An “outsider” ran the town of Dexter, Iowa, for seven months in 1909.
W.J. Pilkington of Des Moines, Iowa, editor of the Merchants’ Trade Journal, got thirteen businessmen in Dexter to try his management, predicting that they would double the amount of their trade, according to Printers’ Ink magazine.
Dexter, about thirty-five miles west of Des Moines and six miles from any town of over 2000 population then, had a population of 860. Within a radius of twenty-five miles were ten towns with greater population, so depended on mainly local town and country trade.
Pilkington proposed to send a man–Guy Q. Pogue–to instruct the businessmen in modern business principles for buying, displaying merchandise in stores and windows, dictating sales, fixing salaries, arranging “booster days,” and he would even do the advertising. Free of charge. He opened an office in Dexter, with an “up-to-date adding machine,” a duplicating machine, and a modern typewriter with an expert stenographer.
An article in The Rural Californian reported that Pilkington “sent down an expert window dresser to Dexter, offered prizes for the best-kept lawns, and stimulated the lawn-mower industry.”
Starting with an invoice of the stocks of each store and open book accounts, a representative called at each place of business at the end of each day to record results.
According to a newspaper article, date unknown, “The experiment is considered one of the most novel in the history of the commercial world and this is the first time that such a thing has ever been attempted. It is attracting just attention from business men everywhere and is being closely watched by them throughout the entire country.”
Pilkington planned to test his theories, learn from the experience, and profit from it–if it became successful. The Pioneer Express from Pembina, Dakota, said that he was entirely responsible for success or failure of the experiment.
The Book-Keeper: A Magazine for the Business Man of Detroit, Michigan, reported that the trade of every establishment in Dexter was enlarged by the experience.
It was evidently successful enough that W. J. Pilkington was still welcome in the town of Dexter. It was he who accomplished stopping President William Howard Taft’s “special” train–meaning that it wouldn’t be stopping at every little town along the way west. Pilkington wired the Des Moines Trainmaster that if the president would stop in Dexter, the town had a souvenir for him. It worked. The president stopped long enough the afternoon of September 19, 1910, to smile, wave at everyone, and receive a small silver spoon and cup from the town. Or at least, from W. J. Pilkington.
Sources: old Dexter Sentinel, date unknown, much of it unreadable; 1968 Dexter Centennial history, page 41.
Printers’ Ink, 1908, Vol. 66-67, page 20.
The Book-Keeper: A Magazine for the Business Man, 1909, Vol. 24, p. 292.
Harper’s Weekly, Apr. 2, 1910, Vol. 54, Part 1, pages 11-12.
The Pioneer Express, Pembina, Dakota, Aug. 27, 1909.
The Rural Californian, 1910, Vol 23, page 132.