From the May / June 2011 issue of The Quarter Roll.
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 sense.
In the May 2011 edition of The Quarter Roll you will also see an article “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
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
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 travelled 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
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.
Read the rest of the story in the May /
June issue here.