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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thomas Watson Jr., Tar and the Children's phone

During my last two years at Yale from 1971 to 1973, much of my time was spent building a reference library on the history of cartography and attempting to sell rare maps.

Mr. Alexander Vietor was the curator of the map collection and did a great deal to help me by sharing his knowledge and providing introductions to his friends who were map collectors.

One of his sailing buddies was Thomas Watson, Jr. who at the time was running IBM.  He had  built it into one of the most successful companies of all time.   For many years he had the record for increasing the market capitalization of a company.  The quality of his products were unmatched.   In the world of computers and office machines he dominated.

One day in the Spring of 1973 Mr. Vietor suggested that an offering of the maps of Penobscot Bay to him would be a good idea since Mr. Watson lived there and used the house as a base in the Summers.

So an offering was sent off and a sale was immediately made.  Maps back then sold for less than 1% of the prices that they make today so for me his first purchase of $2800 was stupendous.   Because of Mr. Vietor's recommendation it was not necessary for me to ever meet him or show him the maps.  Simply his good word about me was enough to establish full credibility.

Based on this ringing success, after graduation a trip was made to England, the Netherlands and France to stock up.  John Maggs, Tony Campbell, Rob Douma, R. V. Tooley, Caes Broekema and Loeb-Laroque all provided me with wonderful material.   On my arrival back a catalog was produced and sent off to Mr. Watson.  Every map showed the indention on the Atlantic coastline of Penobscott Bay.

During this time my other form of income was as a gifted tree surgeon.  In fact my senior paper at Yale has been on the subject of the tree surgery business which was sold for over $50,000 then a huge amount of money.   The sport of scrambling up into the heart of a massive specimen, securing one's self, trimming out the dead and lifting and shaping these masterpieces of God's genius was deeply rewarding for me.   The risks were exhilarating, the profits in the range of $1000 a day and the thrill of see a perfectly shaped tree deeply meaningful. 

In those days using tar to cover up a cut was accepted practice and sometimes a can of it would spill on my shoes while dangling from a rope in the air trying to balance myself with a chain saw, a pole saw and other tools in my hands.

A week after my whole offering had been sent off to Mr. Watson, a vast amount of tar from my shoes was tracked in my mothers home all over her white carpets and marble floors.   When she saw this she became enraged and when Mr. Watson's called to order some items from my catalog, she informed him that he would have to use the "children's" phone from then on!   This to the most successful business man in the United States!

Mr. Watson never spoke to or bought anything from me again.   He was running one of the largest corporations in the world and to be told that he had to use the children's phone was simply too much for him to fathom.

When my mother told me what she had done, all my belongings were packed and I left never to sleep in my parent's home ever again!

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