“Only in America can someone start with nothing and achieve the American Dream. That’s the greatness of this country.” ~ Rafael Cruz
America. The very word inspires hope in the hearts of millions. America was built by people with a simple dream. The pilgrims came to the new land with this dream, the founders had this dream as they drafted the US Constitution, the settlers had this dream as they left their friends and trekked across the great unknown with their families. The men who built the great railroads had this dream. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. had this dream. And it is this same dream that inspires millions of ordinary Americans to work for a better way of life today. What is this dream that drives the working men and women of America’s past, present, and by the grace of God, will continue to drive those of the future? The answer is simple, yet profound; it is the American Dream. It is not a specific rule, limited to a list of laws and regulations. It is an idea, an idea that has no limit if pursued. The American Dream is simply this; with hard work and determination you have the possibility to achieve anything. This simple idea has inspired millions to attempt the impossible, to do what others were afraid to do. It is what brought us great innovations like the lightbulb, the automobile and the airplane. As the desire for the American Dream burned within men’s souls it was the driving force behind the Declaration of Independence and civil rights for Americans of all races.
“Through hard work, perseverance and a faith in God, you can live your dreams.” ~ Ben Carson
Origins of the American Dream
While the principles of the American Dream are as old as time, it was first phrased in the Declaration of Independence when it states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As you can see, the concept of the American Dream was embedded in the framework of our country from the very beginning. It’s the idea that we alone are responsible for our success or failure. Each and every citizen is free and legally protected to achieve their greatest potential – without social classes or caste systems determining their fate.
The American Dream In Action
It is inspiring to look at those who have demonstrated, through their lives, the very essence of what it means to live out the American Dream.
Andrew Carnegie – Born in a small cottage in Scotland in the mid 1800’s, he immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was 13 years old. His father, a weaver, had fallen on hard times and they even had to borrow money to cover their voyage to the States. Andrew’s first job, at age 13, was working as a “bobbin boy” (changing spools of thread in a cotton mill) 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a Pittsburgh cotton factory. He earned $1.20 per week. Through hard work and various occupations, he worked his way up and eventually went on to lead the expansion of the American steel industry, becoming one of the richest men to ever live.
Sam Walton – Born on his family’s farm in Oklahoma, he grew up during the Great Depression. He ran a milk route with the surplus from their family cow and sold newspapers and magazine subscriptions to help his family make ends meet. Feeling that he couldn’t raise his own family by farming, he worked for his brother’s mortgage company before serving for a time in the military. After managing his first variety store at age 26, and pioneering some of the concepts that made his stores so successful (such as making sure the shelves were consistently stocked with a wide range of goods), he went on to found Wal-Mart Stores Inc. which later became the world’s largest corporation by revenue and the biggest private employer in the world.
Henry Ford – Grew up on a farm in the mid to late 1800’s, but having no desire to go into farm work himself, he became a self-taught watch repairman. Henry Ford went on to change the automobile industry forever. He helped develop the assembly line technique of mass production and, as Wikipedia states, is also credited with “Fordism” the mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with higher wages for workers.
“Ford had a global vision, with consumerism as the key to peace. His intense commitment to systematically lowering costs resulted in many technical and business innovations, including a franchise system that put dealerships throughout most of North America and in major cities on six continents. Ford left most of his vast wealth to the Ford Foundation and arranged for his family to control the company permanently.”
Walt Disney – Another farm boy, Walt Disney developed his love of drawing after getting paid to draw the horse of a retired neighborhood doctor. He worked on his drawing throughout his childhood and teen years by both practicing the cartoons on the front of his father’s newspaper and taking various courses on art. He worked tirelessly by attending school and also keeping the exhausting schedule of a paper route for The Kansas City Star and Kansas City Times. He introduced new ways for developing cartoons and, as is well known, went on to become a pioneer in the American film industry and a national icon. Walt Disney holds the record for the most Academy Awards held by any individual.
Howard Schultz – Grew up in a poor family in Brooklyn, but went to college and was the first of his family to earn a degree. He worked as a salesman before becoming general manger for a Swedish drip coffee machine manufacturer. It was during his time with this company that he discovered a small coffee shop in Seattle, Washington – Starbucks. After a business trip to Italy where he was impressed by the espresso, social atmosphere, and vast number of coffee shops, he set out to bring that same experience to the United States. He started his own coffee shop before the original Starbucks management sold him the Starbucks name and business a couple years later. He went on to become the first CEO of Starbucks and expanded his initial 60-shop operation to over 16,000 shops all over the world.
The list could go on – John D. Rockefeller (who became the richest American of all time and the wealthiest man in modern history), Steve Jobs (famous CEO of Apple – iPhones, anyone?), Harold Simmons (developer of the concept known as the ‘leveraged buyout’ who went on to control several companies traded on the New York stock exchange including Titanium Metals Corporation which is the largest producer of titanium in the world), the Wright Brothers (inventors of the first successful airplane), and many others. Some of our greatest inventions came from individuals who personified the American Dream and though their personal lives aren’t all worth emulating, we can be encouraged by their stories. Hard work really does pay off.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” – Ecclesiastes 9:10
Americans need to stop and consider the incredible blessings we’ve been given because it’s so easy to take them for granted. Ronald Reagan summed up the whole idea of the American Dream very well, “The American dream is not that every man must be level with every other man. The American dream is that every man must be free to become whatever God intends he should become.”