Robert Welch: An Americanist Entrepreneur: Before John Birch Society Founder Robert Welch Began His Political Activism, He Was an Industrious Candy Maker, Prospering through Perseverance and Ingenuity

By Scaliger, Charles | The New American, May 23, 2011 | Go to article overview

Robert Welch: An Americanist Entrepreneur: Before John Birch Society Founder Robert Welch Began His Political Activism, He Was an Industrious Candy Maker, Prospering through Perseverance and Ingenuity


Scaliger, Charles, The New American


When President Calvin Coolidge famously said that "the business of America is business," he undoubtedly had in mind not just the business of running a company or earning money--but of conceiving and developing the engines of progress that have enriched our lives. And not just in a material sense--and not just for the few. The cornucopia of wealth and prosperity produced by the American free-enterprise system not only made what became known as "the American dream " widely attainable, it also made more time and money available for the really important pursuits in life, from pursuing one's dreams, to supporting one's church and other charitable causes, to helping to preserve the legacy of freedom--now under attack--that made the prosperity possible in the first place.

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The article that follows is the first installment in a series on Americanist entrepreneurs who not only benefited America through their business endeavors, but who also participated in the freedom fight through The John Birch Society, the parent company of this publication. The emphasis, though, will be on the entrepreneurial spirit and drive that made them successful and enabled them to do more good for others than otherwise would have been possible.

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The installments for this series will not appear in every issue, but once every several. Robert Welch, whom we chose to launch the series, founded The John Birch Society.--Editor

In 1914, when the Old World was at war, the New, unaware of the designs of its political and financial leaders, expected to stay out of the latest European upheaval. American public opinion was firmly opposed to violating in any way our neutral posture, which meant that America's young men were still graduating from high school, going to college, and finding gainful employment. One such crop of optimistic youth was enduring a philosophy class at the University of North Carolina, an exercise in sophistry taught by the venerable but insufferable Horace Williams. Professor Williams' class, we may imagine, was typical for the time: a couple dozen well-groomed young men and a few young women sitting at buckling wooden desks made in the previous century, trying to grasp the contradictory axioms imparted by the tweedy, subversive Williams.

There was, however, one notable feature of that particular class that was in no wise typical of the university, then or now: a restless, energetic boy of 13 who made no attempt to conceal his impatience with Professor Williams and the class' subject matter. Seemingly oblivious of how conspicuous he was among his classmates--he was a head shorter and a half-decade younger, and his boyish voice had yet to deepen--the lad took a schoolboy's delight in twitting the pretentious professor, openly challenging his claims and ridiculing his behavior to his more reserved classmates.

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One memorable day, after Professor Williams explained that three limes three could be made to equal any amount we wish, inasmuch as numbers are merely mental conventions, the boy wrote "H-O-G-W-A-S-H" in large block letters on his notepad. As he showed it to students in his vicinity, the professor--sharp-eyed if not sharp-willed--spotted the critique and reprimanded the boy severely. After that, the boy often skipped class, choosing to play chess and engage in other more useful pursuits. He earned his lowest grade in that class, a fact that he never failed to recall with pride in later years. "I was," he recalled decades later, "the most insufferable little squirt that ever tried to associate with his elders (and the worst of it is, I'm not kidding)." Even in his early years, young Robert Welch, future entrepreneur and founder of The John Birch Society, was already instinctively a non-conformist.

In those days, of course, what is now called "postmodern thinking" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) was only in vogue in academic enclaves like the University of North Carolina. …

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