Let our schools teach the nobility of labor and the beauty of human service, but the superstitions of ages past—never!
Peter Cooper was born in New York City in the year Seventeen Hundred Ninety-one. He lived to be ninety-two years old, passing out in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-three.
He was, successively, laborer, clerk, mechanic, inventor, manufacturer, financier, teacher and philosopher.
If Robert Owen was the world’s first modern merchant, Peter Cooper was America’s first businessman. He seems to have been the first prominent man in the United States to abandon that legal wheeze, “Caveat emptor.” In fact, he worked for the buyer, and considered the other man’s interests before he did his own. He practised the Golden Rule and made it pay, while the most of us yet regard it as a kind of interesting experiment. I have said a few oblique things about city-bred boys and city people in general, but I feel like apologizing for them and doing penance when I think of restless, tireless, eager, brave, honest and manly Peter Cooper.
When that New York City woman, last week, observing a beautiful brass model of an Oliver Plow on my mantel, asked me, “What is this musical instrument?” she proved herself not of the Peter Cooper tribe. She was the other kind—the kind that seeing the pollywogs remarks, “Oh, how lovely—they will all be butterflies next week!” Or, “Which cow is it that gives the butter-milk?” a question that once made Nathan Straus walk on his hands.
Although Peter Cooper was born in New York City and had a home there most of his life, he loved the country, and for many years made Sunday sacred for the woods and fields. Yet as a matter of strictest truth let it be stated that, although Peter Cooper was born in New York City, when he was two years old, like Bill Nye, he persuaded his parents to move. The family gravitated to the then little village of Peekskill, and here the lad lived until he was seventeen years old.
Next to Benjamin Franklin, Peter Cooper was our all-round educated American. His perfect health—living to a great age—with sanity and happiness as his portion, proves him to be one who knew the laws of health and also had the will to obey them. He never “retired from business”—if he quit one kind of work it was to take up something more difficult.
He was in the fight to the day of his death; and always he carried the flag further to the front.