John Graham was a wealthy pork packer based near the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. His son Pierrepont was headed to Harvard for his first year of college.
That bit of news kicked off a series of letters from ‘ole dad offering advice that started with education.
Of course, Graham is a fictional character in the book Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son written by George Lorimer in 1901 but the advice still works.
The book is filled with early 1900s maxims and wisdom on education, business, life, and more.
You’ll find that education’s about the only thing lying around loose in this world, and that it’s about the only thing a fellow can have as much of as he’s willing to haul away.
Some men learn all they know from books; others from life; both kinds are narrow. The first are all theory; the second are all practice. It’s the fellow who knows enough about practice to test his theories for blow-holes that gives the world a shove ahead, and finds a fair margin of profit in showing it.
It seems to afford a fellow a heap of satisfaction to pull the trigger for himself to see if it is loaded; and a lesson learned at the muzzle has the virtue of never being forgotten.
The sooner you adjust your spending to what your earning capacity will be, the easier they will find it to live together.
It’s the man who keeps saving up and expenses down that buys an interest in the concern.
On studying human nature.
When a packer has learned all that there is to learn about quadrupeds, he knows only one-eighth of his business; the other seven-eighths, and the important seven-eighths, has to do with the study of bipeds.
On overcoming bias.
I have always found that, whenever I thought a heap of anything I owned, there was nothing like getting the other fellow’s views expressed in figures; and the other fellow is usually a pessimist when he’s buying… And if you really want a look at the solid facts of a thing you must strain off the sentiment first.
It’s a good thing to step back from yourself and see how you look. Then add fifty percent to your estimate of your neighbor for virtues that you can’t see, and deduct fifty percent from yourself for faults that you’ve missed in your inventory, and you’ll have a pretty accurate result.
On margin trading.
Trading on margin is a good deal like paddling around the edge of the old swimming hole — it seems safe and easy at first, but before a fellow knows it he has stepped off the edge into deep water.
Easy-come money never draws interest; easy-borrowed dollars pay usury.
When a speculator wins he don’t stop till he loses, and when he loses he can’t stop till he wins.
I wouldn’t bear down so hard on this matter if money was the only thing that a fellow could lose on ‘Change. But if a clerk sells pork, and the market goes down, he’s mighty apt to get a lot of ideas with holes in them and bad habits as the small change of his profits. And if the market goes up, he’s likely to go short his self-respect to win back his money.
The only safe road to follow in speculation leads straight away from the Board of Trade on the dead run.
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.
A clear mind is one that is swept clean of business at six o’clock every night and isn’t opened up for it again until after the shutters are taken down next morning.
Worrying is the one game in which, if you guess right, you don’t get any satisfaction out of your smartness.
With most people happiness is something that is always just a day off. But I have made it a rule never to put off being happy till to-morrow. Don’t accept notes for happiness, because you’ll find that when they’re due they’re never paid, but just renewed for another thirty days.
Notes: Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son