Title: The World’s Fair City and her Enterprising Sons by C. Dean
Location: Internet Archive Date published: 1892
There were many books published about The Columbian Exposition immediately following its closing; guide books of all sorts, books about the awards given out and even cookbooks. The purpose of this book was to promote the Fair and, more importantly, Chicago, to the world. Chicago had a reputation for being a bit bawdy, shall we say, so the author here endeavered to place the city in the best light possible, emphsizing its enterprising businessmen and their charitable deeds. No robber barons here! Our millionaires are kind, generous and humble!
The following excerpt is on Nathaniel K. Fairbank (1829-1903), the millionaire mogul who made a fortune as a lard processor and soap maker (N. K. Fairbank & Co.) , by-products of Chicago’s meatpacking industry. His Fairy Soap was extremely popular. Fairbank was also the owner of the land now known as “Streeterville” in Chicago, a founder and president of the elite Chicago Club, a founder of the Commercial Club of Chicago, an original trustee of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, president of The University of Chicago, a major trader on the Chicago Board of Trade, a member of The Chicago Literary Club, and a benefactor of St. Luke’s Hospital. As far as Chicago’s early millionares go, he was honestly considered one of the good guys.
Following is a description of Mr. Fairbank from Chapter VIII.
NATHANIEL K. FAIRBANK
At this age in which so many seekers after wealth are devoting their lives, before and after maturity, to the hoarding of riches, it is restful and comforting to find a man who is satisfied that he has in his possession enough of this world’s goods.
Nathaniel K. Fairbank is one of Chicago’s most wealthy men, but he has retired from business pursuits, and is enjoying life as a man who has done his duty, and has learned what follows in the consistent order of such events. To say the least, it is refreshing to note such men for they are like the angel visits scarce. But he should not be eulogized simply because he is a sane man, but should be counted in as one of the select who see further than the common millionaires, who are not strong enough to discontinue accumulating, and are not willing to take a rest and let some one else have a chance.
Mr. Fairbank was born in 1829, in the town of Sodus, Wayne County, New York, consequently he has now reached the age when he can look back upon a long life of work, successful results, perhaps some mistakes and not a few of good deeds rendered to the human family.
His personal appearance is strikingly pleasing. An intelligent brow, with eyes direct in expression, denoting a tendency to generalization rather than to special observation, a nose somewhat Roman in outline, but modified enough to escape the accusation of carrying pet ideas to extremes, yet prominent enough to make him appear at times a trifle stubborn, a mouth bespeaking tenderness and refinement, all of which are set in a framework of snow-white hair and whiskers, make him a conspicuous personage among Chicago’s enterprising sons.
Mr. Fairbank has been a resident of Chicago since 1855. He amassed his large fortune in the lard and oil refining business, but he made his first start in industrial life as a bricklayer, when only fifteen years of age. This fact was probably due to his environments at that time, for, according to the record of his life, he soon changed his employment to that of bookkeeper in a flouring mill, in Rochester, New York, where he afterward became apartner in the firm.
His course was ever onward, and his aim was for the attainment of success. The success that would make him comfortable, and place him in a position to lift up humanity. At the age of twenty-six he came to Chicago as western representative of a grain commission house of New York. In this position he remained over ten years. It is inferred that he accumulated money in the business for he is next recorded as a member of the newly organized firm of Smeadley, Peck & Company, and as furnishing capital for the building which was erected for the great enterprise lard and oil refining. For four years business was carried on successfully, when fire destroyed the plant, causing a loss of $50,000. But the next year, 1870, a new building, which is now standing at the corner of Eighteenth and Blackwell streets, was constructed at a cost of $80,000, and the business grew more prosperous, becoming one of Chicago’s most substantial enterprises.
Although Mr. Fairbank says that he is naturally inclined to be somewhat indolent, it is very plain that he had a very nice conception of the manner in which it should be indulged; for he seems not to have let this little weakness exist without ample provision. ‘ ‘ Life is a search after power. ” And, if it is a fact, that wherever the mind aims suitable environments follow, this man has drawn, the elements of a power for certain ends, by the means of intellectual guidance. ‘ ‘ When a god wishes to ride, any chip or pebble will bud and shoot out winged feet, and serve him for a horse. ” Goethe said, ‘ ‘ What we wish for in youth comes in heaps on us in our old age. ” Here is a proof of this statement. Mr. Fairbank courted ease of the princely style; consequently he never borrowed trouble, kept to the even path, and was served by his instincts. He may call himself a man of luck, but, as ducks take to the water, eagles to the sky, hunters to the forest, soldiers to the frontier, Mr. Fairbank has proven the same law of cause and effect, and the force of intellect over environment.
Having gained wealth, he commenced at once to show his interest in public matters relating to the building up of the city, and has proved a powerful factor in that capacity. He was one of the prime movers in carrying out the late George B. Carpenter’s conception of building Central Music Hall, a structure located on the corner of State and Randolph streets. This building, which has a number of office rooms, is occupied by the Chicago Conservatory of Music, Professor Cohn’s School of Languages, and by a great number of physicians. In 1879 Mr. Fairbank presented the plans for Central Music Hall before the public; and, by the influence of his endorsement, capitalists quickly invested in stock. There is probably no better paying building in the city; stockholders realizing about two per cent, a month net profits.
The Newsboys’ Home was at one time under the cloud of a heavy mortgage, but Mr. Fairbank took it in hand and soon raised the money to release it. Always giving liberally himself, he inspired others to do the same. In this way he performed double acts of charity; for there are wealthy men who are never inclined to bestow favors unless prompted by the example of other rich men, or by the desire for public applause. ‘ ‘ Human nature grows by what it feeds upon, and if the material side be over-fed it will expand at the expense of the spiritual.” In this way the habit of accumulating money grows stronger and stronger with those who have neither the inclination nor desire to relieve the wants of the afflicted.