following account is reprinted from "RECOLLECTIONS OF A
NEWSPAPER MAN – A Record of Life and Events in California"
by Frank A. Leach, published in 1917 by Samuel Levinson of
San Francisco. Leach was Superintendent of the United States Mint
at San Francisco from 1897 to 1907 and Director of the Mint at
Washington from 1907 to 1909. Leach was intimately involved in the
development of the new coin designs promoted by President Teddy
Roosevelt -- this story gives fascinating "insider" details
from the man who oversaw several of the projects.
OFFICIAL LIFE IN
Appointed Director of the
Mint—Interesting Incidents Attending the Production of New Gold
Coinage—Important Transfer of Gold Coin—How an Ex-Senator Was
Victimized—The Close of President Roosevelt’s Term of
Office—Retirement from the Service and Return to California.
In July 1907, the year following
the great fire, George E. Roberts, Director of the Mint at Washington,
resigned from the position and the place thus made vacant was tendered
me. I accepted the
appointment and thus became a bureau chief in the Treasury Department.
The acceptance of the office necessitated my resignation of the
superintendency of the San Francisco mint.
Having entered upon the duties of Superintendent August 1, 1897,
and resigned September 19, 1907, I had held the office for a trifle over
ten years, which was a longer service by several years than ever before
given by one man to the superintendency.
I was becoming tired of bearing the very great responsibilities
of the office and was thinking seriously of resigning when I received
the offer of being made chief of the mint bureau.
As the duty of the new position carried no financial
responsibilities with it, the appointment afforded the release from
those I had longed to shake off. When
it became known that I was to resign the San Francisco position, the San
Francisco bankers paid me a very great compliment in the shape of a set
of resolutions, especially thanking me for services rendered the banking
world after the fire, adopted by their association.
The resolutions were engrossed in magnificent and most costly
form, and presented to me by Homer S. King of the Bank of California, I.
Steinhart of the Anglo-California Bank, and Wellington Gregg of the
Crocker National Bank. In
addition, the association presented me with a library of several hundred
volumes of standard works and a very costly watch, bearing on the cover
a neat engraving of the San Francisco mint on one side and a monogram of
my initials on the other, with my name in full on the inside of the
case, coupled with a record of the gift and its source.
In acknowledgment the testimonials I said that these gifts,
bearing such strong messages of good will, kindness, and esteem, with
such close connection with one of the greatest tragedies in the
world’s history, would ever possess historical interest, as well as be
most highly cherished by me.
The officers and men of the mint,
with whom I had been so long associated, manifested their good feeling
toward me with kind words of regret that I was to leave them, and
pleasure that I had been promoted to a higher office.
A more formal testimonial was the presentation of a fine oil
portrait of myself which they caused to be painted and which they hung
in the mint building. I
received a number of letters and telegrams congratulating me on my
promotion from friends and acquaintances, messages that warmed the heart
and brightened the world from my point of vision.
The unpleasant part of the change was the necessity of having to
make Washington my place of residence, leaving behind all the friends of
a lifetime and those so dear to us by family ties.
The packing up of our belongings for the trip and preparing the
old home for use by others in our absence were accompanied by a feeling
of sadness, a depression of spirits I could not shake off, for the move
meant the breaking up of the old homestead and disruption of the family
We arrived in Washington in time
for me to assume my new duties about the first of October.
I was received most kindly and welcomed in my official capacity
by President Roosevelt, Secretary Cortelyou, and Treasurer Treat. With the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Cortelyou, I had
enjoyed previous acquaintance, and I found several other friends holding
positions in the department so that I was able to assume the position of
Director of the Mint with the feeling that I was not altogether a
stranger. In fact, all the
officers with whom I came in contact, without exception, treated me with
the courtesy and spirit of amity that was very gratifying and went a
long way in repressing feelings of strangeness and embarrassment.
Now I will say something about the
position and duties I had assumed.
As Director I was the chief of the bureau of the mint, which
brought all the mints (then four) and all the government assay offices
(nine) under my supervision. In a general way the working parts of the bureau embraced
three divisions, namely, examining or auditing, statistical, and
requirements of the first division brought every expenditure made in the
mints and assay office to the bureau for audit, where not only the
accuracy, but authority and necessity had to be passed upon, as well as
to determine if purchases and expenditures were made with proper
observation of laws and rules regarding prices paid.
To illustrate the care the government exercises in watching the
expenditures of congressional appropriations made by the Treasury
Department, I will mention that the Auditor of the Treasury revises all
these accounts after the audit of the bureau of the mint.
Then afterwards, the Comptroller of the Treasury examines them in
search of any irregularity that might have been overlooked by the
preceding examination. The
investigations of this latter official more particularly related to the
legality of expenditures, as simple errors seldom pass the other
The division of statistics had the
work of gathering the figures which showed the annual production of gold
and silver in the United States and in all other countries of the world,
so that at the close of each calendar year an official statement may be
given of such statistics. The
production reports made by the Director of the Mint of the United States
have for many years been accepted by writers on economics, and by
officials in all other countries, as standard authority.
In this division, record of the kind and quantity of money in use
in the United States is kept, and regular statements are made through
the Secretary of the Treasury, showing the total and its relation in
amount per capita to the population.
Much care is exercised in keeping the account, as the statements
of this record are also accepted throughout the world as authority by
economists and financial writers. Here
also is compiled quarterly the table of the value of foreign coins in
many of the United States, which table, by act of Congress, is made the
standard value in all custom house transactions and in the courts.
In the laboratory divisions, the
principal work is to examine the samples of the coinage as it is made at
the different mints, both as to weight and fineness; that is, to find if
the coins contain the proper quantity of copper alloy with the gold or
silver, within the limitations allowed by law, and also if the proper
weights are maintained. That
a prompt examination may be made of all coinage, the regulations require
from each mint samples of each day’s work to be sent to the Director
for examination and test. The coinage from which the samples are taken is not released
for circulation until the examination has determined the work to have
been properly executed. Incidents
of imperfect coinage are seldom recorded; nevertheless, the system of
inspection is maintained as if it were something of frequent or daily
The Director of the Mint has
responsibilities outside of the routine mentioned, one of which is to
see that the coinage of the mint is of the particular denominations
required in the needs of trade and finance, and is promptly met in time
and quantity. Ordinarily
this obligation is met without trouble or anxiety, but there are times
when enlivened conditions of trade exhaust the surplus stock of some
particular denomination or denominations of coins in the Treasury of the
United States, and the ordinary working capacity of the mints is unable
to meet the requirements. This
was the condition of things when I assumed the duties of Director in the
fall of 1907. The
extraordinary expansion of trade which ultimately resulted in a
financial panic required the full capacity of the four mints working
overtime to meet the demands for silver coins.
Never before in the history of our country was so much coin of
that character made by the mints in the same space of time.
Nothing like it could be found in the records.
When in October of that year the panic disrupted business
affairs, and factories were shut down and employment contracted, the
need for the extra coinage was at an end and the silver and minor
coinage not required in trade and for payment of wages began to flow
back into the Treasury of the United States until a surplus of something
like $30,000.000 had accumulated. The record of the holdings by the
Treasurer of this kind of money acts as an accurate barometer of
business conditions in the United States.
When trade and commerce are expanding there is an increased
employment of labor and more transactions in the stores.
For every new hand employed and every additional transaction,
there is a draft upon the surplus of the Treasury, and a corresponding
increase of the stock of money in circulation.
The workingman’s pocket, when he is employed, carries money,
and is empty when he is unemployed.
The storekeeper needs a greater amount of silver, nickels, and
coppers for change, when his volume of trade is enlarged.
When the number of the storekeeper’s business transactions fall
off and trade becomes dull, that kind of money accumulates on his hands
and he deposits the surplus in his bank.
The banks, not being able to use the surplus of this kind of
money, turn it into the Treasury of the government and receive, in
exchange, currency or gold coin. Thus it is seen that with the increase or expansion of trade
the surplus or stock of small coin in the Treasury is reduced by drafts
upon it. The flow is
outward, and when a reverse condition of business takes place then the
flow is into the Treasury and the surplus in increased, and the Director
of the Mint has only to watch the daily cash statements of the
Treasurer, taking into consideration the additions to stock made by the
mint operators, to be informed as to the status of business conditions
in the country as a whole, and to be advised as to the needs in coinage
Another very important matter was
in hand in the bureau when I arrived at Washington, which was soon to
cause me some anxiety, and that was the perfection of President
Roosevelt’s scheme for new designs for all the gold coins of our
country. There were a
number prominent people in the East, especially in New York and Boston,
who some time before began an agitation for an improvement in appearance
of all our coinage. The
President quickly became the leading spirit of the movement.
The prevalent idea in this undertaking was that the design and
execution of our coinage were inferior and inartistic when compared with
those of ancient Greece; and as the coins used by a nation are one of
the most enduring records of the art and mechanical skills of its age,
our government should make an issue of coinage that would leave to
future generations and ages something that would more truthfully and
correctly reflect the artistic taste and mechanical ability of our day
than the coinage then in use, unchanged for so many years.
The admiration for the ancient Greek coins unwittingly influenced
those gentlemen to suggestions that were imitative rather than original.
They wanted the designs for the proposed coinage to be brought
out in high relief, or with medallic effect, like the designs on the
ancient coins. The
commercial use and requirements seemed to have been lost sight of in the
enthusiasm of producing a highly artistic coin; but in all probability
none of the leading spirits in the movement was familiar with the use of
metallic money, and did not understand that the proposed high relief
would make the face of the coins so uneven that the pieces would not
“stack,” which was a condition fatal to the practicability of the
It was early in the year 1905 that
President Roosevelt authorized the Director of the Mint to conclude a
contract with the famous sculptor, Saint-Gaudens, to supply designs in
high relief for the $20 and $10 gold coins.
This was accomplished in July, but no designs were finally
perfected that met the approval of the President until the early part of
1907. The first model was a
design for the double eagle, or $20 piece.
Dies from the model were made at the Philadelphia mint.
On trial, the dies gave such a high relief to the figures on the
design that all efforts to produce a perfect or satisfactory coin on the
regular coining presses were ineffectual.
A medal press was then resorted to, that the beauty of the design
might be studied and preserved in the shape of a coin, but even by this
process it required about twelve blows or impressions in the press for
each piece, with an annealing process between each stroke of the
process. The annealing
process consists of heating the coin to a cherry-red heat and cooling it
in a diluted solution of acid. This
process eliminates the copper alloy on the surface of the coin and
leaves the piece covered with a thin film of pure gold.
As a work of art the pieces were beautiful, but had more the
appearance of medals than coins for daily use.
Nineteen pieces only from this model were struck on the medal
press, and these were subsequently given to mint and Washington
officials connected to the work.
There were some who thought that by
reducing the diameter of the piece to about the size of a “checker,”
with a corresponding increase in the thickness, the much desired high
relief might be struck on the ordinary coin press; accordingly dies were
made and several pieces struck, when it was discovered that the coinage
act, passed in 1890, prohibited the change of the diameter of any coin.
Thirteen pieces were struck from this small die for the thick or
checker pieces, but with the exception of two coins placed in the
cabinet or collection of coins at the Philadelphia mint, all of these
pieces were melted and destroyed on account of the improper or illegal
Saint-Gaudens then attempted to
facilitate the work of coinage by supplying another or second set of
models with the relief reduced to some extent, but satisfactory results
were not obtained on the regular coinage presses.
He then made a third model with still further and greater
reduction of the high relief. The
failure gave rise to considerable friction between the artist and the
mint authorities. The President had become impatient and began to think that
the mint officials were not showing a zeal in the work that promised
results. It was at this
stage of undertaking that I came into the office of Director.
Before I had become familiar with my surroundings the President
sent for me. In the
interview that followed he told me what he wanted, and what the failures
and his disappointments had been, and proceeded to advise me as to what
I should do to accomplish the purpose determined upon in the way of new
coinage. In this talk he
suggested some details of action of a drastic character for my guidance,
which he was positive were necessary to be adopted before success could
be had. All this was
delivered in usual vigorous way, emphasizing many points by hammering on
the desk with his fist. This
was my first interview with the President, and it was somewhat
embarrassing for me to oppose his views, but I felt that it was
essential to my success that I should be untrammeled by any interference
in the plans that I should adopt to secure the production of the new
coinage. I determined then
and there that if I could not have free rein in the matter I would not
attempt the work. In my
reply to the President I finally made the wisdom of my position clear to
him. I explained to him how
I had not yet had time to look into the matter and locate the causes of
failure, consequently could not say what was necessary to correct them. At any rate, I would have to insist that these were matters
of details that should be left to my judgment.
“All you want, Mr. President,”
I said, “is the production of the coin with the new design, is it
“Yes,” said he.
“Well, that I promise you.”
He said he guessed I was right in
my attitude in the matter, but I think he was not very confident of my
getting results, for when a few days later I laid upon his desk a sample
of beautifully executed double eagles, of the Saint-Gaudens design, he
was most enthusiastic in his expressions of pleasure and satisfaction.
I certainly believed him when he declared he was “delighted.” He warmly congratulated me on my success, and was most
complimentary in his comments.
“Now,” he said, “I want
enough of these coins within thirty days to make a distribution
throughout the country, that the people may see what they are like.”
I replied that we would be able to meet with his desire, although
I explained that the issue would have to be struck on medal presses from
the second design model, but that in a few weeks later, we would have
dies completed from model No. 3 with lower relief, so that the coins,
when made, would meet the requirements of the bankers and business men
in “stacking,” ect., and these could be struck on the regular coin
presses in the usual way. The
pleasure of the President was manifested in the heartiness of his
thanks. I had every medal
press in the Philadelphia mint put into operation on these coins with an
extra force of workmen, so that the presses were run day and night. The officers of the mint entered into the spirit of the work
cut out for them, putting zest into the operations which assured me that
the issue of the new double eagles, so greatly desired by the President,
would be made on time. In
fact, we delivered to the Treasurer of the United States 12,153 double
eagles, representing $243,060, which was considerably more than asked of
us, several days ahead of time. I
came in for more compliments from the President.
In his enthusiastic way he introduced me to several of his
Cabinet officers who were present in his office, as a “man who got
results.” The coins of
this issue, when made available to the public, were much sought after by
people who wanted to keep them as souvenirs or as additions to
numismatic collections. Contrary
to expectations, a premium was demanded by dealers soon after the
distribution began, and by the time it was ended the premium has
increased to about an average of fifteen dollars on a piece.
The newspapers gave much space to criticism, both by their own
editors and from correspondents. Opinions
as to the merits of the new coin were fairly well divided.
The artistic appearance of the coin was generally recognized, but
it could scarcely claim a popular reception.
The design of the eagle on the reverse side of the coin was the
object of much adverse comment. Saint-Gaudens
did not use any originality in the design of the eagle, but simply
copied that used on the penny coined in 1857, following the feature of
the bird flying with its talons extended backward under the tail
feathers, instead of being drawn up under the breast, the position most
generally observed in the birds of prey when flying about.
While discussing with the President
the criticism by the public, I spoke of the position of the talons as
being incorrect. This the
president promptly denied, and said that if I would visit the large
aviary at Rock Creek Park I would find the eagles flying about just as
represented by the Saint-Gaudens design.
I did not know then that the President was such a close observer
of things in nature, and, having doubts as to the accuracy of his
opinion, I went to the aviary as he had suggested.
I did not have to wait to be convinced of the correctness of the
President’s assertion, for the very first flight of an eagle across
the aviary showed the talons extended out behind, in the manner of a
crane of gull.
The greatest extent of unpleasant
criticism over the new issue was aroused by the discovery that the
motto, “In God we trust,” had been omitted from it.
The President’s mail, as well as that of the Secretary of the
Treasury, was flooded with letters, some mild and many bitter, in
protest against the removal of the motto.
So loud became this protest that the President felt called upon
to defend the omission, in a statement to the press, wherein he took the
position that it was a profane use of the name of God, and the motto had
been very properly omitted. He
could have made an explanation that would have silenced all criticism
and relieved himself of the responsibility for the omission if he had
referred his critics to coinage acts of the government.
The statutes of the United States
supply the only words and mottoes that shall appear on the various coins
authorized by the act of Congress.
For many years the motto, “In God we trust,” was included
with other word requirements by law.
In 1890 the coinage act was changed in several particulars, and
when the re-enactment was completed the motto in question, whether by
design or accident, had been omitted.
So when Saint-Gaudens was given the words and figures that must
appear on the coins, the motto was not included.
When this was understood an appeal was made to Congress, and that
body quickly authorized the restoration of the words, “In God we
While the people were talking about
the new coins, the mint officials were busy working on the dies from
model number three, and their efforts to produce them on the ordinary
coining presses were finally crowned with success, and by the latter
part of December the mint presses were striking off new double eagles at
the rate of about $1,000,000 daily.
Excepting the addition of the motto, the design is the same as
that used in the coining of $20 pieces at all the mints of the
government ever since.
About the same experience was
encountered in producing the $10 pieces, or eagles.
Three models of the new design were made by Saint-Gaudens.
Five hundred trial pieces were struck from the first model, and
34,100 pieces were struck from the second model, but all of this lot
were subsequently remelted except forty-two coins, which, with those of
the first lot, were given to museums of art and officials and other
connected with the work. Dies
from the third model were found to work satisfactorily in the ordinary
The new $10 pieces came in for more
severe and adverse criticism than the double eagle received.
First, for the omission of the motto; next, that the emblem of
the eagle was a monstrosity; third, an accusation that the artist had
posed his Irish servant girl to secure his design of the Indian
maiden’s head appearing on the obverse side of the coin. The omission
of the motto has been explained. The
criticism of the eagle was unjust, and showed unfamiliarity with bird
life on the part of the critics. This
eagle was copied from one of Audubon’s famous drawings.
The majority of the people who handled coin probably had never
seen a live eagle, and the only idea they had of what the king of birds
looked like was formed from the travesty on the bird that has appeared
on the coins of the country ever since the mints were established.
The President was right in his judgment; if an emblem of freedom
was to be used on the coins, good taste demanded the most accurate
representation of it, and artists say the Saint-Gaudens design was a
truthful copy from nature. The third feature of complaint was groundless.
No Irish servant girl, or any other girl, had posed for
Saint-Gaudens for the head design of the Indian maiden.
Saint-Gaudens copied the design from the experimental penny of
1857, the same coin from which he obtained the idea of the flying eagle
used on the new double eagle. It
is a most excellent copy, as any one will find who will take the trouble
to compare the two coins, the old cent of 1857, and the new $10 piece.
The designs and appearance of the new coin, however, were not
beyond criticism. In my
judgment the artist unduly lengthened the legs of the eagle to better
center the design on the piece. It
was but a trifle, but it was enough to cause some critics to make fun of
the bird. The more serious
fault was on the obverse side. When
it was decided to adopt an Indian head design an accurate representation
of a real Indian, head dress, and ornaments, should have been selected
for the purpose, for the same reason manifested in the selection of the
emblem of the eagle. Such
designs should not be ideal or imaginary.
If worth using, they should be faithful to the subject
represented. The original
design of the Indian maiden copied by Mr. Saint-Gaudens was made more
than fifty years before, evidently by some one who had a very imperfect
conception of what a real Indian looked like.
Apparently the original artist’s opportunity for knowledge had
not extended beyond the old pictures of “Columbus Discovering
Originally it was the intention to
give the $5 and $2.50 pieces the same design as that used on the double
eagle or $20 piece, but before final action to that end was taken
President Roosevelt invited me to lunch with him at the White House.
His purpose was to have me meet Doctor William Sturgis Bigelow of
Boston, a lover of art and friend of the President, who was showing
great interest in the undertaking for improving the appearance of
American coins, and who had a new design for the smaller gold coins.
It was his idea that the commercial needs of the country required
coins that would “stack” evenly, and that the preservation of as
much as possible of the flat plane of the piece was desirable.
A coin, therefore, with the lines of the design, figures, and
letters depressed or incused, instead of being raised or in relief,
would meet the wishes of the bankers and business men, and at the same
time introduce a novelty in coinage that was artistic as well as
adaptable to the needs of business.
The President adhered to the idea the high relief afforded
greater possibilities of artistic results, and referred to the beauties
of ancient gold coins. Unquestionably
he was correct in this opinion, but I called his attention to the fact
that he and the other promoters of the new coinage were trying to do
more than the ancient Greek artists and coiners had found possible, and
that the Greeks had only been able to produce a high relief on one side
of their coins, while we were endeavoring to give a high relief on both
sides. We had in a way
succeeded, for by the use of a medal press we had outdone the Greeks.
But the uncompromising demands of trade would not tolerate even
the one-sided coins of ancient Greece.
The President expressed surprise at my statement, and at once
sent a messenger to his room for a beautiful example of Grecian work in
the shape of a gold coin of the days of Alexander the Great.
Of course, he found one side quite flat, while the other was in
I enjoyed the luncheon.
It was as simple and devoid of ceremony as a lunch would be in
the home of any well-to-do family.
Mrs. Roosevelt, a lady friend, and a federal judge, an old-time
friend of the President, were also at the table.
It so happened that it was the anniversary day of April 1865, of
the surrender of the judge as a Confederate army officer in the closing
days of the Civil War. As
might be imagined, it put the judge in a reminiscent mood.
He was an excellent talker and interested us all.
One of his remarks was that no one could tell what would happen
in life. “The day I
surrendered as a Confederate soldier I little expected to stretch my
legs under a dining table in the White House, as a guest of the
President. Why, I remember
I was so dejected on that occasion that an aged friend of mine said to
me, ‘You think you and the country are going to hell on a toboggan,
but that is all wrong.’ So I found out.”
It was after the lunch and we had
excused ourselves from the others that the question as to the new design
for the half and quarter eagles took place.
The discussion ended by the President authorizing Doctor Bigelow
and me to go ahead and produce some trial pieces after the suggestions
of the doctor. Bela L.
Pratt, an artist of high repute in Boston, was selected to make the
models for the designs, which were to be a faithful copy of an Indian
head and the eagle with shortened legs.
The models and dies were not finished until some time in
September. When the trial
pieces were produced I was pleased with their appearance, for the
nationality was so plainly stamped on the coin that it needed no
lettering to tell anybody in any part of the world that it has been
issued by the United Stated of America.
It pleased the President, and he at once gave the official
approval necessary for the adoption of the new design.
Soon after, the new coins were minted and placed within the reach
of the public. Considerable
criticism followed the appearance of the new design.
The depressed or incused idea of portraying the figures, device,
etc., was unfavorably received, while the faithfulness of the designs to
the objects represented, as artistic work, was very generally commended.
Confirming the truth of the old saying, “there is nothing new
in the world,” we found, in looking over some authorities on ancient
coinage, that almost the very first attempt making coins was by
depressing or incusing the designs.
This issue finished the work of changing the designs of the gold
Without the authority of Congress,
the coinage laws of our country permit the change of designs on any
denomination of our coins only once in twenty-five years.
For this reason, the only other denominations that could undergo
a change of designs were the nickels and copper cent pieces.
Congress passed an act early in the
year of 1908 restoring the motto, “In God We Trust,” so that all
coins made thereafter bore these words.
In 1905, when President Roosevelt
conceived the idea of changing the design of the several coins of our
country, the cent was one of the denominations selected for alteration
and improvement, and the work of making the new design was turned over
to Saint-Gaudens at the time he was given the contract for changing the
designs of the gold coins. His
first work, after completing the design for the double eagle, was making
the models for the cent. He made a model of a female head, adorned with
an Indian feather head dress, much the same in general appearance as the
head in use on the coin at that time.
When this model was presented to the President for his
consideration, he decided to adopt it as the obverse side of the new $10
gold piece. This changed
the original plan of having the eagle, half eagle, and quarter eagle
made with the same design as that adopted for the double eagle; and as
the famous artist was feeble in health, all the time he was able to
devote to the work of changing the designs was given to perfecting the
models for both the double eagle and eagle for practical mint
operations, and the last artistic work of the great man was to beautify
the American coins. He finally passed away without making a new design for the
Victor D. Brenner of New York, one
of the most skillful medalists of this country, was presented to the
President with the request that he be given the commission to complete
the work the President had in mind of changing the design of the cent
piece. As an outcome of
this visit, Mr. Brenner was requested by the President to consult with
me in the matter. We had
several interviews, and upon conclusion I instructed him, with the
approval Secretary Cortelyou, to prepare a model for the obverse side,
bearing a portrait of Lincoln. He
was also advised as to the law that should be followed in making the
design for the reverse side. In
due course of time, Mr. Brenner presented the models in accordance with
these instructions, which met with hearty approval of President
Roosevelt and Secretary Cortelyou, and were formally adopted as the
design for the new cent.
The fact that this change had been
decided upon was given considerable publicity in the newspapers at the
time, creating a very great interest in the public mind, and the
appearance of the new coin was anxiously awaited.
The Treasury Department was for a time almost overwhelmed with
applications for a supply of the new issue, coming from every part of
the United States, but the new coppers were not given to the public
until the early part of 1909.
There was some little criticism
emanating from those who feared that the use of the head of the
ex-President might establish a precedent which would lead ultimately to
the adoption of the use of the portraits of existing executives on our
coins, after the manner of monarchial governments.
In this connection it may be of interest to cite the fact that
the legislative act establishing the first mint of the United States and
providing for a coinage system originated in the Senate.
When the bill was sent to the House it contained the provision
that the head or portrait of the President should appear on all coins
executed during the term of the official, with the numerical order of
the presidency. When this
act was considered in the House no alteration of the bill was made
except to strike out this clause and substitute the following: “An
impression emblematic of liberty, and an inscription of the word
‘liberty’ and the year of the coinage.”
What was intended in the law as the vague expression of “An
impression emblematic of liberty” has been generally interpreted
through all these years by the use of a female head, sometimes adorned
with the cap of Liberty, and at times with an Indian head dress, but
more frequently without ornamentation other that a band above the brow
holding the hair, bearing the word, “Liberty.” Some years ago this
matter was made the subject of debate in the Senate, when Senator
Morrill of Vermont said:
The emblem of Liberty, like that
of many other virtues, has been said to be always represented in
petticoats. The Britannia of Great Britain appears in the form like a
near relation to the Liberty, or the Minerva, often found on old Greek
and Roman coins, and in the days of Charles II, the Duchess of Richmond
served as a model to the engraver; but, more recently, Victoria, by the
distinguished medalist Wyon, has been stamped with great excellence upon
British coins, and she, like Queen Anne, seems to have occasionally
insisted upon decent drapery about the bust.
Our sitting emblem of Liberty on
the fractional silver looks very like a descendant of our grandmother
Britannia by Clark Mills. Whether
she wears long hair or a widow’s cap may not be quite clear, and there
is no end of crinoline, while the obtruding whalebones, in bas relief,
compressing the waist, painfully disclose overworn corsets.
But, as our highest effort and best, on the copper cent and on
the one-dollar and three-dollar gold coins, the head of our emblem
appears in the baubles of an Indian princess, doubtless, an ideal
Pocahontas—“that female bully of the town”—with the head
accordingly stuck around with feathers, and labeled on the tiara,
circulation in the Indian territory, I regret to say, has not been
commensurate to the witchery of the bait.
England strangely omits to stamp on her figure of the lion,
“This is a lion”; but our emblem, safe from all misconception, is
always plainly and veraciously branded across the forehead,
The use of the liberty cap, which
appears on some of the earliest coins of our country, was the subject of
much discussion as to its appropriateness at periods from 1793, when it
was first used, up to some time in the ‘30’s, when it was discarded.
Its first use was on the cent pieces of 1794, 1795, and a part of
the year 1796, where it appears on the coin as if suspended in air over
the head of a female figure with flowing hair.
It was not intended that this cap should appear as suspended in
the air, but as being borne on a wand leaning on the shoulder of the
figure and projecting backward. It
was contended that the liberty cap, or pileus, was in itself an emblem
of liberty and should never be placed on the head of the figure; and
that the emblem in proper relation to a full-length figure of Liberty
should be born on a wand or staff sustained in her hand and was out of
place as an adornment or head dress.
During the time that I filled the
office of Director of the Mint nothing was done in the way of preparing
a new design for the nickels or five-cent pieces.
I had conceived some designs which I thought would greatly
improve their appearance. It
was my intention to have some sample coins made, using the head of
Washington, copied from the famous Stuart portrait, for the obverse
side, and an eagle in natural position, standing on the American shield
with wings partly spread, making a pose suggestive of courage, freedom,
and action. It was my
intention to submit the samples to the President and if they met with
his approval it was then the further purpose to lay them before
Congress, with the hope of securing action that would have permitted the
device to take the place of the meaningless designs now used to
designate the different silver coins of our country.
Some work was done on the proposed models at the Philadelphia
mine, but as I retired from the service before the models were
completed, and as Roosevelt had stepped out of office that Taft might
take up the responsibilities of the presidency, there was no one in
official position interested in the subject sufficiently to complete the
work or carry out the suggestion.
IMPORTANT TRANSPORTATION OF COIN
When I left the San Francisco mint
there was stored there in several vaults of the institution the immense
sum of two hundred and seventy millions of dollars in gold coin and
sixty-one millions of dollars in silver coin, or over three hundred
millions of dollars altogether. The
gold had been accumulating there for six or seven years or more, after
the adoption of the plan of paying people who sold their gold to the
mint with checks drawn on the New York sub-treasury.
The mint was not well equipped with vaults, as it had not been
contemplated that it would ever become one of the storage places for
Uncle Sam’s surplus cash. Consequently
the capacity of the vaults were not substantial enough for the purpose
and did not give that security demanded for government funds.
The possibility that some bold and desperate men would attempt to
secure some of this gold, either by tunneling under the building or
rushing the place during working hours, was always a source of anxiety
to me. Especially was this
so after overhearing in a theater one evening a couple of fellows who
sat in the rear of me discussing the matter and expressing the opinion
that a great theft in some such manner could be successfully carried
out. Besides, there was
another strong reason for its removal. In the case of war, being so handy and easy of access, the
vast sum might fall into the hands of an enemy as a result of some brief
or temporary advantage.
At the new Denver mint there has
been constructed a fine large and strong vault with the most modern
devices for security. It
was located far inland from any seacoast, consequently any treasure
stored there was comparatively secure from capture by foreign invaders.
Here, then, was the place to which the gold and silver at the San
Francisco mint should be transferred; but in its transfer it would be
subject to dangers of loss by theft in the handling in a petty way and
robbery on a large scale by train robbers.
I laid the matter before the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr.
Cortelyou. He asked me to
make a statement to the facts so that the subject could be presented to
the President, as he considered it of great importance and something
that should have immediate attention. A decision in accordance with my views and recommendations
was quickly reached, but we were confronted with the fact that there was
no money with which to defray the expense of the transfer. There was nothing to do but to appeal to Congress for the
money, with the hope the appropriation might be made without undue
publicity of its precise purpose. It
was our intention to make the transfer, if possible, without knowledge
of the fact being made public while the coin was being transferred, and
in this way reduce to the minimum the danger of loss of money and
conflict with robbers. The
Secretary sent for the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of
the House, Mr. Tawney, and explained the situation and asked him to
secure the appropriation of the sum I has asked for, $300,000.
Mr. Tawney handled the matter very cleverly, for none of the
facts stated to him ever became public, and no newspaper mention of the
appropriation appeared. The sum mentioned was quickly made available, and as soon as
possible I was on the way to San Francisco with full authority to make
arrangements for the transfer of the largest sum of metallic money ever
made. It was quite a matter
to arrange the details for moving several carloads of gold, but to
arrange for the transfer without publication of such an extraordinary
event was quite another matter and caused many anxieties.
Arrangements with the express company had to be made, and the
United States Marshal had to be authorized to employ thirty guards.
Then there were the workmen, handling, packing, and storing,
employed at both ends of the route, to add to the sources through which
knowledge of the transfers might be made public.
Finally the bargain with Wells
Fargo & Co. was completed and all other details were finished, and I
was able to start the first shipment of gold to Denver on August 15,
1908. Thereafter two
shipments of $5,000,000 each per week were made.
The money was placed in horse-cars and made a part of the regular
express trains. As
horse-cars were common in express trains, they did not attract any more
attention when filled with millions of dollars in gold coin that when
occupied by fancy race horses. Each
shipment was accompanied by fifteen deputy United States marshals in
citizens’ clothes. These
were all tried and trusted men, selected with the greatest of care by
Captain Seymour, formerly Chief of Detectives in San Francisco.
At the San Francisco mint a force
was organized to handle the gold. These
men were all skilled in that kind of work and were exceedingly
trustworthy. The plan of operation was to take the gold out of the vault
and weigh it, which was the usual manner of determining the value of
gold. It was stored in the
mint in canvas sacks holding $5000 each.
It was weighed in the sacks, one of which was occasionally opened
to show that its contents were really what they were supposed to be.
Then the sacks were packed in strong pine boxes, bound with iron
bands, $40,000 to each box, weighing about 140 pounds. The lids of the boxes were screwed on and then the boxes were
sealed with the seal of the United States by a specially detailed
It took one expert weigher and two
tally clerks to tally the gold out of the storage vault into the one
where the work was done, and two more to keep track of the bags and
boxes. There was also a
force of laboring men to move the money from vault to vault.
It was figured that by moving two
shipments each week there would only be $10,000,000 on the road at any
one time. As one shipment
reached Denver the next one was just leaving San Francisco.
The frequent handling of silver for the Philippine coinage made
people familiar with such operations at the mint, and when the express
company’s wagon backed up twice a week and loaded up ten tons of gold
for each shipment but little attention by outsiders was paid to it.
Three trucks handled $5,000,000 without any trouble, and there
was only the usual complement of two guards to each wagon or truck.
It is possible that even they did not know what a fortune they
handled at every trip.
The shipments began August 15. When December came they were going forward with great
regularity twice a week. Then
it was found that, by increasing shipments to $7,500,000 each time, the
work could be completed before the new year, so this was done was the
shipments ended on December 19.
Not a dollar was lost, and there
was never any sign or rumor of trouble, and not a word appeared in the
newspapers of San Francisco or Denver giving publicity to the shipments.
When the transfer was completed so successfully it added much to
the pleasure of reporting the accomplishment to Secretary Cortelyou, and
earned from him a very handsome compliment.
AN EX-SENATOR SWINDLED
The office of Director of Mint was
a bureau of information on matters of coinage, past and future, domestic
and foreign, as well as in statistics pertaining to productions of
precious metals at home and elsewhere.
This fact brought many distinguished people to the mint bureau,
and in this way I made the acquaintance of a number of the most active
Senators and Congressmen of those years, and some prominent writers on
economic subjects. I
enjoyed this privilege for the opportunity it gave to study the
personalities and the character of men of whom all that I had heretofore
known were the impressions gained by reading of their activities in
public life as presented in newspapers and magazines.
One thing that I noticed in sizing up these men from my own
observations, and comparing the conclusions with impressions conveyed by
the press, was the universal custom of the latter to harp upon and
magnify individual peculiarities, making such people in some instances
better known to the public by a peculiar trait in habit or appearance
that they would otherwise be.
An occasional visitor to my office
was an ex-Senator form on the Pacific Coast states.
He was always welcomed, as he was a good talker and gave me many
interesting details of stirring political events of the reconstruction
work after the close of the Civil War.
Finally his visits developed a bold swindle, in which he and two
other prominent professional men of Washington were the victims.
The Senator came into my office one morning and placed in my
hands a lump of gold worth about $50, requesting me to have it assayed
for him. He came back the
next morning, when I reported the value and fineness of the lump.
After asking me if I was certain of the findings and being told
there could be no mistake about it, he went away.
A week or so later he came back with a larger lump of gold, which
he again asked to have assayed, saying that the importance of having a
reliable assay was the reason for bringing it to the mint bureau for
determination of its value. The
next day I was able to report to the Senator that the value of the gold
was practically $1500. In
response to his request to know how to sell gold to the government, I
gave him directions how to send the metal to the Philadelphia mint and
how he would receive the value in money in return.
It was something like ten days later when, early one morning, the
Senator came into the office laboring under a state of excitement he
could not hide. He asked me
to close the doors of the office so that we could have the utmost
privacy. Then he declared
that the lump of bullion which he had sold to the Philadelphia mint was
not gold and only something in imitation, he wanted to refund the money
he had received before the mint authorities discovered the fraud and
caused his arrest. Upon
making this declaration he placed a roll of bills on my desk.
I assured him that he was certainly mistaken in his opinion of
the bullion; for, laying aside our assays, the treatment of deposits at
the mints was such as to make it impossible for anyone to impose
counterfeit bullion on the gold-buying agents of the government.
“Now,” I said, “come, tell me what has happened.”
He then went on to relate how a fine looking man, educated in
chemistry and metallurgy, introduced himself some eight or ten weeks
before, and, after reading a magazine article relating the wonderful
feat of Sir William Ramsay, the famous English chemist, in transmuting a
small amount of metallic copper into lithium, said what was claimed by
Ramsay was not only true, but that he, the stranger, was able to do even
more, as he could change silver into gold, and offered to demonstrate
the truth of his claim. He was so plausible that the Senator asked to see a
demonstration. At the
man’s house he found a lot of chemical and metallurgical devices
arrayed in an impressive manner around the place.
The stranger, after allowing the Senator to inspect them, placed
a couple of silver dollars in a small cell or tank containing some kind
of liquid, then for an hour or so he entertained the Senator in
conversation to pass the time necessary for the solution to play its
part in the transmutation of the silver dollars into gold.
Finally the alchemist drew off the solution, and in the bottom of
the cell was remaining some finely divided or powdery stuff, brown in
color. This was declared to
be the gold resulting from the change.
It was carefully gathered, dried, and melted, becoming the $50
lump of gold which he has shown on the occasion of his first visit to my
office on this business. The
Senator admitted to me that the demonstration surprised him as well as
later convinced him that there were merits in the stranger’s claim
when I reported to him that the lump was real gold.
The stranger then offered to make a demonstration on a larger
scale if the Senator would supply the silver.
To the proposition the Senator agreed, and supplied seventy-five
dollar pieces for the purpose. The
operation or transmutation occupied the best part of a day and resulted
in the larger of what is, in mint terms, called a “king,” which the
Senator sold to the Philadelphia mint for $1500.
Now all doubt as to the stranger’s ability to transmute silver
into gold was removed. The
Senator became excited in contemplating the effect of the discovery in
the financial world and on civilization throughout the world, so he
sought a couple of near friends, a physician and an attorney, feeling
that he needed the advantage of support and consultation in a matter of
such tremendous import. Now
the alchemist was desirous of operating on a still larger scale if his
associates would supply about 2500 silver dollars. The offer was accepted.
The three watched the proceedings with interest and saw their
silver go into a tank filled with solution.
This was on a Friday. The
tank was locked and the keys given to the Senator, and accepted by him
with a confidence on commanding the security of the precious metal in
the tank inconsistent in a “man of the world” and in a person who
was familiar with all kinds of confidence games and tricks of sharpers.
The alchemist said that the process of changing so large an
amount of silver into gold could not be completed until the following
Monday. In the meantime, as
he was out of a supply of certain chemicals that could only be obtained
in New York, he would make a trip to that city and return on Monday and
complete the operation. Up
to Sunday the trio had looked upon the transaction with every
expectation of receiving nearly $50,000 in gold for their $2500 in
silver. However, on that
afternoon they received a telegram from the alchemist, saying that he
would not be able to return to Washington as soon as he had expected and
warning his not to unlock the tank or tamper with the solution, as such
an act would not only interrupt the process of transmutation, but cause
a loss of the silver in solution. They
began to fear that they had been victimized, and therefore immediately
proceeded to the laboratory and unlocked and examined the tanks, which
they found to contain nothing more or less than water from the Potomac
River. Then it was that the
Senator has visions of having swindled the Philadelphia mint and having
incurred the wrath of the government, which prompted the early visit to
my office on the following Monday morning.
The trio quietly pocketed their losses and thanked their good
luck that the sharper did not propose a “transmutation” affecting
their pockets on a larger scale. Their
only fear was the publicity of having been “taken in” by such a
During my connection with the
Treasury Department in the two years at Washington I was occasionally
called upon to act in matters other than those belonging to the mint
bureau. In the fall of 1908
the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Cortelyou, and his three assistants
left Washington to go to their former residences to cast their votes for
Presidential Electors, and President Roosevelt appointed me acting
Secretary of the Treasury for the several days of their absence.
I treasure the commission issued to me by the President for this
service as an expression of his good will and the confidence with which
he regarded me as a member of his political family.
Nothing occurred during the few days of my administration outside
of routine matters, so I am unable to recount any incident giving
special importance to the temporary elevation of my duties.
The newspapers spoke kindly of the appointment, but referred to
it as being unusual, if not unprecedented.
When the matter of selecting the
site for the new sub-treasury building in San Francisco came up for
final decision, Secretary Cortelyou submitted all the formal offers for
sites, giving price and locations to me, with a request for my opinion
as to which was the most desirable.
This seemed to be a small matter at first, but months passed
before I was finally through with it. The work necessitated a trip to
San Francisco and much correspondence and many interviews with people
posted on San Francisco real estate values.
After a careful consideration of all the offers, the block
between Sansome and Battery, Clay and Merchant streets, considering the
price and location, was decided upon as the most desirable. Supervising Architect Taylor also reached the same
conclusion, and upon our reports the Secretary concluded to accept the
offer for this site. Almost
at the moment this conclusion was reached the Secretary received a
telegram from the agents of the owners of the corner of Pine and Sansome
streets, offering that fine lot as a site at a very reasonable price.
The Secretary asked me what I thought about it.
In reply, I said that the lot presented in the new offer was more
desirable that any of the sites offered in the original proposals, and
in fact it was about the best place in the city for the proposed
building. The agents came
to Washington and the deal was made after some little dickering.
Since then, a substantial and costly banking building has been
erected by the government. The
owners wanted more money than Congress has appropriated for the purchase
of a lot, but as the piece of land was larger than was needed by the
government, they reserved a piece off the west end of the lot and gave
the balance to Uncle Sam for $375,000.
This southwest corner of the intersection of Pine and Sansome
streets was owned by my father in the very early part of the ‘50’s.
He told me that at the time of his ownership there was quite a
sand hill just back of the lot. He
said that he soon sold the lot for a few hundred dollars, being
satisfied with a small gain.
The President, learning of my
experience in the printing and publishing business, placed in my hands a
great mass of typewritten matter relative to the conduct of the
Government Printing Office at the national capital, with the request
that I examine it and give him my conclusions.
The papers embraced complaints from various departments, answers,
reports, and sub-reports of investigators, statements of employees and
officials of the big print shop, as well as of experts and dealers in
paper, printing machinery, furniture, ect. I devoted every moment of the day that I could spare at my
office to this task, then took the papers home with me at the close of
the day and worked late into the nights for nearly two weeks, before I
was able to make a report to the President.
The charge against the administration of the government printing
establishment was extravagant management, making the cost of printing
for all departments exceed the allowance of Congress for blanks,
stationary, printing, ect. It
was while engaged with this matter that I first met and had acquaintance
with Senator Root, the famous Secretary of State of the Roosevelt
administration. I found him
a very pleasant man to meet. I
regarded Mr. Root as the brainiest man, the most practical, and best
posted on every-day affairs in Washington official life.
I heard President Roosevelt say: “Mr. Root was one of the great
Secretaries of State, and we have had some great men in that office.”
I learned afterwards that the Secretary of the Navy, Victor
Metcalf, who, as you know, was from Oakland and an old friend of mine,
was responsible for acquainting the President with my knowledge and
experience in the printing business. While there was some labor attached to the commission, I
rather enjoyed the work and did not object to it.
I regretted the close of President
Roosevelt’s term of office. I
found him a very pleasant man to work with, appreciative of all efforts,
and enthusiastically grateful for success in what he considered of
public need or utility. I
was frequently surprised with exhibitions of his wonderful memory as
shown in his dealings with details of affairs and his knowledge of
character and capacity of men. His capacity for work was tremendous. By his systematic methods he was to be found at places in his
office and the White House at various hours, as if his activities and
official life were being regulated by a time card.
Interviews with the President by others that those whose position
and official business gave them great privileges were made by
appointments previously arranged. The
parties to these appointments would assemble in the Cabinet room
adjoining the President’s private office, separated by folding doors
which remained closed until the hour of the meetings, which I recall was
11 A.M. By this time the
room would be filled with twenty to thirty visitors.
Very punctually the doors would be opened and the President would
step into the Cabinet room, the visitors would rise and remain standing
while he passed around among them, picking out with unerring certainty
the visitors with no purpose other than to gratify an ambition and to be
able to say that they had met and talked with the Chief Magistrate when
they were in Washington. Notwithstanding,
if any of them had prepared speeches they intended to make to the
President when presented to him, he did most if not all of the talking,
skillfully parrying all attempt at reply. Visitors who had no business seldom obtained more than a few
seconds of the President’s time, but his humor, good-natured remarks,
and manner always placed them in a way of leaving the White House office
pleased with the President if not with themselves.
When the President, passing from one to another of the visitors,
met a person with business, the matter was discussed then and there, if
it embraced something that could be disposed of without consumption of
more than a few moments of time. He
lost not a second of time in the visitors’ hour ceremony, for while in
the process of sifting out those with no business and ridding himself of
those with business of minor importance, his eye would light on those
who had more important affairs, and he would signal them to remain or go
into his private office to meet him after he has completed the round of
the room, which seldom required more that fifteen or twenty minutes.
Being occasionally called to the President’s office, I was
several times a witness to the interesting scene or ceremony described.
There was, however, one occasion when the President laid aside
for a time the rushing manner, high-pressure action, and the
“don’t-take-an-unnecessary-second-of-my-time” look, and that was
on March 3, 1909, the last day of his term of office, when he received
the officials of his administration who called to speak of their regrets
at the parting and bid him good-bye.
He stood there, plainly showing the relief he felt in freedom
from the cares of the great office he was about to lay aside.
His work as President was done.
That it had been well done was vouchsafed by the laudations of
his countrymen and by the plaudits of the rest of the civilized world.
During the seven years of his incumbency in the great office he
had made a name for advocating everything that stood for good in
government and for the betterment of man, and a name inseparable from
the history of our country. On
that day he was filled with the spirit that becomes a man conscious of
having successfully performed a difficult task, but with it there was
tenderness and sincerity of manner never to be forgotten in the
farewells to his associated. For
myself, I was pleased and proud that I had been even for a short period,
and in a very small way, a part of his administration, and it was
gratifying to receive his thanks and appreciation for what little
assistance I had been able to give him.
I saw considerable of President
Taft, who succeeded Roosevelt. He
was a very able man and, as everybody knows, of excessively good nature,
with strong ambition to give an administration of his duties that would
commend itself to all factions of his party, and at the same time
receive the sanction of his countrymen regardless of party organization.
His great size, with an increasing avoirdupois, was a matter of
considerable annoyance to him. On
one occasion, when arranging with him to pose for a likeness from which
to make the usual presidential medal, he said to me: “The best
photograph I ever had taken was out in your town, and it is the one my
wife calls her picture.” I
asked him in what particular did the San Francisco photographer excel.
“Oh, he was able to conceal some of my avoirdupois,” he
replied with a little smile. President
Taft was broad-minded and had little patience for the small things that
divided men, and it was largely due to his efforts to ignore these
matters that bred the factions in the Republican party that made his
re-election to the presidency and impossibility.
His ways of meeting people and his indifference to precedence or
system in this matter were most distressing and discouraging to his
subordinates whose duty is was to arrange meetings and make appointments
for visitors, official and ordinary. Senators were shocked and offended by having the President
absorb their time and apparently ignore their presence in his attentions
to ordinary visitors. High
officials with important affairs in hand, or what they might think to be
so, could impatiently wait the President’s pleasure by standing first
on one foot and then on the other, while he leisurely manner was
laughingly engaged in conversation with some other person.
It was my good fortune to be present at one of President Taft’s
first morning hours to visitors, with some other officials familiar with
the customs and manner of his predecessor at this hour, and could not
help noting the difference. Taft spent almost and much time with the first visitor he
spoke to as Roosevelt did in clearing the room of visitors. Those who had business shook their heads in displeasure,
while tourists, of course, were pleased to be able to have something
more than a snapshot view of the chief magistrate, and were delighted to
be able to carry on some little conversation with him.
Whether following private secretaries succeeded in changing the
new President’s way of meeting these engagements, I have never heard.
I left Washington shortly after Mr. Taft’s inauguration.
With the change of administration, Franklin MacVeagh succeeded
Mr. Cortelyou as Secretary of the Treasury.
Being chief of our department, I soon became acquainted with him,
through the frequency of official interviews.
It is a pleasure to say that he was a most capable man and an
ideal selection for this important office.
He has himself achieved great success in business and was an
authority on banking matters, being a finely educated man and, beyond
all, practical. He did much
by his untiring efforts for new legislation on the currency question,
and he accomplished more than was ever done before in stopping wastes in
the general cost of running the government.
He insisted upon the application of business methods in
transacting the government’s business, and in this way he succeeded in
saving several millions of dollars per year in ordinary expenditures.
If the American people appreciate the efforts of their officials
in economical administration, his reputation will pass into the history
of out country as excelling all others in this direction.
George E. Roberts, a newspaperman
of Iowa, who became Director of the Mint not long after I entered the
mint service, and who had served up to the time that I entered upon the
duties of Director, early won a place in my heart on account of his
kindly ways and generous consideration for those under his direction in
the mint work. Besides, to
know him was to be impressed with his intelligent ideas on all matters
concerning our government and policies of administration, and economic
questions in general. He
was especially well informed on matters of finance, and moreover
possessed a remarkable ability to write on the subject in a way to
attract, interest, and instruct the ordinary reader.
He had the rare power of stripping financial subjects of dryness
and laying them before the people so that all who could read could
understand them. He did
more than any one writer in the United States to expose the fallacy
carried in the silver craze that swept over our country in 1896.
To his efforts, more than any other person, belongs the credit of
starting the agitation of reform of our financial system which finally
resulted in the new Federal Reserve Bank Act.
It was his trenchant pen that first pointed out in language that
could be understood, that it was in the power of the Congress to prevent
the possibility of recurring financial panics by creating a financial
system similar to the method common to every other civilized government
of the world; that under our money system panics were not the outgrowth
of poor business conditions, but were more the results of periods of
prosperity. Mr. Roberts has
contributed many valuable papers on economic questions to magazines and
In Washington, where rules of
social life are so rigid and the performance of certain social
obligations are so exciting, a person who has hitherto lived a rather
unconventional life may be expected to be somewhat disturbed, and view
what is required of him as a duty somewhat undesirable, in not
disagreeable. I confess
that this was my impression, although I was pleased to be able to attend
two or three of the President’s receptions.
I had heard much of the magnificence of these affairs.
I had considerable desire, if not curiosity, to be present at an
assembly where the foremost ladies and gentlemen of our country had been
gathered for social pleasures. These
functions were regularly held each winter and ere the principal events
in Washington social life. They
have been so frequently and minutely described that I will not attempt
to give an account of my observations.
It is, perhaps, needless to add that I avoided all perfunctory
social affairs other that those to which my official position required
attendance. An amusing incident occurred at an afternoon reception, given
by a prominent banker of the city, which Mrs. Leach and I attended not
very long after we had taken up our home in Washington.
There was no attempt in this affair to make a lavish display of
wealth and there was more of a cordial and hospitable atmosphere that is
usual in such functions. Quite
a number of prominent people were there, among whom were several
representatives of foreign countries.
The host, after introducing me to several of the visitors,
finally escorted me to a seat by the side of a lady from New York State,
to whom I was introduced with quite an elaborate mention of the official
title of my position with the government.
The lady was a trifle hard of hearing.
The noise of the music and buzzing of conversation probably
increased the difficulty of understanding distinctly what the host had
said, for she misunderstood him and thought he has described me as an
ambassador of some foreign country, the name of which she did not catch.
Now this lady was one of thousands who come to Washington as
sightseers and who esteem it a matter of great fortune to be able to
talk with men prominent in the world, so that they can go back home and
interest their friends with tales of association with what in Europe
might be called the royalty of the country. I immediately discovered the lady’s error and the love of
humor prevented me from doing the courteous thing at once in correcting
her. She commenced a series
of rapid-fire questions leading to the information concerning the
country I represented. She
was particularly anxious, and therefore I presumed she wanted to know
just who I was so as to be able to decide whether I was worth while
wasting any time on when there might be others of greater importance.
She was too proud to confess a deficiency in hearing as an excuse
for asking me what country I was from, and too polite to put the
question direct. She wanted to know if Washington life differed from what I
expected. I replied that I did not recall forming any thought upon the
subject, but I could say that I found some difference in the way people
observed social customs in Washington and my country
Next, how long had I enjoyed
service of my country in the national capital?
I truthfully replied, “Only for a few weeks.
So far I am sure my replies to her
queries confirmed her in the belief that she almost had in her hands a
live foreigner of distinction; and she did not conceal the pleasure it
gave her. Now she wanted know what kind of weather we had in my country,
and if we had snow, and other questions as to climate. So I told her that people who were able to pay for it could
in almost any month of the year have any kind of climate they desired.
Six months of the year there was scarcely a fleck in the sky, and
while on part of our land the sun beat down with almost tropical
fierceness, yet such places were in sight of districts of most
delightful temperature, as well as mountain sections, marked by the
gleaming white of perpetual snow. In
truth our climate was unsurpassed by that of any other country on the
face of the globe. It was
where living out of doors a greater part of the year was a delightful
pleasure. My lady friend was plainly perplexed.
Her questioning gave me opportunity to speak of our magnificent
trees, the palms, magnolias, the grand oaks, the lofty conifera of such
great growth that one tree would make lumber sufficient to build a
family house. Then I
described the wonderful variety of wild flowers and their beauty,
growing in such profusion in their season that they colored the
landscape and were visible miles away.
Our land was rich in varied productive qualities, and I knew of
no place on earth that could surpass my country in the variety and
excellence of the fruits from its plantations of pineapples and orange
groves, its peach and apple orchards, and vineyards, ect.
My lady’s brow contracted; perhaps the mention of pineapples,
palms, and magnolias gave a hint of a possible Oriental origin for me.
However, she brought the conversation to a climax by the query if
in my country it was lawful for men to have more than one wife.
I was cornered, whether it was intentional on her part or not.
I was pleased that it was so, for it was with difficulty I had
held my composure, and I felt I had gone further that proprieties should
permit. Therefore I said:
“My dear lady, you have evidently been laboring under a mistaken idea
as to my country and my position, for I am not foreigner, and do not
represent another country. I
am just a plain American, temporary called to Washington to look after
the conduct of Uncle Sam’s mints.
My home is no more than California, with all the attractions I
have truthfully described to you.”
She was disappointed, and soon found excuse to devote her
attention to others present. It
so happened that in taking our departure from the gathering we left the
apartments at the same time with this lady and were the only occupants
of the descending elevator, but she gave not the slightest indication
either by word or expression of countenance that she had ever held
conversation with me, or had even seen me before.
What had been an interesting and amusing incident to me evidently
was a matter of disappointment to her, and she could not resist the
opportunity of exercising her womanly privilege of ignoring me presence.
I certainly did not blame her.
The first twelve months or so in Washington passed most
quickly. My time was so
fully occupied with new and interesting duties, which with almost daily
contact with the foremost men of the administration, as well with many
distinguished men who had business with the government, made my position
highly interesting to me. I
greatly enjoyed the opportunity to study at close range the characters
of the men in great affairs, whose names were familiar to every citizen
of our country, but of whom few people had any knowledge other that that
pictured by the daily press, magazines, ect.
After a while the novelty of all this wore off and there was more
time to think of the dear ones and the old associates on the other side
of the continent. In short,
I began to long to return to our California home. I remember, when this feeling came on I wrote as follows to a
friend who inquired how I liked my new position: “Washington is a most
beautiful city and lovely place to live in, and there are lots of nice
people here who do everything they can to make it pleasant for strangers
like us. Nevertheless, they
do not fill the places of friends and associates of a lifetime, and I
must confess that I have begun to look for the day when I shall be
packing my grips for permanent return to the Coast.
Mrs. L and Harry are ready to go any moment.”
However, the day did not come for some months following.
In the summer of 1909 I received a telegram offering me the
position of general manager of the People’s Water Company of Oakland,
my home city, and this gave me the excuse I wanted to sever my
connection with the government service.
I tendered my resignation, which took effect August 1 of the
above year, making exactly twelve years devoted by me to mint work with
Uncle Sam. In accepting my
resignation, Secretary MacVeagh sent me a letter of such a nature as to
make a pleasing finish of my service with the Treasury Department.