The Rise and Fall of the Warner Empire: Business Setbacks (Part VII)

 If Warner had a fatal flaw, it was, perhaps, a restless spirit for new ventures. He was not satisfied with success in the fireproof safe business and turned to the patent medicine business. Success in the patent medicine business did not satisfy his appetite and pretty soon, he was throwing himself into other ventures. Unfortunately for him, success would not attend these ventures.

His first financial failure came as he was just beginning to make his mark in the medicine business. Warner partnered with other Rochester businessmen, including Arthur G. Yates, a self-made coal magnate, for the organization of the Rochester Grape Sugar Company in Kansas CIty. The company was formed to produce glucose. It failed. Moreover, Warner and Yates agreed to act as sureties for each other’s debts.

Undeterred, Warner joined another venture in 1881, when a group of seventeen Rochester businessmen formed the Horseshoe Silver Mining Company with $1 million in capital. The Company was organized to mine silver on the western slope of the Continental Divide near Denver. With ownership of 24,200 shares of stock, Warner was elected as president. It appeared that the Company would benefit from another syndicate organized to construct a tunnel for the Union Pacific Railroad in the vicinity of the mining company’s property. Despite a flurry of positive publicity touting the collaborative benefits, no payoff was realized. According to a column in the June 22, 1893 New York Times, Warner also invested $191,000 in the Genesee Gold Mining Company, $28,000 in the San Jose Mining & Canal Company and $57,000 in the Sareno Mining Company in Mexico.

Nothwithstanding his prior mining failures, in 1892, Warner purchased the Hillside group of mines from John Lawler and Edmund W. Wells for a staggering $450,000 (about $10.5 million today). He dubbed the venture the Seven Stars Mining Company and agreed to pay $50,000 down with the balance in a year. By the time that Warner’s finances began to unravel in 1893, he had mustered only $235,000 toward the balance due. Under the agreement, the mining property reverted back to its former owners, who also kept Warner’s deposit. Ironically, between the time the mine was discovered by Lawler in 1887 and its closing in 1951, it produced gold and silver worth barely $300,000.

Whatever the reason, Warner sacrificed his considerable fortune on speculative mining ventures. Despite his undeniable business acumen, Warner failed to appreciate that he was producing all the gold he needed (albeit brown in color), from his Safe Cure business. Perhaps his downfall was inevitable. Despite his personal financial failures, his medicine company continued well into the 20th Century, albeit under the control of others.

As well shall see, Warner was not whipped. The pluck that made him a success in Rochester continued to drive him. Although he was out of the Safe Cure business, Warner was not out of the patent medicine business.




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