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John Trower: How to Succeed in Business

February 17, 2012

John Trower, from NAACP's 'The Crisis, May 1911

Building a successful business from the ground up is no small feat. For an African American man born in 1849, it’s rather remarkable.

Born in Virginia, John Trower worked on a farm alongside his family until age 21 when he had accumulated enough money to settle the mortgage. He then moved to Baltimore where  he worked as an oyster-opener. By 1870 Trower was working in Philadelphia in his own restaurant near the railroad.

It wasn’t long before his business grew and Trower bought the vacant Germantown Savings Fund building, located at 5706 Germantown Avenue, and converted it into a first-class catering establishment. Aside from the wealthy families of Germantown, Trower’s catering company also provided banquets and luncheons for the Cramps Ship Building Company during the trial runs of new vessels. When John Wanamaker was serving as Postmaster General, Trower prepared a lavish banquet for him in U.S. capital.

Not only was Trower a business success, but he was also a philanthropist. Trower financed the building an African American church in Ocean City and Zion Baptist Church in Germantown, as well as organizing a building and loan association for African Americans. Trower’s great success made him one of the wealthiest African Americans in Philadelphia and a pilar of his community.

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