Russell Sage was a financier, railroad executive and Whig politician from New York. As a frequent partner of Jay Gould, he amassed a fortune in the railroad business and was considered one of the original “money-kings” of New York City, alongside Andrew Carnegie, John Jacob Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

In 1906, Sage gave a rare interview to the New York World, discussing what he would do differently if he could live life over. The advice was published in “The Scrap Book” the same year, which was later made available to the public for free thanks to the library at Harvard University and the Internet Archive. All images have been added by KNOWOL.

GOOD ADVICE, GRATIS, FROM A RICH MAN: The Characteristic Philosophy of Russell Sage, the Most Contented Multi-Millionaire in New York.

NEARLY ninety years of age and weighted with scores of millions, Russell Sage is today one of the most completely satisfied rich men in the world. This is true, for “he himself has said it, and ’tis greatly to his credit.”

Russell Sage is now the oldest of the money-kings of New York. He was born seventeen years before Andrew Carnegie, who threw off the harness of business five years ago. The original John Jacob Astor died at eighty-four, and Commodore Vanderbilt at eighty-two.

But Russell Sage still is standing at the tiller of his gold-ballasted craft, as keen and sharp-eyed as he ever was. Of all the famous figures of Wall Street, only Daniel Drew lived to greater years; and Drew lost his millions before he ended his long career as a speculator.

Mr. Sage is as saving in his opinions as in his money, and it is seldom that he can be persuaded to make his mind an open book for the general public. But recently he consented to give the New York World the full story of life as he sees it. It is the most complete description of the Sage philosophy he has ever given to the public. Whatever this advice is worth to you, it has been worth about a hundred million to Russell Sage:

“I think, if I had my life to live over again, it would be as honest, as simple, as home-loving as I could make it. I would try with all my power for home-like comfort, happiness, and long life, as against show, shallow pleasure, and a short existence.

Home life is best. Clubs are only a place for idle old men and wasteful young men.

Great wealth is not everything, by any means. The mere making of money is not the only criterion of success. Many men whose names are our common heritage have died in very moderate circumstances, or even in poverty. Money is not a measure of brains.

Real success is often achieved after many failures. An active man builds success upon a foundation of failure; a passive man does not. A real man is not hurt by hard knocks. Hard knocks make character.

I think, had I my life to live over again, I would make charity a life study. It is a science. It cannot be learned in a day. The older a man lives the more he gets to realize this. From my own investigations I have found that there is a large class of professional mendicants that prey upon the well-to-do and charitably inclined.

From time to time I have taken a whole month’s batch of appealing letters and had them thoroughly investigated by trained agents. Very few have been found to possess real merit. Most of the appeals were from persons who would not help themselves even with the aid of a helping hand.

Real charity is dispensed without the blare of trumpets. Notoriety and professional philanthropy, indiscriminate almsgiving in any guise, have always been repugnant to me. I have never asked for any publicity for what I have done. Silence has invariably been my rule and practise.

If I had my life to live over again I am sure I should not attempt to move in what is termed “society.” I would rather be one of a few gathered together by a bond of friendship than to partake of all the glitter and hollowness of what is called the “Four Hundred”. The friendship of a few outlives life itself. Friendship remembers; society forgets. In the home only is there true happiness. It is there that a man’s best ideas get their birth and grow.

If I had my life to live over again I would marry even earlier than I did. The tender care of a good wife is the finest thing in the world. I am thankful, indeed, that I have had this in the fullest measure.

Thrift is the first element of successful manhood. When you have made your fortune, it is time enough to think about spending it. Two suits of clothes are enough for any young man. The only thought that a young man need spend about his clothes is to look out for bargains at the lowest price.

Let him be on the lookout for cheap hats, bargains in shoes, knockdowns in suits. He is fostering business traits that augur well for his success in years to come.

The boy who knows bargains in socks makes the man who knows bargains in stocks.

Fifty cents is enough for a straw hat; it will last two seasons. You can get for thirty-nine cents an unlaundered white shirt which is excellent. You can get a good undershirt for twenty-five-cents. Silk is not for salaried men. Fine clothes bring sham pleasure. Don’t try to rival the flowers of the field.

A rich man does not work for himself alone. He is really the nation’s agent. He turns his wealth over constantly in a way that helps others. No one need be alarmed over the constant increase in the wealth limit. Big enterprises require big men.

There is no such things as a money-curse. It is the man, not the money, that makes the amount of individual wealth wrong. A good man cannot have too much money.

And so let me say in conclusion, If I had my life to live over again, I would try just as hard as I knew how to turn my money over and over again, that it might do the most good to other men.

I would live no differently. I would do as hard a day’s work as I knew how. I would not feel it necessary to take vacations to recuperate. I would get my pleasure simply. I would dine simply on plain food. After dinner there would be a little reading of the papers or of good books, a chat with friends that might drop in, and maybe a game of whist. I get plenty of relaxation from an exciting rubber. When the game is over, my day is done. I sleep like a top till morning. That would be my life if I had it to live over.

All my life my home has been my haven of happiness.”

Source: “Good Advice, Gratis, From a Rich Man“, 1906
Cover image: Jon Flobrant