Horatio Alger: Wikis

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Horatio Alger Jr.

Born January 13, 1832(1832-01-13)
Chelsea, Massachusetts, United States
Died 18 July 1899 (aged 67)
Natick, Massachusetts
Occupation Author
Nationality American
Genres Children's literature
Notable work(s) Ragged Dick (1868)

Horatio Alger, Jr. (January 13, 1832 – July 18, 1899) was a prolific 19th-century American author whose principal output was formulaic juvenile novels that followed the adventures of bootblacks, newsboys, peddlers, buskers, and other impoverished children in their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of respectable middle-class security and comfort. His novels were hugely popular in their day.

Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the son of a Unitarian minister, Alger entered Harvard University at the age of 16. Following graduation, he briefly worked in education before touring Europe for almost a year. He then entered the Harvard Divinity School, and, in 1864, took a position at a Unitarian church in Brewster, Massachusetts. Two years later, he resigned following allegations he'd molested two teenage boys. He subsequently retired from the ministry entirely and moved to New York City where he formed an association with the Newsboys Lodging House and other agencies offering aid to impoverished children. His sympathy for the working boys of the city, coupled with the moral values learned at home, were the basis of his many juvenile "rags to riches" novels. He died in 1899.

The first Alger biography was published in 1928, and later proved to be heavily fictionalized. Other biographies followed, sometimes citing the 1928 hoax as fact. In the last decades of the twentieth century however, a few reliable biographies were published that corrected the errors and fictionalizations of the past.

Many of Alger's works have been described as rags to riches stories, illustrating how down-and-out boys might be able to achieve the American Dream of wealth and success through hard work, courage, determination, and concern for others. This widely held view involves Alger's characters achieving extreme wealth and the subsequent remediation of their "old ghosts." Alger is noted as a significant figure in the history of American cultural and social ideals.



Early years

Alger was born in what is now Revere, Massachusetts, on January 13, 1832, to Horatio Alger, a Unitarian minister, and Olive Fenno. Horatio, Jr. was tutored at home by his father until the age of ten, when he was admitted to the Gates Academy in Marlborough, Massachusetts. A year after graduating from Gates, he was admitted to Harvard University at age 16. For the next four years, he studied under Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with the intention of one day becoming a poet.[citation needed] After graduating, he devoted himself to teaching and writing, with uneven success. Coming to the conclusion that he did not like teaching, he returned to Harvard in 1857 to pursue the ministry. After attending Harvard Divinity School from 1857 to 1860, he took a ten-month tour of Europe and produced works of a patriotic nature.

Horatio Alger, Jr., Harvard Class of 1852


In December 1864, Alger took a position as minister of the First Parish Unitarian Church of Brewster on Cape Cod. At the start of 1866 he abruptly resigned, left town, and retired to South Natick, where his father was then the pastor. Church records uncovered after Alger's death indicate that stories had begun to circulate alleging he'd molested two teenage boys, one 13 and the other 16, in the parish.[1]

In letters now housed at the Harvard Divinity School, Brewster church officials wrote to the hierarchy in Boston, complaining "that Horatio Alger, Jr. has been practicing on [the boys of the church] at different times deeds that are too revolting to relate." Nevertheless, they are related: "gross immorality, and a most heinous crime, a crime of no less magnitude than the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys ... which he neither denied or attempted to extenuate but received it with apparent calmness of an old offender – and hastily left town on the very next train for parts unknown."[2]

In response to complaints by the church, Alger Sr. wrote Charles Lowe, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) general secretary, stating that his son would resign from the ministry and not seek another church. All parties involved agreed to keep matters quiet – the parents of the boys reluctantly. So far as is known, Alger discussed this incident only once, in 1870, with psychologist William James.[3]

Later in life, Alger wrote a poem, "Friar Anselmo's Sin,"[4] which seems to be somewhat autobiographical and strongly resembles Leigh Hunt's "Abou Ben Adhem." (It begins:

Friar Anselmo (God's grace may he win!)
Committed one sad day a deadly sin;

The poem goes on to recount the friar's rendering of aid to a wounded traveler and ends with Anselmo's redemption upon the appearance of an angel who exhorts Anselmo to dedicate himself to service:

Thy guilty stains shall be washed white again,
By noble service done thy fellow-men.

New York City

In 1866,[2] after the Brewster incident, Alger moved to New York City, which proved to be a turning point in his career. He was immediately drawn into the world of impoverished young bootblacks, newspaper boys, and peddlers. He spent much time with young men and often ate his meals and slept at the Newsboys' Lodging House.[citation needed] He also invited boys to his small apartment in a boarding house.

Frontispiece from Ragged Dick

Alger's empathy with the young working men, coupled with the moral values he learned at home, formed the basis of the first popular work, Ragged Dick, first serialized in 1867 in Student and Schoolmate, a journal of moral literature for children. The success of the tale prompted the publisher A.K. Loring to offer Alger a contract, and, in 1868, Ragged Dick was expanded and published in book format. It proved more popular than its serialization, and generated a vast collection of novels with the same theme: the rise from rags to riches. In fact, the theme became synonymous with Alger, whose formula for success was based on luck, pluck, and virtue.

Essentially, all of Alger's early novels are the same: a young boy struggles to escape poverty through hard work and clean living. However, it is not the hard work and clean living that rescue the boy from his situation, but rather a wealthy older gentleman, who admires the boy as a result of some extraordinary act of bravery or honesty that the boy has performed. For example, the boy might rescue a child from an overturned carriage or find and return the man's stolen watch. Often the older man takes the boy into his home as a ward or companion.

Although a "Horatio Alger story" has come to signify someone who begins with few resources and ends with vast riches, Alger's characters do not usually become wealthy. His protagonists typically achieve comparatively low-level jobs in companies, often attaining personal stability but not wealth or prominent position. Veteran actor Walter Brennan launched a new television series in 1964, The Tycoon, and entitled the first episode "Horatio Alger Again". In Brennan's ABC series, the character Walter Andrews is an Horatio Alger-style person who did become very wealthy and then used his resources to help others.

Later years

Despite his remarkable literary output, Alger never became rich from his writing. According to legend, he gave most of his money to homeless boys and in some instances was actually conned out of his earnings by boys he tried to help. His books expressed an optimistic wholesomeness no longer popular, but the moral messages they relayed were an important factor in popularizing the American dream. At the time of his death, Alger was living with his sister Augusta and her husband in Natick, Massachusetts. She destroyed all his personal papers. He is buried in the family plot in Glenwood Cemetery, South Natick.

Uncompleted works

Novels uncompleted at Alger's death and subsequently completed by Edward Stratemeyer include Out for Business, Falling in with Fortune, Nelson, the Newsboy, Young Captain Jack, Jerry, the Backwoods Boy, Lost at Sea, From Farm to Fortune, The Young Book Agent, Randy of the River, Joe, the Hotel Boy, and Ben Logan's Triumph. Perhaps to capture some of Alger's popularity, Stratemeyer also wrote some of his novels using Alger's name as a pseudonym.


Since 1947, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans has bestowed an annual award on "outstanding individuals in our society who have succeeded in the face of adversity" and scholarships "to encourage young people to pursue their dreams with determination and perseverance".[5]

In 2006 the accusations of child sexual abuse resurfaced at an annual fair held in Marlborough in honor of the writer. These led the mayor and other town leaders to announce intentions of changing the name of the fair so as to avoid seeming to celebrate the memory of a child abuser.[6]

In Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Horatio Alger is mentioned as what could be interpreted as a guide for the protagonist: "How would Horatio Alger handle this situation?" (70). The novel itself is focused around a week-long attempt to discover the American Dream through drugs, degeneracy, and honest curiosity. Thompson references Alger in other scenes, but is most profoundly referenced in the very last sentence of the novel: "I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger ... a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident." (204) [7]

A 1982 musical, Shine!, was based on Alger's work, particularly Ragged Dick and Silas Snobden's Office Boy. It has been performed off and on since, including Off Broadway.[8]


In 1928, Herbert R. Mayes published the spurious biography Alger: A Biography without a Hero. This pseudo-biographical novel presented itself as a biography of the well-known author, allegedly based on Alger's diaries and secondary sources consulted by the author. However, in reality those diaries and secondary sources did not exist; Mayes simply made up anecdotes to fill in the gaps in his knowledge of Alger's life. Those stories ranged from the merely speculative — for example, Mayes made Alger's father into a stern, repressive personality who contributed to Alger's semi-repressed homosexuality later in life — to the bizarre. In the latter category, Mayes had his 26-year-old Alger run off to Paris rather than gratify his father with a job in the clergy. Later, in New York, the fictional Alger adopts a young Chinese boy named Wing and cares for him until Wing is conveniently killed by a runaway horse. Mayes said in 1972:

"If Alger ever kept a diary, I knew nothing about it. In any case, it was more fun to invent one. I had no letters ever written by Alger, which was fortunate. Again, it was more fun to make them up, as it was with letters presumably sent to Alger, none of which I had ever seen."

Mayes' fictional biography went practically unquestioned until the 1960s. In 1961, amateur Alger enthusiast Frank Gruber published Horatio Alger, Jr.: A Biography and Bibliography, challenging Mayes' account, and this challenge was followed by Ralph D. Gardner's similarly fact-based 1964 Horatio Alger, or the American Hero Era. (Ironically, these biographies were ill-received by many critics, who preferred Mayes-based works such as John Tebbel's 1963 From Rags to Riches: Horatio Alger and the American Dream.) In the 1970s, Mayes finally admitted the hoax, but statements and anecdotes from A Biography without a Hero continue to turn up in poorly-researched biographies even today. Reliable alternatives include Gary Scharnhorst's Horatio Alger, Jr. (1980) and Carol Nackenoff's The Fictional Republic: Horatio Alger and American Political Discourse (1994).


Cover of a 1900 New York edition of Adrift in New York by Horatio Alger, Jr.
  • Voices of the Past (1849)
  • Fair Harvard (book) (1852)
  • A Welcome to May May (1853)
  • Bertha's Christmas Vision. An Autumn Sheaf (1856)
  • Nothing to Do: A Tilt at Our Best Society (1857)
  • Nothing To Eat (1857)
  • Frank's Campaign; or, What Boys can do on the Farm for the Camp (1864)
  • Marie Bertrand (1864)
  • Paul Prescott's Charge: A Story for Boys (1865)
  • Charlie Codman's Cruise. A Story for Boys (1866)
  • Helen Ford (1866)
  • Timothy Crump's Ward; or, The New Years Loan, And What Became of It (1866)
  • Fame and Fortune; or, The Progress of Richard Hunter (1868)
  • John Maynard: A Ballad of Lake Erie January (1868)
  • Luck And Pluck; or, John Oakley's Inheritance (1869)
  • Mark the Match Boy; or, Richard Hunter's Ward (1869)
  • Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Bootblacks (1868)
  • Struggling Upward; or, Luke Larkin's Luck (1868)
  • Ralph Raymond's Heir; or, The Merchant's Crime (1869)
  • Rough and Ready; or, Life Among the New York Newsboys (1869)
  • Ben The Luggage Boy; or, Among the Wharves (1870)
  • Rufus and Rose; or, The Fortunes of Rough and Ready (1870)
  • Sink or Swim; or, Harry Raymond's Resolve (1870)
  • Paul the Peddler; or the Fortunes of a Young Street Merchant (1871)
  • Strong and Steady; or, Paddle Your Own Canoe (1871)
  • Tattered Tom; or, The Story of a Street Arab (1871)
  • Phil the Fiddler; or, The Story of a Young Street Musician (1872)
  • Slow and Sure; The Story of Paul Hoffman the Young Street-Merchant (1872)
  • Strive and Succeed; or, The Progress of Walter Conrad (1872)
  • Bound to Rise; or, Up the Ladder (1873)
  • Try and Trust; or, The Story of a Bound Boy (1873)
  • Brave and Bold; or, The Fortunes of Robert Rushton (1874)
  • Julius; or, The Street Boy out West (1874)
  • Risen from the Ranks; or, Harry Walton's Success (1874)
  • Grand'ther Baldwin's Thanksgiving (1875)
  • Herbert Carter's Legacy; or, The Inventor's Son 1875)
  • Jack's Ward; or, The Boy Guardian (1875)
  • Seeking His Fortune, And Other Dialogues (1875)
  • St. Nicholas (novel) (1875)
  • The Young Outlaw; or, Adrift In The Streets (1875)
  • Sam's Chance; and How He Improved It (1876)
  • Shifting for Himself; or, Gilbert Greyson's Fortune's (1876)
  • Life of Edwin Forrest (William Rounseville Alger) (1877)
  • The New Schoolma'am; or, A Summer in North Sparta (anonymous 1877)
  • Wait and Hope; or, Ben Bradford's Motto (1877)
  • The Western Boy; or, The Road to Success (1878)
  • The Young Adventurer; or, Tom's Trip Across the Plains (1878)
  • The Telegraph Boy (1879)
  • The Young Miner; or, Tom Nelson in California (1879)
  • Tony the Hero (1880)
  • The Young Explorer; or, Among the Sierras (1880)
  • From Canal Boy to President; or, The Boyhood and Manhood of James A. Garfield (1881)
  • Ben's Nugget; or, A Boy's Search for Fortune (1882)
  • From Farm Boy to Senator: Being the History of the Boyhood and Manhood of Daniel Webster (1882)
  • Abraham Lincoln: the Backwoods Boy; or, How A Young Rail-Splitter Became President (1883)
  • The Train Boy (1883)
  • The Young Circus Rider; or, The Mystery of Robert Rudd (1883)
  • Dan, the Detective (1884)
  • Do and Dare; or A Brave Boy's Fight for Fortune (1884)
  • Hector's Inheritance; or, The Boys of Smith Institute (1885)
  • Helping Himself; or, Grant Thornton's Ambition (1886)
  • Frank Fowler, the Cash Boy (1887)
  • Number 91; or, The Adventures of a New York Telegraph Boy (1887)
  • The Store Boy; or, The Fortunes of Ben Barclay (1887)
  • Bob Burton; or, The Young Ranchman of the Missouri (1888)
  • The Errand Boy; or, How Phil Brent Won Success (1888)
  • Tom Temple's Career (1888)
  • Tom Thatcher's Fortune (1888)
  • Tom Tracy (1888)
  • The Young Acrobat of the Great North American Circus (1888)
  • Luke Walton; or, The Chicago Newsboy (1889)
  • The Erie Train Boy (1890)
  • Five Hundred Dollars; or, Jacob Marlowe's Secret (1890)
  • Mark Stanton (1890)
  • Ned Newton; or, The Fortunes of a New York Bootblack (1890)
  • A New York Boy (1890)
  • The Odds Against Him; or, Carl Crawford's Experience (1890)
  • Dean Dunham; or, The Waterford Mystery (1891)
  • Digging for Gold. A Story of California (1892)
  • The Young Boatman of Pine Point (1892)
  • Cast Upon the Breakers (1893)
  • Facing the World; or, The Haps and Mishaps of Harry Vane (1893)
  • In a New World; or, Among the Gold-Fields of Australia (1893)
  • Only an Irish Boy; Or, Andy Burke's Fortunes and Misfortunes (1894)
  • Victor Vane, The Young Secretary (1894)
  • The Disagreeable Woman; A Social Mystery (1895)
  • Frank Hunter's Peril (1896)
  • The Young Salesman (1896)
  • Frank and Fearless; or, The Fortunes of Jasper Kent (1897)
  • Walter Sherwood's Probation (1897)
  • A Boy's Fortune; or, The Strange Adventures of Ben Baker (1898)
  • The Young Bank Messenger (1898)
  • Jed, The Poor House Boy (1899)
  • Mark Mason's Victory; or, The Trials and Triumphs of a Telegraph Boy (1899)
  • Rupert's Ambition (1899)
  • Silas Snobden's Office Boy (1899)
  • A Debt of Honor. The Story of Gerald Lane's Success in the Far West (1900)
  • Falling in With Fortune; or, The Experiences of a Young Secretary (1900)
  • Out for Business; or, Robert Frost's Strange Career (1900)
  • Ben Bruce. Scenes in the Life of a Bowery Newsboy (1901)
  • Lester's Luck (1901)
  • Nelson the Newsboy; or, Afloat in New York (1901)
  • Tom Brace: Who He Was and How He Fared (1901)
  • Young Captain Jack; or, The Son of a Soldier (1901)
  • Adrift in the City; or, Oliver Conrad's Plucky Fight (1902)
  • Andy Grant's Pluck (1902)
  • A Rolling Stone; or, The Adventures of a Wanderer (1902)
  • Striving for Fortune; or, Walter Griffith's Trials and Successes (1902)
  • Tom Turner's Legacy (1902)
  • The World Before Him (1902)
  • Bernard Brooks' Adventures. The Story of a Brave Boy's Trials (1903)
  • Chester Rand; or, A New Path to Fortune (1903)
  • Forging Ahead (1903)
  • Adrift in New York; or, Tom and Florence Braving the World (1904)
  • Finding a Fortune (1904)
  • Jerry the Backwoods Boy; or, The Parkhurst Treasure (1904)
  • Lost at Sea; or, Robert Roscoe's Strange Cruise (1904)
  • From Farm to Fortune; or Nat Nason's Strange Experience (1905)
  • Making His Mark (1905)
  • Mark Manning's Mission. The Story of a Shoe Factory Boy (1905)
  • The Young Book Agent; or, Frank Hardy's Road to Success (1905)
  • Joe the Hotel Boy, or Winning Out by Pluck (1906)
  • Randy of the River; or, The Adventures of a Young Deckhand (1906)
  • The Young Musician; or, Fighting His Way (1906)
  • Ben Logan's Triumph; or, The Boys of Boxwood Academy (1908)
  • Wait and Win. The Story of Jack Drummond's Pluck (1908)
  • Robert Coverdale's Struggle; or, On the Wave of Success (1910)
  • Joe's Luck; or Always Wide Awake (1913)
  • The Cousin's Conspiracy
  • In Search of Treasure. The Story of Guy's Eventful Voyage


  1. ^ [1] Horatio Alger bio
  2. ^ a b Huber, Richard (1971), The American Idea of Success, New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 45–6, ISBN 091636643X 
  3. ^ Seaburg, Alan, Horatio Alger, Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/horatioalgerjr.html, retrieved 2007-11-07 
  4. ^ Friar Anselmo's Sin, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester, http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/cinder/friar.htm, retrieved 2007-11-07 
  5. ^ Horatio Alger Award, The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, http://www.horatioalger.com/geninf/index.cfm#HoratioAlgerAward, retrieved 2007-11-07 
  6. ^ "Allegations of pederasty taint Horatio Alger fair", Columbia Daily Tribune, October 1, 2006, http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2006/oct/20061001news037.asp, retrieved 2007-11-07 
  7. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Vintage Books: New York. First Vintage Books Edition, July 1989.
  8. ^ Jones, Kenneth (2001-10-16). "Musical of American Innocence, Shine!, Gets Cast Album". Playbill. Playbill, Inc.. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/62701.html. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 

Further reading

  • Scharnhorst, Gary; and Jack Bales (1981). Horatio Alger, Jr.: An Annotated Bibliography of Comment and Criticism. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-1387-8. 
  • Scharnhorst, Gary; with Jack Bales (1985). The Lost Life of Horatio Alger, Jr. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-14915-2. 

External links

Horatio Alger may refer to:

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