J. D. Rockefeller on Opportunity in America
THERE never were greater opportunities for young men in America than are offered here on every side to-day. The older heads of the great industrial enterprises are retiring in favor of younger and fresher blood ; and they, in their turn, must give way as time goes by to the third generation that is growing up. Former office boys in the Standard Oil Company are now in charge of important departments. Men who began as laborers in other great industrial concerns have similarly advanced to the front rank. The consolidation of interests has opened up avenues to unlimited success for the poorest boy who will learn to economize and concentrate. Education is also a tremendously important factor —the technical school particularly—in making the upward course of the earnest, willing-to-work young man straight and clear.
“In every way, it appears to me, the boy of to-day enjoys inestimable advantages over the boy of fifty years ago. The whole field of human effort lies open to him. It only remains for him to take advantage of his opportunities. If I were asked to say a word of advice to him, it would be this : Decide upon your course—the
thing that you feel yourself most fitted to do—and then go straight ahead and do your best. Be prudent, economical, and honest. Take care of your health; don’t despise recreation. Remember that wealth is not everything ; and if you make a mistake, bear in mind that to err is human. Don’t despair ; keep your eye fixed on your goal and keep on trying. A conscientious effort along these lines will inevitably bring success and with it that which is not second in importance—happiness.
“When I was ten years old, I had succeeded in saving some money earned in various boyish ways about my native place. It was only fifty
dollars, but a neighbor needed just that amount, and I loaned it to him at seven per cent, interest. At about the same time I was hoeing potatoes for a farmer at thirty-seven and onehalf cents a day. Well, at the end of the year I found that the money I had loaned out at interest had earned me three dollars and fifty cents. I took the interest in my hand and by an easy calculation found that it represented almost ten days’ labor. From that time onward I determined to make money work for me.
“The very best advice that I can give to any boy or young man is to save. There are glorious opportunities ahead for him; but how can he be ready to take advantage of them unless he has cultivated the habits of economy and prudence ? He must save all he can, in season and out of season. That first experience of mine taught me a lesson that I have remembered all my life. It faught me to rely upon myself ; it taught me the virtues of self-repression, of prudence, economy, and self-respect. There is no feeling in the world, I think, comparable to that of self-reliance—that ingrained sense of relying upon oneself in every emergency of life, of not having to depend upon anyone, of realizing that all that one has is his by reason of his own efforts. That is true independence.
“Extravagance is our national curse. We make more money in the United States than do the people of any other nation in the world. But we are also more extravagant than any other people. The French are the richest people in the world because they are the most economical. They are economical not only in the matter of money, but in all things. Ride through France, you will scarcely find a foot of arable land that is not under cultivation. They economize their time, their energies, and are lavish only with their opportunities,
with which they can afford to be lavish, for by economy they have prepared to take full advantage of them when they appear.
“But don't conceive the vain notion that wealth is everything. No man has a right to hoard money for the mere pleasure of hoarding. I believe that the gift of money-making is imparted to a man just as the gift of poetry, or sculpture, or the art of healing is given to a man—just as one man is endowed with a genius for mechanics, another for finance, and a third for industrial enterprise. And as each of these gifts is bestowed, so must it be used for the general uplifting of humanity. That is another lesson that should be impressed upon the American youth. To make a selfish use of his opportunities is to defeat the purpose for which they were given him. Every man owes a debt to humanity, and in accordance with the manner in which he discharges that debt will he be judged.
“At the beginning, the boy must look to his health ; without health one can do nothing. Health is a blessing that transcends all other earthly things. %The man with nothing but good health is rich compared with the man of wealth who has lost his health. Therefore, I would say to the boy who is beginning life and wants to take advantage of all the rich rewards that come from meritorious effort, guard your health. Do not sacrifice it to anything else. Get all the fresh air you can ; none of the pastimes of boyhood is to be ignored. I look back upon my fishing and wood-chopping days in Ohio as the happiest of my whole life. Don’t grow old before your time. Maintain an interest in life and all living things.
“And then a young mañ must be both practical and persevering. Don’t attempt to do more than you can carry out successfully ; but, having taken counsel with yourself, allow nothing to stand in the way of your success, once it is planned wisely. Perseverance is the great thing. The young man who sticks is the one who succeeds. There are innumerable opportunities for the young man who
knows just what he wants to do, and will do it with all his, strength. Don’t let your ambition run away with you. Move slowly but surely. Always obey instructions ; you must learn to obey orders before you can hope to give them.
“I would also say to young men, be earnest. Earnestness and sincerity are two of the sign-posts along the road to success. Inspire your employer with confidence in you. It is chiefly to my confidence in men and my ability to inspire their confidence in me that I owe my own success in life.
“Don’t be afraid of work. The sturdy, hard-working men make our country great. And don’t reach forward too eagerly. One of the great evils of the day is the anxiety of young men to get to the front too rapidly. Lasting successes are those which are carefully, even painfully, built up. Life is not a gamble, and desirable success cannot be won by the turn of a card. Be satisfied with small results at first. Cultivate a due sense of proportion. A man who is engaged as a chauffeur is expected to be a good chauffeur, not a director of a bank or the manager of a railroad. The caddy who attends strictly to business on the golf links and accurately and promptly follows the ball, is more apt to make a success of life than the book-keeper who permits his mind to wander from his books to the work of the superintendent out in the shop.
“The true economy of life, after all, I have found, is to find the man who can do the particular thing you want done, and then leave him to do it unhampered. I have small faith, however, in the man who plans elaborately on paper. I once asked a landscapegardener to undertake the improvement of two thousand acres of land. He set to work on an elaborate paper scheme which I saw at a glance was impossible. He was not practical. He planned too much on paper.
“Do all the good that you can. Be generous and charitable in your attitude toward your neighbors. It
will cost you nothing, and you will reap a rich reward.
“I have the utmost faith in boys. I must have, for I have the utmost faith in the future of our country. All that is needed is to awaken them to their opportunities, and for diis we must depend upon our religious and educational institutions. I think a college education is a splendid thing for a boy ; but I would not say that it is absolutely necessary. I hadn’t the advantage of a college education ; but I had a good mother-and an excellent father, and I like to feel that whatever I may have lost through failure to secure a college education I made up through my home training. It is in the home circle that the character of a boy is formed. There he imbibes those principles which will follow him all through life. The home training gives him something that he can never get at college ; but at the same time I am not decrying the advantages of a college education, and I would say that wherever it is possible a boy should have it.
“Better than a college education, however, is the training that a boy gets in the technical schools that have sprung up all over the country. This is an age of specialization. There is an unceasing demand on every hand —in the mining industries, the railroads, the industrials, the mills, and the factories—for men with special, technical knowledge that will enable them intelligently to take up the important work that is going on. Here is a great advantage that the boy of fifty years ago didn’t enjoy. Now one may enter a school and learn in his youth many of the things that the hardest kind of labor was needed to teach in bygone days. He gets the technical knowledge that enables him to begin a long way ahead of the boy of fifty years ago.
“I am a great believer in the influence of environment on a boy’s development. There is much in the old maxim, ‘Show me the company you keep, and I’ll tell you what kind of a man you are.’ The boy who is not careful of his associates will not be careful of anything else. The higher
moral tone of the world, for I firmly believe that the world is growing better all the time, is greatly to the advantage of the growing boy now.
“The atmosphere of the farm, I think the history of our famous men has shown, is a great beginning for a man. But it does not follow that a city-bred boy has not equal opportunities. I suppose that, after all, much depends upon the boy himself in this case. But whether born in city or country, a boy must ever be careful to avoid the temptations which beset him, to select carefully his associates and give attention at once to his spiritual side as well as to his his mental and material forces. Religion is one of the great moving forces of the world. No man can neglect its teachings and hope to be a completely rounded out man.
“I deny emphatically the assertion that opportunity has been restricted or individual effort stifled by reason of the growth of the tiusts. On the contrary, the trusts have opened wider avenues and greater opportunities to the young men of to-day than those of any other generation ever enjoyed. In the old days, before the union of interests, murderous competition made any business venture precarious ; but aside from that, through lack of time, opportunity, and capital, the young man was kept within a very restricted field. It is combination that has produced the capital to open up mines and factories, to build great industrial plants and the monster wholesale and retail establishments. It is combination and capital that have sent the railroads shooting in a hundred different directions all over the continent. The reduction of the work of the world to scientific principles has opened possibilities for young men in a thousand different lines. And only the beginning has been made. At the beginning of our present economic era, men, brains, and ability were needed to take hold. Those men have about performed their tasks now. But who that has faith in his country will accept the theory that the work has all been done ; that railroad development has reached its limit ; that
the steel industry can go no further; that in coal, iron, copper, lead, the industrials, agriculture, shipping, finance, the apex of development has been reached and that all that is required for the future is to steer the bark straight?
“Even were this so, every generation would require thousands of young, ambitious, and vigorous men to take up the work where the retiring heads leave off. But it is not so. Our material progress, great as it has been, has only marked the beginning, and it is to the rising generation of young Americans, and to those who will follow them, that we look to carry the work along. They are the inventors of the future, the devisers of time and labor-saving appliances, of more modern methods. They are the new executives, the future masters of finance, the creators of material wealth, and the reapers of the great rewards.
“In the enlarged field which consolidation and concentration have created, there is no possible limit to the success which an ambitious young man may achieve. The demand for young men of brains, ability, and stamina is already greater than the supply. They are absolutely necessary if the great inteiests which have been created are not to fall into decay. Progress is the key-note. Improved methods, fresh blood, a new viewpoint, is needed all the time. The apprentices are becoming master-workmen ; the master-workmen are becoming superintendents ; the superintendents, chiefs, and so it goes. The field is constantly broadening. The big interests and institutions are becoming bigger all the time. We old fellows are being forced back, the younger men are stepping into our
places. It is a constant procession. At the forge and in the counting-room today are the young men who ten, twenty years hence will be the captains of industry of their day.
“It must be so; there is no other way out of it. The poor boy is in a position of impregnable advantage. He is better off than the son of the rich man, for he is prepared to do what the latter will not do, or rarely so; that is, plunge in with his hands and learn the business from the bottom. It is to them the sons of hardy Americans, that we look to carry into the future the progress of the present. The future, with all of its infinite possibilities, is in their hands.
“Read the history of the steel industry. The men who worked in leather aprons before the blazing furnaces twenty years ago are its directing heads to-day. And, as I have said, the former office boys of the Standard Oil Company are now its heads of departments. There is no limit to the height that a deserving boy may climb.
“Not long ago a business associate spoke to me about increasing the salary of a valuable executive to fifty thousand dollars a year.
“‘Isn’t it too much?’ said he.
“ Ts he worth it?’ asked I. ‘If he is, I’ll vote for it.’ What a man is worth intrinsically is the measure of his success in life.
“Yes, decidedly, the opportunities for the young American boy are greater to-day than they have ever been before ; and no boy, however lowly—the barefoot country boy, the humble newsboy, the child of the tenement—need despair. I see in each of them infinite possibilities. They have but to master the knack of economy, thrift, honesty, and perseverance, and success is theirs.”