A Forgotten Stock Market Scandal from the 1920s
"A fascinating and thoroughly engaging story of Buffalo-based Steel’s
department store told by a master storyteller."—Field Horne, author of The Saratoga Reader:
Writing about an American Village, 1749–1900
Dave Dyer is an independent investor and freelance writer.
Book Description »[Hide »]
While trying to solve a family mystery, Dave Dyer uncovered a massive
stock market scandal that had been forgotten by history. His great uncle
Clayton Pickard vanished in 1923, and, in the process of researching
him, the author found a collection of thousands of original documents and
photos from Clayton’s employer, the L. R. Steel Company. The documents,
unopened since 1923, told the fascinating story of a visionary entrepreneur
operating in the boom-town environment of Buffalo.
Steel’s is about the rise and fall of the retail empire created by Leonard
Rambler Steel. Like a Silicon Valley tycoon, he sprang into new ventures
with enthusiasm and foresight. At its height, his chain store operation had
75 stores spread over 61 cities in the United States and Canada. He hired
women in management and elderly people in his sales force, and anticipated
some of the retail models that are used today by global companies
such as Ikea and Wal-Mart. His most remarkable insight was to recognize
the marketing potential of the new medium of silent film. In 1921 he created
a 3-hour film about his life and company that was screened for free all over
North America. The movie, a precursor to today’s infomercial, attracted prospective
buyers for the 5,000 salespeople who sold the company’s stock.
Almost 60,000 people bought the stock, three times the number who
bought into Charles Ponzi’s better-known scheme. Eventually, his big ideas became
too grandiose, such as developing Niagara Falls into a permanent international
exhibition dedicated to commerce and technology, and the investors
lost all their money when the company collapsed in 1923 amid fraud charges.
With no other published accounts of this scandal, the story told in
Steel’s was doomed to be lost forever until the author discovered the document
trove that brought it back to life. The remarkable creativity and foresight
of the founder makes for a fascinating tale of failure by someone who
had what it takes to succeed. The L. R. Steel Company could have been
Wal-Mart, but ended up like Enron.
Table of Contents »[Hide »]
1. The Man Who Did Almost Everything Right
2. The Creative Promise of the L. R. Steel Company
3. Inventing the Infomercial
4. The Life of a Salesman at the L. R. Steel Company
5. The Stores
6. The Denver Miracle
7. The Late-Night Meeting
8. L. R.’s Last Train Ride
9. Was It a Ponzi Scheme?
10. What Went Wrong?
11. The Legacy of Failure
6 x 9, 200 pages, 144 black-and-white illustrations, bibliography, index