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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

Richard Powers traces the origins of the Clare company back to the 18th-century English trading concerns. One of the sons, Jephthah Clare, decided to try America, settling in Boston in 1807. He ambitiously built up his trade through a combination of shrewd decisions, risk taking, and just plain luck. Jephthah invested widely and operated inside and outside the law, depending on the economic climate. (Although the slave trade was abolished in 1808, Powers does not mention his involvement in that aspect of commerce.)

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A memory for trustworthiness and great patience for paper labyrinths saw him through many setbacks. Confidence returned cash, and cash bought confidence. Jephthah handled cotton and indigo and potash. But above all else, he dealt in risk.

Branching out from commerce to manufacture, his sons begin making candles and soap. Their rationale is, in part, the success they have had in selling these products, as well as the fact that their very nature is to be used up. They are initially determined to make high-quality products which will create a high demand, even if they initially lose money. Another part of the appeal is that both products use some of the same ingredients. After the soaps had been mixed, poured, dried, and cut into cakes, they did not resemble their ingredients.

The resulting slabs were a mystery to behold. Here was a substance, grease’s second cousin. Yet something had turned waste inside out. Dirt’s duckling transformed to salve’s swain, its rancid nosegay rearranged into aromatic garland.

The Clare company had continued to expand in the range of products made and in the direction of marketing. As the United States reached westward, so did the company. In the late 19th century, it established a new headquarters in Lacewood, Illinois. The corporation affects every aspect of the town’s life. Not only is it the major employer, but it endows a multitude of worthy causes. Its presence is so well established that it has come to seem natural, and many people take it...

(The entire section contains 512 words.)

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