Horatio Alger was an American writer and an author of more than one hundred books, most of which were written for young readers. His best known work is called Ragged Dick and was published in 1867. The plot of this book follows a formula made so popular by Horatio Alger that the phrase “Horatio Alger story” has entered the English language and is used to describe any person who rises from poverty to comfort as a result of his or her own hard work and honesty. The plot is simple: an adolescent boy or young man, forced by circumstances beyond his control to make his own way in life, gradually overcomes difficulties because of his honesty, work ethic, and occasional help from older men who recognize the hero’s potential.
Horatio Alger was born to a wealthy and well connected family. He studied at Harvard and won many awards for his writing. In December 1864 he began to work as a pastor in Brewster, Massachusetts. However, in early 1866 he was investigated for inappropriate behavior with boys and young men through his work. Alger denied having done anything wrong, but quit the Church, left town, and wrote a letter of apology. His father promised that Alger would never seek another position in the Church, and Horatio Alger moved to New York City. There was no criminal investigation and the matter was considered closed.
In New York, Alger wrote several poems and novels but did not experience financial success until Ragged Dick was published. Despite never having experienced poverty himself, Alger believed it was possible to rise out of it through hard work and honesty. Most of his books for boys reflected that ideal, and in the turbulent economy that followed the Civil War it was a message his readers liked and wanted. Alger did not attempt to work in the ministry, but was employed as a tutor to boys from wealthy families. He also informally adopted street boys and attempted to rehabilitate them from the streets. There was never any scandal or suggestion of inappropriate behavior.
Dick, as all the heroes of the Alger’s novels, is a self-made person, who thanks to hard work, abilities and opportunities of American society becomes a successful businessman. In the beginning Dick is an ordinary street boy, who is a ragged and homeless child. However, an aged benefactor appears at a difficult point in Dick’s life and sets him on the way to respectability.