Soap box oratory was no figure of speech to Fred M. Wilkes. When he died at the age of 77 in New York his career as an informal outdoor speaker stretched back 55 years. Other haranguers of street crowds dubbed him “king of the soap-boxers.” It all began in Hyde Park, London. Son of a well-to-do brewer, the “super-man” idea of life took hold of him. He decided to tell the world about it. In turn, he was a cooperative socialist, anarchist, Fabian socialist. He headed an organization of his own, the “supercrats.”
In 1885 he came to the United States, said he was a “sirfessor,” a teacher of professors. Chicago knew him as the founder of the so-called Temple of Wisdom. Geniuses are made, not born, he contended. Too much credit to friends brought swift bankruptcy to the “superite” restaurant he opened in New York while the war was on.
Chief distinction he claimed was organization of the sit-down strike idea. Years ago, he said, he coined the motto “S.I.B. — R.I.P.” — stay in bed, rest in peace. If the workers who felt they had a grievance would just take to their beds and stay there, he argued, the Intelligentsia would rally to their cause and public opinion would force a quick settlement.