How to Win Friends and Influence People | Study Guide

Dale Carnegie

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Dale Carnegie | Biography


Childhood and Education

Dale Carnegie was born Dale Breckenridge Carnagey (later changed to Carnegie) on November 24, 1888, in Maryville, Missouri, to parents Amanda and James Carnagey. He grew up poor in farming country, responsible for chores such as milking the cows and caring for the hogs. As a high school student Carnegie showed a gift for speech, which earned him the respect and friendship of many. During that period he attended a Chautauqua assembly: gatherings held throughout rural America that featured lectures and entertainment aimed at self-improvement and continuing education for adults. This assembly inspired Carnegie to change his speaking style as a member of his school's debate team—his first formal foray into the power of public speaking.

When Carnegie entered the State Teachers College in Warrensburg in 1906, he commuted on horseback from his parents' farm to school, unable to afford the dollar per day room and board fee in town. Embarrassed by his poverty, Carnegie set out to distinguish himself at college and zeroed in on public-speaking contests as his ticket to distinction. Soon he was winning contest after contest, and he even trained some of his fellow students in speaking techniques.


Carnegie's first job out of college was selling correspondence courses to farmers in Nebraska and Wyoming. This work didn't pan out, so Carnegie moved to Omaha and took a job with Armour and Company as a salesman, peddling bacon, soap, and lard throughout South Dakota. He was a huge success at selling, turning an unprofitable territory into the top producer for the company. He also managed to save about $500. This was enough to springboard him into his next phase of life, so Carnegie quit his job and moved to New York City in 1911. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and landed a touring role in the play Polly of the Circus. However, he didn't like the acting life and gave it up. After serving for more than a year in the United States Army, Carnegie was hired to manage a lecture tour for Lowell Thomas, a speaker, writer, and author of "A Shortcut to Distinction," the biographical section of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Carnegie next began teaching public speaking classes for adults at the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) in New York, where he was living at the time. He agreed to work on commission rather than salary, as the director was reluctant to give the course a go. This arrangement worked to Carnegie's advantage in the end, for instead of earning the usual $2 salary for teaching, he took in $30 per night. Meanwhile the ambitious young man founded the Dale Carnegie Institute in 1912 (now Dale Carnegie Training) and in 1913 published his first book, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, which became the textbook for his courses. Soon Carnegie was earning about $500 per week for his courses, enough to rent out the prestigious Carnegie Hall for one of his lectures. Carnegie adopted the new spelling of his name in honor of successful business tycoon Andrew Carnegie, after whom the hall is named.

For the next 20 years Carnegie developed and improved curriculum for his courses, focusing on topics that appealed to business leaders, such as social dynamics and communication skills. Carnegie realized there was a huge demand for information in these areas but no book on the market to meet that need. It was then that he decided to write How to Win Friends and Influence People, "a practical, working handbook on human relations." For many years thereafter, Carnegie read hundreds of biographies of successful leaders, interviewed world-famous politicians and celebrities, and did extensive research in psychology and related topics. Published in 1936 by Simon and Schuster the book became an instant hit and has been a perennial best seller ever since. After the publication of How to Win Friends and Influence People Carnegie's career took off. The book's sales earned Carnegie wealth and fame and contributed to the success of his courses and speaking engagements. Carnegie expanded his institute into 750 cities in the United States and 15 foreign countries and lectured extensively. He also became a newspaper columnist and radio personality, thus reaching an even wider audience.

Personal Life and Legacy

Carnegie married twice, first to Lolita Baucaire in 1921, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1931. In 1944 Carnegie married Dorothy Price Vanderpool, who joined him in expanding his institute. The couple had one daughter in 1951, Donna, who continued in her father's footsteps by publishing How to Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls (2005, Simon and Schuster). Carnegie's other books include The Art of Public Speaking (1915); a biography of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln the Unknown (1932); and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1944).

Carnegie died on November 1, 1955, in Forest Hills, New York, survived by his wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Donna. His family members continued Carnegie's legacy through the Dale Carnegie Organization, which published self-help titles on success. Dale Carnegie Training has offered programs taught by 2,700 instructors in every state and 90 foreign countries. Around 8 million people have taken Carnegie's courses, and How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold more than 30 million copies.
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