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Tom Loftin Johnson
THE following sketch of Tom L. Johnson is condensed from an article written by Louis F. Post, in the Public of January 6, 1906. Tom Johnson's ancestors were Virginians, the first one arriving in this country in 1714. One of these ancestors, Robert Johnson, who moved to Kentucky, was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1792 and of the Kentucky Legislature after Statehood. Others of the connection followed into Kentucky and then on into Arkansas and most of them sympathized with the South during the rebellion. Albert W. Johnson, of Arkansas, was on the staff of John C. Breckenridge and Early. His wife, with her three sons, Tom L., William L., and Albert L. — kept as near to the father through the military service, as she was allowed and at the close of the war they found themselves in Staunton, Virginia, absolutely penniless.
At this time Tom was only eleven years old. He soon began work as a newsboy. He early realized the power of monopoly. He managed to keep all other people from going into the business of selling newspapers. He got fifteen cents for daily papers, and twenty-five cents for picture papers. Of course this didn't last long, but he made eighty-eight dollars. This was used to get the family to Louisville. Here his father, already heavily in debt, managed to borrow enough money to operate his cotton plantation. This venture was not successful. He moved to Evansville, Indiana, and finally it was decided that Tom would have to seek work and his mother secured a place for him in a rolling mill and he began work in 1869. He had had a little schooling, but had been rather liberally taught by his father and mother, both of whom were educated. In Louisville he found a relative named Dy Pont, who had bought a little street railroad and during the summer he was offered a place in the office. Here was begun his career as a street railway magnate. In a few months he was secretary of the company. He later became Superintendent and served until 1876, when he and two associates bought of William H. English, the Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States, the Indianapolis Street Car system. Before this young Johnson had invented a fare box and from this he eventually made about $30,000. He made his father president of the Indianapolis system. He was treasurer of the company. Mules were used to draw the cars and when Johnson made the suggestion to use electricity his associates disapproved and so he sold out to them, netting from the venture more than half a million dollars. In 1880, he bought a small line in Cleveland and introduced some of the discoveries he had made in Indianapolis. Then began the great war with Mark Hanna. Johnson and his brother Albert acquired interest in the Detroit Street Car system and in Brooklyn, but in 1898, he withdrew from the street car business. Through his street car interests he became aware of the money that could be made in steel rails, went into that business, made money, and finally, in the financial depression of 1903, these establishments were nearly
swamped. He married his fourth cousin, Elizabeth Johnson. In the eighties having spent all his time and thought on money making, he accidentally (on the train) bought Henry George's "Social Problems," and later reading his other books, became a single taxer. He became a friend of Henry George and together they decided that he should go into politics in order to help their reform. In 1886, he was living in New York. He went to Congress in 1888, and there he fought for his single tax principle, almost alone. In 1901, he was nominated for Mayor of Cleveland, and there for eight years he fought out his single tax principles. He determined upon securing and did secure three cent fare for the citizens of Cleveland, the fight running over years. Cleveland points in pride to Tom Johnson as they do to Moses Cleveland and Commodore Perry.
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