Thomas Mellon and his times

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University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994 - Biography & Autobiography - 478 pages
In 1885, Thomas Mellon published his autobiography in a limited edition exclusively for his family, warning them that it contained "nothing which it concerns the public to know, and much which if writing for it I would have omitted". Mellon was an anomaly among the great American entrepreneurs of his time. Highly literate and an excellent narrative writer, he was deadly honest about his life, family, and financial success. The book his warning so effectively concealed for almost 110 years was a masterpiece of American autobiography, and it is now available for virtually the first time in this edition. At the time he looked back on his life, Mellon was a successful Pittsburgh entrepreneur and banker. In the next generation, two of his sons, Andrew William Mellon and Richard Beatty Mellon, joined Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller as the four wealthiest men in the United States, and his descendants would play major roles in American business, art, and philanthropy. Nothing in Thomas Mellon's origins suggested this future. Born in Ulster with a Scotch-Irish heritage, he immigrated to the United States in 1818 at the age of five. He was raised by his parents on a small, hilly farm at Poverty Point, about twenty miles east of Pittsburgh. It seemed that his destiny would be the farm, but in childhood and adolescence he was transformed by two experiences. At the age of ten, he walked to Pittsburgh and saw for the first time the bustle and wealth of this growing city. He was especially awestruck by the mansion and steam mill of the Negley family, "impressed... with an idea of wealth and magnificence I had before no conception of". The thought occurred to this boy whether he "might not one dayattain in some degree such wealth, and an equality with such great people". Twenty years later, in 1843, Thomas proposed to Sarah Jane Negley after a courtship that, he observed, took "much valuable time, somewhat to the prejudice of my professional business". They were devoted to each other, and their marriage lasted fifty-five years. The second turning point of his life was a decision he made at the age of seventeen. For years his father, Andrew, had insisted that Thomas become a farmer. One day in 1831, leaving his son cutting timber, Andrew rode to the county seat to close on the purchase of an adjoining farm which he intended for Thomas. "Nearly crazed" by the impending collapse of all hope of "acquiring knowledge and wealth", Thomas threw down his axe and ran ten miles to stop the purchase. From this spontaneous decision flowed his later success as judge, banker, and entrepreneur who caught the exhilarating tide of the American economy in the second half of the nineteenth century. When he died in 1908 at the age of ninety-five, he was an almost mythic figure in American business history. Yet it was the breadth of his reading, his candor, and his gift as a narrative and autobiographical writer that he kept secret from his posterity - until the present.

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A vastly engrossing 19th-century rags-to-riches autobiography by the somewhat priggish, but shrewd and observant, founder of the Mellon family fortune. Thomas Mellon (18131908) wrote this 1885 memoir ... Read full review


Preface to the First Edition by Thomas Mellon

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