Biography of Edward C. Simmons
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Edward C. Simmons had passed the eightieth milestone when he was called from his activities to the world beyond. His career had indeed been a most active and useful one. He was numbered among those men to whom St. Louis attributes her development and her greatness. He entered the commercial circles of the city when a lad of sixteen years as an apprentice to the hardware trade in the store of Child, Pratt & Company on Main street, near Vine. From that time until his death his course was marked by a steady progression that ultimately gave him world leadership in connection with the hardware business until he stood at the head of the largest enterprise of this character not only in America but in all the world. It has been said that opportunity never knocks at the door of one who is not ready to receive her. At every point in his career Edward C. Simmons was watchful of those chances which would permit him to take a forward step and he was never afraid to venture when the way was open. The story of his life is certainly an inspiring one.
Born in Frederick, Maryland, on the 21st of September, 1839, he was but seven years of age when brought by his parents, Zachariah T. and Louise (Helfenstein) Simmons, to St. Louis, where he became a public school pupil, passing through consecutive grades to his entrance to the high school, then located on Sixth, between St. Charles and Locust’ streets. When his textbooks were put aside he entered upon the apprenticeship previously indicated and after three years thus spent he became an employee of Wilson, Levering & Waters, a firm that had recently established business at No. 51 North Main street. In that connection he made steady advancement as the result of his industry, his capability and faithfulness and when four years later Mr. Wilson retired from the firm he was admitted to a partnership under the style of Levering, Waters & Company, becoming one of the proprietors of the business on the 1st of January, 1863. Following the death of Mr. Levering in 1864, the business was reorganized under the firm name of Waters, Simmons & Company and so remained until Mr. Waters retired in 1870. With the accession of Isaac W. Morton to the firm at that time the style was changed to E. C. Simmons & Company and thus Edward C. Simmons reached the head of an enterprise which, under his guidance, was to develop into the largest establishment of the kind in the world. A contemporary writer said of him while he was still a factor in the world’s work: “He was the first of the business men of St. Louis to appreciate the advantage of the liberal provisions of the Missouri laws as applied to corporations and was the pioneer in the entire United States in incorporating mercantile concerns, thus setting an example that has been most extensively followed since. “He was led to this step by the purpose and desire to give his worthy employees an opportunity to invest in the stock of the company and thus reap the more direct reward of their labors. The name of Simmons Hardware Company has become synonymous with the hardware trade of the country and the growth of this mammoth concern is attributable in large measure to him whose name introduces this record.
It has been said that no man is truly successful who does not love his business and find joy in its control. From his boyhood Mr. Simmons was enthusiastically interested in his work and beginning with the most simple duties advanced from one department to another until he had mastered the trade to the minutest detail and through experience had gained a splendid equipment for the larger operations of the vast enterprise which he developed. He has not been a follower but a leader in the world of trade, being the first to introduce and utilize methods which are now generally followed. He was one of the earliest merchants to employ traveling salesmen and with the growth of the business the company today employs more traveling representatives than any other establishment in America. The selection of these men was always a matter of pride with Mr. Simmons, for it was his constant aim to secure men who would elevate the business, keeping it up to the highest possible standard, not only in the extent of trade but in the courtesy of its representatives and in the service to the public. He encouraged his salesmen to be upright in the broadest sense of the term, to cultivate good habits and strict integrity. His favorite maxims, which he made the basis of his business rules, were: “The jobber’s first duty is to help his customers to prosper”; and “The recollection of quality remains long after the price is forgotten.” The latter constituted the watchword of his entire business career and he would sacrifice profit rather than his standard in this direction.
In an analization of his life work it will be seen that one of the strong elements in Mr. Simmons’ success was his ability correctly to judge men. This was evidenced in his selection of his staff of assistants and it may be confidently asserted that there is not today in the United States a more perfect business organization than Simmons Hardware Company, nor one founded on a more enduring basis.
On the 1st of January, 1898, Mr. Simmons, together with his friend and associate, Mr. Morton, retired from active business. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Wallace D. Simmons, who had gone through a long and careful course of training for the important duties devolving upon the head of this immense institution. Mr. Simmons and Mr. Morton, however, retained their places on the board of directors, acting in an advisory capacity while shifting the larger responsibilities to younger shoulders. Mr. Morton died some years ago. Mr. Simmons was an important factor in bringing trade from remote sections to St. Louis, his salesmen having covered every state and territory in the Union. He always believed St. Louis to be the most favorably located geographically, of the larger cities as a jobbing center and was enthusiastic on the subject of its commercial possibilities. He witnessed its development from a small and inconsequential town with but limited industrial and financial interests, into the fourth city of the Union and to this result he largely contributed. It would be impossible for a man of his resourcefulness to confine his efforts to one line alone. His activities covered a wide range and at all times the city has been either a direct or indirect beneficiary. In addition to his mercantile enterprises he has been largely interested in banking, having been at different times and for long periods a director of the Boatmen’s Bank, the St. Louis National Bank, the National Bank of Commerce and the St. Louis Union Trust Company.
In 1866 occurred the marriage of Edward C. Simmons and Miss Carrie Welch, a daughter of George W. and Lucy Welch. They became the parents of three sons: Wallace D., now the president of Simmons Hardware Company; Edward H. and George W., who are vice presidents of the company.
The family circle was broken by the hand of death when on the 18th of April, 1920, Edward C. Simmons was called to the home beyond, and thus passed away one whose name is inseparably linked with the commercial development of St. Louis, for long after he had retired from active connection with the Simmons, Hardware Company he was known throughout the country as the dean of the trade in the United States. A lifelong member of the Episcopal church, Mr. Simmons made his religion the basis of the high ideals which ever actuated him in his relations to his fellowmen. He was a member of the St. Louis, Noonday, St. Louis Country and Commercial Clubs. He was keenly interested in the welfare of the city and cooperated in many of those movements and organized activities which looked to the benefit and upbuilding of St. Louis. His own standards of life were ever high. In 1880-1 he was a member of the St. Louis police board which is given credit for the permanent closing of every public gambling house in a single night. Always an advocate of temperance, while he never interfered with others in this particular he gave encouragement and assistance to all who attempted to leave intoxicants alone and the large force of employees of Simmons Hardware Company is made up almost wholly of men who abstain. His teaching was ever that of example rather than of precept and his own career was a source of encouragement and inspiration to many.