“Tain’t that the Truth!” - a lesson on money from Mark Twain


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
2.1 pics.jpg

Henry H. Rogers & Mark Twain
(Public Domain)

When Mark Twain (1835-1910) collaborated on a satire titled “The Gilded Age” he was unaware the caricatures he was describing of leading politicians and industrialists of the 1870’s would eventually come into fruition as the period of time that followed the Panic of 1873. The years we know as “The Gilded Age” (traditionally thought to start in the 1870’s and ended in the 1920’s) came about from Twain's portrayals of his characters as corrupt and greedy. The use of “gilding an object” is the process that puts a metallic and shiny finish on an otherwise corrupt and imperfect object.

These 19th Century Capitalists made their fortunes in the industries that led the United States into the 20th Century. Many times their methods of operations were considered ruthless or unethical. Their names are familiar to us today as they were then and included such luminaries as: J.D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan. These men represented the growing industries of: oil, mining, steel, railroad, shipping, automobiles, banking and finance. With Mark Twain’s attitude on the “Robber Barons” as they were also called it seems strange that he developed a close friendship with one of these tycoons.


Henry H. Rogers (1840-1909) a Massachusetts native headed to seek his fortune in the oil fields of Pennsylvania when he was twenty years old. In his pocket he carried $600.00. Adjectives to describe him include: “determined, ingenious and ambitious” “{1} At twenty-six he established Wamsutta Oil Refinery in McClintocksville, Pennsylvania and Rogers and his partner, Charles Ellis, made $30,000.00 in their first year. He was an inventive man and was awarded a patent on October 31, 1871 for devising the machinery by which naphtha (a light oil similar to kerosene) was separated from crude oil.

In 1874 when Rockefeller was forming Standard Oil Company they took over the business that had Rogers as a leader. With his background in oil and recognized as an expert in the field as well as having executive skills, Rogers was made chairman of the manufacturing of Standard Oil. By 1890 he was vice-president.

By the turn of the century he diversified his interests working with and creating other businesses and truly earning the title of “Robber Baron” by many of his competitors. When he died in 1910 his estimated worth was $100,000,000. Despite his great wealth he never forgot his hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts whom he once described:

“the dear old town which for 200 years has been the home of a continuous line of some of my ancestors.” {1}

And by the way those ancestors date back to the Mayflower.

It was in New York in 1893 when Henry Rogers met Mark Twain. For Twain it was a difficult time in his life for he was almost on the verge of bankruptcy. Twain had made money with his writings but he was not a good investor. His publishing house had made quite a fortune on the Grant Memoirs however they never duplicated that success. The Twain family had closed down the beautiful Hartford home in 1891 and traveled to Europe to live. It was during this time he met Rogers. In April of 1894 with Rogers encouragement and advice he filed for bankruptcy. He then suggested that Twain transfer the copyrights on his writings to his wife to protect them from creditors. Rogers last piece of help was the take charge of Twain’s financial matters including all his money until creditors were paid. Twain was forever grateful for his friend Henry.

“His wisdom and steadfastness saved my copyrights from being swallowed up in the wreck…and his commercial wisdom has protected my pocketbook ever since.” {1}

Rogers and Twains friendship grew stronger throughout the years. Twain was a frequent guest of the Rogers at their home or aboard the Roger’s yacht, Kanawha. It was Mark Twain that became interested in the education of Helen Keller then a teen-aged girl. He found her to be a remarkable young woman and sent Mrs. Rogers during the winter of 1896 a letter for their help:

“For & in behalf of Helen Keller, Stone blind & deaf, & formerly dumb.

Dear Mrs. Rogers,—Experience has convinced me that when one wished to set a hard-worked man at something which he mightn’t prefer to be bothered with it is best to move upon him behind his wife. If she can't convince him it isn't worth while for other people to try.”

He wants to remind Mrs. Rogers that Mr. Rogers had visited with this astonishing girl and at sixteen she underwent the Harvard examination for admission of Radcliffe College. She scored an average of 90, as against an average of 78 from the other applicants. He continues:

“It won't do for America to allow this marvelous child to retire from her studies because of poverty. If she can go on with them she will make a fame that will endure in history for centuries. Along her special lines she is the most extraordinary product of all the ages.”

He is quite concerned that her lack of support for herself and her teacher Miss Sullivan will hinder her education. So he continues with a plan.

“So I thought of this scheme: Beg you to lay siege to your husband & get him to interest himself and Messrs. John D. & William Rockefeller & the other Standard Oil chiefs in Helen's case; get them to subscribe an annual aggregate of six or seven hundred or a thousand dollars—& agree to continue this for three or four years, until she has completed her college course. I'm not trying to limit their generosity—indeed no; they may pile that Standard Oil Helen Keller College Fund as high as they please.”

There—I don't need to apologize to you or to H. H. for this appeal that I am making; I know you too well for that:

Good-by, with love to all of you, S. L. Celmens {3}

No further appeal was needed - Henry H. Rogers provided for Helen Keller and as history will report:

“In 1904, she graduated *** laude from Radcliffe and became
the first person with deaf & blindness to earn a bachelor of arts degree.”

Henry Rogers died on May 19, 1909 when he suffered a massive stroke. Ironically as only life can plan events Mark Twain a few weeks earlier had given a tribute to his dear friend as part of the opening ceremonies of the Virginia Railroad. He spoke:

“I would take this opportunity to tell something that I have never been allowed to tell by Mr. Rogers, either by my mouth or in print, and if I don't look at him I can tell it now.

In 1894, when the publishing company of Charles L. Webster, of which I was financial agent, failed, it left me heavily in debt. If you will remember what commerce was at that time you will recall that you could not sell anything, and could not buy anything, and I was on my back; my books were not worth anything at all, and I could not give away my copyrights. Mr. Rogers had long-enough vision ahead to say, “Your books have supported you before, and after the panic is over they will support you again,” and that was a correct proposition. He saved my copyrights, and saved me from financial ruin. He it was who arranged with my creditors to allow me to roam the face of the earth and persecute the nations thereof with lectures, promising at the end of four years I would pay dollar for dollar. That arrangement was made, otherwise I would now be living out-of-doors under an umbrella, and a borrowed one at that.

You see his white mustache and his hair trying to get white (he is always trying to look like me—I don't blame him for that). These are only emblematic of his character, and that is all. I say, without exception, hair and all, he is the whitest man I have ever known.” {5}

My favorite story I discovered while researching the friendship happened when Mark Twain was attending a dinner at the Rogers home one evening:

“one guest once pulled Twain aside and whispered, ‘Your friend Rogers is a good fellow. It's a pity his money is tainted,’ to which Twain responded: ‘It's twice tainted — tain't yours, and tain't mine’.’ {1}

“Tain’t That the Truth”


(Public Domain)

* * *​

1. https://millicentlibrary.org/mark-twain-and-henry-huttleston-rogers/
2. https://online.maryville.edu/business-degrees/americas-gilded-age
3. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2988/2988-h/2988-h.htm#link2H_4_0204
4. https://www.perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller/faq
5. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2988/2988-h/2988-h.htm#link2H_4_0288


Sep 13, 2020
Port Macquarie, Australia
Later in the 19th century, Mark Twain went to Australia for a lecture tour. His arrival at Sydney was well received [link] with earlier newspaper accounts recording Twain's journey and arrival at various ports on his way to Sydney. Here's an account of an interview with him shortly after his arrival.
By all accounts his tour was a great success with many banquets and other festivities.

[Caution: My 1895 search for Mark Twain on the Trove website used in the above links revealed two other Mark Twains, one was a ship and the other was a racehorse!]


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
By all accounts his tour was a great success with many banquets and other festivities.

So it appears from this description - - -

“Twain's only way of getting his family out of serious financial ruin was by writing and talking, so he planned a 13-month lecture tour taking him from America to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India and finally England. . . Twain arrived in Watsons Bay in Sydney in 1895 aboard the RMS Warrimoo, having followed Robert Louis Stevenson's directions—sail west and take the first turn left. Initially Australian audiences were put off by the high price of tickets to his shows, but soon his 'at homes' were the talk of every town he visited. People were warned not to wear tight clothing as they'd burst their buttons. Audiences were fascinated. First there was his 'mad-cap' look, and then he'd open his mouth, followed by a long silence—Twain loved the pause. Watson says he was a total master of delivery, firstly because the writing was so beautiful, and secondly because of his sense of timing.”