I saw a story on one of my train boards today that illustrates just how much the world has changed since 1923.
This story came from the 1950 book Messrs. Ives of Bridgeport, by Louis H. Hertz.
In 1923, the biggest name in toys wasn’t Mattel or Hasbro, but Ives, a company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The company was so huge that letters addressed simply as “Mr. Ives, USA” were properly delivered.
In September, the owner of the company, Harry Ives, put his oldest daughter in charge of handling the volumes of mail the company received every day. He wanted her to find the special requests.
One day, she noticed a grimy, heavier-than-usual envelope. Rather than finding the usual handwritten request for a catalog along with a dime inside, she found a request accompanied by ten dull pennies. It came from a newsboy, who explained that his father was dead and his mother was struggling. He’d saved to buy an Ives catalog for his younger brother for Christmas. He would have liked to have bought a train set, but couldn’t afford it, but at least if he gave his brother a catalog, he’d be able to look at some pictures of nice trains.
When Harry Ives saw the letter, he sent the boy a train set, along with the catalog he requested.
It seems like acts of kindness like this used to be more common. I told my wife this story, and she said that people aren’t as honest anymore. She reminded me of the time earlier this year that I sent an inexpensive Marx locomotive to someone who claimed to be a disabled Gulf War II veteran who was having trouble getting his trains running. The truth was he was running a scam, getting lots of people to feel sorry for him and send him trains, and he ended up selling all of them on Craigslist and eBay.
It’s easier to be kind when you believe people are honest.