THE START FOR MY HOME CITY
Youth is not much subject to the fatigue and boredom of life, and I cannot remember that I was drawn westward to the Great Valley by any motive of repose after years of most strenuous activity. On the contrary I was decidedly curious to see Missouri once more, eager to try out the great promise of business success offered to young men of experience and ability, and more than anything else full of zest for the inland journey. New sights were my passion, always.
From New York I went to Buffalo, taking a steamer there for Chicago. After stopping at Milwaukee, and other places, I arrived in St. Louis August 4, ’51, with seven or eight hundred dollars in my pocket. Here I found my two brothers, John and William, in the apothecary business; John at the corner of Third and Green streets (now Lucas Avenue) and William, at the Southeast corner of Third and Market streets. I joined them immediately in partnership, and shortly after we purchased a stock on the corner of Fourth Street and Franklin Avenue, putting my brother William in charge.
Our combined business was comparatively small. My sales were frequently not over $2 a day, with rent at $50 per month. By dint of industry, energy and economy, no doubt with some judgment; and by putting up many preparation, such as Seidlitz powders, Cook’s pills, Turlington’s Balsam, colognes, hair oils, essences, etc. which we sold to the wholesale druggist, we soon accumulated some money. Then we published a very small “Prices Current,” and I ventured a trip to the different towns on the Mississippi, as far as St. Paul, to solicit customers, and was astonished at the success attending the effort. Chicago was almost unknown then.
This trip determined us to drop the retail business, and about August 4th, 1854, we opened a wholesale house. The new store was on Washington Avenue between Main and Second streets, opposite the American Fur Company and in the rear of Barnard, Adams & Peck Drug Company. We had previously taken into the firm Aaron R. Levering, whose father Lawrason Levering, advanced him $5,000, agreeing if we got into trouble he would help us out. In a year or two Aaron retired, being succeeded by his uncle, Charles W. Levering. I don’t recollect what my capital, and that of my brothers, was at that time, but probably $10,000 or $15,000. We then were under the firm name of Matthews, Levering & Company.
About the time we commenced the wholesale business,
quinine was selling at $10 an ounce, an unprecedented price. It was predicted
it would go to $25, as the sources of Cinchona bark were getting more
and more difficult to reach. At present (1915) quinine is selling at 38c