‘Lucky Charley’ Weeghman Opens Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field
It is dank and cramped. It is antiquated. It is, above all else, a baseball shrine, venerated by generations of Cubs fans, nestled in Chicago’s Lakeview residential neighborhood. At 98 years of age, Wrigley Field is the oldest ballpark in the National League, second only to the American League’s two-years-older Fenway Park, and the only ballpark left over from the old Federal League.
Built in just six weeks, the historic ballpark was opened on April 23, 1914, named Weeghman Park in honor of the man who made it all happen: “Lucky Charley” Weeghman. His ownership of both the baseball team and the stadium highlighted the “rags to riches” story of a young man who started in Chicago as a restaurant floor manager earning $10 a week.
When the Federal League folded in 1915, Weeghhman brought in the wealthy chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., as a partner. Together they bought Charles P. Taft’s team, the “Chicago Cubs,” and moved the team to Weeghman’s stadium, where the Cubs have played ever since. From 1920-26 it was called Cubs Park, at which time Wrigley (who bought controlling interest in the club in 1918) bestowed upon it its present name: Wrigley Field.
Weeghman’s story is a remarkable one, told in this newspaper article published by the Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana) on April 26, 1914:
‘Lucky Charley’ Weeghman, President Chicago Federal League Club
‘Live Wire’ of Independent Baseball Organization Began Business Life in Chicago Twenty-one Years Ago as Restaurant Helper at $10 Weekly Salary
By Harvey T. Woodruff
In 1893 a young man who was a clerk in a jeweler’s store in Richmond, Ind., came to Chicago to visit the World’s Fair. He liked the city life and its bright lights. So when he returned to Richmond it was only to stay long enough to pack up his belongings preparatory to becoming a resident of Chicago, where he accepted a job at $10 per week in the old King restaurant in Fifth avenue.
That young man from Richmond, Ind., was Charles H. Weeghman—“Lucky Charley” Weeghman as he is known—now president of the Chicago Federal League baseball club, which opened its home season to an immense crowd on Thursday, and owner of a string of eight “hurry-up” lunchrooms, a moving picture theater, and a billiard room, all in the loop district.
In newspapers outside of Chicago, Weeghman is referred to as a “millionaire” and the “live wire” of the Federal League. In actual cash, Weeghman is probably not a millionaire—yet. If the Federal League fails in its fight against organized baseball his march toward that goal will be set back several years. But the profits on the Weeghman enterprises as now conducted would pay a handsome return on a capitalization of $1,000,000. His business is a $100,000 corporation. Its annual profits for several years have exceeded the entire capitalization. Weeghman owns all the stock. So much for the “millionaire” classification.
Weeghman also has proved a “live wire” in the independent organization which has dared to brave a battle of brains and money with the well established forces of organized baseball. When he entered the league the plans were unpretentious. That it even would start was considered doubtful. It did not promise to be more than a minor league organization. Weeghman, with William Walker as his baseball partner, accepted the Chicago franchise with plans calling for an expenditure of $50,000, which was to include a modest baseball park and a ball team.
After several meetings of the magnates of the new organization, Weeghman demanded a “show down” of their ability to go through the season and meet all obligations. New capital was interested in several cities and Weeghman was “shown.” Then he plunged. The present investment in the Chicago Federals is approximately $400,000. Of this amount $250,000 represents the cost of the plant [i.e., the ballpark], $50,000 salary advances to ball players, another $50,000 bonuses paid [to] leaseholders—one man received $25,000 to relinquish a sixteen-foot right of way through the proposed park—to surrender their unexpired rights so that the park might be finished, and another $50,000 represents incidentals and the cost of putting the grounds in shape. The club is capitalized for $250,000. Weeghman and Walker sold $100,000 of the stock to friends in the Chicago Athletic Association. The remainder of the money needed, they subscribed for stock and loaned to the club. On this showing Weeghman seems fairly entitled to the name of “live wire.”
Weeghman, who carries the baptismal handle of Charles Henry, was born on March 8, 1874, at Richmond, Ind., where his father conducted a general blacksmith shop with equipment not only for shoeing horses but also for repairing wagons and work of that nature. His father was a native of Berlin, Germany, but his mother was American born. Two brothers, Herbert and Albert, are managers in his restaurant business. His parents were brought to Chicago a year ago from Richmond, and the father is one of the most enthusiastic of the new Fed fans.
Charles attended the public schools of Richmond, and after graduation went to business college at night, while working days as a clerk in Haner’s jewelry store. That was the position he left when he decided Chicago offered a better field.
Charley reasoned that people ate oftener than they bought watches or diamonds, so he decided to change occupation as well as residence and accepted employment in King’s restaurant on the “night side.” His duties were of the utility order, a sort of floor manager. While never a waiter in the sense of manning the coffee urn, he frequently donned the white jacket and apron during the “midnight rush” hour, for King’s catered to a newspaper and night worker trade.
For eight years Weeghman was employed by the late Charley King. He soon was promoted to the day side and his initial salary of $10 a week gradually mounted until he received $25 a week as assistant manager of the place.
Back in January, 1901, Weeghman determined to go into business for himself. With $300 of his own money and $200 which he borrowed, he put $500 into a pool of $2,800, of which $700 was furnished by Aaron Friend and $1,600 by Frank Conway, a son of Fire Marshal Conway. This combined capital was used to open a counter lunchroom at the southeast corner of Fifth avenue and Adams street. The first month Weeghman drew down a salary of $30 a week as manager and one-third share of the $1,200 profits. That was the beginning of his success.
It was at this first lunchroom that Weeghman first became acquainted with William Walker, his present associate in the ownership of the controlling stock in the Chifeds. Walker, with a borrowed capital of $400, had just embarked in the fish business. He solicited the trade of Weeghman’s room, and the sales, small as they were, meant much to him at this time. Through all the years since Weeghman and Walker have been business and personal friends.
Six years after starting their first lunchroom, Weeghman and his partners had a string of seven eating places. As often happens where only one partner is active in the business, differences of opinion arose and Weeghman sold his interest to his partners for $50,000.
With the money thus secured Weeghman opened the eating place in Madison street west of Dearborn, which always has been referred to as the “gold mine which made Weeghman.” The original location was soon transformed into a movie theater and the present site secured for the lunchroom. It is open twenty-four hours a day, and its 108 chairs accommodate an average of 5,000 persons daily. From the profits of this room seven other places in the downtown district were opened. And the “arm chair” money taken in at these restaurants is what made the Federal League in Chicago possible.
Weeghman is a member of the Chicago Athletic Association, Exmoor Country Club, and South Shore Country Club. He was married fifteen years ago to Miss Bessie Webb of Janesville, Wis., and lives at 5637 Sheridan road, where Dorothy Jane Weeghman, 2 years old, is absolute despot.
Those of us who knew Weeghman back in the old days at King’s, when he was a good looking young fellow with a penchant for natty clothes, do not find that he has changed much with prosperity. He wears only slightly better clothes and the same size hat. He recalls his humble start without hesitation. He enjoys his success, but his enjoyment does not offend. As backer of a billiard room and as a golf player, he has earned the reputation of being a good sportsman. He promises to continue the reputation in baseball.
For more information, visit the official Wrigley Field website.
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