E.M. Statler - Successful People

"Life is service – the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow men a little more – a little better service." - E. M. Statler

Any telling of the story of Detroit's Statler Hotel that omits the story of E.M. Statler and his extraordinary hotel chain would be incomplete. In 1927 Ellsworth M. Statler, founded the largest hotel chain of his day. Ellsworth Milton (E.M.) Statler (October 26, 1863 – April 16, 1928) was an American hotel businessman born in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

E.M. Statler was born near Gettysburg Pennsylvania into the family of a pastor with little money. The Statler family soon moved to Bridgeport Ohio, across the river from Wheeling West Virginia. There the young E.M. Statler started to work at the LaBelle Glass Factory. He was only 9.

Early Life

When his parents (William Jackson Statler and Mary Ann McKinney) moved from a farm near Gettysburg, Pa. to Bridgeport, Ohio which is across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia, Ellsworth worked for a short time at age nine at the La Belle Glass Factory in Kirkwood, Ohio alongside his older brothers, ages 11 and 13. The work, that of a glory hole tender was hard and hot. 

Glory holes were small furnaces used in glass factories to heat and soften glass so that it could be formed into bottles or other glass products. At age 13, Ellsworth got a job as a night-time bellboy at the McLure House Hotel in Wheeling, West Virginia. Statler’s father died when Ellsworth had been working for two years as a bellboy at the McLure House.

Statler was paid six dollars a month, plus his board, a place to sleep and whatever he could earn in tips. In 1878, the McLure House had an elevator but it was reserved for guests and the manager. Bellboys carried luggage up and down the stairs and did the same with ice and water, kindling for fires and hot water for guest baths.

Guest rooms at the McLure House were barely adequate with a bed, one chair, a large hook on the back of the entry door hanging clothes. Plumbing consisted of a pitcher of water, a large bowl, a spittoon and shared toilets down the corridor. By age 15 he had become head bellboy, with the nickname of “Colonel”. By the time he was 16, then night desk clerk, and finally day desk clerk.

At McLure Hotel, he turned an unprofitable low class establishment into a profitable high class establishment. He then went on to develop a bankrupt bowling club into a profitable venture, complete with a pie shop. These ventures gave Statler a reputation among businessmen and lenders as hardworking and reliable. It was clear to many that he would go far.

Statler proved a hard and determined worker and began a life in the hotel industry. He learned how to keep the accounting records and at 19 became the hotel manager. From this experience he learned the functions and jobs of hotels. He also began to develop ideas to improve hotel service and efficiency He began to test these ideas with business ventures.


A Career In Hospitality

When he established the first Hotel Statler in Buffalo, he said it this way: “A hotel has just one thing to sell. That one thing is service. The hotel that sells poor service is a poor hotel. It is the object of the Hotel Statler to sell its guests the very best service in the world.”

His first hotel being the first major hotel to have a private bath or shower and running water in every room. New employees learned from it what was meant by “Statler service” and guests gained a better understanding of what Statler service meant to members of the organization. In the days before the word “empowerment” became a cliché, every Statler employee signed off on the following pledge:

To treat our patrons and fellow employees in an interested, helpful, and gracious manner, as we would want to be treated if positions were reversed;
  1. To judge fairly–to know both sides before taking action;
  2. To learn and practice self-control;
  3. To keep our properties—buildings and equipment—in excellent condition at all times;
  4. To know our job and to become skillful in its performance;
  5. To acquire the habit of advance planning;
  6. To do our duties promptly; and
  7. To satisfy all patrons or to take them to our superior.
Statler’s greatest contribution may have been forgotten: his formula for planning hotels so that smaller staffs could deliver services conveniently and efficiently. Statler departed from the customary practice of locating the kitchens in the less valuable basement area. Rather, he positioned a three-sided kitchen to simultaneously serve the restaurants, ballroom and meeting areas. 

The Hotels Statler Company went on to build several other hotels after Statler's death in 1928. It is interesting to note that, Statler's Restaurant, his most ambitious move came in 1894 when he opened Statler's Restaurant in the new Ellicott Square Building in Buffalo. Buffalo had a reputation as a poor restaurant town. 

Despite Statler's best efforts to make the restaurant as efficient as possible it lost money. But then Statler discovered the power of advertising. A series of newspaper ads and publicity stunts later, Statler's Restaurant was a resounding success.With a tidy profit from his restaurant Statler returned to the hotel business. In 1901 he opened a massive temporary hotel for Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition. 

Sadly, the exposition was a failure. Statler was lucky that he managed to gain a small profit. Despite the less then glamorous results of the Buffalo venture he built the Innside Inn for the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition. This time the fair and hotel were successful.


From "Inn" To "Hotel"

This hotel, the Buffalo Statler, quickly became famous and successful. It would be a long, though interesting, story to tell of the success of the Buffalo Statler and the events which lead to the construction of the other Statlers. In 1950, the hotel industry picked E. M. Statler as the “Hotel Man Of The Half Century.” By then, Statler had been dead for 22 years, but his impact on the art and science of inn keeping was so great that no one else even came close.

Even the better hotels had shared bathroom facilities. Bathtubs were usually built on a platform, and hot water cost 25 cents extra. About 90 percent of hotels were American plan, with cheap, unlimited food included in the room rate. Moreover, no hotel owner called his house full until all double beds were fully occupied, often by bedmates who were complete strangers.

Statler, however, he was more interested in plain vanilla comfort in his hotels than fancy trimmings. He said, “A shoe salesman and a traveling prince want essentially the same thing when they are on the road- namely, good food and a comfortable bed- and that is what I propose to give them.” In response to criticism that Statler hotels were not luxurious enough, Statler said,

“Look, if I wanted to, I could run a so-called luxury hotel or a resort hotel that would beat any...thing those frizzly-headed foreigners are doing, but I just don’t operate in that field… ; I’m not interested in it. All I want to do is to have more comforts and conveniences and serve better food than any of them have or do, and mine will be at a price ordinary people can afford.”

Statler bought out the company that had been operating the nearby four-lane Musee Bowling Lanes, added four additional lanes and installed eightpool and billiard tables. Statler then organized a city-wide bowling tournament with a grand prize of $300 for the winning team. 

To accommodate the crowds, Statler started “The Pie House” in the Musee building where his mother’s pies and minced chicken and minced ham sandwiches were served on egg-shell china and quadruple-plated table silver. In anticipation of the Starbucks phenomenon, Statler used the best coffee he could get not only for pleasing his customers’ taste but for attracting them with delicious aromas.

The place was so busy that the pin boys in the bowling alleys had to spend their spare time turning cranks on the ice-cream freezers. However, the piece de resistance, from which the restaurant derived its name, were the lemon meringue, fruit and custard pies which were baked by Statler’s mother and sister at their home.

And so it developed that the entire Statler family was involved in business in Wheeling: Ellsworth brother Osceola was partner and manager of the billiard room. Another brother, Bill, had charge of the Musee bowling lanes. Mother Statler and sister Alabama were turning out sandwiches and pies. As for Ellsworth, he was enjoying an income of $10,000 per year which made him affluent and eager to own and operate his own large hotel.

Statler advertised widely the most amazing menu ever offered at “All you can eat for 25¢.” For just a quarter, patrons could eat the following: bisque of oysters, olives, radishes, fried smelts with tartar sauce and potatoes Windsor, lamb sauté Bordelaise with green peas, roast young duck with applesauce and mashed potatoes, Roman punch, fruit or vegetable salad with Russian dressing, cream layer cake, Metropolitan ice cream, coffee, tea or milk. 

What’s more, you could eat as much as you liked! The veterans and their families loved Statler’s menu and made the restaurant profitable. When he opened his own hotel in 1907, his dreams became a reality. The Buffalo and N.Y., Statler offered “a room and a bath for a dollar and a half.” He proceeded to establish a chain of middle-class hotels which set standards for comfort and cleanliness at moderate prices.

Seeking a competitive edge, he designed a common shaft known as the “Statler plumbing shaft” that permitted bathrooms to be built back to back, providing two baths for little more than the price of one, and allowing him to offer many private rooms with adjoining baths. These shafts, besides carrying water and waste lines, also contained heating pipes and the electrical conduits for each room.

Starting in 1908 Statler’s preoccupation with guest comfort and operational efficiency brought about the following innovations, among others; ice water circulating to every bathroom, a telephone in every room, a full-size closet with a light, a towel hook beside every bathroom mirror, a free newspaper each morning, and a pin-cushion with needle and thread. 

In 1922, at the Pennsylvania Statler in New York City, Statler introduced the Servidor, a bulging panel in the guest-room door where the guest hung clothes needing cleaning or pressing. The valet could pick up the clothes and return them without ever entering the room. The Pennsylvania Statler was the first hotel to offer complete medical services including an x-ray and surgical room, a night physician and a dentist.

Statler was also concerned about making certain that the staff focused on guest satisfaction. Later, as he built more hotels, Statler made certain that they operated on the same principle. He wrote: “Statler Hotels are operated primarily for the comfort and convenience of their guests. Without guests there could be no Statler Hotels. These are simple facts, easily understood.


The Man Behind Cornell University

Although Statler died in 1928, he and his wife, Alice, became the school’s greatest benefactors through provisions in Statler's will. Over the years, the Statler Foundation has provided millions of dollars for teaching, research, scholarships, and facilities. It was Statler who set Cornell on its way to building the world's foremost hospitality management program.

An insight into his character is revealed in an account of a trip he made in the middle 20’s to visit the newly formed Hotel Administration Program at Cornell University. 
Though not in favor of college education for hotelmen, he made the trip as a favor to an old friend. Seeing what was being done, he like it. 

His curt comment: “Give Professor Meek anything he wants”. Later, he set aside one-sixth of the Statler stock as an educational trust fund. The Statler Foundation today has assets of many millions and has made grants totaling well over $12 million.

The School of Hotel Administration at Cornell has received more than $10 million for teaching facilities—Statler Hall and the Statler Inn and for scholarships, faculty salaries and research. San Francisco City College has a Statler Library. The Statler Foundation matches funds raised by regional hotel and restaurant educational foundations.

Upon his death, the Statler Foundation was established in his will, becoming benefactors of what is now the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, New York. The Statler Foundation, located in Buffalo, New York, continues to contribute to many worthwhile hospitality-related causes.

Death And Acquisition

After falling sick, E.M. Statler died at 6:05 o'clock in the morning of April 16, 1928 at the Hotel Pennsylvania, where he lived. He was 64 years old. Since operating genius ran in the family, his widow, Alice Seidler Statler, managed to stay solvent during the Depression, the only major hotel company to do so. 

She operated Statler Hotel Co. until 1954, when she sold it to Hilton Hotels for $111 million, merging Statler’s 10,400 rooms with Hilton’s 16,200 units. It was the greatest hotel merger and largest private real estate transaction in history. 

Famous Quote
“There are three things that make a hotel famous – location, location, location.” E.M. Statler

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