John Joseph Eagan’s dedication to the Golden Rule forever changed Birmingham’s industrial landscape. Born in Griffin, Georgia, to John Joseph and Mary V. Russell Eagan, the boy lost his father only months after his birth. With no other way to support themselves, Mary and young John lived with family and friends in Georgia for many years. Eagan excelled in school and became increasingly active in the Presbyterian church. As a boy, he worked at odd jobs, learning the lessons of both labor and management.
An inheritance from his grandmother made Eagan a wealthy man at age 21. By the age of 29, he was extremely wealthy after wisely investing his inheritance and then inheriting his businessman uncle’s fortune. Deeply concerned that he serve God and use his financial gifts wisely, Eagan tithed faithfully, sponsored education and health-care programs for the poor, and divested himself of business concerns that offended his powerful sense of social justice.
In 1905, rich in both cash and spirit, and willing to take seriously the radical notion of women in business, Eagan joined Charlotte Blair in creating the American Cast Iron Pipe Company [ACIPCO] in Birmingham.
As a champion of the Golden Rule in all aspects of life, Eagan was a model industrialist. ACIPCO featured maximum shifts of nine hours, overtime pay, a living wage, effective worker safety programs, fair treatment for black workers and other humanitarian reforms long before nationwide adoption of such practices. As Eagan’s own thoughts matured, he devoted his life with increased focus on efforts to alleviate poverty and injustice, and to demonstrate that a business built on the Golden Rule could succeed and benefit all concerned.
When Eagan recognized that his death was near, he made plans to leave all his shares of ACIPCO stock in trust for his employees, essentially giving them the company in spite of laws prohibiting such generosity. Thanks to the tenacity of Eagan’s wife, Susan, his plan succeeded and ACIPCO is still regarded as a model of ethical business.
The Eagans raised two children: Bill and Ann Eagan Goodhue.