Dale Breckenridge Carnegie (November 24, 1888 - November 1, 1955) was an American writer and the developer of famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, training and development, public speaking, and interpersonal skills. Apart from his career as an author and lecturer, his counsel was frequently sought by prominent leaders. He was also a syndicated newspaper columnist and the host of his own talk radio show.
Born on a farm in Missouri, he attended Central Missouri State College and worked in sales and acting before developing his concept for a course in public speaking and self-improvement. He was the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936, a massive bestseller that remains popular today. He also wrote a biography of Abraham Lincoln, entitled Lincoln the Unknown, as well as several other books. Carnegie's courses were attended by millions of participants, and his work is credited with influencing the early stages of the popular psychology and human potential movements.
Born in 1888, in Harmony Church, Missouri, Carnegie was a poor farmer's boy, the second son of James William Carnagie and Amanda Elizabeth Harbison.
Dale's father claimed a remote link to Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate and great philanthropist. Dale himself never claimed, publicly or privately, any such connection, however.
In his teens, Dale managed to get an education at Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg, Missouri, while getting up at 4:00 a.m. every day to feed the pigs and milk his parents' cows. Out of a student population of 800, he was one of only four students so poor that they lived at home and rode to school on horseback. His first job after college (1908) was selling correspondence courses to ranchers. He then moved on to selling bacon, soap, and lard for Armour & Company. He was successful to the point of making his sales territory—southern Omaha and the badlands of South Dakota—the national leading sales area for the firm. Going against his mother's wishes for him to be a missionary, he headed east to study speech and drama, turning down a promotion offer from Armour & Company.
Upon deciding to take up studies in New York City, in 1910, Carnegie headed to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) based mostly upon the recommendation of a passenger whom he had met on one of his train rides across the badlands of South Dakota. The school's statement of principles especially appealed to him: "To create an accent on naturalism accompanied by emotional recall in order to achieve a deeper more essential 'truth' in performance." The hefty admission fee of $400 for the six months' course, however, virtually depleted his savings.
Upon graduation, Carnegie played the role of Dr. Hartley in a road show of Polly and the Circus. Rooming with Howard Lindsay, who later rose to fame as the co-writer of such classic hits as Arsenic and Old Lace, The Sound of Music, and Life With Father, he made pocket money selling suitcases and ties.
Carnegie soon grew weary of touring and was unable to find work as a Broadway actor. Living at the YMCA on 125th Street, he persuaded the manager there to allow him to instruct a public speaking class in return for 80 percent of the net proceeds. By 1912, the outline of a broader vision and course had begun to form.
Carnegie was greatly influenced by a 1925 book by Harry Overstreet, a professor at the College of the City of New York. In his, Influencing Human Behavior, Overstreet espoused a very basic principle in the field of advertising: "First, arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way."
As one of the first popular books based on applied psychology, it provided the abiding impetus behind what was to become Carnegie's own magnum opus, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Overstreet saw the advertiser as continually appealing to certain fundamental human wants, declaring him a "pioneer in psychological technique." Carnegie saw the same principle at work in sales, popularizing Overstreet's earlier words as the now famous salesman's maxim: "Arouse in the other person an eager want."
Other contemporaries who influenced Carnegie included Norman Vincent Peale, Orison Marden, Emile Coué, and psychologist Henry Link. By the 1930s, Dale Carnegie was recruiting others to teach the principles and methods that he had carefully developed. He called it simply, The Dale Carnegie Course.
The Dale Carnegie Course is a self-improvement program conducted using a standardized curriculum by franchised trainers throughout the world. Several variations on the course exist, including a public speaking course, a sales course, a high impact presentation course, and a management course.
The basic course consists of 12 sessions lasting three and a half hours each. Courses are normally scheduled in the evening, one night per week. Typically there are 20-35 participants in a course. Unpaid assistants, who are graduates of the course, are on hand to assist participants, assist with classroom logistics, and work with small groups. Instructors are college graduates with a variety of professional experience who must attend rigorous training which culminates in certification to teach the course. They must annually attend refresher courses to maintain their certification.
Much of the content of the course is based on Dale Carnegie's teachings, especially in three books: How to Win Friends and Influence People, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, and The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. Participants are given reading assignments from these books, as homework, over the 12 weeks.
A good deal of the time each evening is spent in short presentations given by each of the participants to the rest of the attendees related to each session's objectives. The experience of speaking to a group serves to improve the participants’ self-confidence and allows them to share their personal insights and experiences in a positive, highly supportive environment. Presentations are based on personal experience rather than a research topic.
The remainder of each session is spent in lectures and doing small group exercises. Lecture topics cover memory techniques, conversational skills, handling disagreements constructively, problem solving, and small group skills.
The course is built around improving the participants' abilities in five areas:
Participants are asked to focus on themselves in the first few weeks of the course—to look at what has gone well for them as well as the things that have not have gone well, including the lessons learned from both successes and failures. The course uses these two extremes as a model for self-improvement and in coaching for improvement in others.
In applying relationship skills, participants are asked to first focus on existing relationships that are working well, and then on ones that could work better. As the course progresses, participants are asked to work on greater relationship challenges, including those relationships where they need enthusiastic cooperation from others and relationships where they need to change someone’s viewpoint.
The goal of the course is not only for participants to have a successful experience during the time they are in class, but also to improve their lives in between class sessions, and to develop skills they can apply in various life situations after they have completed the course.
Accountability is one the chief course elements that helps participants achieve success. By developing a vision for improvement, a plan to achieve that vision and sharing that plan with others, they have established their goals, a path for getting to their goals, and accountability for carrying out their plan.
In addition to working on improved relationships, the course also works on improving enthusiasm for things one does not consider particularly exciting. It asks participants to focus specifically on areas of their lives where they need to deal with stress and encourages them to set goals, develop plans, and make commitments for using the course ideas to improve these areas.
The course has thousands of enrollees and instructors, as well as millions of graduates, worldwide.
Carnegie's first marriage to Lolita Baucaire ended in divorce in 1931. In 1944, he married Dorothy Price Vanderpool, who also had been divorced. Carnegie had two daughters: Rosemary, from his first marriage, and Donna Dale from his second marriage. He was 63 when Donna Dale was born.
Dorothy Carnegie, his second wife, was installed as vice-president of Carnegie & Associates when it was created in 1945, and went on to help launch the Dorothy Carnegie Course in Personal Development for Women in 1948. After her husband's death, she wrote and edited while carrying on the legacy of her husband's work by becoming the chairman of the parent company, Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc., in Garden City, New York.
In 1955, Carnegie was asked to give a speech upon receiving an honorary degree from the institution where his education began, Central Missouri State College. In failing health, and despite weeks of preparation, the highly skilled public speaker had to read from his prepared text. "No," he said, "I didn't quite graduate, and I'm glad I've forgotten everything connected with Latin. Learning isn't so important, it's what kind of man you make out of yourself while you're learning that counts." Three months later, Dale Carnegie died.
The diagnosis ran the gamut from uremia, a blood disease, to arteriosclerosis; both often misdiagnosed in those days. An official statement from Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc. stated that he died of Hodgkin's lymphoma on November 1, 1955. He is buried in the Belton cemetery in Cass County, Missouri. A small marker on his grave reads simply: Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955.
The most obvious and lasting legacy of Dale Carnegie is The Dale Carnegie Course, a distillation of his varied experiences with public speaking, marketing, method acting, and personal salesmanship. However, beyond that are the everyday readers of his books, particularly, How to Win Friends and Influence People, which has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.
Today, Carnegie's books and courses continue to influence the much larger movement within the fields of self-help, popular psychology, effectiveness training, and human potential.
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