
“My offer was immediately accepted—and thereafter things ran very smoothly and satisfactorily to all concerned.
“My lawyer in England was G. Croydon Marks. He had taken out all Edison’s European patents and was very highly recommended to me. I found him a fine gentleman, far better even than he had been described.
“At the time I employed him, I said: ‘Mr. Marks, I don’t know how they do things over here, but I understand it is very expensive. Now, I like to know what I am doing. If I can’t pay for anything, I leave it alone. If you will handle the legal side of our business in all its phases essential to establishing and carrying on the Corporation, we will pay you five per cent on everything we sell. We will work on a thirty days’ cancellation basis. If you are called on for more work than you think fair, give us thirty days’ notice and you can stop; if we think your services are not worth what we are paying you, we will give you thirty days’ notice and stop.’
“Well, that contract lasted for thirty-three years. It was only cancelled in 1937 when he succeeded to the peerage and was no longer in position to take foreign business. He is Lord Marks now—a member of the House of Lords. We used to meet quite often. He had an American office and we would always call on each other when he was in this country.
“He and his wife had no children of their own, but he was intensely interested in Y.M.C.A. work and in orphan asylums. On one occasion I telephoned him at his hotel, suggesting some plan for the evening, and he said: ‘I can’t do it. You see, I have to write to each of my boys tonight—they expect it.’
“‘Why, how many have you,’ I inquired.
“He replied, ‘One hundred and ten—they are my life, worth more to me than any other interest.’ “
* * *
My father’s trip to Europe in 1903 was primarily a business trip. After things were fixed up in London, my father and his brother, Theodore, went up to Edinburgh and stopped at the North British Hotel.
“I happened,” father said, “to know that the Atmospheric Heating Company, of London, had installed a Webster Heating System in this hotel, so I was surprised to find the dining-room so cold that some foreign-looking guests had on their overcoats—and we could have followed their example with great comfort.
“When we had finished eating, I went over to the desk-clerk and expressed a desire to inspect the heating-plant, if there was no objection. When he found out we were tourists, he said it would be perfectly all right.
“So we went down and talked to the chief engineer. I didn’t mention that my name was Webster or that I had anything to do with the heating system. I told him we had just had breakfast in the dining-room and that it was cold up there—the radiators were cold. I asked, ‘How do you heat the building?’
“He said, ‘With steam—when we heat it. I could put steam up there, but I must have an order from the office.’
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘the guests were cold.’
“He asked, ‘They were foreigners, weren’t they?’
“I answered, ‘They were Japanese, I think. They had their overcoats on. Don’t you think you ought to put some steam in those radiators so people will be comfortable.’
“‘There’s something wrong with foreigners,’ he answered. ‘They want it so hot we can’t stand it.’
“I asked if any test of the system had ever been made. He said yes, through the contractors, and it had operated successfully, but there was no occasion to use steam when it wasn’t necessary.
“We stayed two days and the temperature was never above 60° F. That’s normal for them. Of late they have heated the tourist places and the big hotels, but the houses and even the smaller hotels are heated by individual fires in the rooms.
“After leaving Edinburgh we went through other parts of Scotland, then we toured Ireland and France. It was all mighty interesting, but soon we had to hurry home.
“While we were on the ship I received a wire that Mrs. Webster had presented me with a baby boy—Warren, Jr. After that the boat didn’t go nearly fast enough to suit me—I just couldn’t wait to see our boy!”