James Adam Beattie
City of Troy

This biography is from Troy and Rensselaer County, New York, Volume III, by Rutherford Hayner, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., New York and Chicago, 1925. It was submitted by Debby Masterson.

JAMES ADAM BEATTIE—A prominent figure in the business world of Troy, New York, active in an unofficial way in many branches of civic endeavor, well known in fraternal circles, and a leader of religious advance, James Adam Beattie is thoroughly representative of the best type of American citizenship. His success has given him wide influence, and in every phase of life in which he takes a part he wields a mighty influence for progress, prosperity and happiness. Mr. Beattie is a son of Adam and Isabella (Mather) Beattie, formerly esteemed residents of Ontario, Canada, the father a carpenter by occupation. Both are now deceased.

James Adam Beattie was born in the city of Gait, Province of Ontario, Canada, November 3, 1862. He was educated in the public schools of his native city, and learned the cabinet and upholstering trade. He came to the States in 1884 and obtained employment with William H. Tolhurst & Son, now the Tolhurst Machine Company, as a wood patternmaker, and while employed there he attended the evening courses of the Troy Business College. With early business experience of a general nature. Mr. Beattie soon became identified with the field of the steam laundry, and in this connection he has won large success. He has now for many years been at the head of Beattie's Troy Laundry as owner and manager. With a plant at No. 607 Broadway, this laundry is popularly known as "The Home of Soft Water," and the modern equipment and stringent rules regarding quality of work, sanitation, etc., place this laundry in the highest rank in the country. Mr. Beattie is a member of the New York Laundrymen's Association, of which he was formerly president, and has long been a member of the Laundrymen's National Association, formerly serving on the executive committee. He has many other financial interests besides that in his laundry, among which affiliations may be included a directorship in the Troy Trust Company. The story of his rise from a position of comparative obscurity to one of dominance in the commercial and financial life of Troy possesses sufficient elements of interest to justify a more detailed account of that career, which, up to this point, has been so briefly sketched.

James Adam Beattie came to Troy, the birthplace of the laundry business, from Canada, when a youth, to live with his uncle. For some years he worked in a furniture house as an upholsterer; in a machineshop as a pattern-maker; and for a short time as a salesman on the road. His advent into the laundry world was sudden and unexpected. One Saturday evening, after his day's work in the machine shop, he stopped at the laundry, which was operated by John C. Walker and J. E. Jacobs, to take out his laundered collars. Mr. Walker, attracted by the fine sincerity and nobility of young Beattie's face and manner, entered into a conversation with him concerning the laundry business, and the following Monday morning, convinced of the desirability of Mr. Beattie's association in any business enterprise, he called upon the young man and requested him to consider purchasing Mr. Jacobs' share in the business. It was then that Mr. Beattie manifested the possession of those qualities which have been so potent a factor, not only in his success, but in leadership.

This turning point in Mr. Beattie's career has been fixed in his own words. On one occasion, in relating the incident of his entrance in an independent capacity in business, he stated: "Of course, I was somewhat reluctant to give up a job with the assurance of a weekly income and to shoulder the uncertainty of a business. But the idea of getting into business for myself appealed to me. I knew nothing at all about laundries. However, I talked the matter over with my wife that day when I went home to lunch and by night we had made up our minds to take the plunge."

Unlike other men, Mr. Beattie was prepared for the opportunity when it came, and having decided to set sail in another craft, that of independent proprietorship, he was not at a loss for the proper means.

We had taken out some shares in a building and loan association and in this way we had saved seven hundred dollars. Incidentally, I have followed the practice of being in such a savings institution throughout my life. You are compelled to save in such a way, and I think it is one of the best things for any family. Well, I took the money we had saved, borrowed a little more, and on August 12, 1892, I became a partner of Mr. Walker's, as ignorant of the laundry business as any one could possibly be. But I resolved to learn the business from top to bottom as quickly as hard work would allow.

Within a year Mr. Walker quit the enterprise and Mr. Beattie. because of his lack of sufficiently intimate knowledge of the business, was compelled to seek a partner in an employee, a sorter, who, unable to withstand the effects of a prosperous year—each partner had drawn $2,500 from the business in 1894, a very comfortable income then—neglected his end of the business, causing a rupture and leaving Mr. Beattie sole master of the enterprise, although upon his shoulders devolved a greater burden of physical labor than he could well carry.

A National convention of laundry-owners, held at Niagara Falls in 1907, marks a second epoch in the business career of Mr. Beattie. He said, in relating this event : "I returned home with a new determination to build a bigger business. I started the ball rolling while my inspiration was hot. The plant I was in, and which I rented, would not allow of any more expansion. I began to search around for another location. It so happened that I was able to buy the building across the street."

Here, again, Mr. Beattie proved he was not afraid to take a chance. When he first entered the business he found it necessary to borrow only a small sum. Now he had been in business for years, had saved considerable, and was assured of a fair income. If he was to buy the building he wanted, remodel it and purchase new equipment, it meant spending what he had saved and borrowing liberally as well. The new investment involved the expenditure of $20,000, of which he borrowed $10,000. So carefully did he supervise the transfer of his plant that not one day's operation was lost. Fitting the new plant out was a gradual operation, but the change was so capably engineered that he quit the old plant on a Saturday afternoon and started in the new one that next Monday morning. His operation on a larger scale has reaped fruits of success and he has been more than repaid for his business judgment, acumen and adventure. To-day, his plant is one of the most efficiently operated and best-paying investments in the large metropolis of Troy. As a result, he has achieved prominence in other fields, and, in turn, his leadership in other activities has much to do with the preeminent success of his business. He had, of course, to attain a high measure of success in his own enterprise before he was acknowledged a leader in business interests. Now his name is so often in the daily press of Troy that his name is well known throughout the community, and this serves as a splendid medium of indirect advertising for his laundry.

Mr. Beattie's membership in fraternal organizations, his interest in church life, and his participation in civic endeavors has gained him the acquaintance of hundreds of persons he never would have met otherwise. But one must not therefore conclude that his connection with all these other activities was arranged deliberately with the thought that the associations and publicity to be derived would work to the advantage of his business. He is identified with these activities because he believes so strongly in service and because he wants to be of service to his fellowmen as well as to his customers. "I have always had the conviction," he has stated, "that you get no more of anything than what you put in. I have never joined an organization or became identified with a welfare movement with the object of personal gain."

Mr. Beattie was elected president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce at a most vital time in the history of his adopted city. The Chamber had been re-organized a short time previously. Important matters were shaping themselves in the life of the community and a man of wide capabilities and able leadership was needed at the helm. A membership of 1,300 selected him as the man for the place and throughout his administration he probably gave more of his time to the improvement of the city than any other resident. A report of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, issued for the year during which Mr. Beattie was president, indicates the scope of Mr. Beattie's contribution to the welfare of the city of Troy: The Retail Merchants' Association, a division of the Chamber, opened an auto bus terminal at the Mansion House building; the Chamber took over the United States Employment Service office, when government funds with which to carry on this work were not available; the traffic bureau of the Chamber established auto truck lines connecting Troy, New York, with North Adams, Massachusetts, and Petersburgh, Berlin, Grafton, Albany, Mechanicsville, Amsterdam, Saratoga, Utica and New York; entered heartily into community planning in relation to Frear Park and the Sycaway districts; helped broadcast the advantages of Troy from the industrial, financial and residential viewpoints; began planning an aviation field; posted signs on all roads leading into Troy and entered even into more numerous enterprises looking to the growth and development of the city of Troy. Mr. Beattie is also an enthusiastic Rotarian, because in Rotary he finds an organization with service as its dominant aim. Early in the history of the Troy Rotary Club he was elected its president, at a time when the organization required a man of his ideals and energy to embark it safely and permanently into the life of the community. He is always ready to help the other fellow, and his greatest avenue of opportunity in this line lies in the fact that he was chosen chairman of the advisory board of the Troy division of the Salvation Army.

These facts include an explanation of why Mr. Beattie has been so successful as an executive—so successful a handler of men. He reports that he has never had any trouble with his large force, and the following statement by him should serve as a guide to all employers: "I never turn down an employee abruptly who asks for an increase in wages. I tell him that I'll think it over for a day or two and let him know. In case I feel I can't grant the request for one or several reasons I have a quiet talk with him and tell him why. At any rate he knows I have given the matter thought and, knowing why, the chances are he will try to improve his work. We have never had any labor trouble in our plant. Union organizers frequently have asked me if they might talk with my workers and I have always acceded willingly. I always ask them to come during the noon hour, and always assure them I will not be in their way. I grant them the widest freedom, but so far my employees have been content to work without affiliation with any union."

Fraternally, Mr. Beattie is a member and past master of King Solomon's Primitive Lodge, No. 91, Free and Accepted Masons, and all the Scottish and York Rite bodies of the Masonic order. He is also a member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. He is identified with the Commercial Travelers' Association, the National Travel Club, the Troy Club, and the Troy Automobile Club. A Republican by political affiliation, he is an active member of the Rensselaer County Republican Club, and a worker for the interests of the party, although he has never sought nor accepted public office. He has always participated in a constructive way in all movements for civic and social betterment, and for fifteen years served as a member of Company A, Second Regiment, National Guard of the State of New York, and received his honorable discharge with the rank of first sergeant. Mr. Beattie has for many years allied himself with religious advance, and is a member of the Second Presbyterian Church of Troy. He is chairman of the board of deacons of the church, and was formerly president of the Young People's Society. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a civic interest in Troy in which Mr. Beattie has not entered and for the success of which he has not contributed.

Mr. Beattie married, in Troy, New York, on May 29, 1892, Helen T. Beattie, a member of another family of the same name, daughter of Joseph and Anna (Forrest) Beattie. They have one adopted daughter, Margaret J., born August 6, 1906, now attending the Emma Willard School. The family residence is at No. 1807 Seventh Avenue, Troy, New York.

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