• U.S.

PHILANTHROPY: The Secret Partner

3 minute read

To anyone who asks for the secret of his business success, Claud H. Foster has a simple answer: “My best advice is you get in tune with the secret partner because He’ll do something for you.” The secret partner: God.

Foster thinks something was done for him because “everything I touch makes money.” When he was 14, he persuaded his father to let him plant four acres of potatoes in March before the frosts are normally over. Then, as Claud Foster says, “I prayed to my partner every night to keep those potatoes from coming up too soon. It was the first year in a long time there wasn’t a killing frost after

March 28.” Foster’s early potatoes brought a high price and he paid off a $1,800 debt that had been haunting his father for years. The Snubber. At 19, Foster opened up a small machine shop. A self-taught trombone player, he also gave lessons. Combining his musical and mechanical talents, he invented an auto horn that worked off the exhaust and tootled several musical notes. He called it the Gabriel Horn, founded the Gabriel Manufacturing Co., and made $150,000. Then he began to tinker with a shock absorber for autos. One day he was on a boat approaching a dock. As he now recalls it, his attention was directed by his secret partner “to a workman who was wrapping a rope around a pile, snubbing the boat.” It gave him the idea for the first successful auto shock absorber, the Gabriel snubber.

He expanded his company until it was making 75% of the absorbers for the auto industry and netting Foster $1,000,000 a year, despite big bonuses handed out to employees. When Dillon Read & Co. tried to buy him out for $10,000,000 in the ’20s, planning to raise the cash with a stock issue, Foster turned down the offer. He said his company was not worth that because his big earnings were based on patents which would soon expire, and stockholders might lose money. Eventually, he sold out to Cleveland’s Otis & Co. for $4,000,000, retired to spend much of his time in a $3,500 house he built on the shores of Lake Erie.

The Big Surprise. Since Foster felt he had only been the instrument of his partner in making his fortune, he gave much of it away. But he still thought he had too much, since “my needs are small.” Last week Foster invited many of his old friends —along with representatives of educational and charitable institutions—to a party in Cleveland’s Hotel Statler. He promised them the “surprise of their life.”

After they had all dined well on filet mignon, Foster rose. One by one the representatives of 15 Jewish, Catholic and Protestant charitable institutions and Western Reserve University were asked to step to the head table, where Foster sat with a happy smile on his face. At the table each one was handed a big check or a batch of securities. When the giveaway party was all over, Foster had handed out $4,000,000. Said he: “Too many institutions get their money from dead men. I wanted to see them get it. I have no more use for the money. You can take it all, but leave me my friends.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com