Horatio Alger, Jr.

Cover of Horatio Alger, Jr.'s The Telegraph Bo...

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Horatio Alger, Jr. lived from 1832 to 1899. In 1864 he began writing a series of books for boys that extolled virtuous living and hard work. If a young boy was truthful, honest, faithful and modest, he would surely succeed. Alger wrote nearly 100 books for boys which were popular until the 1920s. The books exemplified the American work ethic; hard work is rewarded while idleness is punished. The idle rich would lose their wealth, while a legacy from a distant relative would reward the industrious.

The Horatio Alger story lives on in American mythology. Unfortunately, it is no longer true, if it ever was. In today’s America, the wealthy retain their wealth in idleness or not, and legacies frequently go to those who are already rich. Education, the great American equalizer, is being priced out of reach for many. Hard work may be rewarded or it may not. We still believe that virtue is rewarded, but that is less true today than in times past. There are fewer pathways out of poverty than Horatio Alger stories led many to believe.

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