Countdown to our 100th Anniversary: Notes and Correspondence from our Founder, Titus B. Schmid

Over the next year, we're celebrating the Countdown to our 100th Anniversary by sharing stories from our past. The history of our founder, Titus B. Schmid, and all those that impacted him, play a vital role in the creation of Crescent Electric Supply Company. Join us as we take a stroll down memory lane in preparation for our Centennial celebration in April, 2019!


Story 5: Notes and Correspondence from our Founder, Titus B. Schmid

Before we move on to the era of the Schmid boys running the business, we need to develop an appreciation for the passion Titus had for ensuring the success of Crescent Electric Supply Company throughout his life. Titus was like any entrepreneur, always worrying about how to fund the business to help it grow. John Schmid wrote this about his Dad, which seems to capture Titus vision for managing the business:

 
  "One of his favorite quotations was, "running a business is a lot like rowing a boat in the river. You either go forward or backward."

"One of his favorite quotations was, "running a business is a lot like rowing a boat in the river. You either go forward or backward."

 

During the 1920’s as the business grew and opened more branches, Titus was constantly focused on how to finance the growth:

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Titus speaks about the risks he took in the early years of running his business. He would take large credit risks with customers to be able to secure the materials he needed to sell from the manufacturer:

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As Titus continued to grow the company, even expanding into new lines of business during the Great Depression, he never ceased worrying about the company’s finances. In his book he mentions the challenges and at one point writes:

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While Titus wrote of the challenges of business ownership in his book, he also shared many of his concerns in the many letters that he wrote to his family. In both his personal and professional life, Titus was a prolific letter writer. He not only wrote letters to his seven children, he also wrote many personal letters to his 36 grandchildren as well. His daughter-in-law, Mary Schmid, married to Titus’s son Jim, tells of Titus’s letters in the video below:

 

Titus's daughter-in-law, Mary Schmid, married to Titus’s son Jim, tells of Titus writing letters.

 

Pictured: Titus B. Schmid

Fortunately, we have found over 30 letters written by Titus over a twenty two year period, from 1960 to 1982, when Titus was age 68 until his death at age 90.

Editor’s note: Titus wrote his children at least weekly when he was living in Florida for the winter, but only a few letters were saved, mostly by his son Bill.

While these letters were his personal correspondence with his family, he often included comments about the business. Below, I have compiled some of the business comments so that you, the reader, can begin to understand the lifelong passion Titus had for Crescent Electric Supply Company. These letters are in chronological order.

 

Editor’s note: "…" is used to separate the thoughts as Titus sprinkled his business comments throughout his letters.

3/7/66
Dear Bill, 
…You know son I have a suggestion to make for whatever it is worth. You know my boy one of these days when you have both Rochester and Waterloo going strong, why not go help that new house get off the ground. You could take a few days by calling on the contractors, the Industrials and the utilities, and tell them all that we would like to have their business…
…Total sales for all houses for February was delightful to hear about. My, I hope this first quarter, this year will find the company at least breaking even.  My, every year in quite a few we have started in the red and it has taken six or seven months at least to get us out of the red…
…Hope all your managers are getting a little better gross margin so that we can focus on the wire expenses. I’ve taken a substantial cut in my salary and I hope to make this up in the stock market. With any kind of good luck, I believe I can do so… 
…Do hope that all houses can hold down their inventories and if so we can obtain better turn over…
…John writes saying he has been able to acquire two new people and hopes they will work out. Am not personally satisfied with the progress being made by our key customer there. They should have greater sales. Poor Jim is beset with money problems with increased wires sales, and consequently increased receivables and greater inventories. He is really pressed to come up with sufficient funds to handle this increased traffic. All the managers have been very helpful by getting better turn over to help with this problem…
 
4/21/66    
Dear Bill, 
…Tomorrow finishes up another sales month and I trust it will be a profitable one.
…Tom had a good trip with the Sunbeam people. He says that perhaps we may in 1967 get a rebate from the company…
 
4/27/66
Dear Bill, 
…John writes that he will have the new plant going in Clinton by May 15th. This is a good time of the year to start up. Have had no word as to how Peoria plant is starting out but no doubt the boys will advise us on this when they are here. This little rest will do Jim and Mary a lot of good. Jim has not been away from his job in a long time…
…Enjoyed your report on Rochester and I know my pal will get this unit into the profit column before long... 

(EDITORS NOTE: Titus often used the expression “my pal” as a form of endearment.)

 
2/15/67
Dear Bill, 
…Am of course delighted to learn that Waterloo had a large increase in sales for January. Dubuque reported a large increase so I hope that we can start out 1967 with a sales increase in total…
 
8/21/67
Dear Bill,
…Gosh my boy, I sure hope that the business from your three houses is good. We sure need it badly…
 
12/21/69
Dear Bill, 
…By now I imagine we have left 200 South Main St. and are well settled in East Dubuque. Sure hope this move was made without too much cost. Also hope those Supervisors will rent the former quarters. That would be so helpful…
…That GE strike will surely bust us sooner or later which means that the first quarter of next year will not be a good one for us. What will hurt most is that we have no major appliances to sell…
…Well my boy, all we can do is to try hard, no one can do more…. 
 
4/3/71
Dear Bill, 
… My comments on the enclosed financial summaries has been made after a few hi-balls I’ve had before dinner, so maybe the comments are out of order. However, seriously it would seem your total margin should have been higher…

(Editor’s note: I cannot believe Bill saved this letter as I imagine he wasn’t thrilled to receive this part of the message!)

…Am delighted with Jim’s report of March sales being up. While not enough to place us in the black, it was a darn good month…

…One of these days my pal, we are really going to knock ‘em dead with a really big year, don’t you agree? My, I’m so proud of the talent we have, and for sure that cream will rise to the top of the bottle…

(Editor’s note: Titus was consistently complimentary of the employees of Crescent throughout his life, and never failed to appreciate their hard work and dedication.)

 
3/26/72
Dear Bill, 
…so nice that you can report that your business is good. In Tom’s letter of a few days ago he felt our March sales would be quite soft. I hope I will be surprised shortly…
…That Jim sure must have a sore wrist although he did promise he would do better sending letters.  He has been terrible in that respect…
 
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12/13/73
Dear Jeanne, 
…You all will never know of the effort and heart aches that I have had during the growth of this company…
…It’s a great company and thank goodness my boys, who must carry on, are doing so with great skill
 
5/15/73
Dear Bill, 
… Jim tells us that he is having a terrible time getting our accounts receivable down. Gosh with money getting tight and interest rates going up this is a bad time to have our accounts in such shape…
…We really need another big jump in volume which would make one hell of a difference in our net. It also could boom Blackhawk…
 
5/1/80
Dear Bill, 
…Yes, Bill keeping that inventory down is so important and you have to stay with it constantly. From now on until this so-called recession has passed, we just have to play our game with all the skill we can muster. My great fear is that all this world unrest could result in World War III and that would no doubt be a disaster…
…You are all now back from your trip and I hope the result will be greater sales of that brand of lighting…
 
11/27/80
Dear Bill, 
…Jim reports our sales are way off and, of course, with that prime rate of 18% most distribution will be slowed up or stopped entirely…
…Then that computer company we employed went bankrupt and this could cause us to lose a bundle and set us back a few more years in accomplishing our goals we had been expecting…
…Just hope that Rockford judge decides in favor of the company or we may have to move out of that Rockford building we are in…
…John writes very encouragingly about his sales but apparently company wide, we will be way off for this month… 
 
12/1/80
Dear Bill, 
…Well, a brand new month is at hand and I hope it will prove to be a good sales month…
…Delighted to learn the Rockford building matter settled and eventually we will be able to buy that building. That was a worry for a while. Not too sure about all the details. Now to get that darn computer matter under control… 
 
12/12/80
Dear Bill,
…Your note arrived along with a report from Jim. Our November P&L was just half of November 1979…
…Grandson Dick phoned me yesterday as he does now and then, to tell me he hoped to get a really big order today. I believe this was for a big job at the power plant being done by a Chicago contractor…
…Believe I did tell you also that Ron Woodward of Rapid City wrote saying that if all he had on order was shipped he would have the largest sales month that Rapid City has ever had… 
…All we can do my boy, is to try our level best to get as much business as there is about for construction is bound to be at a minimum with interest as high as it is…
…We all have to try just a little harder son, while this tough business period is with us…
 
1/4/81 
Dear Bill, 
…My son, I wonder what’s ahead for us at least for the first part of 1981. With these high interest rates, I do not believe many people will do much building so repairing supplies no doubt will be our dish for awhile…
…In Harry’s latest sales report we are 2% ahead. I hope December sales will keep us ahead of last year’s sales total…
 
2/3/81
Dear Bill,
…Yes son, we are experiencing some very tough business times. This requires our best thinking and efforts we all can muster. That slogan of “make it happen” is so very appropriate at this time. I have the confidence in all of our crew that we can weather this storm as well as any firm can. It takes your leadership today Bill to lead our people to provide their best efforts…
…We will make mistakes, errors in judgement but if these at all houses are kept to a minimum, we can win this battle…
 
4/27/81
Dear Bill, 
…Got such a kick out of the first quarter report which shows our St. Louis house is number one. Joliet had been holding first place for quite some time….
…Jim in his note says we need a big jump in sales per day for the last three billing days to equal last year’s sales. Gosh I hope we make it….
…Received a very fine letter from Reg Jones. He retired on April 1st and Jack Welch took over at that time for him. Had a dandy letter from Jack Welch also. I’ve known the top man at GE well ever since 1925. That really has been helpful… 

This is a signed photo Reg Jones from General Electric sent to Titus.

 
4/30/1981
Dear Bill, 
...Jim said we need a big boost in sales for the last two days to break even with last year’s April sales. It is a pretty hefty amount to sell…
 
3/22/82
Dear Bill,
…Was so pleased to have Jim tell me that Crescent has been in the black for all months so far…
…Am also informed that a distributor in Des Moines and Moline has gone bankrupt. No doubt there will be others…
 

As you have read, Titus remained devoted to the success of Crescent Electric Supply Company throughout his life. While he turned over the day to day management of the business to his sons in the 1960’s, he never failed to stay in touch with the business and be supportive of his son’s efforts. These letters captured his entrepreneurial spirit and guidance when times were challenging.


About the Project as explained by the Author:

Author Mary Schmid Daugherty is a third generation Schmid family member. Content for this Project, a historical narrative, was selected from the personal archives of many members of the Schmid family. A special thanks to the Tom Schmid family for their voluminous archives of materials of the early years of the Schmid family beginning in 1856. The narrative itself required the author to cull and categorize hundreds of pieces of information (old newspaper articles, photos, interviews, movies and physical memorabilia). She then fit the pieces together to share this story of the Schmid family and Crescent Electric over the past 100 years. The resulting Project is a series of vignettes, of which this is one. She hopes you enjoy reading and watching these vignettes.

To learn more about the Author’s professional qualifications visit her website: https://www.stthomas.edu/business/faculty/directory/daugherty-mary.html

© Mary Schmid Daugherty May 2018


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