Who Was Dale Carnegie?
Born into poverty on November 24, 1888, in Maryville, Missouri, Dale Carnegie worked as a traveling salesman before teaching public speaking at a YMCA. His seminal self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, won him a national following and enabled him to expand the Dale Carnegie Institute into countries around the world. He died in 1955 in Queens, New York.
Famed author and lecturer Dale Carnegie was born as Dale Carnagey on November 24, 1888, in Maryville, Missouri. His parents, James William and Amanda Elizabeth Carnagey, were impoverished farmers. When Carnegie was in middle school, his family moved to Warrensburg, Missouri. As a boy, Carnegie was unskilled in athletics but learned that he could still make friends and earn respect because he had a way with words.
In high school, Carnegie frequently attended Chautauqua assemblies. These events brought entertainment to rural communities throughout the country and featured popular speakers, musicians, entertainers and preachers. Inspired by the speakers he heard at these gatherings, Carnegie decided to join the school debate team, where he became a skillful orator.
After graduating from high school in 1906, Carnegie attended the local State Teachers College in Warrensburg. His family was too poor to afford the $1 a day it cost for room and board, so Carnegie continued to live at home while riding to and from school daily on horseback. He took advantage of these solitary rides to practice reciting speeches and fine-tuning his oratory style. Carnegie frequently entered intercollegiate public speaking competitions and won the majority of contests in which he participated. His prowess as a public speaker was such that other students offered to pay him to train them.
After graduating from college in 1908, Carnegie took a job as a traveling salesman for the International Correspondence Schools, based out of Alliance, Nebraska. He then took another sales job for the meatpacking business Armour and Company. By 1911, Carnegie had saved up $500, which was enough to quit his job, move to New York City and try to make it as an actor.
Carnegie briefly studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and then landed the leading role of Dr. Hartley in a traveling production of Polly of the Circus. However, he hated the experience and quickly decided that a life in the theater was not for him.
Carnegie later enlisted in the United States Army and served for a little over a year at Camp Upton on Long Island during World War I. After his discharge from the military, Carnegie was hired as the business manager of a traveling lecture course taught by Lowell Thomas, the writer and broadcaster best known for his coverage of Lawrence of Arabia.
Public Speaking Classes
After his brief foray into acting, Carnegie recalled how students had offered to pay him money to teach them public speaking and realized that this skill was what helped him succeed as a salesman. He successfully pitched the idea to teach public speaking classes for adults to the YMCA, which provided him a space to begin night classes in return for a cut of the profits.
The classes proved an immediate success. Focused on the everyday needs of businesspeople, Carnegie taught his students how to interview well, make persuasive presentations and forge positive relationships. His students would often come to class each week with stories of how they had put the skills they learned the previous week to successful use in their workplaces. Within two years, the courses had achieved such popularity that Carnegie moved them out of the YMCA and founded his own Dale Carnegie Institute to accommodate the growing number of students.
In 1913, he published his first book, Public Speaking and Influencing Men of Business, using it as a textbook for his courses. It was shortly after the book came out that Carnegie changed his name from its original spelling, "Carnagey," to "Carnegie." A brilliant, if perhaps somewhat disingenuous business tactic, the new spelling made people associate his classes and books with the storied Carnegie family, to whom he bore no relation.
'How to Win Friends and Influence People'
Over the next two decades, Carnegie gradually refined his curriculum to better meet the needs of his professional students. He perceived that the most successful businesspeople in any given industry were not those with the most technical know-how, but rather those with the best people skills. His students needed to learn more than effective public speaking techniques; they needed to learn the social and communication skills that distinguished the leaders of all industries. As he set out to teach his students these crucial skills, Carnegie realized that no textbook existed on the subject.
In 1936, after years of intense research that included reading hundreds biographies to learn how the world's greatest leaders achieved their success, Carnegie published just such a book: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Despite its modest initial print run of 5,000 copies, the book became a mammoth best-seller. Carnegie's book, like his classes, struck a chord with a population hungry for self-improvement, selling nearly 5 million copies during his lifetime while being translated into every major language.
Impact on Adult Education and Self-Improvement
Propelled by the success of How to Win Friends and Influence People, the Dale Carnegie Institute exploded in popularity. During Carnegie's lifetime, the institute expanded into 750 American cities as well as 15 foreign countries. In 1953, Carnegie moved the institute's headquarters into a converted five-story brownstone warehouse in Manhattan. By the time of his death in 1955, an estimated 450,000 people had taken his classes across the globe.
While focusing on his lecturing, Carnegie also wrote biographies, motivated by his belief that the best way to learn the secrets of success was to read up on history's most successful people. In 1932, Carnegie published a biography of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln the Unknown, and he later published several compilations of brief biographical sketches: Little Known Facts about Well Known People (1934), Five Minute Biographies (1937) and Biographical Roundup (1944). He published another self-improvement book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, in 1948.
After his first marriage ended in divorce in 1931, Carnegie married Dorothy Price Vanderpool in 1944. She played a vital role in the expansion of the Dale Carnegie Institute, specifically helping the institute to develop courses and programs geared toward the emerging class of professional young women.
Carnegie died of Hodgkin's disease on November 1, 1955, at the age of 66. A pioneer in the fields of adult education and self-improvement, Carnegie's books and courses inspired an entire genre of nonfiction writing. Despite an explosion of newer self-help books written over recent decades, How to Win Friends and Influence People remains relevant and useful to professional men and women decades after its initial publishing.
Since Carnegie's death, the Dale Carnegie Institute has continued to expand and is currently a highly respected business training firm operating in 90 countries. Although he wrote thousands of pages of books and gave hours upon hours of lectures, Carnegie's essential message on how to live a successful life can be summed up by his two most fundamental maxims: "Forget yourself; do things for others" and "Cooperate with the inevitable."
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