William McGuffey: Mentor to American Industry

William McGuffey: Mentor to American Industry

William McGuffey: Mentor to American Industry

William McGuffey: Mentor to American Industry

Synopsis

Thanks to William Holmes McGuffey, frontier America's literacy rate was the world's highest, producing four generations of American leadership in the arts, science, and engineering. In his much-loved series of readers, McGuffey revolutionized education in America, merging basic principles with classic readings. Throughout Prof. Skrabec's research on American industrialists, the name William McGuffey kept popping up. William McGuffey was clearly the mentor of many of America's greatest capitalists. Almost all had been educated using the McGuffey Reader and developed their belief systems in one-room schoolhouses. Now his story, too, is told.

Excerpt

“There seem to be more and more of us who in these days inquire what it was
McGuffey did and how he did it; if by respectful elevation of his name we can
induce serious investigation, we may see his fundamental influence rise into a
flame again.”

—From “The Mind of McGuffey,” 1937

For fifteen years I have been researching America’s industrialization. I set out to create a literary pantheon of great Americans that contributed to America’s industrial rise. In particular, it was to be a pantheon of American capitalism and exceptionalism. McGuffey in that pantheon must be considered for the seat of the Goddess of Wisdom—Minerva, who was also the Goddess of Commerce. As I researched and wrote biographies on presidents such as William McKinley and industrialists such as George Westinghouse, Henry Clay Frick, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Edward Libbey, Michael Owens, and H. J. Heinz, the name William Holmes McGuffey kept popping up. William McGuffey was clearly the mentor of many of America’s greatest capitalists. Almost all had used the McGuffey Reader, and developed their belief systems in one-room schoolhouses.

Greenfield Village has been my adopted town since eighth grade. What always struck me at Greenfield that among the restored factories of Ford, the Edison laboratories, H. J. Heinz’s first factory, the old electric plants, and America’s best industrial museum was William McGuffey’s birthplace and a reconstructed McGuffey school. The link, I would discover, was that all of these great industrialists pointed to their early education from the McGuffey Readers as important in their success. It seemed necessary to add this teacher to the pantheon of American industrialists. McGuffey not only formed the minds of these industrial gi-

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