John Jakob Raskob
We often hear it said that we need a kick in the pants to motivate us to break from a familiar routine and strike out on a new path. One famous Niagara County figure didn’t need much more persuasion than that to leave his comfortable job in search of a better life. In fact, millionaire financier John Jakob Raskob left his job and hometown roots in Lockport when his employer refused him a fifty cent per week raise in pay.
One of the nation’s most successful and influential financiers, Raskob was born in Lockport in 1879 and lived on East Avenue and Charles Street (later site of Castle’s Dairy and Flora Hatch.) In Lockport, Raskob’s life followed the story line of Horatio Alger, as he rose from the son of a cigar store merchant to copy boy, law clerk and bookkeeper. He was always industrious and supported his widowed mother, two sisters and younger brothers on a salary of $7.50 per week. When he was denied a 50 cent raise, he quit and left Lockport on his 21st birthday.
Two years later, “Jake” wrote a letter to offer his personal services to Pierre du Pont, principal of the DuPont de Nemours Corporation that had manufactured explosives since the American Revolution. DuPont was struck by Raskob’s bold approach and made him his personal assistant at his Wilmington, Delaware plant. Within two years, Raskob went from $7.50 per week to $60. In 1913, a twist of fate and fortune occurred that would change both Raskob and Lockport. As DuPont’s primary financial analyst, Raskob decided to invest his own money as well as the fortune of the DuPont Corporation into a new, infant company known as General Motors. The owner of General Motors, William Durant, was in dire financial straits and had lost control of his business to the bankers that back his loans. Within a short time, Raskob and DuPont had purchased 27.6% of all General Motors stock and went on to purchase controlling interest within ten years.
It was Raskob who put General Motors into a circle of success and persuaded 80 of his close friends to invest in the company, a fact that none of them ever forgot, especially after they earned their first million dollars as the stock split with meteoric increases in value. Raskob is remembered for reorganizing the supply-side of General Motors, putting in place many accounting and purchasing programs that survive today. He is also credited with creating the General Motors Acceptance Company, the new-car lending arm of the business, which made General Motors cars available, for the first time, to the average man.
After becoming a multi-millionaire auto-mogul, Raskob poured himself into the political election of 1928 and served as the campaign manager for Alfred E. Smith in his presidential bid against Herbert Hoover. Even though Smith lost the election, the two men remained close friends and teamed up again shortly thereafter, this time to build the Empire State Building, the tallest building of its time in the world.
Here in Lockport, Raskob is still fondly remembered by his God-daughter, Maureen O’Brien-Saraf as well as the parishioners of St. Mary’s Church, who knew Raskob as, at first a member, and then a philanthropist who donated the church organ in memory of his mother and stained-glass window in memory of his father. The story of Raskob is also retold to countless school children and other visitors to the History Center in Lockport. There they can take a peak at a truly unique General Motors car, a one-of-a-kind model with all-aluminum body, known as the “Junior-R,” which Raskob had produced for his son, John Raskob, Jr.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094