Many people have fantastic success
stories. They started with few resources or seemingly impossible challenges, but
somehow went on to achieve phenomenal success. It is that “somehow” that is so
interesting. What did that person do to overcome the obstacles they faced in
life? What was different about them than someone else? Perhaps some of the most
interesting stories are those from American Presidents who came from nowhere,
with little means, to go on and achieve the most prestigious job in the county.
Jimmy Carter has such as story. While he has written many books, his
autobiography “An Hour Before Daylight” focuses on his childhood. Carter grew up
in Archery, Georgia, during The Great Depression. The Carters are probably best
known for being peanut farmers. However, during a time when poverty was hitting
the south particular hard, his parents, Earl and Lillian Carter, grew many crops
on their farm and found new ways to earn extra money. In fact it is most likely
that Jimmy Carter learned many valuable lessons about managing money and a
household’s budget from his parents’ worth ethic, resourcefulness, and business
In the May / June edition of The Quarter Roll we have an article titled “How To
Teach Your Kids To Save Money”, which says to introduce your kids to money early
on; regularly provide them with information about finances. This will help them
develop a healthy and positive attitude about managing money and a budget. As
you will see from many of Jimmy Carter’s memories, recounted in this article,
his parents made sure he was well aware of costs and the value of money. Lessons
that would serve him well throughout his adulthood.
Learning about work and pay
Like most young children, Jimmy didn’t fully understand the poverty all around
him. Although, it is obvious that money and the economy were the primary topics.
Jimmy Carter makes constant references to money throughout his book. His book is
loaded with specific accounts of how much he earned and how much things cost,
not just for himself, but for everyone. He can recall how much various laborers
were paid, how much living goods and clothing cost, and even how much the
sheriff had to pay for his own pistol. Income and the ability to work were
topics young Jimmy heard about every day.
Jimmy Carter had a great, great grandfather named Wiley Carter. Wiley was a
Confederate whose money became worthless after the Union Army defeated the
South. The inheritance he left his descendants was land, which is where Jimmy’s
dad’s farm came from. Jimmy watched his father turn that land into a well-run,
money producing farming business. It was on this farm that an extreme work ethic
was indoctrinated into young Jimmy Carter.
The farm provided nearly all of their food, as well as, multiple sources of
income. Additionally, the family built “tenant houses” on the land. Tenants
would rent the small home, and some land to farm, hoping to make a living from
the crop that was produced.
Jimmy noted that keeping thorough financial records was a Carter trait when he
discovered an expense diary kept by his grandfather, Jim Jack, who worked as a
revenue agent destroying illegal whiskey stills. Jim Jack noted expenses such as
paying 15 cents per mile to rent an automobile and driver. He traveled a lot,
but his average meal expense was 85 cents per day, and he would never pay more
than $1.00 for a hotel room. His longest excursion was a 400 mile round trip
that cost $6.78!
Jimmy recalled that early on in his childhood, the family had no money for
“luxuries”, but that made them more creative. He noted that this included toilet
paper, for which the Carters used Sears catalog pages, a luxury for which they
considered themselves fortunate to have, considering the alternatives. While
they didn’t have running water or electricity, they did have a shower made from
a tin can with holes punched through the bottom. Instead of daycare, his dad
paid 5 cents a day for an aunt to watch and feed him on school days. They even
cut out haircut expenses. Jimmy recalls his father would shave his head rather
than allow him to spend 25 cents on a haircut.
Jimmy got to work at a young age. At the age of 5, he began selling half pound
bags of boiled peanuts in town for a nickel each. As he got older he would work
on the farm when not in school. Jimmy earned the same daily rate as other
younger working children (25 cents) until he became a teenager and received a
raise to 50 cents per day. The work day started before sunrise and ended at
sunset. However, Jimmy was encouraged to take on additional jobs when heavy rain
or flooding made farming impossible.
Making peanuts or selling peanuts?
Jimmy may have inherited a fondness to help others from his parents. He recalls
discovering his parents’ generosity in 1938 when unemployment was 25%. Many
unemployed men would pass by the farm and the Carters would always give them a
cool drink or a sandwich. How did these men know to stop at the Carter’s home?
They had made a special mark on the mailbox to indicate to others that this home
housed generous and kind people. Jimmy’s mother ordered the family not to remove
the marks from the mailbox.
When Jimmy was 16 years old he got a job measuring cropland for the Agricultural
Adjustment Administration. He was paid 40 cents per hour and was allowed to work
as many hours as he wanted! He typically put in at least 70 hours per week. One
business lesson Jimmy had to learn though was that his expenses quickly ate up
that 40 cents per hour! He had to pay an assistant 20 cents per hour to help him
haul a 60 foot measuring chain from farm to farm, and he had to pay for
transportation, gas, and oil. Jimmy noted that gas was 20 cents per gallon and
oil was 10 cents per quart.
Other odd jobs that Jimmy had were selling hamburgers and ice cream cones, and
even selling whole watermelons for a dime apiece along the roadside. He also
continued to sell bags of boiled peanuts.
Parents with part-time jobs
Jimmy’s parents were extremely industrious people and provided fine role models
for their 4 children. Even though Earl Carter had dropped out of school after
the 10th grade he served as an officer in the Army and bought his own farmland
after his military service. Lillian Carter was a trained nurse. In addition to
raising children and working on the family farm she also grew pecans on her own
for extra income.
While Lillian did occasionally indulge in secret poker games for dimes with
other ladies who lived locally, earning money was also important to her.
part-time occupation as a nurse was a highly respected job, and she
was paid quite well. Nurses earned $4.00 for 12 hours of work or $6.00 for 20
hours of work. During a time when the average daily wage was $1.00 this was
considered extremely good pay.
Part of the Carter farm included a commissary where tenants or local residents
could stop to buy necessities. Jimmy noted that, much like today during evening
rush hour, customers would often show up around mealtimes looking for items to
complete their dinner. The Carters would then unlock the commissary and serve
their customer even if the customer was buying something for a few pennies.
Jimmy learned that being self-employed isn’t always profitable. Selling honey
was another one of Earl’s part-time businesses. The family owned 2 dozen bee
hives for and the honey produced was a good money maker for the family. One day
Jimmy’s father was attacked so viciously by a horde of bees that his body
dramatically swelled up. The attack was so bad that after Earl had healed the
family stopped keeping bees and selling honey.
Jimmy worked so hard for his money that getting a rare bonus was memorable. He
recalled one year that the circus had just left a neighboring small town and he,
along with other children, examined every square inch of grass in the area the
circus had been performed on. His painstaking work paid off. He found 2 nickels
and a quarter!
Living in primitive conditions was the norm until a stroke of luck brought
electricity to the Carter home in 1938 during America’s Rural Electrification
Program. Not only was the Carter family fortunate enough to have one light bulb
in their home, but their $10.00 electricity bill was one of the highest in the
area after they were fortunate enough to install a electricity guzzling
refrigerator and stove!
An interesting note about this was that because of the Carter’s “enormous” use
of electricity, Jimmy’s father was elected to represent the area at the Sumter
Electric Membership Corporation. This position introduced Jimmy’s father, and
the family, to politics, thus giving Jimmy an early education on politics.
Other people’s money
Jimmy was also aware of what his relatives and neighbors did for a living and
their saving and spending habits. For example, his Uncle Jack was a veterinarian
and loved his 5 cent cigars. His Uncle Buddy, owned the Plains Mercantile
Company, was also a banker at the same time, and refused to drink whiskey or
Coca-Cola. Uncle Buddy’s side job was serving as mayor for which he was paid
$2.00 per month, and maintained a reputation of being as tight with public money
as he was with his own.
In 1903 Plains decided to give their marshal a big pay raise. His salary went
from $5.00 per month to $10.00 per month. However, the marshal would be required
to pay for his own pistol, which would cost $10.00. A pistol was mandatory as
shooting rabid animals was one of the marshals duties.
Two enterprising men lived on the Carter’s property. Felton Shelton was a
neighbor of young Jimmy’s. He was a gifted basket maker and would charge $4.00
for a custom made basket. Jimmy spent time with Felton learning how to make
baskets as well. Jack Clark was a tenant living in a small home on the bend of a
road, which went around the property of the Carters. In his own early version of
AAA roadservice, Jack would offer to assist travelers, for $1.00, in getting
their car out of ditches or mud.
Rental house before the White House
After returning home from his time in the Navy, Jimmy started his own farming
operations and commissary just like his father had done years ago.
Self-employment came naturally, as he had many exposures to the successes and
failures of other business people throughout his life. Jimmy even became a
landlord when he bought 5 tenant houses from the estate of an undertaker who
passed away. The daily rent he made from those 5 houses totaled 55 cents per
What will your kids remember?
A theme that is easy to distinguish throughout his book is respect for hard
work, importance of creating an income, and properly managing your money and
budget. Jimmy learned these valuable lessons from his parents and family during
his childhood, and recognized that those values also translated into successes
in other parts of his life. What are you teaching the children in your family
about money? Whatever the lessons are, note that they will remember them for a
lifetime. Even Presidents do!
Want to see Jimmy Carter’s childhood farm? Take a virtual tour, while President
Carter narrates, at this web address: