The clarity of Henry George’s logic and the power of his exposition, some similarity in his and Robert Schalkenbach’s backgrounds, and their mutual fervent desire to help mankind resulted in the creation of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.
The seed was sown when Mrs. Schalkenbach, on a spring morning in 1884, walked into James R. Brown’s livery stable, near New York City’s Central Park, and arranged for riding lessons. Brown, one of the most active proponents of George’s ideas, told her about the author and about his great book, Progress and Poverty, during her riding lessons.
She, in turn, told her husband, who bought the book. He found the long work so absorbing that he stayed up all night to finish it. This led to his acquaintance with George and George’s family, and to his support, with time and money, of George’s educational and electoral efforts. Schalkenbach served as president of the Manhattan Single Tax Club in 1897, assisting George’s second campaign for mayor and then that of George’s son, Henry George, Jr., who, after his father’s death during the campaign, replaced him on the ballot.
Schalkenbach was born in Manhattan’s Chelsea district on June 15, 1856, and died there November 13, 1924. As the eldest of eight children, he went to work at the age of twelve to contribute to the family income. He worked in a silk mill, later for a jeweler, and then learned the printing trade in the shop of Isaac J. Oliver, the first steam printer in New York City. There he rose from printer’s devil to foreman. About 1904 he became associated with John C. Rankin, former mayor of Elizabeth, New Jersey. For many years Schalkenbach served as president of the John C. Rankin Corporation, one of New York’s largest printers. During that time he became president of Typothetae, an association of employing printers, now the Printing Industries of America.
His contemporaries characterized him as a man of “sturdy uprightness,” who was “high-minded, generous, forbearing and patient.” They cited his unwillingness to take advantage of a legal mistake in the pleadings of an adversary at law and his insistence that the case proceed on its merits. They recalled also his reimbursing friends for losses they suffered following his investment advice.
Schalkenbach, who felt that strongly held religious beliefs contained an element of presumptuousness, found his own spiritual outlet in advancing George’s theories of economic justice.
Since he had no children, he was able to bequeath his wealth according to his own precepts. This self-educated man of great attainment left most of his estate to help further George’s goal: the betterment of the human condition. At his request, the last chapter of Progress and Poverty, concerning humanity’s spiritual aspirations and the mystery of future existence, was read at his funeral service.