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Biography of Arthur Capper
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Kansas | No Comments
Arthur Capper. It took Kansas half a century to decide that there might be a native worthy of being trusted with administering the highest office in the gift of the people of the state. Every two years the people would elect a governor, but not until 1914 did it elect a native son. A history of the states shows this to be a rather remarkable record.
Arthur Capper was the first son of Kansas to be its governor, and he was also the first son to be even a candidate. He has been a candidate three times, the first in 1912, when he was defeated by twenty-nine votes, and he was elected in 1914 and 1916. His defeat was of real value to the state, for it brought about a simplification of the election laws so that the possibilities of errors, so apparent in the election of 1912, were made almost impossible in the future.
Arthur Capper was born at Garnett, Anderson County, July 14, 1865. Mr. Capper’s parents were among the first settlers of Anderson County. His father was really one of the founders of Garnett and for forty years was engaged in merchandising and farming.
It was in this Christian home where Arthur Capper was taught the lessons of honesty, morality, industry, temperance and self-reliance. His parents were faithful members of the Quaker Church, and in the family circle the language of that religious organization was used in the daily conversation. Early influences and teachings count for much in the lives of men, for Arthur Capper’s publications and the countless articles he has written in behalf of all religious movements and right living, bear testimony to his character as a useful and worthy citizen.
These parents were poor in everything but common sense, and they started the lad into a path of industry and thrift that has led him to become the largest publisher in the middle west, and one of the wealthiest mon in Kansas. He studied in the Garnett common schools, and was graduated from the Garnett High School. But even before this he had entered upon his career as a printer. One Christmas he was given a toy printing outfit, and with it he was able to print cards and small handbills for merchants and professional men and before he was out of school had made and saved a considerable sum.
At fourteen years Arthur Capper began his real career as a publisher when be became the “devil” in the office of the Garnett Journal. His first job was to ink the rollers of the old Washington hand press, and the foreman secured a cracker box from a nearby grocery for the lad to stand on while doing the job. One dollar a week was the munificent salary paid him at the start, and, after serving his apprenticeship and becoming a real printer, Arthur Capper was collecting $8 a week.
Following in the footsteps of all the journeymen printers it came time for him to follow the traditions of the craft and work around a bit. A printer, when he completes his apprenticeship, is expected to start away from home with just enough money to get him to the next town, and then he must make his living during a trip through the big printing establishments, learning the ins and outs of the trade. Arthur Capper started on his journey. But as a printer he never got any farther than Topeka.
He came into the office of the Capital one Monday afternoon and asked the foreman for the “extra job.” The foreman said he had a fiock of extra jobs, as the printers had just been paid off and were on a “high Lonesome” that would make getting out the paper uncertain, if not impossible. The Capital was set by hand in those days, and it took a big crew of men to set the local and telegraph news, and also all the ads. Capper showed up at the appointed hour and set more type than any printer on the job had set for months, and he brought in cleaner proofs than the foreman had seen in many moons.
The printers came straggling back from their weekly debauch but one of them lost his job and Arthur Capper had it. He became a regular man right from the start, and never lost a day. Thirty years after, men who had worked with him, possibly the very man who lost his job when Arthur Capper came on, walked into Mr. Capper’s office and asked for work–and got it.
The young Kansan had one trait heretofore rare in the printing trade. He never drank liquors. Payday was the same old day to him, and besides that the instructions of his old Quaker father and mother had taught him to put a little of his wages aside for days when work was not so plentiful.
Within a few months the “front office” began taking notice of the new printer, and the late Maj. J. K. Hudson became interested in him and lent every encouragement. He advanced rapidly in pay, and was drawing better than $25 a week when he thought to do a little reporting when the late Judge John Martin delivered his famous prohibition speech from the steps of the courthouse. In this speech Judge Martin told the liquor element that the prohibitory law was the law and that it would be enforced. There was no reporter handy so the young printer wrote the story of the speech and turned it in. It pleased the editorial rooms so much that the printer was offered a job as a reporter at $10 a week. What is more, he took it to learn the other end of the publishing business. He never returned to the case.
As a reporter Arthur Capper gained the reputation of being the most industrious man in town. He turned in more copy than anyone else and while there was nothing sensational, seldom a real feature, it was all good reading about things every one was interested in and wanted to read. He was sent to the Legislature in 1889.
Then the Capital decided to send a man to Washington as a correspondent, and Arthur Capper was picked for that job. He sent in the most complete stories of the doings of the Kansas Congressmen, and the result of his work was an offer of a job on the New York Tribune, and about the first day he landed there the city editor sent the young Jayhawker out to write the story of a yacht race. Like Victor Murdock, who went to Chicago and invented a new style of baseball reporting that made the story more interesting than the game itself, Arthur Capper made yacht racing more interesting to the readers of the Tribune than it was to the real spectators. He did a lot of other good work in New York, but the prairies kept calling and he returned to Kansas. In 1893 he began business for himself as the owner of the North Topeka Mail. Later he purchased the Topeka Breeze from Tom McNeal and made the Mail and Breeze now his chief farm paper.
While he was still a reporter Arthur Capper, like nearly all “reporters” got the editor bug and wanted his own little country paper. He went to Hugoton to buy the Hermes at the solicitation of the late Col. Sam N. Wood. The Stevens county-seat war was on, and it was a real war. Bad men were numerous. The barkeeper and the faro dealer were the two busiest men in town. Colonel Wood showed the young man the sights of the town, discounted the wind, the bullets and the bad men, and pointed out that the most favorable place in the whole world for a young man to make his fortune was right at Hugoton. But the young reporter couldn’t see it that way and was up before daylight to catch the stage for Lakin, and he never returned to that country until he became a candidate for governor.
From the publication of the weekly Mail and Breeze it was but natural for an active newspaper man to drift into the daily publishing business, and when the Bank of Topeka found itself the owner of the Topeka Capital it picked the likeliest newspaper man in town to run it. Whatever the purchase price, only $2,000 in real money changed hands the day the deal was made. That was all Arthur Capper had. He was given all the time he wanted to pay the balance.
It was a long and hard pull to get the Capital out of the fire. But Arthur Capper kept at it until he had made that paper one of the most profitable newspaper enterprises in the state. Along with the Capital he built up the Mail and Breeze until it became the biggest farm paper in Kansas. From time to time there has been added the Missouri Valley Farmer, Capper’s Weekly, Nebraska Farm Journal, Missouri Ruralist, the Household and the Oklahoma Farmer.
The management of the business and editorial affairs of all these papers could be successfully handled by one man only if he were trained in practically every department of the publication business. That is where Arthur Capper showed himself to be a smart man when he quit work at $25 a week in the composing room to take a reporter’s job at $10 a week. Besides the newspapers there is the hig job printing establishment and also the big engraving plant, all operated under the direct supervision of Mr. Capper.
After getting his business well organized the young man decided to see for himself just how he had the business in hand. So he went into politics, leaving the men he had trained to actually manage his papers, printing plant and engraving company. The big properties continued to run just as smoothly and just as profitably as when Mr. Capper was in active charge all the time, which indicates a wonderful genius for organization and the picking of men who can be depended upon.
Five years ago he built the big new building for all his properties. It is a five story building and was thought to be large enough to handle the business for years. It is already overcrowded.
In politics Arthur Capper has always been a republican. But he has been on the side of progress at every turn, and all but bolted the party several times to make it swing from standpatism to progressivism and the cause of advancement. He stood by the progressive wing of the party even in defeat and when it cost him hundreds of votes of the stand-pat element of the party. He has always supported business in the administration of state, county and city affairs and when he became governor it was upon the express promise to do for the state as he had done for his own business, as far as he was able. Two years in office showed him the folly of a real business administration in state affairs with the system of government that permitted changes of officers every two or four years and divided responsibility where derelict officials could blame others for their failure to perform their sworn duties. At the opening of his second term Governor Capper announced a program of progressive measures intended to make government simpler, more effective and less expensive to the taxpayers. The budget system of state appropriations, the consolidation of boards and commissions with more direct responsibility, the city-manager plan and a change of county governments to remove numerous useless and expensive offices, were included in his program.
Governor Capper has been interested in almost everything that makes Kansas a better place to live in. He fought for the pensions for mothers and the child hygiene department and when he found there was a joker in the mother’s pension law set about to remove this and make the law a real benefit to the women and children of the state. He has been an active member or an officer in the various peace movements and was a vice president for Kansas for the National Welfare League. He has always been a booster for good roads and for prohibition in the state and nation. He helped put through the workingmen’s compensation law amendments, and fought for a minimum wage and shorter hours for the women workers of the state. In fact, there has been nothing that makes for better government, better homes, better society that he has not taken an active interest in. He is also an ardent lodge man, belonging to several secret orders and is one of the governors of Mooseheart, the Moose home in Illinois.
In 1892 Mr. Capper married Miss Florence Crawford, daughter of the late Samuel J. Crawford, the third governor of Kansas. For many years they lived in an old frame home at the corner of Topeka Avenue and Eleventh Street. This was recently torn down, and an elegant and comfortable home was built on the grounds.
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