Sunday, February 3, 2013


Darwin D. Martin (University Archives (SUNY)

John D. Larkin (Courtesy of Daniel I. Larkin)

John D. Larkin built the Larkin Soap Company into a nationally powerful mail order business through a combination of hard work, a passion for plowing profits back into the business, and an uncanny knack for hiring the right underlings. Bringing thirteen year old Darwin Martin to Buffalo as bookkeeper for the business at $3 per week was risky, however, and Larkin proceeded cautiously as this passage from Martin’s autobiography attests:

Mr. Larkin’s safe was a small affair but it held the ledger and order-books and tissue letter-books with which I had to work. The safe had to be locked overnight. I was never given the authority to unlock it. Every morning I chafed at the loss of time waiting for the arrival of the horse-and-buggy which always marked the beginning of Mr. L’s business day. I stood over him so many times while he worked the combination that I quite unconsciously absorbed the secret of the three numbers.
            One morning I grew so impatient that I tackled the combination, and lo and behold it opened and I went to my work.
            Mr. Larkin said nothing, but the next morning I found that the combination had been changed. Weeks and months ensued and I found that I was no better off for my safe-opening. But history repeated itself, I tackled the combination again, as impatiently, and again behold I had the safe unlocked!
            Nothing was said but the combination was not changed again and I opened the safe daily.  As I reflected on it, it was a silent comedy. When a new, larger Osgoodby safe replaced the Barth safe I was invited to supply the numbers of the combination. Mr. Larkin lived at 218 Swan Street. Mr. Hubbard at 234 South Division Street; therefore I at once suggested a combination none of us could forget, i.e., 21-82-34.

Young Martin eventually won John Larkin’s confidence and when in 1893 Elbert Hubbard, Larkin's partner, decided to quit the business, Martin took his place and eventually became the highest paid executive in the United States. The Darwin Martin House (1903-1906) soon followed.

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