Sandburg's Hometown

June 3, 2013

Horatio Alger

Horatio Alger, Author

By Barbara Schock 

As soon as he was old enough, Carl Sandburg applied for a card at the Galesburg public library. He read a variety of books written for young boys. Among them were a number written by Horatio Alger. The books were similar in that they told the same story of an orphan who by luck and pluck achieved success in his life.

Horatio Alger, Jr., was born January 13, 1832, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. His father was a Unitarian clergyman. They were descendants of numerous Plymouth Pilgrim families.

As Horatio was the eldest son, his father tutored him in classical studies and allowed his son to observe his work as a minister. At the age of sixteen the boy passed the entrance examination to Harvard University. In 1852, Alger graduated with the honor of Phi Beta Kappa.

Alger had written for local publications during his youth. He wanted to be a writer, but was unsuccessful. After working as an editor and teacher, he entered the Harvard Divinity School and graduated in 1862. At his first pastorate for the Unitarian church in Brewster, Massachusetts, he was investigated for over familiarity with boys.

In 1866, Alger moved to New York City and lived there for the next thirty years. He began to write for Student and Schoolmate, a monthly magazine for boys. Following the Civil War there were thousands of abandoned children on the streets of New York. Some had lost their fathers in the war and others had been left to take care of themselves. Alger became interested in the welfare of these children. He adopted several over the years.

He wrote the story of Ragged Dick, a poor bootblack, which was serialized in Student and Schoolmate beginning in January, 1867. It became very popular and was expanded into a book. A series of books about the same character were later published. Other books followed with different characters, but the story line was always the same; hard work will bring success.

The last three years of his life, Alger lived with his sister in South Natick, Massachusetts. He had estimated his income from all of his books to be $100,000 between 1866 and 1896 (equal to $2.3 million in today’s dollars). His will made small bequests to family and a few friends and requested his letters and papers be destroyed.

After Horatio Alger’s death in 1899, there was renewed popularity of his books for several decades. The social and economic events of the 1920s did away with public interest in Alger’s books. Most of them are now out of print.

Today, the nearly one hundred stories by Horatio Alger are mocked as too good to be true. But, there is an element of truth in the resilience and willingness to work hard among American youth.

Carl Sandburg grew up in a family which was poor. He worked at all kinds of jobs. He traveled as a hobo as well as a stereoscopic picture salesman. He wrote poems and prose pieces for years before they were recognized by the public. The story of his life can be viewed as something of an Horatio Alger narrative.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity