Cyrus Eaton, born on December 27, 1883, not far from Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash River, Nova Scotia, became a wealthy industrialist, a generous philanthropist, and a passionate advocate for peace between communist and capitalist countries. In the 1950s and 1960s, he hosted and funded some of the early Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs in his hometown of Pugwash and in other locations. In 1995, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to the Pugwash Conferences and physicist Joseph Rotblat.
Cyrus Eaton’s father was Joseph Howe Eaton, descended from New England Planters.[i] In their early years, the family owned one farm and barely could afford to pay a ‘hired’ man. Joseph acquired three farms, managed a general store, and ran the post office.
Cyrus’ mother, Mary Adelia MacPherson, descended from Scottish born Empire Loyalists,[ii] was a devout Baptist who encouraged her son to study for the ministry and to read extensively in literature, history, religion and philosophy. Before Cyrus was born, the couple lost their first three children, Parker, Gertrude, and Frank, to diphtheria. Heart-sick, four-year-old Cyrus watched his older brother, John, succumb to the same disease.[iii] Eva, Florence, Alice, and Joseph joined the family, and Cyrus, always generous, was supportive of them and his parents in his adult life.
When Cyrus was four, his father trusted him to drive a horse and wagon to Conns Mills in order to have the flour ground for his mother to bake bread. By five, he was tending his own cow which he spent hours rescuing when it didn’t come home one time. Cyrus, who waited upon customers at his father’s general store, weighed flour, sugar and raisins, and carefully counted change. His father used to boast, “When Cyrus was six, I could leave him in the store for hours alone and he never failed my confidence. His qualifications for big business are brains and absolute trustworthiness.”[iv] At twelve, his father sent him out to measure the logs his lumbermen were felling, and he earned fifty cents for a ten-hour day.
After the family moved to Pugwash Junction, his father inadvertently broadened his son’s understanding of the international community because one of his jobs at the post office was to sort newspapers from Boston, Providence, Halifax and London. Cyrus recalled, “By the time I was ten, I was pretty well experienced in business and world affairs – my father was postmaster and I used to read all the newspapers that came in to subscribers.”[v]
Cyrus attended a one-room schoolhouse for eight years under the instruction of Margaret King in Pugwash Junction, before studying at Amherst Academy in Amherst. For being top of his class in science, Cyrus was presented at graduation with the complete works of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley.[vi] Framed photographs of the authors now hang in the Cyrus Eaton room at Thinkers Lodge. The evolutionist and the biologist undoubtedly sparked his interest in science and his desire to nurture the environment and prevent it from being irrevocably destroyed by atomic weapons.
[i] The Eaton Family of Nova Scotia by Arthur Wentworth Hamilton Eaton, 1929, Privately Printed
[ii] “Cyrus Eaton as a Lad” by Margaret Eaton – unpublished manuscript
[iv] “The Boy Who Listened to Rockefeller” by McKenzie Porter, Maclean’s National Magazine, May 1, 1953[v] ibid.
[vi] “Communists’ Capitalist” by E. J. Kahn, Jr, the New Yorker Magazine, October 10 and October 17, 1977
During a summer vacation, he visited his Uncle Charles, a Baptist minister, in Cleveland, Ohio. One day, he accompanied his uncle to the home of one of his parishioners, John D. Rockefeller, whose wife asked Cyrus what his summer job was. He proudly replied that he worked as a night clerk at a hotel pressing suits, washing clothes, and polishing shoes. She was horrified and asked her husband if he could employ Cyrus. From then on, he worked during his summer holidays for Rockefeller. His responsibilities varied. He was a messenger, junior aide, and clerk; he drove the buggy, caddied while Rockefeller played golf, acted as bodyguard, and even climbed a tree when no one else could rescue a cat.[i] He also went door-to-door persuading customers that natural gas was cheaper than artificial gas and that having pipes installed to their homes would benefit them.
When Cyrus was choosing a career path, Rockefeller asked him how he could influence and assist more people – as a minister or as an industrialist. Rockefeller advised Cyrus, “There is a tremendous opportunity to do good for mankind through business, possibly more than you could accomplish in any other field.”[ii] Upon graduating, he spent a few months as a horse wrangler and cowpuncher on a farm in northern Saskatchewan and then chose to work for Rockefeller. At the same time, he briefly served as lay pastor at the Lakewood Baptist Church in Cleveland.
In his mid-twenties, he began acquiring utility franchises in the prairies of Canada including the Brandon, Manitoba electric power plant.[iii] The plant flourished, and he sold it at a profit, the first step on his way to becoming a multi-millionaire. He acquired and consolidated utility holdings under United Light & Power. “His first fortune cracked and disintegrated during the depression.”[iv]
He married Margaret Pearl House, daughter of a prominent physician, in 1907 in Cleveland, and became a naturalized citizen in 1913. The couple raised seven children who grew up on Acadia Farms in Northfield Ohio, where he bred prizewinning shorthorn cattle while pursuing a career as an industrialist. The farm was his sanctuary. By 1928, the couple had separated,[v] but their divorce wasn’t finalized until 1934. Margaret became a painter and even learned to pilot an airplane. Cyrus, a strict father,[vi] encouraged his children to get a strong education, work hard, spend time outdoors and participate in sports. Books surrounded the family. Always, he was an avid reader of poetry, Shakespeare, history, religion, science, and philosophy.[vii] He never watched television or drove a car. He loved nature and physical exercise. He was an ardent conservationist who donated land for parks. Daily, he walked miles around his farm, familiar with every new-born calf and newly planted tree. He played tennis, cross-country skied, and rode horses until his late 80s.
Cyrus was a complex man, not easily defined. During the Great Depression, he took a “terrific financial beating.” Like a phoenix, he rose from the ashes. He masterfully merged companies and shepherded them to success. A staunch capitalist, he built utility empires in gas, electricity and steel as well as having significant investment holdings in rubber, coal, railways, and iron ore.[viii] Otis and Co, an investment banking company, Chesapeake & Ohio Rail, Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co, Steep Rock Iron Mines, and West Company Coal Co were examples of investments he made and mergers he built.[ix]
He fiercely campaigned against Wall Street[x] and could be vindictive to his enemies. On the other hand, he helped save the jeopardized jobs of workers at Trumbull Steel in Ohio, in the town of Follansbee in West Virginia, at Fisher Body in Detroit, and at the Cincinnati Enquirer. [xi] Always controversial but never intimidated, he spoke his mind in speeches, editorials, and magazine articles. He was an advisor to President Roosevelt and assisted the war effort by securing steel and iron ore for the navy. Twenty years later, he criticized Nixon and urged withdrawal from Vietnam. A firm believer in democracy, he advocated for doing business with communist Russia, China, and Eastern European.
After the devastating fires in Pugwash in 1928 and 1929, Cyrus returned to his birthplace and assisted in the rebuilding of the village. He hired local residents to cart away the debris of the burnt Empress Hotel and the adjoining warehouses and shops. He purchased the land and posthumously donated it as a park where local citizens could enjoy the festivities for the Gathering of the Clans on Canada Day and for Harbourfest.[xii] In this serene setting, families picnic, villagers enjoy ice cream, and children play on the playground. Adjacent to the park, he purchased Pineo Lodge and the Frank Allan Lobster Canning Factory.[xiii] In 1929, Cyrus hired Andrew Cobb, a renowned Halifax architect, to design the renovations for the Lodge. He hoped to revitalize the economy in his hometown with a bed and breakfast and dining hall. Additional details can be found under “Thinkers Lodge – History of Additions and Renovations” in this book. His plans for a hotel and golf course never materialized.
To honor his beloved teacher, he built the Margaret King School. The school had a science room, an industrial art classroom, classrooms for the primary grades and upper grades, a library, an art room, a gymnasium, and even indoor plumbing and electricity. This was eight years before the community got electric power. Pat Williams Briggins, who attended Margaret King School, said, “Science was instrumental in introducing to me course work that helped me in my nursing studies.” She added, “My impression was that the school got dropped down from heaven. It made me appreciative of Cyrus Eaton who spared nothing in dollars and care so that we could have this beautiful, complete school.”[xiv] Many of the graduates became teachers, engineers, nurses, and scientists. He provided scholarship aid. He financed, renovated, and built a number of other schools.
Around 1928, he built a summer home in Deep Cove, on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, where he, his children, and later his grandchildren spent many summers. In 1949, he hosted an educational conference in Deep Cove with participants from London, Oxford, Dacca, Calcutta, Melbourne, Montreal, and Belfast. In 1955, he began hosting conferences in Pugwash for university presidents and deans. This lovely lodge that became known as Thinkers Lodge on the Northumberland Strait was the perfect setting to inspire educators and later scientists to trust each other, to listen attentively, and to respect divergent views.In 1955, after Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein with nine other scientists wrote the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, charging nuclear scientists to take responsibility for building a path toward nuclear non-proliferation, Cyrus invited the scientists to hold their conference in Pugwash, a place where they would be free to share ideas without governmental interference. He funded their travel, lodging, and meal expenses. Cyrus continued to fund the early International Pugwash Conferences until they severed ties with him due to his being a magnet for controversy.
Cyrus married Anne (Kinder Jones) Eaton in 1957, and together, they advocated for peace between capitalist and communist countries. Anne worked for equal rights of women and for equal rights of African Americans. Together, they funded Pugwash Conferences on education, Islamic Culture, China, India, and the Middle East, and they hosted educators, international leaders, and scientists at Thinkers Lodge.
They traveled to the Soviet Union, where he befriended Nikita Khrushchev, to Eastern Europe, Chile, Vietnam, and Cuba, where he met with leaders in government, business, and agriculture to encourage cooperative engagement between the countries. He believed that sharing ideas about farming, education, business, and the arts would lead to understanding between the peoples and governments of countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Throughout his life, he corresponded with educators, scientists, philosophers, farmers, and world leaders – sharing ideas, asking questions, and promoting commitment to nuclear disarmament and world peace.
Cyrus Eaton was a multifaceted man with vision, wealth, and determination that allowed him to build financial empires and that inspired him to seek peaceful means of co-existing. He believed one man could make a difference. He would want visitors to Thinkers Lodge in the twenty-first century to enjoy this tranquil spot on the Northumberland Strait and to take with them when they leave the determination to positively impact the people they encounter and to strive to make the world a safer, healthier place.
[i] “Rockefeller and Harper: Recollections and Reflections,” January 11, 1973, Speech to University of Chicago Board of Trustees, [Container 130, Folder 2929] MS 3913 Cyrus S Eaton Papers, WRHS, Cleveland, Ohio
[ii] “The Lofty World of Cyrus Eaton” by Tony McVeigh in Executive for the Men of Decision, A Hugh C. Maclean Publication, October 1960, [Container 141, folder 3181] MS 3913 Cyrus S Eaton Papers, WRHS, Cleve, OH
[iii] “Back to Pugwash” by Patrick Boyer, July 20, 2003
[iv] Building his Second Empire,” Business Week, March 12, 1955, [Container 31, Folder 726] MS 3913, Cyrus S Eaton Papers, WRHS, Cleveland, Ohio
[v] “Communists' Capitalist” by E. J. Kahn, Dec 10, 1997 -- New Yorker Magazine, [Container 237, Folder 5282] MS 3913 Cyrus S Eaton Papers, WRHS, Cleveland, Ohio
[vi] Letter from Betty Eaton Butterfield to her brother Cyrus S. Eaton, Jr., 1996
[vii] “Introduction to Biography of Cyrus Eaton” by Anne Eaton - unpublished
[viii] “Building his Second Empire,” Business Week, March 12, 1955, [Container 31, Folder 726] MS 3913 Cyrus S Eaton Papers, WRHS, Cleveland, Ohio
[x] The Case of the People Vs. Wall Street” by Cyrus Eaton, [Container, Folder 2852] MS 3913 Cyrus S Eaton Papers, WRHS, Cleveland, Ohio
[xi] “Men of Action: Cyrus Eaton, the Man from Pugwash” by James Minifie, The Montrealer, November 1956, [Container 229, Folder 5072], MS 3913 Cyrus S Eaton Papers, WRHS, Cleveland, Oho
[xii] Thelma Colbourne, Interview by Cathy Eaton, summer 2010
[xiii] Hester Allan and Beryl Arab, interview by Cathy Eaton, summer 2015
[xiv] Pat Briggins Williams, interview by Cathy Eaton, summer 2014