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"A Fortune in Hot Air" from People's Home Journal

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from People's Home Journal
A Fortune in Hot Air
by Ellis Parker Butler

When I come to die, I mean to have a clause in my will setting aside a part of my fortune for the erection of three statues to the three men who were the greatest promoters of advertising. The first shall be to Cadmus, or whoever it was invented letters; the second shall be to Gutenberg, or whoever it was invented printing, but the third and largest shall be to Perkins the Great, Perkins of Portland, the wonderful Perkins who created modern advertising.

"Advertising," said Perkins one day, "may not be able to bring a dead man to life, but it will get you a better one in his place." That was Perkins's firm belief. He believed that advertising would do anything possible. Clearly, in these days, the man who does not advertise may well be accounted to have a faulty mind, but it remained for Perkins to advertise a taint of insanity from a stricken man and leave him with a reputation equal to that of a Wall Street king.

There came into my office one day a young man, a friend of mine, one Gerald Sawyer, and he was so blue that he made the sunny afternoon seem bleak and chilly. He told me his troubles with the fullest detail, and when he had finished he asked, with a sad smile, whether I thought East River or North River the most appropriate place for a suicide. I was vainly seeking to dissuade him from using either, when Perkins came in.

If Perkins would not insist on using every article he advertises he would be a pleasanter companion, but this day I hailed the rank odor of Van Steen's Radical Hair Regenerator with joy.

"Perkins," I said, "this is Mr. Sawyer. He is an embryo case of suicide. What can you do for him?"

"If you will die," said Perkins, "use only Cardigan's Deodorized Carbolic Acid. I have used it myself. Not suicidally, but to kill vermin. Meaning no offense. But why die? You look sick. Why? Because you haven't got something you want. Am I right?"

The young man groaned.

"Yes," he said, "you are only too correct."

"Good!" Perkins cried. "Let us say you die. Result: you are sure to get what you don't want -- 'If you will die,' said Perkins, 'use only Cardigan's Deodorized Carbolic Acid' brimstone, hot pitch, blue flames, et cetery. When you're dead, you're settled. If you're alive, you have a chance. Why don't you advertise?"

My friend Sawyer looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

"No," I said, "not crazy -- a genius. A great man. A wonderful man."

Perkins interrupted me.

"Perkins of Portland," he said. "The original and only Perkins; All others are frauds. But, young man, listen to me. One of two dogs is biting you. You need money --"

"No," said the young man, "I have enough for my needs."

"Then," exclaimed Perkins, "you are in love and she won't have you. Perkins is right again, as always! You want to advertise."

"Come," said Sawyer, sadly. "I am in no mood for horse play. I am sick of life, and jokes nauseate me. I will go now."

He arose from the chair in which he had been drooping, but Perkins put his big hands gently on his shoulders and forced him down again.

"Wait," he said, "don't get sore. Let Perkins effervesce. He meant right. Now," he asked, soberly enough, "how much money have you?"

"I have $50,000 in my own name," said the young man wearily.

"Fifty thousand!" exclaimed Perkins. "With fifty thousand a man can marry any girl on earth, crowned heads excepted. Why, boy, with ten thousand, Perkins the Great made Van Steen's Radical Hair Regenerator a grand success, smell and all. If ten thousand will make people wash their heads with passe onion juice, for fifty thousand any man ought to be able to marry any two girls he chooses. Give Perkins the fifty thou. and he'll ring the wedding bells in twelve months or money refunded."

Sawyer looked disgusted.

"Believe him!" I begged. "I don't know how he will do it, but do it he will."

"In any other case, Mr. Perkins," said Sawyer, "you might succeed, but my case is hopeless. I am barred by insanity."

"I'll take the job," Perkins cried. "Why, boy, for fifty thousand -- but there! Are you insane or is she insane!"

The young man shook his head.

"Neither," he said. "It is my father. And as her parents fear it may be hereditary, they refuse to let her marry me, and she feels they are right, and, Heaven help me! I, too, feel they are right. I dare not marry her."

"A little out of my line," said Perkins. "Just little out of my line, but I'll take the job. Promise you won't shuffle off for thirty days, and if I can't do anything I'll never smile again."

"Oh, as for that, said Sawyer, with pathetic resignation. "I'll hold on for a month longer if you wish it, but it will do us no good."

"All right," Perkins said, "it's a bargain. Where can I see that insane parent of yours?"


"Say," said Perkins, as he came into the office the next day, "I've been to see that young man's old man."

"Well?" I asked, but without fear of drawing an answer unfavorable to the hopes of young Sawyer, for Perkins was beaming. He drew off his Patent Self-Opening Gloves slowly.

"Crazy!" he said at length. "Crazy as a bug! Crazy as Perkins the Great! Case of red-hot monomania. Bump of inventiveness swelled to the size of a quart cup. Hopeless case."

My face must have fallen, for Perkins leaned over and patted me on the shoulder.

"Bats in his belfry. Slang term, but appropriate. What? People object to bats in belfrys. Why? Because valueless. Good! Old Sawyer considered crazy because his belfry is full of valueless bats. What's the cure? Give the bats a value, give them a market quotation, sell them, make people cry for them! Result: Old Sawyer not crazy -- a genius!"

"I see!" I said. "You think his invention has a value -- at least a market value, and you are going to --"

"Advertise!' cried Perkins. "Advertise the old man sane again. Advertise two fond hearts to beat as one. Advertise joy into that sad-eyed kid."

"But," I asked, "is the elder Sawyer's invention of any practical sanity? What is his special mania?"

Perkins ran his fingers through his hair and waved his hands broadly.

"Greatest thing in the world!" he exclaimed. "Revolutionary, scientific discovery -- immense value to the world! Grandest conception of the human mind since the days of Watt! So simple, too! Nothing but hot air!"

"Hot air!" I gasped.

"Hot air!" Perkins assured me. "Very hot air. Wonderfully hot air. Red hot air. Say. Take a pail of water. Cool it. It shrinks. Cool it again. It shrinks. Freeze it. It expands. Moral: Somewhere it stops going one way and begins going the other."

"Very true," I admitted.

"Take a man," Perkins said. "Let him get lost in a blizzard. First hour he gets cold. Second hour he gets colder. Third hour he begins to warm again. Invariable experience."

I had heard this many times, so I nodded my head.

"Well, then," said Perkins, triumphantly. "Take air. Freeze it. It gets crisp. Freeze it more. It gets liquid. Freeze it again. Then what?"

"It should become solid," I suggested.

"Nonsense!" Perkins assured me. "It begins going back. It gets warm. Freeze it again -- it gets hot. Freeze it again -- it gets red-hot."

"What of it?" I inquired.

"What of it!" Perkins cried. "Think of your winter coal bill. Then think of heating your house with red-hot frozen air. Air is free. Heat your whole house for nothing -- only expense the first cost of putting in one of Sawyer's Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertors. Think of locomotives and steamships -- boilers all heated by Hot Air Convertors! Think of baking bread, ironing linen, melting metals -- all with Hot Air! In five years nothing will be used to supply heat but Sawyer's Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertor."

"It sounds reasonable," I said, "but I should think the air would have to be pretty cold before it began to get warm."

"Cold!" exclaimed Perkins. "I should say so! The professor figures it will have to be eight thousand degrees below zero before it even begins to warm up, and that for each additional thousand degrees below zero it will warm up at the rate of one degree. Say, how cold is liquid air?"

I hadn't the slightest idea, but I hazarded a guess of two thousand degrees below zero.

"All right!" said Perkins. "Say it is. When it gets six thousand degrees colder it will begin to warm up. See? Then when it is nine thousand below zero, it will be only seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine below zero. When it is ten thousand below zero, it will be only seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight below. And so on -- one degree warmer for every thousand degrees colder. So when we get it eight million one hundred thousand degrees below it will be one hundred degrees above. The professor calls it 'negative heat.'"

"I should think," I said rather doubtfully, "that it might be hard to reach a point eight million degrees below zero."

Perkins coughed gently behind his hand.

"Of course," he said. "I couldn't do it, or you couldn't do it. That is the lucky thing. It can't be done without a Sawyer Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertor."

"Has the Sawyer Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertor ever done it?" I asked, with my eye on Perkins's eye.

He wriggled.

"No!" he admitted. "I can't say it has. Not yet. It isn't completely perfected yet. The professor hasn't quite finished his experiments. But he thinks he will have the Convertor perfected soon -- very soon."

"Perkins," I said, "as one Chicago man to another, you may believe that the Convertor will work, and what you believe I believe, but can you make the public believe it?"

Before he could speak there was a timid knock at our office door and a young lady entered. She was the sweetest little maiden I had ever seen. Her large blue eyes looked at us with supreme trustfulness and her pretty lips tried to smile a brave salutation, although they were trembling in a pathetic way.

"I hope you will pardon me," she said softly, "but Gerald -- that is, Mr. Sawyer -- told me that Mr. Perkins of this firm had promised to -- to -- make things so that --"

She blushed and paused.

"Right!" Perkins exclaimed, "and what Perkins says always happens. I'm Perkins. I'll make things so that --"

"I just wanted to beg you that if there is any hope, she pleaded, "to please, please not give up until you had tried everything. You see I do not want --"

She looked at Perkins and her eyes She was sobbing in Perkins arms. filled with tears, and before we knew how it happened she was sobbing in Perkins's arms, and he was stroking her hair and murmuring, "Chirk up, sonny; chirk up, sonny," in quite an idiotic manner.

When she had gone Perkins turned, from the window where he had been looking out.

"You asked Perkins," he said, "if he could make the public believe in the Sawyer Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertor. You saw the girl. After seeing that girl Perkins can make the public believe anything."

He turned to the window again and looked out for several minutes, idly flipping his coat tails up and down.

"Sweet girl!" he said at last. "Did you notice her eyes? Did you notice her teeth? Did you notice her hair? He sighed.

"Perkins," I said, "you are not falling in love with her?"

"No," he said, shaking his head. "No, not that. But what an advertisement for Van Steen's Radical Hair Regenerator her portrait would make! And she would never stand for it; she isn't that kind of a girl!"


A few weeks later there appeared a full-page illustrated article headed, "The Mystery of Hot Air." The pictures were views of the laboratory of Professor Sawyer, with the Professor pottering over a collection of glass tubes and bulbs and things -- a very indistinct view of a bottle said to contain negative hot air, and a large portrait of the Professor. The article was very grandiloquent, and crowded with errors. Perkins had been particular about having the errors regarding the Professor and his plans inserted, in order that it might seem more like a genuine scientific story, and less like a paid advertisement.

As soon as it could be respectably done the other papers took up the subject, and a progressive monthly magazine had one of their special writers prepare an article, with illustrations, entitled, "Hot Air. A Modern Wonder."

Professor Sawyer was asked to lecture on hot air before a number of scientific societies, but pleaded the necessity of keeping his secret for a while, and as a substitute gave them talks on the germ theory of the cause of freckles on russet apples.

In short, Perkins skillfully managed to give Hot Air a vast amount of the most valuable kind of publicity -- that which is not paid for and which cannot be bought. In a few weeks he had inculcated the idea that hot air was not only a scientific fact, but a valuable commodity.

Interviews with noted scientists regarding the possibility of freezing air to hotness were in great demand, and with the well-known scientific reticence the great men managed to admit the possibility of Hot Air. One said that there could be no doubt that Professor Sawyer was right in stating that water began to expand instead of continuing to contract when it reached freezing point, and that if his deductions from this fact were logical there could be no doubt that he had made logical deductions. Another said that 9,000,000 degrees below zero would be so cold that almost anything could happen. Another said that there could be no doubt that 9,000,000 degrees below zero was theoretically possible, and that all that was necessary to bring air to that temperature was to make it cold enough. Out of these, by taking a bit of each and arranging them in proper order, Perkins produced an indisputable mosaic of acquiescence in Professor Sawyer's theories.

Then he suddenly placed before the investing public the opportunity to buy shares in the Sawyer Hot Air Company, a corporation, etc., etc. In the full-page advertisements that appeared simultaneously in all the journals and magazines that had written up Hot Air, due attention was called to the wonderful possibilities of Hot Air. But the strongest point in its favor was the fact that as yet the Sawyer Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertor was still unperfected -- that some time would elapse before it could be perfected. For this reason it was possible to still offer the stock of a par value of $100 a share at $10. Thus every one could get in on the ground floor and make a tremendous profit, for there was no doubt that when the Sawyer Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertor was perfected the stock in the company would be worth $500, $800 or $1,000 a share.

"Talk about lunatics," said Perkins to me when we were getting the incorporation papers in shape, "old Sawyer is sane compared with young Sawyer. What do you think he said? Said he wasn't just sure there was anything in Hot Air, and he thought I ought to have all the money we made out of it. What did Perkins say?" Perkins said, 'No, sir. Your pater might be as sane as a post, but if he let me work such a deal, people would think he was crazy. No, sir! Your old man insists on half for himself.'"

We never sold all the stock. We had printed too much of it.

But we did very well. We got rid of about eight millions at ten dollars a share, which netted us eight millions; four millions for old Sawyer and four millions for Perkins and me.

I must say that Professor Sawyer did the right thing by the stockholders. Of course you couldn't expect a multi-millionaire to dig among crucibles and retorts and things, but he hired a couple of bright young fellows to continue with the experiments, and every week or so he went around to the laboratory and objected to the slowness of their work. But somehow the report got abroad that the Sawyer Patent Refrigerative Hot Air Convertor was an impossibility. People began to believe that Professor Sawyer had put up a very clever job on them, and in a short while he was considered a remarkably bright financier. No one doubted his sanity. A man who can cheat the public out of eight million dollars is sane enough to suit anybody. Even his son admitted that, and young Sawyer's sweetheart's parents almost crowded him to death in their eagerness to have him in the family.

As soon as she returned from her wedding journey young Mrs. Sawyer came down to our office and thanked Perkins for what he had done for her and Gerald, and just as a little token she gave Perkins her portrait in all her wedding finery. But Perkins never really enjoyed that picture, although it always stands on his desk. He constantly regrets that he cannot use it in advertising Van Steen's Radical Hair Regenerator, and it is only of late that he has had a little compensation. As a very special favor, and because he is such an old friend of the family, he has been permitted to use another portrait. For there is now a baby Sawyer, and it is fat and pretty; thanks, in part, to Vandeventer's Food for Infants and Invalids, which Perkins is advertising extensively at present.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:15:03am USA Central
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