Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son

Every page of Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer contains at least one nugget of gold wrapped in old-world (and sometimes sexist), down-to-earth charm. Here are just a few:

– Education is everywhere, free for the taking. Haul away every drop you can for everything else is screwed down tight.

– The core of anything must be sound. If the core of a pig is no good, no amount of seasoning will fix it.

– Sound conscience over gap-less knowledge.

– “Education can make you a scholar, while [time with the boys] can make you a man.”

– Knowing is one thing. Knowing how to use knowledge is another.

– Speaking of young men: “Some of them think that recklessness with money brands them as good fellows, and that carefulness is meanness.”

– Learn the pain of making a dollar. The meanest of men are those who are generous with money, but never had to suffer for it.

– Learning from books or life. Theory vs practice. Both are narrow. Know enough practice to test theories to shove ahead.

– Understand the job. Master it. Then get lazy and find ways to make yourself obsolete through systems of automation.

– “It’s not what a man does during working hours, but after them, that breaks down his health. A fellow and his business should be bosom friends in the office and sworn enemies out of it.”

– The three rules of business conversation are:

1. Have something to say
2. Say it
3. Stop talking

– “Beginning before you know what you want to say and keeping on after you have said it lands a merchant in a lawsuit or the poorhouse, and the first is a shortcut to the second.”

– “Business is like oil – it won’t mix with anything but business.”

– No matter what, you’ll have a boss of some sort over you. Others care what you boss thinks of you, rather than what you think of your boss.

– If a man comes looking for a job and starts by telling you how mean their previous employer was, how poor management was, he will think the same of you.

-“As you begin to meet the men who have done something that makes them worth meeting you will find that there are no ‘keep of the grass’ or ‘beware of the dog’ signs around their premises, and that they don’t motion to the orchestra to play slow music while they talk.”

– The easiest way to make enemies is to hire friends.

– Some people have “a heart like a stock-ticker – it doesn’t beat over anything except money.”

– On irresponsibly spending money: “there’s no fool like a young fool, because in the nature of things he’s got a long time to live.”

– On marriage: “While a young fellow will consult his father about buying a horse, he’s cock-sure of himself when it comes to picking a wife. Marriages may be made in heaven, but most engagements are made in the back parlor with the gas so low that a fellow doesn’t really get a square look at what he’s taking. While a man doesn’t see much of a girl’s family when he’s courting, he’s apt to see a good deal of it when he’s housekeeping.”

– Unless it’s hard to believe, some people won’t believe it’s worth believing.

– On thinking oneself important, especially in business affairs: “Repartee makes reading lively, but business dull.”

– People will sell things like they’re pork, But in business you have to ignore the joke and see things for what they are. If a man is overselling a dog, giving you a story why he must sell it and why it’s such a good deal, you know that you must look at the thing being sold for what it is.

– On selling and the right customer: “Real buyers ain’t interested in much besides your goods and your prices. Never run down your competitor’s brand to then, and never let them run down yours. Don’t get on your knees for business, but don’t hold your nose so high in the air that an order can travel under it without you seeing it. You’ll meet a good many people in the road that you won’t like, but the house needs their business.”

– Adjust for your market. Sell clothes in the cities where people have plenty. Pork to the people in the country where they keep hogs.

– On effort: “If there’s one piece of knowledge that is if less use to a fellow knowing when he’s beat, it’s knowing when he’s done just enough work to keep from being fired.”

– “If there’s anything worse than knowing too little, it’s knowing too much. Education will broaden a narrow mind, but there’s no cure for a big head. The best you can hope is that it will swell up and burst; and then, of course, there’s nothing left.”

– There are two unpardonable sins: success and failure. Those who fail will question those who succeed, and those who succeed will look down upon those who fail.

– What you bring to a job says more and does more for you than anything. Enthusiasm makes work easy.

– One may envy their boss because their job looks easy. But this is far from the case. “He’s like the fellow on the right-rope – there’s plenty of scenery under him and lots of room around him, but he’s got to keep his feet on the wire all the time and gravel straight ahead.”

– Hire slow. Fire fast. Finding the right employees worth the extra time for a bad employee “is like a splinter in the thumb – a center of soreness.”

– “Life isn’t a spurt, but a long, steady climb. You can’t run up a hill without stopping to sit down. Some men do a days work and then spend six lolling around admiring it.”

– “I’ve heard a good deal in my time about the foolishness of hens, but when it comes to right-down, plum foolishness, give me a rooster, every time. He’s always strutting and stretching and crowing and bragging about things in which he had nothing to do. When the sun rises, you’d think that he was making all the light, instead of all the noise. But when you hear from a hen, she’s laid an egg, and she doesn’t make a great deal of noise about it, either.”

– “Some fellows propose to a girl before they know whether her front and her back hair match, and then holler that they’re stuck when they find she’s got a cork leg and a glass eye as well.” “But the really valuable thing to know is how she approaches ham and eggs at seven A.M., and whether she rings he complexion with her to the breakfast table.”

– “Of course, when you’re patting and petting and feeding a woman she’s going to purr, but there’s nothing like stirring her up a little now and then to see if she spits fire and heaves things when she’s mad.”

– Never put off happiness.