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From Grocer to Pipe Maker: John Joseph Eagan

May 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

By Samuel Phineas Upham

John Joseph Eagan, born in April of 1870, went from grocer to pipe maker, becoming co-founder of the American Cast Iron Pipe Company.

He left school at 16 to go and work at a grocery store. His uncle offered him a job at his tobacco store, and John took it. The two worked well together, and John felt fairly steady. He inherited $6,000 when his grandmother died, a modest sum, but he was able to re-invest and grow it. By the time he was ready to venture on his own, he’d amassed $73,000 by age 29. He inherited an additional $750,000 from his Uncle Russell, and Eagen took his earnings into real estate. He also put money in stocks and funded a few businesses hoping for something to pan out.

Having received two blessings, Eagen felt humbled and charged himself with doing something positive with the money he’d earned. One of the methods he used to accomplish this task was to tithe the church. He also donated extensively to charities that worked on behalf of the poor. Eagen was so devoted to this cause that there was a journal entry he’d written, dated May 13, 1900: “O Lord show me how to invest Thy wealth to promote Thy glory, so that I may bear much fruit.”

Eagen felt like life and God were calling him to the fields, where he could have the most impact. He partnered with Charlotte and James Blair, who were working on the interests of Southern businessmen. The brother/sister team wanted to build a pipe plant in Birmingham, considered a great location because of its access to railways and resources. Eagan chartered the company and served as its president, an office he held until days before his death in 1924.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Twitter.