A Message to Garcia

A Message to GarciaOne evening, nearly 120 years ago, a man named Elbert Hubbard had something on his mind. He sat down and wrote a 1500 word op-ed piece for the magazine he edited. Nothing special about that.

But those few pages – what Hubbard himself considered a literary trifle – swept round the world, carried from one person to the next, to the next. Even today, the title is still well known and respected, because its message is still needed just as much as the day it was written.

Almost fifteen years later, Hubbard said:

This literary trifle, A Message To Garcia, was written one evening after supper, in a single hour. It was on the 22nd of February, 1899, Washington’s Birthday: 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 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 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 two hundred magazines and newspapers. It has been translated into all written languages.

At the time Mr. Daniels was distributing A Message To Garcia, Prince Hilakoff, Director of 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 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 A Message To Garcia. The Japanese, finding the booklets in possession of the Russian prisoners, concluded 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 an author, in all history [ up to 1913 ], thanks to a series of lucky accidents.

 

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