Quirks of history: Customer service circa 1909


Interesting correspondence with a railroad regarding a misapprehended hat, in 1909.

1. Can you imagine any common carrier institution taking such care with a customer today?

2. Can you imagine any such chain of correspondence in e-mail, or by telephone?

3. Can you build a lesson plan for a history class around this correspondence?

Further thoughts: This story puts me in mind of two others that turned out quite differently. The first is the (possibly apocryphal) story of Abraham Lincoln’s borrowing a book to read, and stashing it between the logs of the cabin when he put out the candle. After a nighttime rain in which the water ran down the side of the cabin and soaked the book, Lincoln returned the book to its owner and at great personal expense replaced it, the story goes — meriting the the “Honest Abe” moniker. The book was reputed to have been a biography of George Washington.

The second story is that of American businessman William Boyce, lost in a London fog and late for a business appointment in 1909. Out of the fog came a boy in uniform who offered to guide Boyce to his appointment, and did — and then refused a tip because, as he explained, he was a Scout, and Scouts did not take payment for good deeds. The legend is that Boyce later met with the founder of Scouting in Britain, Lord Baden-Powell, and then carried Scouting to the United States, incorporating the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. The Scout was never identified, but is instead honored in Scout lore as the “unknown Scout.”

Buffalo tribute to unknown Scout at Gilwell ParkStatue of an American Bison, erected at Scouting’s training center in Gilwell Park, England, in honor of the unknown Scout who helped businessman William D. Boyce find his way, and thereby played a key role in the founding of Boy Scouting in the U.S.

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