The Art of Money-Getting,
or Golden Rules for Making Money

By Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum,1880

Summary © 2014 Gregg Zegarelli

Following is an executive summary of P.T. Barnum's work, The Art of Money-Getting, or Golden Rules for Making Money.

It is widely thought that P.T. Barnum—claimed as the "Greatest Showman on Earth"—said, "There is a sucker born every minute"; however, better sources indicate this statement was said by a competitor about Barnum's customers.  As a result, P.T. Barnum is often thought less philanthropically substantial than he was, in fact.

P.T. Barnum loved the game of making money, and he was also extremely well-read in classical works, and was philosophically grounded in how money is a means, but not an end.  He often quotes the Bible, Shakespeare, Aesop and others.  His charitable gifts continue to be enjoyed in meaningful ways.  Enjoy.  Gregg Zegarelli


1. Stay True to Ourselves Unless we enter upon the vocation intended for us by our  respective natures, and best suited to each our peculiar genius, we will not succeed to our potential.

2. Location, Location, Location We should not commence business where there are already enough providers to meet all demands in the same occupation.

3. Avoid Debt Do not "work for a dead horse."  This is not related to those who buy on credit in order to turn the purchase to a profit.  The old Quaker said to his farmer son, "John, never get trusted; but if thee gets trusted for anything, let it be for 'manure,' because that will help thee pay it back again."

Money is like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.

4. Persevere As Shakespeare said, "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."  If we hesitate, some bolder hand will stretch out before us and get the prize.  Remember the proverb of Solomon: "He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich."

Perseverance is sometimes but another word for self-reliance.  Many persons naturally look on the dark side of life, and borrow trouble.  They are born so.  Then they ask for advice, and they will be governed by one wind and blown by another, and cannot rely upon themselves.  Until we can get so that we can rely upon ourselves, we cannot expect to achieve our potential.

5. Whatever We Do, Do It with All Our Might Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.  The old proverb is full of truth and meaning, "Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well."  Many a person acquires a fortune by doing business thoroughly, while the neighbor remains poor for life, because the neighbor only half does it.

Ambition, energy, industry, perseverance, are indispensable requisites for success in business.  Fortune always favors the brave, and never helps a man who does not help himself.

6. Stay Meaningfully Involved in Operations The eye of the employer is often worth more than the hands of a dozen employees. We must exercise caution in laying our plans, but be bold in carrying them out.  A person who is all caution, will never dare to take hold and be successful; and a person who is all boldness, is merely reckless, and must eventually fail.

7. Use the Best Tools Persons hiring employees should be careful to get the best.  Understand, we cannot have too good tools to work with, and there is no tool we should be so particular about as living tools.  If we get a good employee, it is better to keep them, than to keep changing.  A good employee learns something every day; and we are benefited by the experience our employees acquire. 

8. We Cannot Get Above Our Business There is no greater mistake than when a young person believes he or she will succeed with borrowed money. Why?  Because every person's experience coincides with that of Mr. Astor, who said, "it was more difficult for him to accumulate his first thousand dollars, than all the succeeding millions that made up his colossal fortune."  Money is good for nothing, unless we know the value of it by experience.

"As a nation, Americans are too superficial—they are striving to get rich quickly, and do not generally do their business as substantially and thoroughly as they should, but whoever excels all others in his own line, if his habits are good and his integrity undoubted, cannot fail to secure abundant patronage, and the wealth that naturally follows. Let your motto then always be 'Excelsior,' for by living up to it there is no such word as fail."

9. Learn a Useful Trade Every parent should make his or her son or daughter learn some useful trade or profession, so that in these days of changing fortunes of rich today and poor tomorrow they may have something tangible to fall back upon. This provision might save many persons from misery, who by some unexpected turn of fortune have lost all their means.

10. Hope is Good, But We Cannot Rely Upon It Many persons are always kept poor, because they are too visionary.  Every project looks to them like certain success, and therefore they keep changing from one business to another, always in hot water, always "under the harrow." The plan of "counting the chickens before they are hatched" is an error of ancient date, but it does not seem to improve by age.

11. Stay Focused and Don't Scatter Our Powers Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until our experience shows that we should abandon it.  A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched. When our undivided attention is centered on one object, our mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape us if our brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once. Many a fortune has slipped through our fingers because we were engaged in too many occupations at a time.  There is good sense in the old caution against having too many irons in the fire at once. 

Like the Irish pilot, on one occasion when the captain, thinking he was considerably out of his course, asked, "Are you certain you understand what you are doing?" Pat replied, "Sure, and I knows every rock in the channel."  That moment, "bang" thumped the vessel against a rock. "Ah! be-jabers, and that is one of 'em," continued the pilot. 

12. Read the News Always take a trustworthy media source, and thus keep thoroughly posted in regard to the transactions of the world.  If we are without a media source, we are cut off from our species.

13. Beware of "Outside Operations."  We sometimes see people who have obtained fortunes, suddenly become poor. In many cases, this arises from intemperance, and other bad habits.  Frequently it occurs because a person has been engaged in "outside operations," of some sort.  When we get rich in a legitimate business, we are then told of a grand speculation where we can make a score of thousands.  We are constantly flattered by friends, who tell us that we are born lucky, that everything we touch turns into gold.  Now, if we forget that our economical habits, our rectitude of conduct and a personal attention to a business which we understand, caused by success in life, we will listen to the siren voices to the demise of our fortune.

14.  Trust is Best When Served When There is Skin in the Game No person ought ever to indorse a note or become security, for another, be it his father or brother, to a greater extent than the person can afford to lose and care nothing about, without taking good security.  The trouble for the borrower is that getting the money is too easy without providing security, and its loss is not appreciated.

15.  Advertise Be careful to advertise it in some shape or other because it is evident that we have ever so good an article for sale, and nobody knows it, it will bring us no return.

"A man said, 'I put it in a weekly newspaper three times, and paid a dollar and a half for it.' I replied: 'Sir, advertising is like learning—"a little is a dangerous thing!"'"  A French writer says that 'The reader of a newspaper does not see the first mention of an ordinary advertisement; the second insertion he sees, but does not read; the third insertion he reads; the fourth insertion, he looks at the price; the fifth insertion, he speaks of it to his wife; the sixth insertion, he is ready to purchase, and the seventh insertion, he purchases.'  Our object in advertising is to make the public understand what we have got to sell, and if we have not the pluck to keep advertising, until we have imparted that information, all the money we have spent is lost."

16. "Don't Read the Other Side!"  "Of course I did, and so did everybody else, and I learned that the man had made all independence by first attracting the public to his business in that way and then using his customers well afterwards.  But I say if a man has got goods for sale, and he don't advertise their in some way, the chances are that some day the sheriff will do it for him."

17. Be Polite and Kind to Customers Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business.

18. Be Charitable Of course we should be charitable, because it is a duty and a pleasure.  But, even as a matter of policy, if we possess no higher incentive, we will find that the liberal person will command patronage, while the sordid, uncharitable miser will be avoided.

"The best kind of charity is to help those who are willing to help themselves.  Promiscuous almsgiving, without inquiring into the worthiness of the applicant, is bad in every sense.  But, to search out and quietly assist those who are struggling for themselves, is the kind that 'scattereth and yet increaseth.'  But, don't fall into the idea that some persons practice, of giving a prayer instead of a potato, and a benediction instead of bread, to the hungry. It is easier to make Christians with full stomachs than empty."

19. Don't Gossip Some persons have a foolish habit of telling their business secrets.  If we make money, we like to tell our neighbors how it was done.  Nothing is gained by this, and oft times much is lost. Say nothing about our profits, our hopes, our expectations, our intentions.  And this should apply to letters as well as to conversation. Goethe makes Mephistophilles say: "Never write a letter, nor destroy one." Business persons must write letters, but we should be careful what we put into them.  If we are losing money, we need to be specially cautious and not tell of it, or we will lose our reputation.

20. Preserve Your Integrity.

"It is more precious than diamonds or rubies.  The inordinate love of money, no doubt, may be and is 'the root of all evil,' but money itself, when properly used, is not only a 'handy thing to have in the house,' but affords the gratification of blessing our race by enabling its possessor to enlarge the scope of human happiness and human influence.

"The desire for wealth is nearly universal, and none can say it is not laudable, provided the possessor of it accepts its responsibilities, and uses it as a friend to humanity.

"The history of money-getting, which is commerce, is a history of civilization, and wherever trade has flourished most, there, too, have art and science produced the noblest fruits.  In fact, as a general thing, money-getters are the benefactors of our race.  To them, in a great measure, are we indebted for our institutions of learning and of art, our academies, colleges and churches. It is no argument against the desire for, or the possession of wealth, to say that there are sometimes misers who hoard money only for the sake of hoarding and who have no higher aspiration than to grasp everything which comes within their reach. As we have sometimes hypocrites in religion, and demagogues in politics, so there are occasionally misers among, money-getters. These, however, are only exceptions to the general rule.  But when, in this country, we find such a nuisance and stumbling block as a miser, we remember with gratitude that in America we have no laws of primogeniture, and that in the due course of nature the time will come when the hoarded dust will be scattered for the benefit of mankind.

"To all men and women, therefore, do I conscientiously say, make money honestly, and not otherwise, for Shakespeare has truly said, 'He that wants money, means, and content, is without three good friends.'"

  Gregg Zegarelli


Gregg Zegarelli