Published on July 18, 2016
Dale Harbison Carnegie
(/ˈkɑːrnɪɡi/ spelled Carnagey until c. 1922; November 24, 1888 – November 1, 1955) was an American writer and lecturer and the developer of famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills. Born into poverty on a farm in Missouri, he was the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), a bestseller that remains popular today. He also wrote How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948), Lincoln the Unknown (1932), and several other books.
One of the core ideas in his books is that it is possible to change other people’s behavior by changing one’s behavior toward them.
Born in 1888 in Maryville, Missouri, Carnegie was a poor farmer’s boy, the second son of James William Carnagey (b. Indiana, February 15, 1852 – May 18, 1941) and wife Amanda Elizabeth Harbison (b. Missouri, February 21, 1858 – December 4, 1939). His family moved to Belton, Missouri when he was a small child. In his teens, though still having to get up at 4 a.m. every day to milk his parents’ cows, he managed to obtain an education at the State Teacher’s College in Warrensburg. His first job after college was selling correspondence courses to ranchers. He moved on to selling bacon, soap, and lard for Armour & Company. He was successful to the point of making his sales territory of South Omaha, Nebraska, the national leader for the firm.
After saving $500 (about $12700 today), Dale Carnegie quit sales in 1911 in order to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a Chautauqua lecturer. He ended up instead attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, but found little success as an actor, though it is written that he played the role of Dr. Hartley in a road show of Polly of the Circus. When the production ended, he returned to New York, unemployed, nearly broke, and living at the YMCA on 125th Street. There he got the idea to teach public speaking, and he persuaded the YMCA manager to allow him to instruct a class in return for 80% of the net proceeds. In his first session, he had run out of material. Improvising, he suggested that students speak about “something that made them angry”, and discovered that the technique made speakers unafraid to address a public audience. From this 1912 début, the Dale Carnegie Course evolved. Carnegie had tapped into the average American’s desire to have more self-confidence, and by 1914, he was earning $500 (about $11800 today) every week.
Carnegie changed the spelling of his last name from “Carnagey” to Carnegie, at a time when Andrew Carnegie (unrelated) was a widely revered and recognized name. As Dale Carnagey he worked as assistant to Lowell Thomas in his famous travelogue “With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia”. He managed and delivered the travelogue in Canada.
By 1916, Dale was able to rent Carnegie Hall itself for a lecture to a packed house. Carnegie’s first collection of his writings was Public Speaking: a Practical Course for Business Men (1926), later entitled Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business (1932). His crowning achievement, however, was when Simon & Schuster published How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book was a bestseller from its debut in 1936, in its 17th printing within a few months. By the time of Carnegie’s death, the book had sold five million copies in 31 languages, and there had been 450,000 graduates of his Dale Carnegie Institute. It has been stated in the book that he had critiqued over 150,000 speeches in his participation in the adult education movement of the time.
During World War I he served in the U.S. Army. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1931. On November 5, 1944, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he married Dorothy Price Vanderpool (1913–1998), who also had been divorced. Vanderpool had two daughters; Rosemary, from her first marriage, and Donna Dale from their marriage together.
Carnegie died at his home in Forest Hills, New York. He was buried in the Belton, Cass County, Missouri, cemetery. The official biography from Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc. states that he died of Hodgkin’s disease, complicated with uremia, on November 1, 1955.