Little-Known Men of Industry by Col. Stoopnagle


            “You may drop your hands to your sides now for a while, Mr. Updigit.”

            “Oh, thank you, sir.  I am so used to holding them in the air that sometimes I ----”

            “You, I understand, are one of the famous Little-Known Men of Industry.  What, may I ask, puts you into that category?”

            “Into that?  Well, I am the man who stands at the endless belt which conveys the candy from the part of the factory where they make it to the part of the factory where it goes into boxes.”

            “Is that all you do -- just stand there?”

            “By no means.  I not only stand there but I stand there with my hands way up in the air, just like a statue of a man with his hands way up in the air.”

            “What statue is that?”

            “Eight hours a day I do that, with a half hour for lunch.  Sometimes I forget, and hold my hands high during lunch too.  I have a terrible time getting sandwiches and coffe into my mouth that way.”

            “I imagine.  I am interested at this point in finding out just why you stand next to that endless belt with your hands high, Mr. Updigit.”

            “Because I am the man who doesn’t touch ‘the candy that is never touched by human hands.’  I started at the bottom several years ago and worked myself up.  My first job was not touching chocolate-covered peanuts.  Then I not touched sugar-coated almonds, and so on, up the line to the larger bonbons.  Now I have full charge of not touching every single hunk of candy that leaves the factory, even the taffy.”

            “Do you have any ambitions to go even farther, Mr. Updigit?  Or are you satisfied as you are?”

            “Oh, I hope someday to get a job at the zoo, not feeding the larger of the animals.  But my present boss says if I stick around, he’ll have something fine for me in a couple of years or so.”

            “Isn’t that nice?”

            “Peachy.  He says he’ll have a position in the front office for me.”

            “Doing what?”

            “Letting well enough alone.  Well, I have to go meet my brother now.  You’ll excuse me, I’m sure.”

            “Your brother?”

            “Yes.  He’s at Stoopnagle’s Restaurant, in charge of not being responsible for coats and hats not checked with the management.  Good day.”

            “Good day, Mr. Updigit.”

[From the Saturday Evening Post, November 7, 1942]


            “You may take your handkerchief out of that keyhole now, Mr. Longcotton.”

            “Oh, thank you, sir.  Funny little habit I have -- always stuffing stuff into stuff.”

            “Well, none of us is perfect.  How come you are always doing what you just said?”

            “I have a very peculiar job, sir.  I am in charge of putting those long pieces of cotton into the necks of pill bottles.”

            “Oh, yes.  Is there any real reason for putting cotton in those bottles?”

            “Well, yes and no.  If the air’s damp, the cotton will no doubt absorb some of the moisture.  However, if the air’s dry, then I really don’t know what the cotton does.”

            “Why do they have to put such a long piece in?  Couldn’t they just use a short hunk -- say half an inch or so?”

            “A short piece might get lost.  And besides, when we put a long piece in, we don’t have to put so many pills in the bottle.  And cotton is less expensive than pills; at least, that’s what I imagine.”

            “Your work must be rather tiresome; I suppose you just sit in one place all day, poking your finger into pill bottles.”

            “No.  Sometimes I run around like fury.  Especially when my forefinger gets stuck in a bottle.  One time I caught my finger, and it was three days before I thought to bust the bottle.  My finger swelled up so that they had to shift me to much bigger bottles.”

            “Gee whizzikers!  I bet you were a sight, going around everywhere with a bottle on your finger!”

            “I should say!  People who asked me directions to places got the surprise of their young lives when I pointed.  And when I shook hands -- well, some of them were fit to be tied, as they say.”

            “I can imagine.  Have you ambitions, Gregory, to do something really big or are you satisfied with your work as it is?”

            “Well, one day I was easing that piece of cotton into a pill bottle, and I said to myself: ‘Gregory,’ I said, ‘some fine day you’ll be pushing passengers into subway trains, or perhaps ramming powder charges into great naval guns.’  And before I could answer, the foreman came running up and said Washington wanted me on the phone.  I thought it was a gag, because I knew there weren’t any telephones in his day.  But when I answered, it was the OLBNA in Washington, D. C.”


            “Yeah, Office of Less Bottle Necks Administration.  They wanted me to --”

            “I think I understand, Gregory.  Are you going to take the job?”

            “Yes, I think I will.  In fact, I’m gone right now!”


            “Yes; gone, but not for cotton!” 

[From the Saturday Evening Post, December 12, 1942] 


             “Yes, you heard me correctly, sir.  I am a small up painter.”

            “Come again, Mr. Weeprint?”

            “I paint small ups.  I am the fellow who invented printing prices of stuff like, ‘Double Room and Bath, Three Dollars and up,’ instead of ‘Three Dollars or more,’ or ‘Three Dollars and some higher.’  The ‘up’ is my own idea -- that is, making it smaller than the ‘Three Dollars,’ so people may not notice it.”

            “Imagine someone whose business it is to spend a lot of time painting something and then hoping to goodness no one will notice it!  By the way, you aren’t the guy who puts the Gettysburg Address on pinheads, are you, Mr. Weeprint?”

            “Nope.  I tried that once on a pinhead, and he got mad and ran away.  It was in a circus side show.”

            “Tell me; how small do you allow your ups to get?  Is it willy-nilly or do you have a plan?”

            “Well, I have a soft-and-slow rule that --”

            “Soft and slow?”

            “Yeah, the opposite of hard and fast.  I have a soft-and-slow rule that no ‘up’ of mine shall be less than one twelfth of an inch high.  And when they get that low, I have to don my special spectacles; they unmagnify stuff until it’s exactly one twelfth of it’s original size.”

            “Are you at all familiar with ‘down’ work, Mr. Weeprint, or do you stick to ups?”

            “Downs are nice, too, sir.  Yes, I mess around with downs sometimes when a call comes in.  You’ve seen signs in store windows saying: ‘Beautiful Twenty-six Tube Superheterodyne Cabinet Model Nine, ninety-five down,’ haven’t you?”


            “Well, I paint the ‘down’ so small you can hardly see it.  Then people rush into the store, only to find that the real price is three hundred and sixty-five dollars and seventy-six cents.  It’s wonderful fun watching them come out mad.”

            “I suppose.  Well, nice to have seen you, Mr. Weeprint.  But before you go back to your painting, would you divulge your plans for a vacation this year?”

            “Yes, I intend to relieve my brother.  He’s an elevator operator.”

            “How nice!”

            “Then I can be having my rest and relaxation, and still have my little ups and downs with me.”

            “Little ups and downs, running an elevator?”

            “Yes.  You see, it’s just a two-story building.  The Empire State would never do.”

[‘Postscripts,’ from The Saturday Evening Post, 24 March 1943]


            “Mr. Notkwite, I understand yours is an uncanny ability.”

            “To be sure, sir.  I am known far, but not wide, for my aptitude for almost doing stuff.”

            “How strange!”

            “For example, I used to spell ‘cat’ c-a, and when the teacher asked me to add four and four, I always said ‘seven,’ because that is almost eight.  When my wife asks me to hunt high and low for her tatting, I just hunt high.  And when I have a task to accomplish, I go at it hammer and.”

            “No tongs.”

            “You’re welcome.  I am never happy doing things thoroughly, so I have made a career of it.  I never, for instance, do things whole hog, only three quarters.  This leaves quite a hunk of hog, which my wife almost grinds up into two-third-length sausages.”

            “Apparently, your entire life is spent nearly doing things.”

            “Yeah.  See this sucker I am eating?”


            “This is a part-day sucker.  No all-day suckers for me.  As I always say: ‘A quarter loaf is better than no bread.’”

            “How in the world did you happen on this strange way of doing things?”

            “Well, sir, when I was born, I weighed exactly seven pounds, fifteen ounces.  When someone said to my father: ‘I understand your new baby weighs eight pounds,’ my father answered: ‘Yes, all but one ounce.’  That’s how they decided to call me Allbut.  If it were spelled A-l-b-e-r-t, my name would be Albert.  Lucky my father’s name happened to be Notkwite; otherwise my name might be Allbut Jones, which wouldn’t make much sense.”

            “I see, I think.  By the way, I understand you’re in the process of developing a new game of baseball which bids fair to practically outmode the present game.  No?”

            “Oh, to be sure.  My team has eight men, and they play eight innings.”

            “But what happens if the game is a tie at the end of the eight innings?”

            “We toss a coin.  If it comes down on edge, one team wins, and if it doesn’t come down at all, the other team wins.  Two strikes and three balls only are allowed, and there are only two bases -- first and second.  On holidays, they play a single-header, and the winner for the season is the team which comes in second in the league.”

            “What happens to the team that comes in first in the league standings?”

            “The league starts with second place.”

            “Oh.  There are only seven teams in the league?”

            “No, there are eight teams, but one doesn’t like baseball.  And it’s nip from the word go.”

            “Not nip and tuck.”

            “Just nip.  They start in April, and from then on, it’s lickety all through the season.”

            “No split.”


            “I said ‘no split.’”

            “No, they stick together until October.  After that, you can never quite tell what might happen.  Now I must go.  Good!”

            “Good?  What, no ‘by’?”

            “Nope, all girls so far.  But you never can tell.”

[From the Saturday Evening Post, April 3, 1943]


(He piles apples in grocery-store windows)

            “Is it true, Mr. Prittle, that when you were young, your mother called you the crab apple of her eye?”

            “Yes, sir, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that’s how I won the Pile-itzer Award for the neatest triangel of apples in any store window in America.”

            “Have you been pyramiding apples for a long time?”

            “I started trying to pile fruit at the age of three, with four crab apples which one of our trees kindly yielded.  You try making a pyramid with four pieces of fruit, and see how hard it is.”

            “I bet it’s even harder with just one apple, Mr. Prittle.”

            “I never tried it with just one apple; I always had several.  I eventually got to be very fond of isosceles triangles.  In fact, today there are some historians who aver that the modern method of setting up bowling pins may actually be traced back to Pyramid Prittle’s penchant for pyramiding pomegranates.”

            “Strange, isn’t it, the various claims people have to fame?”

            “It’s really very easy to pile apples properly in grocery-store windows, except that it’s difficult.  One thing you must always remember: the longest row goes on the bottom.  Start with just one apple on the bottom, for example, work up gradually to a row of fifty, and you’ll find that no single apple has stayed in place since the original one you put down.  On the other hand, put the longest row on the bottom, then the second longest, then the third, and so on, until you finally come to a row with only one in it, and you’ve got as neat a triangle of apples as you ever saw, brother.  Unless you started with oranges, in which case you will have as neat a triangle of oranges as you ever saw, brother.”

            “I assume that you believe that the eye appeal of fruits piled in pyramid form is greater than if they were piled in, say, parallelepipedons.”

            “Can a duck swim?  Place fruits in what you said, and the public will ignore them, buying vegetables or dairy products.  Place fruits in pyramid form, though, and the public will buy fruits.”

            “That may be all well and good, Mr. Prittle, but if they come into your store to buy fruits, doesn’t that take several of your oranges, shall we say, out of the pyramid, thus making for jumble and disarray?”

            “Frequently, sir, and especially if some old gal snatches a few from the bottom row.  Only yesterday, it was, I saw a woman select several oranges from the long row, and a veritable avalanche of oranges descended and went right through the grocery-store window.  A soldier was standing there when it happened.  And was he mad!”

            “What made the soldier mad?  Did they ruin his uniform?”

            “It wasn’t that.  They were naval oranges!” 

[‘Postscripts,’ from The Saturday Evening Post, 28 August 1943]


(He doesn't make top-floor up-buttons)

             "I know, Mr. Forefinger, but seems to me I've seen UP-buttons at elevators on top floors of buildings.  They're just sort of blank, or something."

            "Not in any buildings where I have had anything to do with the elevator buttons, Colonel."

            "And you really have a factory that makes no Up-buttons for the top floors of buildings?"

            "Oh, to be sure.  And you should see the speed and efficiency with which those Up-buttons fail to pour out of the factory.  And furthermore, we have a factory next door to THAT one, too."

            "You mean the one that makes no buttons at all for 13th floors that tall buildings are often without?"

            "That's it.  Of course, making neither Up- nor Down-buttons for missing 13th floors takes exactly twice the lack of space that only making the Down-buttons for top floors takes."


            "Certainly.  And another part of our business is not making Down-buttons for basements."

            "Unless, of course, there's a secret basement, way, way down below the first basement.  Then, you'd surely have to have a Down-button."

            "Yeah, but we make that one (and this is strictly 'au contraire' -- 'between ourselves') in a secret factory in Hoboken.  It's underground, and we call it our Lowboken Enterprise."

            "MISTER Forefinger!  Please!"

            "The thing that's worrying me now, though, are those 13th floors that many building contractors have to throw away.  My people are contemplating a building made up of nothing BUT 13th floors.  We have a scheme whereby they will all be shipped to a certain site in upper Manhattan, where they will be placed one on top of another to form a building of nothing but 13th floors."

            "People will certainly have to be un-superstitious to rent offices there!"

            "Not necessarily: We shall simply turn the '13' signs upside down.  That way, they'll read EI.  And EI is anything but superstitious."

            "An absolutely phenomenal procedure, Mr. Forefinger."

            "No doubt.  Well, I have to go now, to see a fellow who owes us some money for some sets of Up- and Down-buttons we made for him three months ago.  He put a deposit on the Downs, but forgot to make even a small Up-payment on the others." 

[Source unknown, circa 1944]


Page created November 14, 2006.  Copyright 1998-2006 by Richard D. Squires.