When we think of the word thrift, naturally our minds go straight to thinking about thrift stores, or saving money or being frugal. However, the word thrift is actually derived from the word thrive, which tells us a lot more about its meaning!
Thrift was something that was once regarded very highly by many successful people (Benjamin Franklin, President Wilson and Andrew Carnegie, to name a few) and a key ingredient for success — at one point it was a concept they even used to teach at schools!
The history of being thrifty is something I never really knew or thought much about until I stumbled across an entry for the word while going through my massive collection of 1926 encyclopedias. It’s a great read, so I thought today I would share it with you!
THRIFT. This word, whether applied to plant life, individual human beings or to nations, means a substantial and vigorous growth. The word has no exact synonym. Frugality, development, prosperity each conveys a shade of meaning that is a portion of thrift, but the word means more than any of these and includes them all.
Thrift is a condition implying both growth and progress.
As applied to the individual, it is a habit that rises to the dignity of a virtue, for it not only adds to the material welfare of those persons who practice it, but it is contributory to the development of a strong and worthy character.
We find the concept of thrift embodied in the philosophy of many of the world’s most profound thinkers. In Holy Writ (aka the Bible) – we find definitions of thrift that are applicable to modern times. For example:
He becometh poor that laboreth with an indolent hand, but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.Proverbs 10:4
He that gathereth in summer is an intelligent son; but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame.Proverbs 10:5
A rich man ruleth over the poor and the borrower is a servant to the man that lendeth.Proverbs 22:7
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; look on her ways and become wise.Proverbs 6:6
Cicero said, “Economy is of itself a great revenue.”
An old Latin proverb declared that “No gain is more certain than that which proceeds from the economical use of what you have.”
A couplet from Alexander Pope is as follows:
To balance fortune by a just expense,Alexander Pope
Join with economy — magnificence.
Shakespeare declared “Thrift is blessing,” and again he said, “I can get no remedy against this consumption of the purse; borrowing only lingers and lingers it out; but the disease is incurable.”
One of the very best definitions of thrift was given by John Wesley who said “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
One of the chief exponents of thrift was Benjamin Franklin, who through the plain philosophy of “Poor Richard” gave counsel on the value of thrift that will doubtless live as long as American literature is extant.
Simon W. Straus, New York and Chicago banker, president of the American Society for Thrift and organizer for the modern thrift movement in America, defined this virtue as follows:
Money saving is not the sum total of Thrift. It is only one of the stones in the building of character. Thrift means much more than the saving of money. There is Thrift of Character; Thrift of Time; Thrift of Health and Moral Thrift.
A man is not thriftless who spends money, providing he can afford what he spends, and does his duty otherwise to humanity and society. A Miser is an undesirable citizen and just as much a menace to humanity as a spendthrift.
Thrift is submission to discipline, self-imposed. Thrift is denying one’s self present pleasures for future gain. Thrift is the exercise of the will, the development of moral stamina, the steadfast refusal to yield to temptation.
Money saving is only a function; it is thrift in its most elemental sense. But the thrift I preach is thrift in all things, and this is the thrift I hope will be taught in the schools of America. For this is the thrift that will give our beloved nation the type of citizens she will need. From an economic standpoint, thrift is a national necessity.Simon W. Straus, New York and Chicago banker
Andrew Carnegie has emphasized the value of thrift in the following epigram: “The first thing that a man should learn to do is to save his money.”
From Lord Rosebery we learn that “Thrift is the surest and strongest foundation of an empire, so sure, so strong, and so necessary that no great empire can long exist that disregards it.”
To the same statesman we are indebted also for the following excellent, comprehensive definition:
Whatever thrift is, it is not avarice. Avarice is not generosity and, after all, it is the thrifty people who are generous. All true generosity can only proceed from thrift, because it is not generosity to give money which does not belong to you, as is the case with the unthrifty, and I venture to say that all the great philanthropists–all the great financial benefactors of their species, of whom we have any record, the most generous of all must have been thrifty men.Lord Rosebery
Former President Wilson’s idea of thrift was expressed as follows:
If a man does not provide for his children; if he does not provide for all who are dependent upon him — and if he has not that vision of conditions to come, and that care for the days that have not yet gone, which we sum up in the whole idea of thrift and savings, then he has not opened his eyes to any adequate conception of human life. We are in this world not to provide for ourselves alone but for others, and that is the basis of economy —so that thrift and economy, and everything which ministers to thrift and economy, supply the foundations of national life.President Wilson
In America, there has been for some time a popular misconception of thrift as applied to the individual. To be thrifty meant, in the minds of many, to be greedy, avaricious, miserly.
However, as a result of the work of the American Society for Thrift, organized in 1913 by Simon W. Straus, a truer understanding of thrift became general.
Organization of the society followed investigations made in several European countries by Mr. Straus, who received a commission from the United States government through the Bureau of Education to conduct these economic researches.
In the European countries visited, he found that thrift was the safeguard of the individual. In the face of a low earning capacity, even among the most poorly paid classes, thrift was practiced and money was saved, thus assuring the individual an income during the periods of unemployment, sickness and old age; and in the aggregate adding greatly to the potential power of nation.
These conditions contrasted sharply with the profligate ways of the prosperous American, and Mr. Straus, on his return from Europe, began at once the organization of the American Society for Thrift, which collected no funds and had for its purpose a purely educational propaganda.
In 1915, Mr. Straus was invited by the Panama-Pacific Exposition to preside at an International Congress of Thrift, to be held on the Exposition grounds.
At this congress it was decided that the teaching of thrift in the public schools in the United States would lay a foundation for the practice of this virtue by future generations. A committee was appointed to wait on the National Education Association then holding its annual meeting in Oakland, California, and asked the cooperation of that body.
The National Education Association took up the movement and delegated the National Council of Education, a subsidiary body, to prosecute the work. A committee, consisting of members of the National Education Association and the American Society for Thrift, was appointed as the Thrift Educational Committee, and they spent two years in research and investigation.
During the school years 1915-1916-1917 the National Education Association also held essay writing contests on the subject of thrift in which cash prizes and medals were awarded. Over 150,000 American school children wrote essays in these contests.
In the school year 1916-1917 an essay contest on thrift was inaugurated by the board of education of New York City, and over 400,000 pupils in the elementary grades of the schools of the American metropolis participated for cash prizes aggregating $1,000.
These contests were held under the auspices of the American Society for Thrift.
The Thrift Educational Committee made a report to the effect that thrift, as a distinct and concrete branch of studies, could not be introduced into the already overcrowded curricula of the American schools, but that through correlation of those subjects which should exist as the basis of every good curriculum, it could be worked out.
This resolution definitely committing the official school governing body of America to the policy of revising the curricula sufficient to include a thrift application to many branches, was introduced at the meeting of the National Council of Education in Portland, Oregon, July 7, 1917, by Simon W. Straus, president of the American Society for Thrift.
Having thus committed themselves to this policy, the school authorities, through a subcommittee, appointed at their Portland meeting, began at once to work out concrete courses of study.
Thrift Curriculum for Schools
While the courses of study will vary with the various grades, the following summary may be taken as the basis upon which the science of thrift instruction is based:
In the primary grades, problems are given the children for solution which show the value of saving; also the necessity of accuracy which implies truthfulness.
In the intermediary grades the element of compensation and reward is introduced into the problems, while in the advanced grades, the value of investment is shown.
A thrift application must be given to the entire range of mathematical studies, including bookkeeping, accounting and commercial practices.
This branch furnishes opportunities for the teaching of thrift to the children by means of story-telling, compositions and essays which include the memorizing of such fables as The Farmer and the Wheat, The Ant and the Grasshopper, etc.
Stories and compositions on the life and works of the industrious insects and animals will show the value of coöperative and individual industry. The specific writing of essays on the subject of thrift will lead the children to research and thought on this subject without losing any value in diction, grammar or rhetoric.
The value of conservation can be taught in connection with this branch. The study of unused lands and wasted waterpower suggests the necessity of conservation. This also brings in gardening and forestry.
The topography of a locality suggests the comparative value of industries and occupations. Domestic and foreign commerce as well as transportation and trade routes are rich in suggestion of the principle of thrift.
History and Civics.
The value of cooperation may be taught through these branches, also through biography. The child may learn that the most successful careers were built primarily on habits of thrift.
The lives of successful men, particularly those who have contributed to the substantial upbuilding of America, may be studied with interest and profit.
A study of the decline and fall of nations brought about through the improvidence of their people, and a study of the healthful growth of those nations whose people are thrifty, may all be included.
This study suggests cleanliness, sanitation, care of the teeth, home ventilation, proper breathing, abundant use of pure water, care of the sick, emergencies, danger of narcotics.
This study should bring out the actual loss incurred through ill health and unhealthful practices.
Domestic Science (Home Economics)
Domestic Science includes a study of the chemistry of foods, food selection, economic preparation of food, marketing, gardening and the preservation of food. It also includes sewing, which means the proper selection of fabrics and the saving of clothing through mending, darning and repairing.
It is suggested that in communities where thrift is not taught in the schools, parents may adopt plans by which a portion or all of this outline may be given to the child through home instructions.
To the individual wishing to take up practices of thrift, it is suggested that a definite record be kept of every penny earned and every penny spent. At the end of the month, go over these items and prepare a budget for the succeeding month which will, if possible, include the elimination of such expenditures as are considered unnecessary or wasteful.
Make it a definite point also to save systematically; lay aside from your earnings a fixed sum daily, weekly or monthly. Make the amount small enough so that there will not be grave danger of becoming disheartened. It will be found that the saving habit becomes a most fascinating one after one has begun it.
— S.W.S., 1926 World Book Encyclopedia pages 5080 – 5083.
More Resources to Learn About the History of Thrift
While I found the article fascinating, I definitely felt like I needed to research a bit more!
The article referenced the book Thrift by Samuel Smiles as a source, which you can read for free at Project Gutenberg. That is a very interesting book indeed and covers the concept of thrift (thriving!) to many other areas in life and in building one’s character.
Another thing I felt needed a bit more research was to look into the American Society for Thrift — I know I certainly hadn’t heard of it before so it made me wonder, does it still exist? Does it perhaps have a different name?
My preliminary search for Simon W. Straus and the “American Society for Thrift” in general has come up fairly empty, so this is definitely something I will need to dig into the archives + research much more!
Still, it’s an interesting read and I found it fascinating — I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you when I found it! I will definitely update once I find more about Mr. Straus + his society advocating the practice of thrift in nearly all areas of life.
Do you know anything about thrift or have any thoughts to share? I always love to hear from you in the comments below!