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November 03, 2003

Sid Says: This Is A Want Ad For A World-Beater

When Ida Tarbell decided she should write a history of the Standard Oil Company, the first thing she decided to do was to hire a researcher

The third young man came, short and plump, his eyes glowing with excitement. He sat on the edge of his chair. As I watched him I had a sudden feeling of alarm lest he should burst out of his clothes. I never had the same feeling about any other individual except Theodore Roosevelt. I once watched the first Roosevelt through a White House musicale when I felt his clothes might not contain him, he was so steamed up, so ready to go, attack anything, anywhere.

The young man gave me his report; but what counted was the way he had gone after his material, his curiosity, his conviction that it was important since I wanted it. I thought I had my man. A few more trials convinced me John M. Siddall was a find. He at that time was an associate of Frank Bray in the editing of The Chautauquan, the headquarters of which had been shifted to Cleveland from Meadville.

When Siddall once understood what I was up to he jumped at the chance—went to work with a will and stayed working with a will until the task was ended. He was a continuous joy as well as a support in my undertaking. Nothing better in the way of letter writing came to the McClure's office. In time everybody was reading Siddall's letters to me, whether it was a mere matter of statistics or a matter of the daily life in Cleveland of John D. Rockefeller, the head of the Standard Oil Company. If anything in or around Ohio interested the magazine the office immediately suggested, "Ask Sid." And Sid always found the answer. Mr. McClure and Mr. Phillips began to say, "We want Sid as soon as you are through with him." Sid saw the opportunity, and as soon as I could spare him in Ohio he joined the McClure's staff.

The above was taken from Ida's autobiography, All In A Days Work, which now sits on my nightstand alongside three other Tarbell biographies. Almost all there is to know about John Siddall is inside them, other than a few letters at the University of Wyoming. From the description of them on the Net, they would appear to be part of the series that Ida mentions above, and thus at least as historically important as any of the other Gutenberg posts. The librarian at the U of W tells me they are on the way.

The muckraker movement was the scion of others, but John Siddall was one of the midwives that birthed it. He's unknown to history, and to his present day relations, as far as I can tell, but the roots of modern journalism were shaped in part by his research on Standard Oil.

This Is A Want Ad For A World-Beater

I wonder when it is going to he easier for people to get through this world without being bored. The capacity of human beings to bore and be bored is enormous.

Think of all the school children who are being bored. There they are—millions of them—bottled up in schoolhouses patiently learning the art of trying to look interested in something that doesn't interest them. When they get out of school they take up post-graduate work along the same line. They go into the law, when they have real love for the dairy business, and into music, when they are born hardware dealers. Schooled to believe that they ought to like this or that, they are ready to try what is "expected" of them—to adopt other people's ideas of what would be a reputable and proper calling for "one of your position," and so on through a lot of foolishness. Anyway, they get off on the wrong tack and stay there.

No wonder the world is filled with people who talk and talk about the good time coming when they can retire. To hear them complain about their work you might think they were in jail. They are.

Every employer is familiar with this great Army of Misfits. They are honest. They try. But they haven't the joy of the game in their eyes. And to save your life you cannot tell how to release their powers and give them wing.

Apparently educational systems are the crudest of all human institutions. The necessary genius has not yet arrived—the man who can show us how to take a boy, start with his best inclinations, and work out his education, holding his interest, making him proud rather than ashamed of his enthusiasms, turning his enthusiasms to good account, yet cultivating discipline and self-control. A big job! No wonder the man needed is hard to find, and slow in boarding what Herbert Quick calls "this good ship, earth." But he will arrive. There are rumblings.

In the meantime children are listening for the three-o'clock bell, and wondering whether the teacher's cold may not keep her home tomorrow.

Next: Strive as We Will--Our Brows Slope Gently Downward

Posted by Bigwig at November 3, 2003 11:44 PM | TrackBack
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