February 10, 2009
Arthur G. Gaston: A Titan’s First Step
about letting go of a few coins. Once he had secured a financial foundation, he began lending out money to his co-workers at a rate of $.25 (cents) on the dollar, as a way of, in his words, “occupy[ing] my spare time.â€ At 25% interest, Arthur’s loans were barely deals, but his was the only lending institution that would take a debt-ridden black miner as a client. With little competition for his services, Arthur’s wealth took on a snowball effect, compounding biweekly.
Another man might have felt squeamish about lending to the working poor at such exorbitant rates, but for Arthur the equation was a simple one. In the first place, he was poor, too, and this was merely a way of working to better his own situation. Second, while he had sympathy for the men who were trapped in the mine system, they were not, by and large, his friends. As in many of his other experiences, at Westfield Arthur had found little comaraderie among the men. As always, he was too square to fit in. He refused to spend his money on the luxuries they squandered their money on, and as a result they shunned him. He was, as always, bothered by his alienation, but he stuck to his plan. When that plan involved taking their money for his own gain, there was little to make him feel guilty. Besides, he was doing them a service.
Many of the men who borrowed from Arthur used that money to impress the ladies. Fancy clothes and long nights in the bars ate up any money they could have saved. It was behavior Arthur didn’t approve of, even if, for a time, he had tried it himself. For a brief period, Arthur had been willing to allot $5 of his earnings per month to pleasure activities in the hope of wooing a lady. He was quickly disabused of any notion that he would make the cut. There were too many men out there willing to spend every penny they had, and more, on a pretty face, and Arthur’s diminutive pleasure purse didn’t make the grade. While other men wore the latest clothes—â€peg top pants, sporty knickers [and] handsome derby hatsâ€—Arthur donned the same fashion year after year, his clothes meticulously tended to by his mother. While other men took their ladies to dances and on “outings,â€ Arthur refused, citing the expense. It didn’t take long for his reputation for cheapness to spread. Eventually he gave up on trying to compete at all, and decided to put those dollars in the bank instead.
Saving became Arthur’s primary habit. As critical to his accumulation of wealth as the money coming in was the money that was not going out. To the day he died, Arthur Gaston was nothing if not frugal. During his early days of business operations at the mines, he was making an average of $75 to $100 per month. Of these earnings, $50 to $75 went straight into the bank, leaving him