This post is an excerpt from the book, The Life and Times of Warren Webster, by Warren Webster, Jr.
In 1911,” said Warren Webster, “our Company held its first national convention. For this event I engaged quarters at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, Philadelphia. Pretty nearly everyone connected with the Company attended and we had a great time.
“There were a great many questions which we wished to discuss and settle and we spent three busy days doing it. Here are some of the questions we discussed according to a memorandum which I made at the time:
- The overcoming of noise in heating systems.
- Advantages of heating with steam at pressures higher than one-pound.
- Advantages or disadvantages of operating at less than atmospheric pressure on supply.
- Relative cost of heating with outside temperature at zero and 50 degrees.
- Live steam vs. exhaust steam heating.
- When is back-pressure no disadvantage?
- The function and action of pressure-reducing valves.
“Among the speakers and discussion leaders were E. K. Lanning, W. G. Snow, J. A. Serrell, J. L. Fitts, W. W. Morgan, W. H. Chenoweth, Jr., W. G. R. Braemer, W. F. Bilyeu and M. P. Miller.”
“It was a very enjoyable time—a great many years ago, but it all comes back clearly.
“Another memorable convention was the one we held in Atlantic City in 1921. To many of our inland representatives, the seashore was quite a novelty and they enjoyed it immensely.
“On that occasion the force gave me a Hamilton watch which I prize highly. Nothing in the world gives me more satisfaction than the friendship which has existed between my employees and myself.”
“There is a Webster Heating System in the Imperial Barracks at Tokyo,” said Warren Webster, “that is, I believe there is—I cannot be sure, because the matter was handled in a very unusual manner.
“In 1917, Professor Mano, of Tokyo University, came to this country to purchase heating equipment for the Imperial Barracks. I explained to the professor when he inquired about our equipment that we could furnish him with apparatus and engineering instructions, but that we had no patents for Japan.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘I would like to have the Webster System of Steam Heating in the Barracks. Just quote me as though you were making a price for similar equipment in the United States. That is all I require. I will have it installed in accordance with the instructions you furnish me, as it is against the rules for any foreign workman to enter the Imperial Barracks.’
“I found Professor Mano to be a very highly educated gentleman, with a wonderful amount of engineering knowledge and thoroughly reliable as far as I could see. Working along the lines he suggested, we made him a proposition for an installation to meet plans which he had with him—and we were awarded the order. He went around with me and inspected installations we had made. I suppose he made the installation and it was satisfactory,—anyway, that was the last we ever heard of it.
“He suggested that Takata & Company could best represent us in Japan, if they cared to. We negotiated with them and they took the agency and installed about eleven plants in Japan—then they made the equipment themselves. After that we only received a few orders for repair parts such as it would not pay them to make. They are great imitators—the Japanese! We have no agency in Japan now.”
In his history of air-conditioning, Mr. Willis Carrier recognizes Warren Webster & Company as one of the first manufacturers of air-washers and air-conditioning equipment. Here is the story, as my father told it:
“About 1907, a man whom I will call Robinson came to me and claimed he could make air-conditioning apparatus. I said, ‘All right, we will set up a special department and see what you can do.’
“This branch of the business grew too much for one man and we added three other men to the department. One day, after we had made about ninety installations, Mr. Carrier and Mr. Lyie, officers of the Carrier Air Conditioning Corporation, came to see me and told me in a very pleasant sort of way that they did not know whether I was aware of it or not, but the apparatus we were installing infringed their patents.
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m very much surprised to hear you say that, but if you are right, I know nothing about it.’
“I called in Mr. Robinson, the head of the department, and said, ‘Mr. Robinson, here are Mr. Carrier and Mr. Lyie—I believe you know both gentlemen. Well, they tell me that the apparatus we have been installing infringes some of their patents. What do you know about it?’
“‘ I don’t consider their patents any good,’ he replied.
“‘What,’ I exclaimed, ‘you know you are infringing patents and you are appointing yourself the judge as to whether or not they are valid? I certainly am sorry to hear that, Mr. Robinson. That’s all I want to know.’
“Turning to Mr. Carrier and Mr. Lyie, I said: ‘If it is agreeable to you, gentlemen, I would like to make a deal with you to take over this entire department—contracts, stocks, employees, everything. You give us a release for what we have done and we will recognize your patents.’
“We had a considerable number of undelivered orders at the time and were doing a profitable business in the department, but we had gone beyond our own boundaries into the neighbors’ field.
“The Carrier Corporation accepted my offer and bought everything. We settled the thing very nicely and satisfactorily to all concerned and it relieved us of a very dangerous situation. They were very fine gentlemen and it was always a pleasure to do business with them.”
* * *
In 1913, when the Atlantic City Steamship Line liquidated, my father bought at auction the S.S. Atlantic City—a passenger ship. For two seasons he had the ship running regularly between New York and Atlantic City.
“The trip took about eight hours,” my father said. “We had a crew of nineteen. Our maximum capacity was 400 passengers and 600 tons of freight. The boat was equipped with a 30-ton refrigerator, and we could bring produce from New York to Atlantic City at the cost of expressage and in much better condition.
“The railroad saw they were losing expressage and that probably more persons would get into the business one way or the other and they would lose more, so they leased the New York dock for three years—and then I found I couldn’t get another that was convenient.
“I felt I was in a strange game and needed some capable advice. So I went to a broker and asked him who was the best steamship man in New York. He said at once, ‘Charlie Diamond—but I don’t think you can get much out of him, unless he takes a liking to you.’ I said, ‘Give me his address and I will try to see him.’
“When I called at Diamond’s office, there were several people waiting to see him, so I asked the girl to take in my card on which I had penciled this message: ‘You have a lot of knowledge that I haven’t got. You can help me a lot if you desire to do so. I am very anxious to meet you. Won’t you give me five minutes?’
“When he got that card, he came right out—a short, stout fellow, with his coat torn on the side and a duster over it. He said, ‘Where is this man Webster?’ I said, ‘I’m Webster.’ Then he said, ‘Come right in with me.’
“When we went into his office, I said: ‘You’re a very unusual man—the best steamship man in New York, I understand. That’s why I’ve come here to get some advice. I own the Atlantic City Steamship Line—and it’s giving me trouble. I’m in the heating business. I just got mixed up in this and I want to get out. Will you advise me?’
“He sat back, and said, ‘Well, in the first place, what is your rating—capacity?’
“I said, ‘Four hundred passengers and six hundred tons of freight.’
” ‘How many in the crew?’
“I replied, ‘Nineteen.’
” ‘Have you ever run it full,’ he queried.
” ‘Week-ends,’ I replied. ‘We fill up on week-ends, but the middle of the week is thin.’
“He asked, ‘You run a tide-schedule there?’ I replied that we did.
” ‘I’ll tell you,’ he said. ‘You need two ships to do that. You need to make a trip every day—and you want to build up the trade so you will carry near-capacity every trip. If you can’t or don’t want to get another ship, sell the one you have. If you decide to sell, have her conditioned as a freighter. There is more money in a freighter than a passenger ship.’
“So I had the boat fixed up as a freighter by the Pusey & Jones Co. and sold her to the B. & O. Railroad.
“So I came out ahead of the game—but I didn’t want any more of it. I have always been grateful to Charlie Diamond for his advice in the matter.”
* * *
“About 1912,” said Warren Webster, “there were five of us down in Florida. One of these men owed me money on a personal loan, and one day he came to me and said: ‘Webster, I would like to pay you the money I owe you, but I can’t do it. However, I will give you a two-thirds interest I have in an orange grove of 1,800 bearing trees if you will cancel the debt.’
“I agreed to this, then went to see the man who owned the one-third interest. He told me to do whatever I liked as to the management of the grove and gave me a memorandum to that effect. So then I went out to look over the plantation. I found there a man and his wife, a donkey, a cart and some chickens.
The man had been receiving $50 a month and had the use of ten acres for growing vegetables. I said to him:
“‘ I’ve bought a two-thirds interest in this orange grove and I’ll be out later to talk things over.’
“After this I went to the foreman of the best orange-grove in the vicinity and had him come and look over the grove and advise me as to how to run it. I had his instructions typewritten with a couple of carbon copies. One copy I gave to my attorney and instructed him to go out every little while and see that orders were being carried out. Then I went over to the grove and found the man and his wife sitting there.
“‘Now,’ said I, ‘I’m ready to talk to you.’ They listened, and I went on: ‘I’m managing owner of this property. You will continue to receive all you are now getting and, in addition, 5% of everything we get out of the grove. That is, if you carry out the instructions I have written here.’ Then I handed him the sheet of instructions, and concluded, ‘My attorney will be over from time to time to see how you are getting along.’
“I’ll never forget the look on his wife’s face as she said to him:
‘John, from now on you work!’
“Well, he did work, and at the end of the season we got $3000 worth of fruit off the grove, which was $1200 more than it had ever produ ced before.
“A little later I sold the property. My partner got his money and I recovered mine.
“I also had quite an experience in Florida real estate matters,” continued Warren Webster. “Take for instance the case of the Flori-de-Leon, an 80-apartment house.
“It was built in boom times at highest prices—a promotion scheme. It had never been completed. One of the women who had invested money in the apartment asked.me to do what I could to straighten things out.
“I managed to have the building completed satisfactorily, but I found that it was built on property leased at a high rental for 99 years. This necessitated charging more for the apartments than anyone would pay.
“The lease was held by a certain woman. I went to see her lawyer and offered to buy the lease outright for cash. He ridiculed the idea and actually turned his back on me. I said:
” ‘Look here—I’m just telling you what I am willing to do now. My offer is only good until nine o’clock tomorrow morning.
I can afford to let my investment go and forget it, but I am trying to salvage these ladies’ investments and pay your client a fair price.’
“The next morning, after consulting his client, he accepted.
Freed of this yearly payment, the indebtedness was refinanced and the rentals lowered within reach. Under the competent management of a Mrs. Jones the place has been a going and popular apartment house ever since.”
Father resigned: in 1937 as president of the apartment house company and received a beautiful letter of appreciation. This matter extended all through the Florida real estate crash and the national depression.
“Then there was the Equitable Building in St. Petersburg,” my father said. “It is an office building—a beautiful place, as fine as anything we have up here. The rentals had to be low to meet competition and the building didn’t pay. When the other bondholders were afraid to do anything, I stepped in and took over the management.
“We went to the bondholders and had them agree to take common stock for their bonds, so that the building would have to make payments only in the event it made money. It took us eight months to get them to agree.
“We filled the offices at the lower rentals and ever since the building has been paying small but regular dividends.
“Later, I was also instrumental in saving the Don Cezar Hotel for Mr. Rowe, and putting it on a going basis. Then there was the Pastoral Casino and Hotel which has not been so satisfactory to me.
“All these financing matters required a great deal of time and work, but it was very interesting and I was satisfied to do it. I have always liked to make friends.”