Sunday, May 1, 2011

John Jakob Raskob

Edgar was learning how to drive in the summer of 1943. His Dad, William, was a salesman of variety merchandise and travelled the eastern shore of Maryland, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. One day, travelling through Centreville, Maryland, they stopped at a Ben Franklin Store (similar to Woolworth) and Edgar was introduced to the store owne, Mr. Goldstein. Mr. Goldstein told my Dad that the FBI had visited him and told him that the store manager was a member of the American Bund and had designs on taking over the store after Germany was victorious in WWII. Mr. Goldstein did not fire the store manager because "he was too good a manager to let go."
During the course of our sales call, in came an old man, in overalls, with three young children. Turned out, these were his grandchildren. Mr. Goldstein ran over to his customer and waited on him while we watched. After completing the transactions, Mr. Goldstein asked us "do you know who that was? That was John Jakob Raskob, the former head of DuPont. He comes in here every once in a while and buys things for his grandchildren." My Dad knew who Raskob was and told me that he had raised himself by his bootstraps. His first job had been as a trolley conductor. Edgar couldn't imagine that this unassuming farmer-type had been the head of one of the world's largest corporations and remembered this whole incident when a story appeared in "the New York Post" about the Empire State building and the part that John Jakob Raskob played in its creation.
This reminded us of a story told to us by Uncle Alec. He and Aunt Florence owned a Variety Store in Atlantic Highlands. We were quite surprised one day, during a visit, to see plush, expensive, large stuffed animals perched on top of the junky jewelry, cartons of cigarettes, newspapers, and soda fountain. We asked about them and both Uncle Alec and Aunt Florence started to laugh. One of our regular customers asked us to buy them from FAO Schwartz for his grandchildren. He wanted them in the store so that there would be something in the store for him to buy for the children whenever they visited. This was not the first request from Mr. Genovese. Turns out, his wife was a regular reader and needed a lending library with current books and so started the lending library next to the chewing gum. Mr. Genovese would bring his grandchildren into the store whenever they visited, for ice cream, and whatever else they wanted. Uncle Alec would pull down several of the large stuffed animals for the children and Mr. Genovese paid a handsome bonus for those toys.
Their store was never robbed, their papers were never stolen, and nobody ever had a bad word to say about Uncle Alec and Aunt Florence.

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