Sam Briskman: Success Is A Debt

An "Only Human" article by Sidney Fields published in the The New York Sunday Mirror. Based on information in the article, this is November 1955.


One day, thirty years ago, Sam Briskman's wife asked him to bring home a bread knife.He returned with two, both of them with zig-zag edges, and his wife bawled him out.

"I asked for one with a straight edge," she scolded, "and you bring me two with ragged edges."

Sam crossed the knives and asked: "What do you see?"

"Two knives that I can't use," Mrs. Briskman said.

"No," said Sam, "I see a pair of pinking shears. The first pair of pinking shears in the world."

Sam spent the next four years developing a working pair of pinking shears, a task that made him neglect his own printing business and put him $75,000 in debt. When he wanted to quit, his wife wouldn't let him. He finally developed a pair of shears that would work, but he couldn't explain how he did it. But he brought them to J. Wiss & Sons of Newark, N.J., the largest cutlery manufacturers in the world. They rejected them because they could not be produced in volume, and hence the price would be too high.

FOUR YEARS LATER, when Sam was making them himself, Wiss gave him a lifetime contract. Wiss makes the pinking shears, and gives Sam a straight royalty on every pair they sell. He retained the foreign market.

"We've sold our 20,000,000th pair, "says Sam, 59, a gentle, generous, white-haired man. "They're sold all over the world."

Sam, who was raised in a slum, has grown wealthy beyond his dreams. His middle name is Esther, after his mother, to perpetuate her memory -- an index of his character. As a boy, before and after school, Sam helped deliver orders from the butcher shop of his father, an immigrant who settled on the East Side. At 12 Sam had to quit school, went to work for $3 a week, a full 60-hour week, as a press feeder. He became a printer, and when he got married he went into business for himself.

"I made and sold sample cards, or swatches to textile people," Sam explains. "All swatches were pinked, but they had no shears until I made them.

HIS WIFE; his son, Arthur, 26, a Navy vet; his daughter, Eileen; and his four grandchildren are his business partners. He can never forget his origin, and is convinced success makes a man a debtor to his fellow men. Seven years ago he became an active worker for the N.Y. Cardiac Home, that remarkable institution begun by Albert J. McCosker, of Irish Catholic antecedents, and Harry Hershfield, of Jewish parents.

"It's a shining ideal," Sam says. "It's one of the happiest associations of my life. When a heart patient is discharged from a hospital he has no place to convalesce. We fill that need for those who cannot afford it."

Sam has been president of the N.Y. Cardiac Home for the past three years. Recently the home, then located at Hillburn, N.Y., was to be abandoned because the Thruway cut right across it. Sam persuaded his board members to buy a 25-acre site in Yonkers and set out to build a new $1,000,000 home.

"In less than 19 months the building was completed," says Sam, "and the first patients were admitted last October 11."

The building will be formally dedicated next Spring. And on December 3 the annual dinner for the N.Y. Cardiac home will be held at the Waldorf-Astoria with Harry Hershfield in his post as toastmaster, and City Council President Abe Stark as guest of honor.

THE HOME IS one of the many things to which Sam lends his heart and hand. During the war he saw 4,000 Navy recruits at a time herded on a receiving ship on Pier 92 before assignment. Sam spent $20,000 building a stage, and producing two shows a night for them seven nights a week.

"My wife and I kept at it for four years," he says, "The pier was practically our home."

He's always worked around the Mercer Street Police Precinct, so nine years ago he started the Summer habit of taking 1,000 neighborhood children on an all-day outing to an outlying park. Ten years ago he begun a yearly Precinct Christmas Party for 50 kids. Last year 1,500 came in for toys, food, candy.

"Real good toys," he says proudly. "Not junk. The best we can buy."

It's an all-day party. His grandchildren, and the children of the Mayor come down and line up with the other kids, too. Sam's theory is that the cop is the child's friend, and the businessman should be the child's friend too.

"I'd like to get other businessmen in other areas to do similar things," he says. "For the young there is no better investment in their future -- and ours."