John Perry, Jr., is one of the noblest examples of California business bility, of well balanced judgment and perseverance that in all his immense financial transactions have never failed without soon recouping the losses, of high integrity and extreme philanthropy of character, and all in all of virility and symmetry of manhood such as are without example on the Pacific coast. He set forth on his journey of life nearly ninety years ago, and from the date of the beginning of his business career at the age of sixteen, under the rapidly shifting skies of success and adversity, from commercial activity in the east during the early years to deeds of high emprise on the golden shores of the Pacific in the latter half of life, and through years burning with intense energy and devotion to the manifold affairs of his life, he has come to these closing years with the undimmed alertness and clearness of mentality and judgment, and rejoices that he can still carry the burden which would overwhelm most men of half his years. The history of his active career begins with a beautiful resolution, and nobility of purposes and strength of character have marked his life to the end.
John Perry, Jr., was born in 1815, in Stafford county, New Hampshire, being the second of nine children born to John and Abigail (Kimball) Perry. His ancestors were among the first settlers of New Hampshire and came from England. His father was an industrious farmer, and his mother was one of the women of strong common sense and evenness of temper who seem destined to give birth to great sons.
John, Jr., lived at home and worked on the little farm until he was sixteen years old, and in March, 1831, with twenty-five cents in hiw pocket, made his first venture into the wide world of industry and business. His father was not overly prosperous on the little farm, having much to do to maintain his large family in decent comfort, and there was besides a mortgage on the home place which hung as an incubus over their content and happiness. John, as one of the oldest children, resolved to pay off this debt before he had reached his eighteenth birthday, and at Andover, Massachusetts, he obtained employment at one hundred dollars a year and board, and by his industry and economy he cleared the mortgate before the set time, and as long as his parents lived he provided for their comfort and welfare.
In April, 1832, he went to Boston and obtained employment in a wholesale store at a salary of one hundred dollars per annum, and he later secured a position in Charleston, South Carolina, at a salary of six hundred dollars per annum, where he was doing well until the panic of 1837 broke up the firm and he then returned to Boston. He had a few hundred dollars and plenty of energy and enterprise, and he decided to enter the brokerage business, putting out his first sign at the age of twenty-two. In 1839, through the influence of some gentlemen of Boston who had been attracted by his business tact and manifest ability, he became a member of the Boston board of brokers, which then contained sixty members of wealth and position. By 1842 he was worth thirty thousand dollars. But in that year a false rumor to the effect that Great Britain had declared war on the United States caused a panic in the stock markets of New York and Boston, and in a single day he lost all he had and found himself in debt several thousand dollars. He retained his seat on the board, however, and was soon again prosperous, but in 1849 he lost and this time was unable by about thirty thousand dollars to liquidate his indebtedness. He assigned all his property to his creditors and received a discharge from the Insolvent court.
Then, with fifty dollars in his pocket, after his passage was paid, he joined the gold-seekers, and on April 15, 1850, sailed for Panama. When he reached the isthmus he found that tickets for San Francisco were selling for enormous prices, and he at once invested his entire capital of six dollars in a bulletin board, rented an office, and as a ticket broker, charging commission to both buyer and seller, soon made thirty-five hundred dollars. Arriving in California, he went to the mines and for a few months was engaged in the unsuccessful venture of store-keeping at Ophir. He soon afterward went to San Francisco and made the beginnings of his long career as broker.
In those early days the expenses of both state and city were defrayed by an issue of scrip bearing interest at three per cent a month. In the spring of 1851 the state had seven hundred thousand dollars and the city one million five hundred thousand dollars of this paper on the market, but no taker could be found because money was bringing a higher rate in ordinary transactions. Mr. Perry saw and grasped the opportunity. He made arrangements with Page, Bacon and Company to advance the money, then opened the first brokerage office in San Francisco on the corner of Montgomery and Merchant streets, and within eighteen months had purchased more than three-fourths of the entire scrip issue of city and state, which was funded into bonds of city and state. The city scrip sold as low as twenty-five per cent and the state as low as forty per cent. The legislature of 1850 and 1851 had paper bills to fund the city scrip into ten per cent bonds, payable in twenty years, and the state into seven per cent bonds, nearly all of which Mr. Perry placed in the Boston and New York markets at nearly their par value. All these bonds were ultimately paid by both city and state at their face value, leaving a large surplus in both city and state treasury. At the same time Mr. Perry made a fortune for himself before he had been on the coast two years. One of the first uses that he made of this money was to pay off his creditors in the east, although he had been legally discharged of all obligations to them, and he paid both principal and interest. He also opened a banking house in San Franisco, and realized large profits during the early days from mercantile loans, exchange and dealing in gold dust.
Soon after his return from the east Mr. Perry lost another fortune. But in 1861, during the mining excitement in Nevada, Mr. Perry's experience as a broker in both the east and west was taken advantage of by his associates, and the Old Board, or Big Board, was brought into existence in San Francisco, and he was its first vice president and continued his connection with it until 1876. During this time his transactions were very large and his profits corresponding, at times making as high as $15,000 per month, but his natural generosity would now allow him to retain wealth.
In 1876 he decided to restrict his operations to bonds and other local investments sought by conservative investors, and this has been the line of most of his subsequent ventures. He has a vast experience in the financial and speculative sides of business, and he has often used his influence to prevent poor people from speculating. During the Civil war he exerted himself in placing the bonds of the government on the San Francisco market. After leaving the mining stock board in 1876 he helped organize the San Francisco Stock and Bond Exchange, of which he was the first president and served as such for many years.
Among all his host of acquaintances Mr. Perry has always had friends, never an enemy. He is a true philanthropist, and much of his wealth has gone for countless charities. As one of the founders of the Unitarian church in San Francisco he contributed liberally to its funds and served as treasurer. He paid many of the bills out of his own pocket, and at one time advanced sixteen thousand dollars for its use. He has served on the city council and on the board of education, and for over fifty years has been one of the most public-spirited citizens of San Francisco. He had no children, but at the death of his wife he adopted her niece, Miss Laura Kimber, and she is now living with him.
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