01-13-1834

Horatio Alger

HORATIO ALGER, American author, minister, born (d: 1899) a 19th century American author who wrote approximately 135 “dime novels.” Many of his 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 a significant simplification, as Alger’s characters do not typically achieve extreme wealth; rather they attain middle-class security, stability, and a solid reputation — that is, their efforts are rewarded with a place in society, not domination of it. He is noted as a significant figure in the history of American cultural and social ideals, even though his novels are rarely read these days. As bestsellers in their own time, Alger’s books rivaled those of Mark Twain’s in popularity.

In 1866 Horatio Alger moved from Brewster, Mass., where he had been a Unitarian minister, to New York City. The experiences gained in his effort to improve the condition of street boys in that famous city of “lights and shadows” became the raw material of his books that he wrote for boys. By leading exemplary lives, struggling valiantly against poverty and adversity, Alger’s heroes gain wealth and honor. His juvenile fiction, particularly the Luck and Pluck and Tattered Tom series, was amazingly popular and left a strong mark upon the character of a generation of American youth.

What no one knew at the time, however, was the reason for Alger’s arrival in New York, not to mention an interesting correlative to his atavistic concern for boys. Back in Brewster, a special parish investigating committee of the Unitarian church had charged their minister with “gross immorality and a most heinous crime, a crime of no less magnitude than the abominable and revolting crime of familiarity with boys.” Considering what Alger had been accused of doing to two lads named John Clark and Thomas S. Crocker before he hightailed it out of Brewster, is it any wonder that his first boys’ book was called Ragged Dick?