Subject: horatio-alger FAQ


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           Horatio Alger, Jr.   Frequently Asked Questions



This is the official FAQ for the Horatio Alger, Jr. Resources Web Site


Maintained by Bill Roach (


Version 1.50 (07/04/01)


Copyright (c) 1996 by Bill Roach All rights reserved.  This document may

be freely distributed in its entirety provided this copyright notice is

not removed.  It may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial

products without the author's written permission.




    This FAQ is available in HTML form at:





    Thanks to everyone who contributed big chunks of information that


    here.   They include:


        Gene Freeman

        Glen Hendler

        James Keeline

        Bob Bennett




  Version 1.0 (10/11/96)

  Version 1.1 (01/07/97)

  Version 1.2 (02/02/97)

  Version 1.3 (03/08/97)

  Version 1.4 (02/10/99)

  Version 1.5 (07/04/01)



|              Quick Index to Frequently Asked Questions               |



1. Who was Horatio Alger?

2. What has he written?

3. What Alger organizations have sites on the Net?

4. What pseudonyms did Alger use?

5. Why is there so little accurate information about Alger?

6. Why is there so much disinformation about Alger?

7. What Alger novels are available on the Net?

8. What movies been made from his books?

9. What are some good Alger biographies?  Some bad ones?

10. What is the relationship between Horatio Alger stories and the

subsequent The Rover Boys, Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew Series?

11. What is the formula for an Horatio Alger story?

12. What libraries / museums have Horatio Alger archives?

13. What does the Horatio Alger "Strive and Succeed" philosophy consist

of?  Are there contemporary versions of it?

14. What were the major milestones in Alger's life?

15. How did Horatio Alger, Jr. come to leave the ministry?

16. What authors have updated or parodied the Horatio Alger formula story?

17. What is the Horatio Alger Society?

18. Did any of Alger’s juvenile novels have female protagonists?



|                        And Now: The Answers!                         |



1. Who was Horatio Alger?


Horatio Alger, Jr. was an American author (1832-1899).  Alger produced the

one of the first boys' adventure series.  Alger published over 118 novels in

book form.  Another 280 novels were produced in magazines along with more

than five hundred short stories.  His young heroes succeed through a mixture

of pluck and luck.  They are lucky, in part, because they deserve to be lucky. 

A given hero may appear in several books, e.g., "Ragged Dick," but the books

do not have a common set of characters.  Regardless of their names, the heroes

are remarkably similar.


Horatio Alger, Jr. was the oldest of five children of a debt-ridden
New England, Unitarian minister.  He was very frail.  He was under weight
and undersized, suffered from bronchial asthma, and near sightedness. Because

of his poor health, the family deferred his introduction to the alphabet and

reading until he was six years old.   He started formal school at
age 10 and achieved Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard.  He was ranked eighth in
a class of 89.  He volunteered for the union army three times and was
rejected three times because of his asthma and small size (just over five
feet and about 120 pounds).

Horatio Alger, Jr. taught school or tutored school children for a good

part of his life.  His most famous student is Benjamin Cardozo who went

on to be a Supreme Court justice.


2. What has he written?


Horatio Alger wrote mostly juvenile fiction:  short stories, serialized

novels, and novels.  He also wrote biography, juvenile biography (James

Garfield, Abraham Lincoln, and Daniel Webster), and poetry.  He did some

serious writing for adult publications (essays), but he was not nearly

as successful at that.


The Horatio Alger Society includes lists of his publications and their various editions

for collectors.  The most comprehensive list of Alger’s publications is Bob Bennett’s

_ A Collector’s Guide to the Published Works of Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832 – 1899)_

MAD Book Company:  Newark, Delaware, 1999). 


Estimating the number of books sold by Horatio Alger, Jr. cannot be

done very precisely.  Some attempts are given below:


        250 million             Quentin Reynolds, _The Fiction Factory; or

                                        from Pulp Row to Quality Street_

                                        (New York:  Random House, 1955)

        200 million             Thomas Meehan, "A Forgettable Centenary-

                                        Horatio Alger" _The New York Times

                                        Magazine_ (June 29, 1964)

        100 million             Frederick Lewis Allen, "Horatio Alger, Jr."

                                        _The Saturday Review_ (September 1,



Many of the books were sold after Alger's death and after the copyrights

had expired so careful records were not kept.  Printers frequently printed

unauthorized editions at the same time they printed authorized editions.

The unauthorized editions were sold by the printer with no fee paid to

the publisher.


3. What Alger organizations have sites on the Net?


Horatio Alger, Jr Resources
Horatio Alger Association (philanthropic organization)
Horatio Alger Educational Programs
Horatio Alger Society (collectors)


4. What pseudonyms did Alger use?


 Arthur Hamilton
            Arthur Lee Putnam

Carl Cantab

 Julian Starr

Charles F. Preston


5. Why is there so little accurate information about Alger?


Alger's sister Augusta inherited all of his papers.  She detroyed virtually

all of his personal papers.  In the Victorian era, it was not unusual for

an author or his/her relatives to purge the personal papers of anything

that might be unseemly.  To the Victorian mind, virtually any eccentricity

was unseemly.  This bowdlerization occurred to the personal papers of

Louisa May Alcott, Sir Richard Francis Burton, Lord Byron,etc.


6. Why is there so much disinformation about Alger?


In 1928 Herbert Mayes published a fraudulent Alger biography entitled:

Alger: A Biography Without a Hero.  Mayes even fabricated a

diary for Alger which detailed a life of carousing and womanizing.  The

Mayes biography became the basis for the entry in the Dictionary of

American Biography.  Mayes did not admit the fraud until 1976.


As late as 1963, an Alger biographer with academic credentials, John

Tebbel, repeated all of the Mayes fabrications, supposedly after

verifying his sources.


7. What Alger novels are available on the Net?


        Struggling Upward
        Cast Upon the Breakers
        The Cash Boy
        Joe the Hotel Boy
        Paul Prescott's Charge: A story for boys
        The Errand Boy: or, How Phil Brent Won Success
        A Fancy of Hers
        Driven from Home or Carl Crawford's Experience
        Frank's Campaign or, Farm and Camp
        Paul the Peddler, or, Fortunes of a Young Street Merchant
        Phil the Fiddler 


8. What movies been made from his books?


A Disney movie _Newsies_ deals with the 1899 newsboy strike in New

York City.  The movie is not based on a Horatio Alger story but it

does depict the life of the newsboys that figured in so many Alger

stories.  The informal web site of the movie is referenced on the

Horatio Alger Resources web site.


If any movies have been made from Alger stories, they should have

been made between 1900 and 1920 at the peak of his popularity.  They

would have been silent movies.  So far none of the FAQ readers have

turned up an Horatio Alger silent movie (or talkie).


9. What are some good Alger biographies?  Some bad ones?


Gary Scarnhorst with Jack Bales, _The Lost Life of Horatio Alger, Jr._

(Indiana University Press:  Bloomington, IN, 1985)

Many poor biographies are based on the 1928 Mayes book mentioned above.


10. What is the relationship between Horatio Alger stories and the

subsequent The Rover Boys, Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew Series?


Horatio Alger worked with a younger writer, Edward Stratemeyer,  an editor at

Munsey Magazine.  Before his death, Alger's arranged to have  Stratemeyer

finish the works that Alger had in progress. The Alger books "completed" by

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_

        _Ben Logan's Triumph_


Stratemeyer was a prolific author and went on to set up the Stratemeyer
Syndicate which was responsible for the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.  After
Stratemeyer's death, the syndicate operated under the leadership of his
daughter Harriet Adams Stratemeyer.


11. What is the formula for an Horatio Alger story?


An adolescent boy with a rural back ground sets off to earn his

livelihood in an urban setting.  He triumphs over circumstances and

temptation and starts advancing in his career.  At some point, he will

be betrayed or falsely accused by one of his peers.  Ultimately, the

hero will be vindicated.  While pluck and hard work play a role in the

success of an Alger hero, there is always an older male who takes on the

hero as his protégé.  That mentor plays a critical role in the success

of the Alger hero.  The Alger hero never takes revenge on those who

mistreated him.  He secures what is rightfully his, but he is never

vindictive.  Alger heroes never have romantic interests.  As they leave

adolescence, these heroes leave his books except to play the role of mentors

for the new generation of Alger heroes.


12. What libraries / museums have Horatio Alger archives?


Library of Congress

Simmons College Archives and Special Collections

Northern Illinois University Library
Founders Library at NIU has acquired a comprehensive collection of more than 2,000 books and periodicals by and about Horatio Alger, and the library now is the official repository for the archives and other papers of the Horatio Alger Society. All materials received from the Society will be cataloged and made available to interested parties through computer networks. A complete catalog of Alger's works will be prepared, and the library will continue to acquire all Alger-related monographs and dissertations, in addition to mounting periodic exhibits of the collections and hosting future conventions of the Society.

Stanley Lieberman Memorial Collection of American Juvenile Literature, Princeton University

University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library

A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center

Special Collections Department - Emory University

Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State

   de Grummond Childrens' Literature Collection at Southern Mississipi



13. What does the Horatio Alger "Strive and Succeed" philosophy consist

of?  Are there contemporary versions of it?


There are several elements in the Horatio Alger "Strive and Succeed"



        - hard work

        - study (informal rather than formal)

        - loyalty to superiors and subordinates

        - abstaining  from alcohol

        - frugal living

        - importance of dress and personal grooming

        - personal integrity

        - speaking and writing effectively

        - non-credal religious values (Unitarian)

        - avoidance of violence and revenge

        - speaking the whole truth

        - brotherhood of males (family without a mother)

        - obligation to help and protect the weak and unfortunate

        - duty to mother and/or sisters

        - courtesy to all

        - accepting the success of others

        - emphasis on a secure home

        - accept assistance of benefactors

        - expectation of own success, acceptance

        - eschew class hatred


The Alger success formula seems very like what one finds in _The

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin_.  Alger's code is less pragmatic

and more altruitstic than Poor Richard's.  Alger's code imposes

significant personal obligations, but it is not at all individualistic.

The Alger code does not seem to have much in common with those

individuals labeled "Horatio Alger success stories."


Some modern conservatives object to Alger’s liberal philosophy.

W. S. Ross even provides an example of an Alger novel (_Struggling Upward_)

with all that pernicious liberalism deleted.


14. What were the major milestones in Alger's life?


        1832 born January 13, Friday

        1833 birth of sister Olive Agusta

        1842 enters grade school at age 10

        1844 Horatio Alger, Sr has close brush with bankruptcy

        1847 passes entrance exam and enters Harvard, nickname "Toodles"

        1849 essay "Chivalry" in Boston National Pictorial Review

        1852 graduates from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappa, eighth in class of 89

        1853 freelance journalist, enters and leaves Harvard Divinity

        1854 taught at boys boarding school

        1857 re-enters Harvard Divinity, publishing in magazines for


        1860 graduates from Harvard Divinity

        1860 - 1861 Horatio's grand tour of Europe

        1861 -1862 supply preacher for Unitarian churches

        1863 flunked induction physical, near-sighted, short, asthmatic

             contributor to Harper's Magazine, Putnam's, etc.

        1864 Frank's Campaign

        1864 assumes pulpit in Brewster, Mass.

        1866 accusation of sexual misconduct with thirteen year old and

             fifteen year old males, resigns from the ministry

        1866 Horatio Alger in New York City as journalist

             his publisher, Joseph H. Allen,a Unitarian elder, shielded him

             Horatio cultivates the street boys aged 12 to 16

        1867 raises money for Five Points mission, Newsboys Lodging, YMCA,

             Children's Aid Society

             Charles O'Connor gives Alger free access to Newsboys Lodging

        1867 _Ragged Dick_ , his eighth novel, is a best seller

        1867 - 1873 eighteen juvenile novels

        1868 Phil the Fiddler describes the plight of children as street

             musicians, attack on the padrone system

        1872 starts to work for the Seligman family, as a tutor and

 guardian for their boys, continued until 1877

        1873 Alger novels increasing violent and sensational

        1873 grand tour of Europe with his parents, his brother, his sister

             Augusta and her husband

        1877 Alger book sales off dramatically

        1877 Life of Edwin Forrest (serious biography) published

             Street boy fiction moves West

        1880-1890 Alger informally adopts three street boys who serve as

             models for characters in his books:

                   Charlie Davis (_The Young CircusRider_ , 1883),

 John Downie , a newsboy (_Mark Mason’s Mission_ 1886) and

(_Chester Rand_, 1892),

and Edward J. (Tommy) Downie (_The Odds Against Him_, 1889)


        1880 - 1890 portrayal of Jewish money lenders and pawn

             brokers in his novels

        1880 Popular concern over violence in juvenile fiction

        1881 Alger publisher A.K Loring goes bankrupt

        1881 instant book, biography of James Garfield

             From Canal Boy to President

        1883 tutors young Benjamin and Elizabeth Cardozo

        1885 tutors Lewis Einstein

        1885 - 1899 liberal Republican (mugwump) themes in novels

        1886 - 1896 revival of Alger popularity, 39 serial novels

        1892 attends the 40 year reunion of his college class

        1896 leaves New York permanently

        1898 Alger, ill, selects Edward Stratemeyer to complete the books

             he has started

        1899 died

             Alger's sister Augusta destroys his personal papers

        1900 - 1910 many more Alger books sold (in cheap editions) than

             during his life time

        1926 Alger all but unknown

        1940 - resurrection of the Horatio Alger myth and canonization

             of his heroes


15. How did Horatio Alger, Jr. come to leave the ministry?


Early in 1866, Horatio Alger, Jr.'s contract was up for renewal.  Some

members of the church board did not want to renew the contract because

they were concerned that Alger was not married and that he seemed to

spend too much time with the congregation's group for boys, the

temperance cadets.  Other members of the board supported Alger.  In the

absence of specific allegations, they felt the contract should be renewed.

The board delayed the decision for a week and launched an investigation

of their minister.  The thirteen year old son of a member of the church

board, after questioning, told his father  that Alger had had sexual

contact with him.

The boy had gone to Alger's rooms to return a book, leaving his younger

sister in a carriage.  When the boy entered his room, Alger allegedly

locked the door and molested the boy.  The ensuing investigation named a

second boy (aged 15) as being involved with Alger.  The report of the

committee implies there may have been other boys involved.


Alger did not reply specifically to the charges.  Rather he admitted to

acting "imprudently."  The charges did not use clinical language.  Rather

they mention "unnatural familiarity with boys."


To avoid a public hearing on the charges, the church board allowed

Alger to resign from his post and the ministry and leave town



Subsequent to leaving Brewster, Alger continued to publish in youth

journals affiliated with the church.  When a member of the Brewster

church complained that Alger's influence over young boys was dangerous,

the publisher of the journal, Joseph H. Allen, a church elder familiar

with the Brewster incident, replied that Alger was entitled to earn a living.


Scholars did not unearth evidence of the Brewster incident until more

than one hundred years later.  Apparently, the records of the local

church in Brewster and the Unitarian Convention were incomplete on

this point.  This is to be expected since the mater did not proceed to a

formal hearing.


Part of the Horatio Alger formula is that the hero is falsely accused

and loses his job because of manufactured evidence.  The motivation for

the false evidence is that someone wants the hero's job.  The Horatio

Alger hero leaves quietly without responding to the charges.  Later

events exonerate the hero.  This element of the formula dates from before

the time of the Brewster episode.


Shortly after the Brewster incident, Alger wrote a poem "Friar Anselmo"

whose subject had committed some significant sin and devoted the rest

of his life to good works as atonement.  The friar achieves some sort

of peace, realizing the world will be a better place if he continues

to live and continues his ministry.  For Alger, writing for boys was

his ministry.



16. What authors have updated or parodied the Horatio Alger formula story?


Theodore Dreiser frequently parodies Alger.  _The Financier_ is an attempt

to modernize the Alger myth.  Its hero is Frank Algernon Cowperwood.


Raymond Feist, the science fiction writer, has used some Horatio Alger

themes in the Serpent War Saga.


F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is an Alger parody.  Gatsby is

the antithesis of the typical Alger hero.


Lawrence Sanders, the writer of hard-boiled detective fiction, wrote

two stories for _Playboy_, "The Adventures of Chauncey Alcock" (April,

1972)and "The Further Adventures of Chauncey Alcock" (December, 1972).

The stories are sex comedies in the Horatio Alger style.


A Nathaniel West novel, _A Cool Million_ parodies the Alger formula

quite mercilessly (literally tearing a classic Alger hero into

pieces, limb by limb) and simultaneously uses his language (whole

paragraphs out of Alger novels).


Hunter S. Thompson, _Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_ parodies the Ager myth.
Raoul Duke, Thompson's alter ego, refers to himself as a "monster reincarnation" of Horatio Alger. In the movie,  Johnny Depp plays Thompson. Or, more precisely,
Raoul Duke, the alias Thompson uses while he and Acosta scam their way from Glitter Gulch to the Strip in search of "Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas." 


17. What is the Horatio Alger Society?


The Horatio Alger Society is a group organized " To further the

philosophy of Horatio Alger, Jr., and to encourage the spirit of

Strive and Succeed that for half a century guided Alger's undaunted

heroes ..."


The members of the society are Alger collectors and scholars.  Many

collect other juvenile series as well as Horatio Alger.  The

Newsboy is the official newsletter of the Horatio Alger Society.

It is published bi-montly (six issues per yearThe Horatio Alger Society

has its own web site:




The e-mail address for the Horatio Alger Society is



18. Did any of Alger’s juvenile novels have female protagonists?


Two of the juvenile novels had female protagonists:

_Helen Ford_ (1866) (prior to Ragged Dick) and

_Tattered Tom_ (1871)(after Ragged Dick)

Tattered Tom was a young girl who dressed and lived as a boy;  like

many Alger heroes, she was a news boy.  Some young girls read the Alger

books, but the books about male heroes sold much better.  The Alger

formula called for the young hero to find a mentor in business.  This

was not possible for female protagonists.



If there is any information that you feel should be in here, or if you

Think something is wrong or out of date, please email me at

Any and all information and/or suggestions for improvement will be




Maintained by Bill Roach


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