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Initiative and a Message to Garcia

This is the full content of a brochure I received when I was a Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves in the 420 Engineer Brigade. I thought I’d lost this information which really disappointed me – I refer to concepts contained within it frequently. Now I’m putting it here so that hopefully I don’t lose it again. As I re-read it I find that it doesn’t seem as “comforting” to read on a web page. The initial read in that small pamphlet was so enjoyable. I soaked in every word. On the web, we are all too often in a hurry and don’t take the time to focus on what we’re reading – but instead, skim. If you’re in a hurry now, wait until you have an hour for concentration… or at least 40 min.:


Several months ago a friend gave me a small book titled ELBERT HUBBARD BOOK OF INITIATIVE. It was published in 1938 by Algonquin Publishing Company of New York with copyright of Roycrofters, East Aurura, New York. I have made several unsuccessful attempts to acquire copies of the stories contained in the small book.

Failing to find a source of the books, I have elected to reproduce the short stories contained in the book in order to share the challenging philosophy included in Hubbard’s writings. Violation of copyright reservation is not intended.

Mr. Hubbard defines INITIATIVE on page 9. You may wish to use this simple tool to determine your level of initiative.

The Apologia explains how A Message to Garcia was born. For my entire life I heard references to that title but, until I read the booklet, I had no idea of the origin.

To me, A Message to Garcia is a masterpiece! You and I have experiences with the Rowan types. Unfortunately, the other type referenced by Mr. Hubbard comprises most with whom we work. A real lesson can be learned from this short story.

I am confident that you will enjoy the other short stories printed in this document.







11 JUNE 1984




THIS literary trifle, A Message to Garcia, was written one evening after supper, in a single hour. It was on the Twenty-second of February, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-nine, Washington’s Birthday, and we were just going to press with the March Philistine. The thing leaped hot from my heart, written after a trying day, when I had been endeavoring to train some rather delinquent villagers to abjure the comatose state and get radioactive.

The immediate suggestion, though, came from a little argument over the teacups, when my boy, Bert, Suggested that Rowan was the real hero of the Cuban War. Rowan had gone alone and done the thing—carried the message to Garcia.

It came to me like a flash! Yes, the boy is right, the hero is the man who does his work—who carries the message to Garcia.

I got up from the table, and wrote A Message to Garcia. I thought so little of it that we ran it in the Magazine without a heading. The edition went out, and soon orders began to come for extra copies of the March Philistine, a dozen, fifty, a hundred; and when the American News Company ordered a thousand, I asked one of my helpers which article it was that had stirred up the cosmic dust.

“It’s the stuff about Garcia,” he said.

The next day a telegram came from George H. Daniels, of the New York Central Railroad, thus: “Give price on one hundred thousand Rowan article in pamphlet form—-Empire State Express advertisement on back—also how soon can ship.”

I replied giving price, and stated we could supply the pamphlets in two years. Our facilities were small and a hundred thousand booklets looked like an awful undertaking.



The result was that I gave Mr. Daniels permission to reprint the article in his own way. He issued it in a booklet form in editions of half a million. Two or three of these half million lots were sent out by Mr. Daniels, and in addition the article was reprinted in over 200 magazines and newspapers. It has been translated into all written languages.

At the time Mr. Daniels was distributing the Message to Garcia, Prince Hilakoff, Director of the Russian Railways, was in this country. He was the guest of the New York Central, and made a tour of the country under the personal direction of Mr. Daniels. The Prince saw the little book and was interested in it, more because Mr. Daniels was putting it out in such big numbers, probably, than otherwise.

In any event, when he got home he had the matter translated into Russian, and a copy of the booklet given to every railroad employee in Russia.

Other countries then took it up, and from Russia it passed into Germany, France, Spain, Turkey, Hindustan, and China. During the war between Russia and Japan, every Russian soldier who went to the front was given a copy of the Message to Garcia.

The Japanese, finding the booklets in possession of the Russian prisoners, concluded that it must be a good thing, and accordingly translated it into Japanese.

And on an order of the Mikado, a copy was given to every man in the employ of the Japanese Government, soldier or civilian.





Over forty million copies of A Message to Garcia have been printed. This is said to be a larger circulation than any other literary venture has ever attained during the lifetime of the author, in all history—thanks to a series of lucky accidents



E. H.

East Aurora,

December 1, 1938






IN All this Cuban business there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.

When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastness of Cuba—no one knew where. No mail or telegraph message could reach him. The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly.

What to do!

Some one said to the President, “There is a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.”

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How the “fellow by the name of Rowan” took the letter, sealed it up in an oilskin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia—are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. The point that I wish to make is this; McKinley gave Roan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, not instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing—“Carry a message to Garcia.”



General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias. No man who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands were needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man—the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it.

Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threat he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant.

You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting down now in your office—six clerks are within call. Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio.”

Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task?

On your life he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:


Who was he?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

Was I hired for that?

Don’t you man Bismarck?

What’s the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Sha’n’t I bring you the book and let you look

for it yourself?

What do you want to know for?




And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him try to find Garcia—and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average I will not. Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” that Correggio is indexed under the C’s, and not in the K’s, but you will smile very sweetly and say, “Never mind,” and go look it up yourself. And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift—these are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their efforts is for all?

A first mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting “the bounce” Saturday night holds many a worker to his place. Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply neither spell nor punctuate—and do not think it necessary to.

Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

“You see that bookkeeper,” said the foreman

to me in a large factory.

“Yes; what about him?”

“Well, he’s a fine accountant, but if I’d send him up town on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street would forget what he had been sent for.”

Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?




We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the “downtrodden denizens of the sweatshop” and the “homeless wanderer searching for honest employment,” and with it all often go many hard words for the men in power.

Nothing is said of the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne’er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long, patient striving after “help” that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away “help” that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues: only, if times are hard and work is scarce, the sorting is done finer—but out and forever out the incompetent and unworthy go. It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best—those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to any one else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress, him. He cannot give orders, and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, “Take it yourself!”

Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling though his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ, for he is a regular firebrand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled Number Nine boot.



Of course I know that one so morally deformed is not less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying let us drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold in line dowdy indifference, slipshod imbecility, and the heartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.

Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds—the man who against great odds, has directed the efforts of others, and, having succeeded, finds there’s nothing in it: nothing but bare board and clothes. I have carried a dinner-pail and worked for day’s wages, and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are not recommendation; and all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous. My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the “boss” is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets “laid off,” nor has to go on strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks shall be granted. He is wanted in every city, town, and village—in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such; he is needed and needed badly—the man who can “Carry a Message to Garcia.”





THE world bestows its big prizes, both in money and honors, for but one thing. And that is Initiative.

What is Initiative?

I’ll tell you: It is doing the right thing without being told.

But next to doing the thing without being told is to do it when you are told once. That is to say, carry the message to Garcia: those who can carry a message get high honors, but their pay is not always in proportion.

Next, there are those who never do a thing until they are told twice: such get no honors and small pay.

Next, there are those who do the right thing only when necessity kicks them from behind, and these get indifference instead of honors and a pittance for pay. This kind spends most of its time polishing a bench with a hard-luck story.

Then, still lower down the scale than this, we have the fellow who will not do the right thing even when someone goes along to show him how and stays to see that he does it: he is always out of a job, and receives the contempt he deserves, unless he happens to have a rich Pa, in which case Destiny patiently awaits around the corner with a stuffed club.

To which class do you belong?

                    ELBERT HUBBARD






IF ALL the letters, messages and speeches of Lincoln were destroyed, except that one to Hooker, we should have a good index to the heart of the Rail-Splitter.

In this letter we see that Lincoln ruled his own spirit; and we also behold the fact that he could rule others. The letter shows frankness, kindliness, wit, tact, wise diplomacy and infinite patience.

Hooker had harshly and unjustly criticized Lincoln, his Commander-in-Chief, and he had embarrassed Burnside, his ranking officer. But Lincoln waives all this in deference to the virtues that he believes Hooker possesses, and promotes him to succeed Burnside. In other words, the man who had wronged him over the head of a man who the promotee had wronged and for whom the promoter had a warm personal friendship.

But all personal considerations were sunk in view of the end desire. Yet is was necessary that the man promoted should know the truth and Lincoln told it to him in a way that did not humiliate nor fire him to foolish anger; but with certainly prevented the attack or cerebral elephantiasis to which Hooker was liable.

Perhaps we had better give the letter entire, and so here it is:


Executive Mansion,

Washington, January 26, 1863






Major-General Hooker:

General: I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course, I have done this upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you.

I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like.

I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right.

You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable if not indispensable quality.

You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm, but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.

I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the government needed a dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. The government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more nor less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit you have aided in infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from him will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of any




army while such a spirit prevails in it. And now, beware of rashness; but with energy and unsleeping vigilance go forward and give us victories. Yours, very truly,



A. Lincoln


One point in this letter is especially worth our consideration, for it suggests a condition that springs up like deadly nightshade from a poisionous soil. I refer to the habit of sneering, carping, grumbling at and criticizing those who are above us.

The man who is anybody and who does anything is surely going to be criticized, vilified and misunderstood. This is a part of the penalty for greatness, and every great man understands it; and understands, too, that it is no proof of greatness. The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure contumely without resentment. Lincoln did not resent criticism; he knew that ever life must be its own excuse for being, but look how he called Hooker’s attention to the fact that the dissension Hooker has sown is going to return and plague him! “Neither you nor Napoleon, were he alive, could get any good out of any army while such a spirit prevails on it.” Hooker’s fault falls on Hooker—others suffer, but Hooker suffers most of all.

Not long ago I met a Yale student, home on a vacation. I am sure he did not represent the true Yale spirit, for he was full of criticism and bitterness toward the institution. President Hadley came in for his share, and I was supplied items, facts, data, with times and places, for a “peach of a roast.”



Very soon I saw the trouble was not with Yale, the trouble was with the young man. He had mentally dwelt on some trivial slights until he had got so out of harmony with the institution that he had lost the power to derive any benefit from it. Yale is not a perfect institution—a fact, I suppose, that President Hadley and most Yale men are quite willing to admit; but Yale does supply certain advantages, and it depends upon the students whether they will avail themselves of these advantages or not.

If you are a student in a college, seize upon the good that is there. You get good by giving it. You gain by giving—so give sympathy and cheerful loyalty to the institution. Be proud of it. Stand by your teachers—they are doing the best they can. If the place if faulty, make it a better place by an example of cheerfully doing your work every day the best you can. Mind your own business.

If the concern where you are employed is all wrong, and the Old Man a curmudgeon, it may be well for you to go to the Old Man and confidentially, quietly and kindly tell him that he is a curmudgeon. Explain to him that his policy is absurd and preposterous. Then show him how to reform his ways, and you might offer to take charge of the concern and cleanse it of it secret faults.

Do this, or if for any reason you should prefer not, then take your choice of these: Get Out or Get in Line. You have got to do one or the other—now make your choice.

If you work for a man, in heaven’s name work for him!





If he pays you wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him—speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and stand by the institution he represents.

I think if I worked for a man I would work for him. I would not work for him part of the time, and the rest of the time work against him. I would give him undivided service or none.

If put to the pinch, and ounce of loyalty is work a pound of cleverness.

If you must vilify, condemn and eternally disparage, why, resign your position and, when you are outside, damn to your heart’s content. But, I pray you, so long as you are a part of an institution, do not condemn it. Not that you will injure the institution—not that—but when you disparage the concern of which you are a part, you disparage yourself.

More than that, you are loosening the tendrils that hold you to the institution, and the first high wind that comes along, you will be uprooted and blown away in the blizzard’s track—and probably you will never know why. The letter only says, “Times are dull and we regret there is not enough work,” et cetera.

Everywhere you find those out-of-job fellows. Talk with them and you will find that they are full of railing, bitterness and condemnation. That was the trouble—through a spirit of fault-finding they got themselves swung around so they blocked the channels, and had to be dynamited. They are out of harmony with the concern, and no longer being a help they had to be removed. Every employer is constantly looking for people who can help him; naturally he is on the outlook among his employees for those who do help, and everything and




everybody that is a hindrance has to go. This is the law of trade—do not find fault with it; it is founded upon Nature. The reward is only for the man that helps, and in order to help you must have sympathy.

You cannot help the Old Man so long as you are explaining in undertone and a whisper, by gesture and suggestion, by thought and mental attitude, that he is a curmudgeon and his system dead wrong. You are not necessarily meanacing him by stirring up discontent and warming envy into strife, but you are doing this: You are getting yourself upon a well-greased chute that will give you a quick ride down and out.

When you say to other employees that the Old Man is curmudgeon, you reveal that fact that you are one; and when you tell that the policy of the institution is “rotten,” you surely show that yours is.

Hooker got his promotion even in spite of his failing: but the chances are that your employer does not have the love that Lincoln had—the love that suffereth long and is kind. But even Lincoln had to try some one else. So there came a time when Hooker was superseded by a Silent Man, who criticized no one, railed at nobody—not even the enemy. And this Silent Man, who ruled his own spirit, took the cities. He minded his own business, and did the work that no man ever can do unless he gives absolute loyalty, perfect confidence and untiring devotion.

Let us mind our own business, and work for self by working for the good of all.







THE other day I wrote to a banker-friend inquiring as to the responsibility of a certain person. The answer came back, thus: “He is a Hundred-Point man in everything and anything he undertakes.” I read the telegram and then pinned it up over my desk where I could see it. That night it sort of tuck in my memory. I dreamed of it. The next day I showed the message to a fellow I know pretty well, and said, “I’d rather have that said of me than to be called a great this or that.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes has left on record statement that you could not throw a stone on Boston Common without caroming on three poets, two essayists and a play-wright.

Hundred-Point men are not so plentiful.

A Hundred-Point man is one who is true to every trust; who keeps his work; who is loyal to the firm that employs him; who does not listen for insults nor look for slights; who carries a civil tongue in his head; who is polite to strangers, without being “fresh”; who is considerate toward servants; who is moderate in his eating and drinking; who is willing to learn; who is cautions and yet courageous.

Hundred-Point men may vary much in ability, but this is always true—they are safe men to deal with, whether drivers of drays, motor men, clerks, cashiers, engineers, or presidents of railroads.

Paranoiacs are people who are suffering from fatty enlargements of the ego. They want the best seats in the synagogue, they demand bouquets, compliments, obeisance, and in order to see what the papers will say next morning, they sometimes obligingly commit suicide.





The paranoiac is the antithesis of the Hundred-Point man. The paranoiac imagines he is being wronged, and that some one has it in for him, and that the world is down on him. His is given to that which is strange, peculiar, uncertain, eccentric and erratic.

The Hundred-Point man may not look just like all other men, or dress like them, or talk like them, but what he does is true to his own nature. He is himself.

He is more interested in doing his work than in what people will say about it. He does not consider the gallery. He acts his thought and thinks little of the act.

I never know a Hundred-Point man who was not one brought up from early youth to make himself useful, and to economize in the matter of time and money.

Necessity is ballast.

The paranoiac, almost without exception, is one who has been made exempt from work. He has been petted, waited upon, coddled, cared for, laughed at and chuckled to.

The excellence of the old-fashioned big family was that no child got an undue amount of attention. The antique idea that the child must work for his parents until the day he was twenty-one was a deal better for the youth than to let him get it into his head that his parents must work for him.

Nature intended that we should all be poor—that we should earn our bread every day before we eat it.




When you find the Hundred-Point man you will find one who lives like a person in moderate circumstances, no matter what his finances are. Every man who thinks he has the world by the tail and is about to snap its demonic head off the delectation of mankind, is unsafe, no matter how great his genius in the line of specialties.

The Hundred-Point man looks after just one individual, and that is the man under his own hat; he is one who does not spend money until he earns it; who pays his way; who knows that nothing is ever given for nothing; who keeps his digits off other people’s property. When he does not know what to say, why, he says nothing, and when he does not know what to do, does not do it. We should mark on moral qualities, not merely on mental attainment or proficiency, because in the race of life only moral qualities count. We should rate on judgment, application and intent. Man by habit and nature who are untrue to a trust are dangerous just in proportion as they are clever. I would like to see a university devoted to turning out safe men instead of merely clever ones.

How would it do for a college to give one degree, and one only, to those who are worthy—the degree of H.P. (Hundred Point)?

Would it not be worth striving for, to have a college president say to you, over his own signature: “His is a Hundred-Point man in everything and anything he undertakes!”






The man who never does any more than he is paid for never gets paid for any more than he does.


Cultivate the Intellect

Cultivate the intellect, and you shall have a mind that produces beautiful thoughts, worthy images, helpful ideas; that will serve as a solace in times of stress, and be to you a refuge ‘gainst all the storms that blow. The cultured mind, as compared with the uncultured is the difference between a beautiful garden which produces vegetables, fruits or flowers, and a tract of land that is overgrown with weeds and brambles.

To be a person of culture is to be at home under all conditions. Your mind is stored with mental images, and memory comes to keep you company, and guide you from nostalgia and the sense Divine. The country will be beautiful to you in any season, and society and solitude each will be welcomed by you in turn. You are to reject nothing, despise nothing, knowing that everything belongs somewhere, and that it is needed to make up the great mosaic of life.






I hope you enjoyed it…


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