The chief glory of America is, that it is the country in which genius and industry find their speediest and surest reward. Fame and fortune are here open to all who are willing to work for them. Neither class distinctions nor social prejudices, neither differences of birth, religion, nor ideas, can prevent the man of true merit from winning the just reward of his labors in this favored land. We are emphatically a nation of self-made men, and it is to the labors of this worthy class that our marvelous national prosperity is due.
This being the case, it is but natural that there should be manifested by our people a very decided desire to know the history of those who have risen to the front rank of their respective callings. Men are naturally cheered and encouraged by the success of others, and those who are worthy of a similar reward will not fail to learn valuable lessons from the examples of the men who have preceded them.
With the hope of gratifying this laudable desire for information, and encouraging those who are still struggling in the lists of fame and fortune, I offer this book to the reader. I have sought to tell simply and truthfully the story of the trials and triumphs of our self-made men, to show how they overcame where others failed, and to offer the record of their lives as models worthy of the imitation of the young men of our country. No one can hope to succeed in life merely by the force of his own genius, any more than he can hope to live without exerting some degree of influence for good or evil upon the community in which his lot is cast. Success in life is not the effect of accident or of chance: it is the result of the intelligent application of certain fixed principles to the affairs of every day. Each man must make this application according to the circumstances by which he is surrounded, and he can derive no greater assistance or encouragement in this undertaking than by informing himself how other men of acknowledged merit have succeeded in the same departments of the world's industry. That this is true is shown by the fact that many of the most eminent men attribute their great achievements to the encouragement with which the perusal of the biographies of others inspired them at critical periods of their careers. It is believed that the narrations embraced in these pages afford ample instruction and entertainment to the young, as well as food for earnest reflection on the part of those who are safely advanced upon their pathway to success, and that they will prove interesting to all classes of intelligent readers.
Some explanation is due to the reader respecting the title that has been chosen for the work. The term "Great Fortunes" is not used here to designate pecuniary success exclusively. A few of the men whose lives are herein recorded never amassed great wealth. Yet they achieved the highest success in their vocations, and their lives are so full of interest and instruction that this work must have been incomplete and unsatisfactory had they been passed over in silence. The aim of the writer has been to present the histories of those who have won the highest fame and achieved the greatest good in their respective callings, whether that success has brought them riches or not, and above all, of those whose labors have not only opened the way to fortune for themselves, but also for others, and have thus conferred lasting benefits upon their country.
In short, I have sought to make this work the story of the Genius of America, believing as I do that he whose achievements have contributed to the increase of the national wealth, the development of the national resources, and the elevation of the national character, though he himself be poor in purse, has indeed won a great fortune, of which no reverse can ever deprive him.
New York, 24th October, 1870.