Chattanooga History: Siskin Father’s Lessons Guide His Sons

“World War I offered new businesses an invitation to success as the United States prepared to arm the American Expeditionary Forces, led by Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. Robert Siskin embraced that opportunity, and with funds from his days as a traveling peddler he opened his scrap metal business. With an investment reportedly of $7, the business grew quickly and continued to increase during the war days. But the post-war years would challenge the young business, as military contracts ended and the nation attempted to shift to peacetime production levels.

Robert H. Siskin and Sons found itself with an overstocked scrapyard and a significant debt from its expansion. But Siskin’s self-discipline and integrity never wavered. When a Hamilton National Bank official suggested to Siskin that he “negotiate” a reduction in the debt to ease his financial burden, Siskin recoiled. He refused the debt change and pledged, “I want to pay off every penny that I borrowed from you, in full, with interest.”

Robert and his sons, Mose and Garrison, held a meeting, created an aggressive business plan, including goals for new contracts, and went to work. They moved into the salvage business, frequently dismantling large industrial buildings. While Robert and Mose worked on-site, often far from Chattanooga, Garrison handled the Chattanooga business. Within two years, the Siskins were debt-free, and the business continued growing. But tragedy was just around the corner.

While on a business trip to St. Louis in 1926, Robert Siskin injured his right foot. What began as a minor wound developed into a life-threatening situation when gangrene developed. He returned home, and, though the leg was amputated in hopes of stopping the spread of infection, Robert Siskin died two months later at age 58, leaving the business to his sons and a legacy of quiet philanthropy to the community that had welcomed his family…”

by Linda Moss Mines from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

To read more about the Siskin family, visit Chattanooga Times Free Press