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If you’ve ever used the phrase “rags to riches,” you owe that to Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899), who popularized the idea through his fictional writings that also served as a theme for the way America viewed itself as a country. Alger’s works about poor boys rising to better living conditions through hard work, determination, courage, honesty, and morals was popular with both adults and younger readers.
Alger’s writings happened to correspond with America’s Gilded Age, a time of increasing prosperity in a nation rebuilding from the Civil War. His lifelong theme of rags to riches continued to gain popularity but has gradually lessened since the 1920s. Still, readers today often come across Ragged Dick and stories like it in school.