Who was Dale Carnegie?

Anyone who thinks one person can’t change the world needs to know more about Dale Carnegie.

Who was Dale Carnegie? Before “Dale Carnegie” was an idea that turned into a book that evolved into training and an internationally recognized brand, Dale Carnegie was a man. Born in 1888, the son of poor Missouri farmers, Dale learned early on he had a way with words, joined his school debate team and rode to college on horseback every day because his family could not afford the $1 daily cost for room and board.

Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie

His early career was in sales and after saving $500 he quit his job and moved to Manhattan. He planned to be an actor, studied the craft at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and landed a leading role in a traveling production.

He hated it.

Carnegie enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving briefly at Camp Upton on Long Island during World War I. After his discharge, Carnegie became business manager for a traveling lecture course taught by Lowell Thomas, the writer and broadcaster best known for his coverage of the real-life Lawrence of Arabia.When that gig wrapped up, Carnegie evaluated his options. In college, students had offered to pay him money to teach them public speaking. He realized his skills propelled his success as a salesman, so Carnegie pitched the idea of adult classes to the Manhattan YMCA, which provided free space for a cut of the profits.

Carnegie Taps a Need

Hugely popular, Carnegie’s classes targeted the routine needs of business people by focusing on forging positive relationships. They learned how to interview well, how to make persuasive presentations and how to connect with clients and customers. Within two years, he founded the Dale Carnegie Institute to serve more students. Carnegie published his first book, Public Speaking and Influencing Men of Business, in 1913, and it served as a textbook for his early courses.

Carnegie recognized nearly a century ago that the most successful leaders in every industry had the best people skills, independent of any technical knowledge. That truism and Carnegie’s approach to leveraging such skills stood the test of time and, in our digital age, may be more relevant than ever. How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in 1936 after years of research, sold nearly 5 million copies worldwide, translated in every language, before its author died in 1955.

Tennessee Dale Carnegie Training

Look familiar? Many Dale Carnegie of Tennessee graduates got their first copy from a parent or mentor.

By then, an estimated 450,000 people had taken Carnegie’s classes across the globe. In 2012, the 100th Anniversary of the Dale Carnegie Institute, that figure stands at 8 million. 

One Man Leaves a Legacy

For generations Dale Carnegie has been a household name. Parents still give the classic text to their sons and daughters, often as early as high school. Some read it right away, some reread it every few years and many, many of them enroll in Dale Carnegie courses as their careers unfold. They become leaders in business, government, nonprofits and communities.

One man’s vision did change the world, but students of writing, history, human nature and business will be interested to know that Dale Carnegie was born Dale Carnagey. He changed his name from the original spelling after his first book was published. The switch to “Carnegie” created an association to a family known for business acumen, wealth and philanthropy.

Dale Carnegie was not related to steel magnate Andrew Carnegie or any of his descendants. He was a man from humble beginnings who recognized a business opportunity and grabbed it. He also knew a little something about people.