Setting fire for new vision
In 1889, the modern concept of retirement was created by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany, nicknamed the Iron Chancellor. In an effort to preemptively fight the uprising socialist mentality, he encouraged the “eldery” to make way for a younger, more able workforce by offering them financial government assistance. It seemed like a generous offer, but the Iron Chancellor was crafty and made the age of pension eligibility just outside of the average age of life expectancy; as a last resort.
Even so, the idea of pensions gained popularity and traction. The modernized idea spread to the Americas, where it had already been forming within private corporations. American Express offered America's first employer-provided retirement plan in 1875 and a few years later the Baltimore and Ohio railroad introduced a retirement plan funded by employers and workers jointly.
Henry Flagler was known as a “Titan of Industry” during the Gilded Age. By the time he made his fortune in Standard Oil, the idea of retiring on one’s own wealth was well established and highly coveted. The Gilded Age was a peak time of American opulence. The bigger and bolder, the better. Extraordinary wealth flared up brightly and fiercely, like the flick of a lit matchstick, showcasing itself in dozens of Gilded Age mansions which were filled with museum-worthy artifacts, expert craftsmanship, and exquisite artistry.
The homes, many of them once lining Millionaire’s Row on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, told the world, “I’ve made it. Now, I take my leave.”
But Henry Flagler was among those who chose a different path. After the death of his wife, Mary, Standard Oil moved their operations from Ohio to New York at which time, Flagler stepped back from a primary role in the company. He was still in his early 50s, but the average life expectancy for a man was only 44 years. No one would have blamed him if he had enjoyed the rest of his years in leisure. He built a relatively modest home on Fifth Avenue and settled there with his second wife, perhaps intending to semi-retire while still playing a lesser role in Standard Oil. But New York’s pretentious socialite scene held no interest for him
Having visited Jacksonville while his first wife was ill, he fell in love with the state of Florida and saw its potential. He decided to take his resources down to Florida. Establishing railroads, building hotels, and funding dozens of schools, churches, businesses, and governmental institutions along the coast, Flagler built the foundations for modern Florida.
At an age when his peers were ready to retire, Flagler stepped into a second stunning career, spending the last 25 years of his life building something new. Instead of retirement, he chose refirement! Today, his years post-“retirement” are more widely regarded and remembered than his first career. Think about it! The very state which has become synonymous with a retirement lifestyle — golf, leisure, and relaxation — was developed by a man who refused to retire his resources and expertise, but to use his wealth and experience to develop modern Florida.