When Buffalo interests began planning for the Pan-American Exposition, Ellsworth Statler saw an opportunity to make money
toward his goal of building a great hotel. He determined to build "the largest hotel" in Buffalo expressly for the Exposition crowd.
He would build it adjacent to the Exposition grounds, build it big and showy and efficient. And he would advertise it heavily
outside the city. To this end, Buffalo investors supported him despite some resentment from some of the many other hotel
operators in the city who feared a loss of business to Statler's convenient hostelry. He also borrowed money from his
Wheeling, West Virginia, friends and invested his entire life savings, $60,000. His loans totaled between $200,000 and $300,000,
over $7 million in 2006 dollars, an enormous amount for the construction of a building intended to last only 9 months before
Construction began in October 1900 when Statler turned 37, a middle-aged man by the standards of the day.
The Buffalo firm of Thompson, Hubman and Fisher was awarded the construction contract on a frame structure to be
covered with plaster, having three stories, 2,084 rooms for 5,000 guests, a dining room that could seat 1,200 and
corridors that totaled 4 or 5 miles in length. It covered nine acres of land and consumed two million board feet of
lumber. Unfortunately for the contractor, Statler had taught himself to read blueprints and was on the work site 18
hours a day, making changes to the design as it progressed and always looking for economies. When one
electrical contractor refused to reduce his estimate for the installation of room-to-front-desk bells, Statler
astounded him by cancelling the entire bell installation. Instead, he developed a system whereby the guest
would place one, two, or three miniature American flags into little holes outside his door to signal a request for
ice water, liquor, etc. Statler hired 50 bell boys whose wages totaled less than the bell installation would
have been, and stationed them at the right angle of every corridor so that they would be ready immediately to
fulfill the service request. Guests loved it. This and many other service improvements Statler initiated had been
recorded over his years at the McClure Hotel in Wheeling. He was never without his notebook for jotting
down ideas for "perfect service."
Statler's Pan-American Hotel had a front office setup capable of processing 500 guests per hour. The rates were
$2 - $2.50 per day, including all meals. (His rates without meals were locally competitive, $1 - $1.50 per day.)
Local hotelmen assured him that, with such an immense undertaking, he would never make money because
people would be able to "skip" without settling their account, an industry-wide problem. Statler eliminated the problem
by requiring all guests to pay for one week in advance; in return they received a ticket. If they bought the rate that
included meals, their ticket was punched each time they entered the dining room. If the guest stayed less than a
week, he/she could present the ticket and receive a refund for the unused days. (This idea later became the standard
payment plan for resorts.)
Statler's hotel received praise in a hotel trade magazine, Hotel Gazette, in August 1901:
The system at Statler's is fine...bellboy, chambermaid, dining room and office...all perfected. Manager Statler
is a wonder...In all the hustle and bustle the hotel has an air that is pleasing. They are never too busy but what
a bellboy can be had at once. The cashier is never too busy to change a fivespot. The clerk, room, key or mail,
finds time answer courteously a thousand questions an hour. In the dining room you are promptly waited on and
served with good food."
All the elements that would mark Ellsworth Statler as a pioneer in the hotel industry aimed at serving businessmen
and travelers were beginning to come into focus at this temporary hotel. Despite having no more than about
1,500 guests at a time, Statler also managed to make money from his Pan-American venture. And he did this
by the principles he learned from his Ellicott Square restaurant: standardization, simplification, and cost-cutting.
At the end of the Exposition, Statler had the building demolished (and likely also had the construction materials
re-sold by a salvage company as was the practice with the Exposition buildings). He sold the furniture and sent
the dishes and silverware back to his Ellicott restaurant.
More importantly, Statler had reinforced his reputation as a shrewd and reliable businessman. One contractor
wrote of him:
"When Mr. Statler was negotiating to build his large hotel in this city, he was an entire stranger to me,
and I met him after bids had been opened on his work. My contract amounted to about $10,000. As payments
came due on my work, my requisitions were immediately checked and checks were sent to me without delay.
Mr. Statler is a very cool, conservative, even-tempered, thorough businessman... He is a man full of resources
and I would sooner take my chances with E.M. Statler, giving his word only, than I would with a great deal
many other supposedly good men who would give ample security."
After six years in Buffalo, Statler had learned a great deal about successfully
taking great risks in the hospitality business. In later years he would repeat his