In the decades following the American Civil War, times were tough everywhere, and Hezekiah Holcomb was no stranger to the hard-working life. Having left formal education after the first grade to work on the family farm, a longing for intellectual fulfillment began growing in him early on, and eventually gave rise to a desperate hunger for knowledge. He sought out every scrap of newspaper, leaflet or advertisement he could find, and with his limited literacy, he was able to carry himself along through his agricultural existence, learning a useful trade and helping the family, all the while secretly studying, pining for a day when he could sharpen his mind as he now sharpened his farm equipment. In the evening, he would stare at the stars, wishing his knowledge could one day be as bountiful as the universe above.
In 1881 during a routine match lighting ceremony, Hezekiah’s family farm, along with his lifelong collection of reading material, was destroyed in a massive fire that swept across the property, and the family was forced to seek employment in the nearby flint mines. The prospect of a life lived in darkness, coupled with his newfound paranoia of fire (fire, of course, is a known danger of flint mining) he left the family behind and at the age of 16, sought out employment by any means possible.
Seven years later, his resume included a variety of unskilled labor positions, and found him settled into a life as a traveling salesman, selling a variety of remedies and novelties, with his only permanent residence being his horse-drawn wagon. It was a lackluster existence, but sadly, Hezekiah did not even understand the meaning of the word “lackluster” as his wandering life and meager earnings barely afforded him a dictionary, much less the intellectual fulfillment he had desired for so long, having gained only scraps of tales of science and industry from other travelers, salesmen, and the like. In early 1888, a great blizzard swept the area, and in a bizarre series of circumstances, least interesting being the following, he ended up without a horse, and only the front half of his wagon left. Having stored all his remedies and most of his novelties in the back half, he had no way to recover from the illness that befell him in the cold and snowy wilderness that surrounded him. It was then when fate intervened…
Leaving his broken wagon and crippled dreams behind, he wandered aimlessly down the road. At the break of dawn, he came upon a wagon, and the warm glow of a roaring, but clearly long-forgotten campfire. He waited quite some time for the owners of the wagon, its cargo, and horse, and once he it was obvious that the wagon had been abandoned, he knew that this was the answer to his prayers. As he rode away, he realized what a wondrous thing had just occurred – not two minutes earlier, he was lost and cold with no hope of survival. It seemed the whole world joined him in rejoicing – in fact, he swore for the rest of his life that he could hear slowly fading shouts in the distance that night as he began his long journey, as if voices from the heavens, were cheering him on with emphatic exclamations of unintelligible glee. As the joyful noises faded out behind him, he could see the light of dawn ahead, and a bright future was suddenly within his grasp. In the morning light, he caught a glimpse of the cargo behind him. The wagon that fate had provided contained a twofold gift, for you see, Hezekiah Holcomb was now a traveling encyclopedia salesman.
Soon after, Professor Holcomb (as he became accustomed to being refered to) took the existing volumes of that encyclopedia, and re-published them under a new title—a phrase which would one day become his family legacy—The Universe of Knowledge.
And that was just the beginning.