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From Store Boy To Millionaire
by [?]

“But I am only nineteen years old, Mr. Riggs,” and the speaker looked questioningly into the eyes of his companion, as if he doubted his seriousness in asking him to become a partner in his business.

Mr. Riggs was not joking, however, and he met George Peabody’s perplexed gaze smilingly, as he replied: “That is no objection. If you are willing to go in with me and put your labor against my capital, I shall be well satisfied.”

This was the turning point in a life which was to leave its impress on two of the world’s greatest nations. And what were the experiences that led to it? They were utterly commonplace, and in some respects such as fall to the lot of many country boys to-day.

At eleven the lad was obliged to earn his own living. At that time (1806), his native town, Danvers, Massachusetts, presented few opportunities to the ambitious. He took the best that offered–a position as store boy in the village grocer’s.

Four years of faithful work and constant effort at self-culture followed. He was now fifteen. His ambition was growing. He must seek a wider field. Another year passed, and then came the longed-for opening. Joyfully the youth set out for his brother’s store, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Here he felt he would have a better chance. But disappointment and disaster were lurking round the corner. Soon after he had taken up his new duties, the store was burned to the ground.

In the meantime, his father had died, and his mother, whom he idolized, needed his help more than ever. Penniless and out of work, but not disheartened, he immediately looked about for another position. Gladly he accepted an offer to work in his uncle’s dry goods store in Georgetown, D.C., and here we find him, two years later, at the time when Mr. Riggs made his flattering proposition.

Did influence, a “pull,” or financial considerations have anything to do with the merchant’s choice of a partner? Nothing whatever. The young man had no money and no “pull,” save what his character had made for him. His agreeable personality had won him many friends and his uncle much additional trade. His business qualities had gained him an enviable reputation. “His tact,” says Sarah K. Bolton, “was unusual. He never wounded the feelings of a buyer of goods, never tried him with unnecessary talk, never seemed impatient, and was punctual to the minute.”

That Mr. Riggs had made no mistake in choosing his partner, the rapid growth of his business conclusively proved. About a year after the partnership had been formed, the firm moved to Baltimore. So well did the business flourish in Baltimore that within seven years the partners had established branch houses in New York and Philadelphia. Finally Mr. Riggs decided to retire, and Peabody, who was then but thirty-five, found himself at the head of the business.

London, which he had visited several times, now attracted him. It offered great possibilities for banking. He went there, studied finance, established a banking business, and thenceforth made London his headquarters.

Wealth began to pour in upon him in a golden stream. But, although he had worked steadily for this, it was not for personal ends. He never married, and, to the end, lived simply and unostentatiously. Through the long years of patient work a great purpose had been shaping his life. Daily he had prayed that God might give him means wherewith to help his fellow-men. His prayer was being answered in overflowing measure.

Business interests constrained him to spend the latter half of his life in London; but absence only deepened his love for his own country. All that great wealth could do to advance the welfare and prestige of the United States was done by the millionaire philanthropist. But above all else, he tried to bring within the reach of poor children that which was denied himself,–a school education.