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William W. Finley

Address of W. W. Finley, President of the Southern Railway Company, to the Graduating Class.
June 17th, 1908.

The Industrial Opportunities Open To Young Men Of The South

Young Gentlemen of the Graduating Class, Ladies and Gentlemen:

When your President invited me to address the graduating class on this occasion, he suggested that I should speak on "The Industrial Opportunities Open to the Young Men of the South." No more appropriate topic could have been chosen for an address to a class of young men who have finished their school education and are about to embark in active life—most of them in Virginia and her sister states of our section. It is my hope that I may be able to say something which will be worth remembering and which may be of service to you in the stations which you will occupy in after life.

On the military side of your education in this institution, I am sure that you have learned the importance of two things. You have learned that thorough drill and competent officers are essential to the efficiency of a military force. They are equally essential to the efficiency of an industrial army. Each man in an industrial army must be thoroughly drilled in the duties of his position, and if the entire force is to be effective, it must be directed by men possessing the highest qualifications for positions of command. It is the purpose of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute to equip its students with an education that will enable them to discharge the duties of drill masters and officers in our industrial armies. Many of you will probably have to take your places in the ranks for the time being. I am sure, however, that, if you apply well the lessons which you have learned in the class rooms, in the laboratories, in the shops, and in the practical field work of this institution, and if you have learned well the importance of doing to the best of your ability whatever task may be before you, you will merit and win promotion.

The Virginia Polytechnic Institute is an exemplification of the tendency of modern education toward specialization. We live in the age of the specialist—the specialist in the learned professions, in manufacturing, in agriculture, and in every occupation. The call of the world is for the man who has mastered the sum of human knowledge in some particular line; for the man who can do some one thing to the utmost of human perfection—whether it be the building of a great steel bridge, or the making of a watch spring. In no locality in our own or in any other land is this call for the specialist more insistent than in our Southern States. With their vast and varied stores of natural wealth in soil, in forests, in waterpowers and in mines awaiting full development, Virginia and her sister States are holding out manifold opportunities to the young man who can do things. These opportunities are around us on every hand—on the farm, in the forest, in the factory, in the mine, in transportation, and in constructive work of all kinds.

A generation ago, the South was almost purely an agricultural section. The last thirty years have witnessed an extraordinary development of manufacturing. Great as has been the advance in manufacturing, however, it has not been at the expense of our agricultural industry. On the contrary, the opportunities for success in Southern agriculture were never greater than they are at present, and many of them are due directly to the development of manufacturing and of improved methods of transportation. To a less extent in Virginia than in the States further South, until comparatively recent years, single-crop agriculture was the general rule and a great many Southern farmers were absolutely dependent for their prosperity upon the market price of a single commodity. Three powerful influences are bringing about a decided change in this respect, and Southern agriculture is becoming every year more and more diversified, even in those localities where formerly the cotton planter did not raise enough grain to feed his own live stock. One of these influences is the building up of manufacturing communities all over the South. Each community of this character becomes a consuming center and a home market for agricultural products of all kinds produced in that locality. Another influence is the improvement of the transportation systems of the South and the amalgamation of short disjointed lines of railway into great through systems capable of carrying Southern products to distant markets. This is making possible the development of the great fruit and vegetable industry of the South, which is every year becoming of more importance and which is placing on the tables of the great mass of the people in the Northern States early fruits and vegetables which a few years ago were luxuries that could be enjoyed only by the wealthy. The broadening of this fruit and vegetable market has multiplied many times over the value of large areas of Southern farm lands and is bringing into the South annually many millions of dollars. The third, and one of the most potent influences in bringing about the diversification of Southern agriculture, is the development of agricultural education through the agency of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and similar schools throughout the South co-operating with the State Commissioners of Agriculture and the United States Agricultural Department. Young men who graduate from the agricultural course of this institution go out equipped with practical and theoretical knowledge of the nature of diverse soils, of scientific methods of crop rotation, of the proper use of fertilizers, and of the best methods of raising live stock of all kinds. The graduate of this school is qualified to obtain the best possible results from any farm over which he may have supervision. There came to my notice recently an article published in "Modern Farming," affording a striking illustration of this. The article told how a young man returning to his father's farm in Virginia after a course in an agricultural school took charge of a tract of corn land which had never yielded more than two hundred barrels, and, by the practical application of the lessons he had learned, increased the yield in a single year to eight hundred barrels. Conditions such as this young man found on the home farm undoubtedly exist in many localities, and not the least important of the opportunities open to the specially trained young man are those for the improvement of agriculture and the increase of incomes derived from farms.

Closely allied to agriculture is forestry. Until a comparatively recent date we were accustomed to look upon our woodland resources as being practically inexhaustible. In many parts of the country, wasteful methods of forestry have resulted in almost the total exhaustion of this source of wealth. Fortunately for the Southern States, there has been an awakening. The process of forest destruction has not gone as far as in other sections and there still remain vast areas of forest lands in Virginia and other States which, by the adoption of scientific methods of forestry, can not only be made a source of great present profit, but can be preserved for future generations with their value unimpaired. Not only are there opportunities for young men in the South to engage in forestry as a profession, but on many farms there are tracts of land which can be used most profitably as permanent wood lots for supplying the lumber and fuel needed on the farm, even though there may be no surplus production for sale. As a result of forest destruction in other sections, the country must look more and more to the South and the Pacific Coast States for its supplies of timber and for its raw material for furniture and for everything in the construction of which wood is used. I do not think, therefore, that we can impress too strongly upon our Southern people, and especially upon the rising generation, the importance of conserving to the utmost our woodland wealth.

Under the general head of engineering in all its branches, the Southern States offer opportunities to properly qualified young men that are almost limitless. In Virginia and other States are vast stores of coal, iron, and other minerals awaiting to be developed and brought into use by the mining engineer. Simply to enumerate the vast variety of opportunities in the Southern States for the mechanical engineer would unduly extend my address. It is one of the laws of economics that, other conditions being equally favorable, the production of finished products will constantly tend to concentration in proximity to the sources of raw materials. As the result of the operation of this law and of the enormous natural resources of the South, we are destined to have not only a great expansion of those industries which have already been established in our States, but we will witness the constant attraction toward our stores of raw materials of other industries, each of them opening up constantly widening fields for the mechanical engineer and the operative trained in technical schools. We are all familiar with what has already been done in the way of locating the cotton mill and the cotton seed oil mill in proximity to the cotton field and with the development of woodworking and iron and steel working industries in our section. Great as have been the results already accomplished, I believe they are but the promise of what is to come, and that the young man of the South who has qualified himself for leadership in this industrial development will not be hampered by lack of opportunity.

Our streams, especially those of the Appalachian region, are calling for the hydro-electric engineer to harness the millions of horse-power that are constantly going to waste and convert it into mechanical energy, light, and heat. With our increase in population, in wealth, and in diversity of occupations, there are coming constantly broadening opportunities for the building engineer and architect in the erection of buildings which will not only be best fitted for the uses to which they are to be put, but which will fulfill Ruskin's definition of architecture as "the art which so disposes and adorns the edifices raised by man for whatsoever purpose that the sight of them contributes to his mental health, power, and pleasure."

The progress of any community is limited by the facilities available for the transportation to market of its surplus products and for bringing to it the surplus products of other communities which it can not produce so economically. It follows that, if Southern agriculture and manufacturing are to develop to the highest degree of prosperity, there must be a contemporaneous development of Southern transportation facilities. The accomplishment of this will open up to our young men a very broad field with a large variety of opportunities for the application of special skill and special training. This field embraces the improvement of waterways wherever they are practicable, to the highest degree of usefulness, the construction and operation of steam and electric railways, the improvement of streets in our cities and towns, and, last but not least, the building of the highest type of that primary highway over which practically all agricultural products must move, the country road.

I might talk to you for hours about the opportunities which the South holds forth to the specially trained young man, but I have said enough to emphasize the value of a training such as is given in the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. In this connection, however, I should direct attention to the fact that while this school undertakes to equip young men for special fields of usefulness, it does not turn out one-sided men. It does not lose sight of the importance of building a specialized education upon a broad foundation of general culture. The architect, whether he plans to erect a cathedral, an office building, or a factory, must lay a broad and deep foundation. So the men responsible for the policy of this school have seen to it that "every course includes a certain element of general or liberal culture in addition to the special or technical studies appropriate to it, the aim being to give the student a practical, as well as theoretical, knowledge of the sciences related to the profession or pursuit he proposes to follow, and at the same time to fit him intelligently to discharge the duties of citizenship."

A thought which I should like to impress upon each one of you is that your education is not finished when you leave school. In a broad sense, the instruction which you have received here is but the preparation for that higher education which can only be obtained by practical experience. This is particularly true in the lines which the graduates of this school propose to follow. It is conceivable that a student of a dead language might master it so completely as to render further study unnecessary, but not so with the student of natural sciences and the active participant in productive enterprises. Even if he is to add nothing to the sum of human knowledge in his particular line, he will find it no mean task to keep abreast of the progress of the day. Imagine, if you can, how seriously handicapped would be the electrician who had not kept pace with the progress of electrical science in the past ten years, and what is true of progress in the science of electricity is true to a greater or less degree in every field of human activity. In the language of Thomas Carlyle, "Not mankind only, but all that mankind does or beholds, is in constant growth, regenesis, and self-perfecting vitality." The man, therefore, who is to keep abreast of the world can not cease to be a student when he lays aside his school textbooks and receives his diploma. His whole life must be one of advancing and broadening.

When you enter active business life, each one of you, whatever may be his profession or occupation, will find that his activities touch on every side the activities of other individuals and groups of individuals. You will find that all human activities are so closely interwoven and interrelated that causes which might seem, at first glance, to affect only one line of activity, produce very widespread results, often affecting profoundly the entire body politic. To quote from Mr. Carlyle again, "Not this and that man, but all men, make up mankind, and their united tasks are the tasks of mankind." Political economy may be defined as the science which treats of the interrelation of the tasks of mankind.

It is important, therefore, that every man should have an intelligent understanding of those economic laws which govern business relations. It is especially important that this knowledge should be widespread in a country such as our own, in which the people make their own laws.

I believe that your study of the history of human institutions will convince you that the greatest and most widely diffused prosperity may be expected in those nations in which individual industry and enterprise have been given the widest scope and in which the functions of government have been limited most nearly to the prevention of crime and the preservation of order. I believe that it was such a system that our forefathers intended to create when they framed the Constitution of the United States. One of the profoundest thinkers of them all, that great Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, declared that "Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and navigation, the four pillars of our national prosperity, are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise."

Fortunately, we have in the history of the world examples of almost every conceivable variety of governmental regulation affecting business enterprises. It is not necessary for us to embark on untried experiments. We have the history of the past and the current experience of other countries to guide us in framing our public policies affecting business relations. I believe that the history of the world teaches that the interrelations of all human activities are so intimate that any policy which would tend unduly to restrict those engaged in any occupation which is not in itself immoral must inevitably react upon all the people. Thus, a policy which would limit the activities of those engaged in agriculture and subject them to arbitrary regulations as to the prices of their products, or as to their methods of operation, would tend to discourage men from engaging in agricultural enterprises. Such a. result would be disastrous not only to the farmers, but to every individual in our land. This is not true of agriculture alone, but, whatever may be the temporary advantage to any class resulting from undue restriction upon the activities of those engaged in other forms of business, the ultimate effect must be injurious to all.

It is one of the fundamental laws of economics that capital tends to flow into those lines of employment assuring the largest and most certain returns. The object of every business is profit. One man invests his money in a farm, because he believes the result of its operation will be profitable to him. For the same reason, another man builds a factory, another engages in mining, and another in merchandising, and, for the same reason, others provide the means for carrying the products of the farm, of the factory, and of the mine, to market. It is only when men give money for religious or philanthropic objects that they expect no pecuniary return. They will only embark their capital in a business enterprise when the conditions surrounding the conduct of that business are such as to lead them to expect that its operation will result in a margin of profit over the costs of operation approximately equal to what the same amount of capital might be expected to earn in other enterprises.

It is of especial importance in our section that capital should be encouraged to flow into the business of transportation. It is manifestly to the advantage of such of you as expect to engage in this business that the field for your employment should be as broad as possible, but each one of us, no matter what may be his business or occupation, has a vital interest in the provision of adequate transportion facilities. It is essential to the success of any community or section in the contest for industrial and commercial supremacy that the increase in its transportation facilities should keep pace with the increase in its productive capacity. For this reason, I believe that we are all interested in securing the most efficient means of transportation possible by the improvement of our waterways, the extension and improvement of our railways, and the construction of the best possible wagon roads.

The common view of the public interest in a railway is exclusively as a carrier. The importance of the purchasing power of the railways and of those employed by them as factors in the general prosperity of the country is often lost sight of. The railways are not only carriers, but are themselves such large consumers of a vast variety of the products of the country that the prosperity of important industries and of their employees depends upon the maintenance of railway purchasing power. Railways consume, in one form or another, large quantities of coal, iron, lumber, and other materials, the production and fabrication of which into articles for railway consumption give employment to a large number of our fellow citizens. When the railways are purchasing on a large scale these industries and their employees prosper, and when railway purchases decline, their prosperity declines in like proportion. In times of business activity those employed directly in railway construction and operation number more than a million and a half. This vast army of railway employees and employees in those industries depending on railway consumption, with their families, must be housed, clothed, and fed, and general business activity is, therefore, dependent, in no small degree, upon their having steady employment at fair wages. By far the greater part of the aggregate expenditures of a railway are made along its lines. The money thus expended finds its way at once into the local channels of trade, benefiting not only those who receive it primarily, but the local merchant and manufacturer, and especially the farmer, who is engaged in the production of food products and the raw materials for clothing.

You young men are entering into active business life at a time when the world is confronted by complex social and economic problems, upon the proper solution of which the future happiness of the human race will, in large measure, depend. In no country are these practical problems of life pressing for solution more insistently than in our own. They embrace problems as to the proper management of those resources which are still part of the public domain, problems as to the development of waterpowers, the preservation of the forests, the improvement of water and land transportation, and those problems affecting the relations of employers and employees. In short, they are the problems of preserving and multiplying all of those opportunities which are open to the young men of our country. Another group of problems distinct from those of an economic character are those of a philanthropic nature, concerned with the betterment of the material and social conditions of those individuals who are victims of incapacity, thriftlessness, misfortune, or crime.

Not only do these problems concern all our people, but responsibility for so dealing with them as to advance our welfare as a people rests upon each one of us. As students of this institution you have had advantages superior to those of many of the young men of your communities. You are equipped not only for industrial leadership, but also for civic leadership. As your advantages have been great, so will your responsibilities be great, and however engrossing your business affairs may be, they should never be permitted to prevent you from discharging your duties as citizens. As the problems to which I have referred lie in the fields of economics and social science, their solution calls for clear thinking and sound reasoning and for the application to them of those fundamental principles of right and justice on which all human action should be based. I know of no class of citizens who can contribute more effectively to their proper solution than can the educated business men of our country, whose minds have been trained to reason from cause to effect and who see in their daily life the practical working of economic laws.

In dealing with these matters, I think it is important that the peculiar nature of each individual problem should be studied. It will be found that some require simply opportunity for the unrestricted working of economic laws, while others call for philanthropic treatment. If the best results are to be obtained, the line which separates economics from philanthropy should be always kept in view. Otherwise, there is danger of drifting toward socialism, or encouraging idleness. There is no reason why economics and philanthropy should not work side by side, but care should be taken that either does not encroach upon what should be the exclusive field of the other.

I believe that our system of government is the best that man has yet devised, and I have faith in the American people. Therefore, I believe that these problems, perplexing as they may be, will be so solved as to insure our advancement even to a higher plane of national prosperity and happiness than we have yet attained. Upon you young men and your brothers throughout the Southern States will devolve the high privilege and the duty of keeping our section in the lead in this advance. The opportunity is yours and we of the older generation have no fear that you will not prove worthy of it. The old commonwealth of Virginia will be no laggard in this advance. Centrally located in the tier of Atlantic States, this state escapes alike the rigorous winters of the north and the protracted summers of the more extreme South. Yet, between the mountain boundary on the West and the seaboard on the East, it embraces varieties of climatic conditions and soils which enable it to produce profitably practically all of the agricultural products of the Temperate Zone. In timber, stone, clays, and minerals of great variety, it possesses the basic raw materials for a diversified industrial development, for which its coal fields and waterpowers will provide mechanical energy. Not the least of the advantages of Virginia is its relative proximity to large consuming centers and its favorable conditions for the development of water and rail transportation. With its ideal location, its vast variety and richness of natural resources, and inhabitated by a people which produced a Patrick Henry and a Jefferson, a Washington and a Lee, the future of Virginia is assured.

Bulletin of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (State Agricultural and Mechanical College), Commencement Number, Vol. 1, No. 3, October 1908, pp. 32-43

William Wilson Finley took over as President of the Southern Railway Company in 1906 when Samuel Spencer was killed in a train wreck on his own railroad. He served until his own sudden death from a stroke in November, 1913.