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Biography of John Leo McLaughlin

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JOHN LEO McLAUGHLIN – There is a man in Pittsfield who is the living exponent of the principle put into practical use in that city, to wit: That a cooperative coal yard can be run successfully over a course of years, secure good coal for its customers, pay dividends to its shareholders and a patronage refund to its consumers, and at the same time disabuse the general public’s mind of the idea that such a scheme of business cannot be made to pay. The man who has demonstrated the above salient facts is John Leo McLaughlin, manager of the Pittsfield Cooperative Coal Company, which has made history for itself, as well as the city that has been the scene of its operations for eighteen years. Mr. McLaughlin is the man at the helm of the cooperative company, and he has at his back 2,000 satisfied customers and seven hundred stockholders, whose number includes some of the most influential people of the city; and the record of the volume of business done through the yards is a quarter of a million dollars gross a year. These magnificent results are the fruition of a plan that had its inception in a seemingly minor labor difficulty which arose when eight coal team drivers asked their employer to increase their wages from $9 to $10 a week; and upon his refusal of their demands, they immediately started the movement to better their living conditions through a cooperative coal yard.

John Leo McLaughlin, the Cooperatives manager, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, May 30, 1868, and was educated in the grammar and high schools and Eastman’s Business College of Poughkeepsie. His first regular employment outside his native city was with the Weil, Haskell Company, New York City, large wholesale gents’ furnishing dealers, with whom he remained from 1890 until 1895. He then went to E. D. Depew & Co., importers and wholesale grocers, whose senior partner, E. D. Depew, was a cousin of Chauncey M. Depew, the noted former railroad president, United States Senator and orator. In 1911 Mr. McLaughlin transferred his activities to Lee, where he became partner in a large general store operated under the name of Quigley & McLaughlin. June 1, 1912, Mr. McLaughlin removed to Pittsfield, and on the invitation of the prime movers in the Cooperative Coal Company, he became its manager, which position he has since filled with remarkable success, as the record and standing of the company in the community attest. Mr. McLaughlin is active in numerous civic and fraternal organizations, and is prominent in business men’s associations. He was a member of the Pittsfield City Council, 1915-16, and is one of the incorporators of the City Savings Bank of Pittsfield. He is a member of the Crane (Senator Crane) Memorial Board, a member and one of the incorporators of the St. Charles Educational Society, and of the Boylan Memorial Hospital, New England Retail Coal Dealers’ Association, director Pittsfield Chamber of Commerce, a director and past president (for three terms) of the Father Mathew Total Abstinence Society, member of the Knights of Columbus, and of the fourth degree of that order, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and is president of the Particular Council of Pittsfield.

Mr. McLaughlin married Anna B. O’Brien, whose mother, ninety-seven years of age and still active mentally and physically, lives with them. Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin are the parents of four children: John Leo, Jr., educated in the Pittsfield grammar and high schools and the Catholic University of Washington, District of Columbia, and now is an electrical engineer at the General Electric Company; Elizabeth M., educated in the Pittsfield grammar and high schools and the Sargent School of Boston, whence she was graduated; William J., educated in the Pittsfield grammar and high schools, and now taking the course in advertising at Columbia University; and Winifred, a student in the Pittsfield grammar school.

Mr. McLaughlin may well be proud of the fact that no one man or group of men controls the Pittsfield Cooperative Coal Company. The stockholders are able to purchase coal and enjoy the refund of five per cent on the market price. These stockholders, who own from one to forty shares each, have only one vote apiece in the management of the company. When the eight original coal team drivers took matters into their own hands and determined to organize a cooperative coal yard they knew little of the administration end of the business. But it was not long before they exercised the good judgment of employing a manager at an attractive salary to guide the destinies of the new concern when it had reached proportions too large for them to handle efficiently. The manager they hired is John L. McLaughlin, whose report for the six months ending January 1, 1924, showed a profit of more than $6,000 on more than $110,000 worth of business. Deducting all charges, the company carried over for reserve and expansion $2,500, bringing the reserve account up to almost $45,000. So it will be perceived that what the obdurate dealer eighteen years ago declared to be “all a bluff” has turned out to be virtually the largest retail coal business in Berkshire County. The company did not have plain sailing at the start. They were beset by lack of capital and lack of credit. They experienced great difficulty in getting coal. A large dealer, who had sold coal to Pittsfield retailers for years, refused to recognize the new company’s certified checks. They eventually hit upon an old linecompany who agreed to supply them with one thousand tons of anthracite, and since that memorable occasion they have always been able to command a supply of coal. The Cooperative specializes in hard coal, but handles in addition a large tonnage of bituminous. The stockholders include some of the richest citizens of Pittsfield, and incidentally a number of these are among the heaviest users of anthracite in the city. The concern is a member of the Pittsfield Chamber of Commerce, on whose board of directors there now is an active labor leader. The company stands by its customers through thick and thin, and, naturally, one of the concern’s chief assets is the loyalty of its members and patrons. There is a decidedly democratic element in the make-up of the Cooperative’s board of directors. The president of the company, who has but recently been elected, is Joseph Pfeiffer, a merchant. The treasurer, Frank J. Owen, is assistant actuary of the Berkshire Life Insurance Company, and has held office in the Cooperative ever since it started. The list of other directors includes William H. Currier, an oculist; Representative William E. Staples, Clark J. Harding, bank cashier; William J. Joyce, letter carrier; Charles F. Reid, assistant secretary of the Berkshire Mutual Life Insurance Company; Edward Sammon, plumber; Patrick Fallon, barber, and Frank A. Farrell, shoe dealer. Staples, Fallon and Sammon were among the original incorporators. Treasurer Owen, in picturing the success which the Cooperative has enjoyed these many years, summed up the remarkable history of the company in these words: “Mr. McLaughlin has made good and more than fulfilled expectations.”


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