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Golden Rule Jones


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Samuel Milton Jones, often referred to as "Golden Rule Jones," was born Aug. 3, 1846, in north Wales, United Kingdom. He and his family emigrated to Lewis County, N.Y, when he was 3 years old. He grew up in New York until he moved to Titusville, Pa., and as an 18-year-old, he worked in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. There, he studied different methods of oil production and became a producer himself in 1870. Depressed by the death of his first wife, he moved to Lima, Ohio seeking change. In 1886, with his headquarters in Lima, he operated oil fields. He made a big strike near Lima in 1886. That same year he met Helen W. Beach, a lady from a prominent Toledo, Ohio, family. In 1892, they married and settled in Toledo.

Jones work in the oil fields led to his inventing the sucker rod, which permitted deep-well drilling. He patented his invention and began to manufacture it, but in 1893, shortly before Jones opened his factory, economic catastrophe struck America. Stocks plunged, banks failed, businesses collapsed and millions of people were thrown out of work. It was the worst depression in the nation's history.

Jones' business plans were not affected by the massive downturn, but his soul was profoundly altered. Contemplating the tramps camped on the outskirts of town, the desperate men who begged him for a job, the upsurge of petty crime and the angry demands for law and order from the pulpit and city hall, Jones began to ask himself if there were something fundamentally wrong with America.

The big Welshman had been brought up on the bible by his parents. Was it the failure to practice the teachings of Jesus that had created these terrible problems? Of all the teachings of the man from Nazareth, the one that had made the deepest impression on Jones was the Golden Rule.

Jones decided to see if the Golden Rule could be practiced in business. When he opened his factory, workmen discovered a sign on the wall: "The Rule that Governs This Factory: 'Therefore Whatsoever Ye Would That Men Should Do Unto You, Do Ye Even So Unto Them.'"

Jones' place was different from others. There were no foremen or time clocks. Everything was done on the honor system. For very little money the workers could buy stock in the company, unheard of at the time. To give his employees a sense of community, Jones sponsored picnics and outings to nearby lakes. And each Christmas every worker received a bonus, along with a letter from Jones.

Frequently, he hired men who were unshaven and unkempt; derelicts, other people called them. Some became his most productive workers. Jones astonished the Toledo business world by giving his employees one week's vacation with pay. Even more astonishing in the era of the 12-hour day, he instituted the eight-hour day, so more men could have jobs in a time of terrible want, and because he believed eight hours were the most a man could work productively.

Next to the factory, Jones built Golden Rule park and playground, where workers enjoyed relatively fresh air and their children capered on slides and swings. In nearby Golden Rule Hall, people heard speakers from across America, teaching them how to improve their lives through education and spiritual rebirth.

Soon, many people were urging Jones to run for mayor of Toledo. After much soul searching, he became the Republican candidate in 1897. He won, and promptly began to apply the teachings of Jesus to politics. On his office wall he carved on a 3-by-1-foot board: "Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged."

The new mayor banned the police habit of dragging poor people off the street and throwing them in jail on mere suspicion of wrongdoing. With the help of a crusading young lawyer named Brand Whitlock, the mayor began hearing these cases himself. Mayor Jones also disliked police smacking people around with their clubs. He replaced the clubs with light sticks that could not inflict serious injuries.

Next, he established civil-service examinations for policemen and other municipal employees, ending the demoralizing habit of wholesale firings whenever a new administration took over city hall. He put all city workers on eight-hour days and set a minimum wage. He introduced kindergartens into the city's schools. He turned over his salary to his clerk, who was told to distribute it to those who needed help. When that stipend vanished, as it often did within a week, the mayor dug into his personal fortune.

Despite all his civic and business reforms Jones remained unsatisfied with his own spiritual progress. He constantly tried to live the Golden Rule no matter how difficult it became. Once, he went to see an opponent with a written statement of his opposition on a controversial issue. The man snatched the paper out of Jones' hand and tore it up. In his day, Jones had held his own in the rough-and-tumble world of the oil fields. His big, hardened hands had thrown their share of punches. But Mayor Jones walked away without striking a blow or saying a word. He went to the office of Whitlock, who had become his protégé. Struggling against rage, Jones told Whitlock what had happened. Then a smile broke over his face.

"Well, I've won the greatest victory of my life," he said. "A victory over myself, over my own nature. I have done what it has always been hardest for me to do."

"What?" asked Whitlock.

"It has always seemed to me that the most remarkable thing that was ever said of Jesus was that when he was reviled, he reviled not again. It is the hardest thing in the world to do."

Jones died of pneumonia in 1904 at the age of 57, not long after his fourth election victory. Only then did people discover that during his seven years as mayor, Sam Jones gave more than $700,000 to the poor - two-thirds of his original fortune. That is the equivalent today of nearly $13 million dollars.

I would like to thank Dave Hayden, Thomas Fleming and Rick Dorrel for their assistance in compiling information for this brief review of Jones' life.

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