If you’re a fan of the Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, you might have heard of Leonard Read. Read not only wrote I, Pencil, the book that inspired the Tuttle Twins book, he also founded the Foundation for Economic Education.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: Hi Brittany.
Brittany: So today we’re gonna talk about one of my absolute favorite people. As I’ve mentioned probably a million times on here before, I used to work for a place called the Foundation for Economic Education, or FEE, as most people call it. And I’m still a huge fan. I have a ton of friends there, which is why our listeners may have noticed that a lot of our guests actually come from FEE. Cause I have so many friends there. So many people don’t actually know that FEE was the first Liberty-centered or free-market organization in America, which I think is pretty cool. And that was in 1946. So a long time ago, long before you and I were born and our listeners. But there used to be this big mansion right outside of New York City where FEE would host all these seminars and they would teach people, people about economics. And they hosted what used to be called salons, which was really like a party. But instead of like listening to music, you would just discuss philosophy and economics, which probably doesn’t sound that fun to some people but I think it’s pretty cool.
Emma: So do I.
Brittany: We would’ve been at these parties then, or I guess salons.
Brittany: Ayn Rand was there who’d spoken up before? He used to hang out a lot with the FEE people, but the person I really wanna focus on today is the founder of FEE. And he is a huge influence both on me and a lot of people in our space. His name is Leonard Read, and I think our listeners probably know him best because he’s the author of I Pencil, which as many of you know is why we got or why the Tuttle Twins did the book. Tuttle Twins, the Miraculous Pencil. So Emma, what do you know about Leonard Read?
Emma: Well, my introduction to him came through the miraculous pencil, eye pencil sort of essay and video that went around for a long time. That was one of the first things that ever, really opened my eyes to how amazing the free market is. Yeah. So I have him to think for a lot of my involvement in the Liberty Movement world. But yeah, beyond that, he has written 29 Works. He was born in Michigan and of course, founded FEE but he also did a lot of other amazing stuff in his life. He comes from a long line of military service, two ancestors who fought in the Massachusetts militia during the American Revolution all the way back to the beginning of the country. and his grandfather, Edward Read, fought with the New York volunteers during the Civil War, and Edward Reed marched through Georgia under General William Tecumseh Sherman, known for his infamous March to the Sea.
Brittany: So I did not know how to say that name. So that was.
Emma: I know, we’ll see if we got that right write us in and let me know if I got that right, if you know how that’s pronounced. But, yes, Edward Read also fought in the Battle of Lookout Mountain under the command of Joseph Hooker. He forced a Confederate retreat during this battle, and it opened the way for Sherman’s March the following year. So if you haven’t quite gotten to Civil War history yet, that probably sounded like a bunch of craziness to you but if you have maybe some of that sounds familiar, but yeah, he had a crazy family line and ended up sort of picking up that torch in his own life.
Brittany: Yeah. And I think Connor and I are planning on doing it, we always joke that we do a lot of controversial episodes, so our Civil War one should be pretty interesting.
Emma: Oh, Yes.
Brittany: Connor and I have some thoughts, but, so one thing that is interesting to me about a lot of these heroes we discussed is a lot of ’em had to take on a lot of responsibility at a young age. And the same was true of Leonard Read. So his dad died when he was only 11, and there was a book about him and it says near the end of Leonard’s fifth-grade year, his 40-year-old father, Orville Baker Read developed a small pimple on his face. So pimple like we all get pimples, right? it doesn’t seem like a big deal.
Emma: Oh yes.
Brittany: But it became infected and he popped the pimple. This is such a, like, I don’t wanna laugh at the story, it’s very tragic, but it’s like, wait, what? So he popped the pimple, which caused an infection to travel through his, what’s called the limp vessels in your bloodstream. And he got what’s called sep septicemia. I think they just call it sepsis now. yeah, but think please when your blood is poisoned. So yeah, it’s super tragic. I don’t like giving away my age, but I’m only five years away from being 40. So I think Connor, I won’t give away Connor’s age, but he’s closer to 40 than I am but, so that’s not, I mean, that’s pretty young, right? Very young. It’s crazy to think of that. But again, because of this tragedy, he had to take on a lot of responsibility. So I think he would end up working, it was like 16 hours a day, which I don’t even work now. I work long days sometimes. I know you work long days, Emma, but that’s a long time. So it was about 102 hours a week, and his day would begin at 4:00 AM he would bike one and a half miles to his uncle John’s farm, milk the cows, clean the stables, then bike back to town, to the village store where he had to unload and kind of stock merchandise for a store. And so all this happened before 8:45 AM and then of course he was on the 11. So he is gotta go back to school. And then, this gets crazy. So after school, then he goes and works back at the store and from seven to 9:00 PM selling dry goods, and hardware items produce. And on Saturday, he actually manned the store, which means he ran it from 7:00 AM to 12:00 PM, and on Sunday it was 7:00 AM to 11:00 AM. So again, like I don’t wanna say I don’t work this hard. I think I’m a pretty hard worker, but I can’t even imagine doing all that at 11 and all this manual labor, you know, I write and do things like that, but this kid at 11, I mean, it’s crazy.
Emma: it’s super crazy. And a lot of folks listening have maybe, you know, worked a job here or there or unloaded groceries or helped with, you know, taking garbage carts out or walking dogs. And imagine doing that for 16 hours a day. Yeah. On top of being in school. It is just a crazy thing to wrap your mind around. But all of these things added up together to help Leonard Read really become this entrepreneurial person. And he understood the value of hard work and, how it can help elevate your life and, improve your station. And he would even go set muskrat traps around swamps and lakes.
Brittany: Well, exactly. Is a muskrat, sorry to cut you up. I was actually wondering this earlier. I know like it’s a rodent, right?
Emma: Yep. So we had lots of muskrats in our area where I grew up, got lots of waterways and lakes and stuff out in Oregon and yeah, they’re like basically a giant rat. Sometimes they’re called Nutri rats And yeah, they’re super gross and you don’t want ’em in your area, but he would go set traps around and then sell their furs because, furs were all the rage, especially back then. And you could get a couple bucks for ’em or get I guess the equivalent of a couple of bucks, you’d get 25 cents for ’em. So he would go put up large amounts of popcorn and sell it at public gatherings. And he also even tried to grow mushrooms, normal mushrooms, crazy. Yeah, yeah. We’re talking mushrooms that go in a stir fry, nothing, nothing else. And he tried to grow those at his friend’s house. So he was all over the place, always looking for ways to be entrepreneurial and make money.
Brittany: One thing, and I’ll have to put this in the show notes, but one thing I know we’ve talked about, we always say like a number and like a number of money amount. And it’s something that happened a long time ago. There’s a really good app called Inflation Calculator and I use it all the time. So like when we ta say like, oh, he made 25 cents in 1920 you can actually find out how much that is today. So I’ll put that in the show notes. It’s really interesting. I’m like a sucker for watching old 1950s TV shows and every time they mention like an amount of money, I’m like, oh, I wonder how much that costs today. So fine note, that’s always fun. Yeah. But so the military history, he continued. So he served in World War I and he almost died four different times. I didn’t wanna talk about every single time, it’s actually a lot. But I’m gonna also link to a FEE article that gives like every time you almost died. But that gave him a lot of appreciation for doctors, for surgeons, and a surgeon is a doctor that does like, it sounds like surgery, right? So they’re the ones that, you know, cut you open and you know, take out your appendix if it needs to be taken out and sew you back up. So they’re very valuable and he always wanted to be a surgeon that kinda gave him a deep respect. But instead of that, you know, we’ve talked about specialization a lot and doing what you are good at. And he just wasn’t, he wasn’t a surgeon. But like you said, Emma, he was really good at entrepreneurship and we talked about how he kind of had a background in, you know, running a store and other stuff. So he actually started his own wholesale grocery business. And even though he was still talking about his dream of being a surgeon, he said, this is about his respect for doctors. He said in those days, doctors by reason of their extensive educ education and their daily opportunity to observe human needs were nearly always community leaders. This was especially true of a family doctor in a small town. He served in a lot of public offices and on, you know, boards of education who make the decisions for schools and in other service organizations to help the community. And you know, he was a young man eager to learn and work. We always saw that. And so he wanted to be a community leader too. And so he always saw doctors as doing that. So that is why he wanted to do it. But, his main thing is he wanted to be a great healer. And I love this because even though he wasn’t a healer in a doctor’s sense, he wasn’t, you know, sewing people up or helping them when they were sick. He did a lot of healing as far as helping spread the word, about the free market to America. Like I said, Fee was one of the first organizations or was the first organization. So he may not have been giving you, you know, the remedy your sickness, but he created the remedy to a lot of the problems that were going on with the big government and people taking over the economy.
Emma: Absolutely. And when you think about too, the medical sort of field and doctors and all of those people, they are very much reliant on the free market for innovation. Yes. And for life-saving medicine and you know, advancements that can help people live longer lives and be healthier and cure diseases. So those two things are very much intertwined. And like a lot of the people that we’ve discussed on this podcast so far, Leonard wasn’t actually always pro-free market and he was actually an advocate of the government taking on a larger role in the economy. And during his time as manager for the western division of the US Chamber of Commerce, there was a Los Angeles businessman, bill Mulliner, who helped change his mind. And Mulliner was this vocal opponent of FDR’s New Deal, which we will definitely have another episode about Lots to impact there.
Brittany: We actually did, I think it’s a couple of weeks old, so we’ll put a link in there too so our listeners can go back and listen to that one.
Emma: Well, there we go. We want everyone to be up to speed on that cuz there is so much to talk about with the New Deal and the Tuttle twin’s ideas. But yeah, Read challenged him to a debate and the debate ended up changing his mind. So he became a vocal advocate. So good for him for keeping an open mind and being open to whatever ideas are the best. That’s pretty awesome.
Brittany: It Is. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the story because it’s actually how I became, I call myself a libertarian, but that’s why I became a libertarian. It was when I was in college and a friend of mine was, I said FDR was the greatest president who ever lived. Cuz I had just learned about the New Deal. Wow. Yes. I know, I’m embarrassed. And I remember he dared me. We didn’t have a debate, but he’s like, all right, I dare you to go do some research, come back to me in a few weeks and tell me the FDR was the greatest president who ever lived. And I started doing all this research and I came back to him. I’m like, listen, I was not correct. And I’ve been a libertarian ever since. So when I read that I was like, oh my goodness, like Leonard and I have that in common, so Wow. And it was really fun for me to read that. But as we said in the beginning, so he started FEE and FEE became like, this oasis and Oasis is like this big giant inter like water, I wanna call it a puddle, but it’s not a puddle. Like this surplus of water in the middle of like a desert. Right? And it became Phoebe became this oasis for all these intellectuals, all these people who were really into philosophy, who didn’t feel like they belonged in society because fd r’s New Deal, you know, everyone who is mainstream was like more government, more spending. we’ve talked about the Federal Reserve and all that. This is when all this was just a nightmare. It still is today. So people like Ludwig Von Mises, who we’ve talked about before, Milton Friedman, who we haven’t talked about a whole lot, he’s like half great and half not, don’t tell anybody I said that. I guess our listeners are gonna hear that sometimes he’s spot on and sometimes he’s not. But he was still very important.
Emma: He’s human.
Brittany: Yes, he’s human. That’s a good way to put it, Emma. But he ended up serving as just this like Leonard ended up being this major figure in this, you know, fringe, which is kind of like offbeat like off-center, group of intellectuals who had these seminars and he eventually started the Freeman Magazine. Now side note, this is very important to me because I became a writer. I was writing before, but my writing really became prominent when I started writing for the FEE website, which is what was born out of the Freeman Magazine. So it’s really important for me.
Emma: That’s awesome. I love how, how similar your story was to Leonard Reads.
Brittany: I didn’t even know until Yeah, that’s crazy.
Emma: Yeah, the connection through the magazine, it’s crazy how these things cross over throughout history and throughout the movement. I always love hearing about how people got involved in all of this stuff. But yeah, going back to Leonard Read, he joined the board of directors for this newly founded periodical, The Freeman, which is that magazine you were talking about. And basically, this was a forerunner for the conservative National Review to which Reid was also contributing.
Brittany: Still around today.
Emma: Still around today, still putting out a lot of great pieces and a lot of great writing. so this was sort of like the precursor to that. And in 1954, he arranged for the magazine to be transferred to a for-profit company, and FEE assumed direct control of the magazine and basically turned it into an outreach tool to help teach people about the ideas rather than just sort of talking to the same folks that have heard the same stuff over and over. He said we need to reach new people with it. So that’s a pretty awesome thing for him to have done.
Brittany: So some fun facts about him too, and this was really fun to read that I didn’t know he loved a golf. He was also an excellent chef, which I’m wondering if it’s because he owned a produce market that he could, you know, buy all these things. But overall he was a great supporter of individual liberty. And before we end, I wanna talk about this quote, and I’m not gonna read the whole thing but I’ll read a couple of quotes. So my favorite thing is he said, the premise is that destiny of a man is to emerge or evolve towards advancing potential that an in that individual liberty is essential to such progress. So basically he’s talking about the power of the individual, and this is the part I love, the reflections which follow are not aimed at swerving anyone from whatever life purpose he may have set for himself. That’s his affair, not mine. And what I love by this, is he’s basically saying, pursue your happiness. I don’t wanna get in the way of that as long as you know you’re not gonna hurt me. And my absolute favorite part and this comes actually from a different book, but he says, Let anyone do anything he pleases so long as it is peaceful.
Emma: Hmm. I love that.
Brittany: Isn’t that great?
Emma: That is a great quote. He is, right on the nose there. And that relates a lot to kind of, some of the stuff we talk about, don’t hurt people, don’t take their stuff. Yes. it’s like, hey, we can all live our lives the way we want to. We don’t all have to do the same thing, but it better be peaceful. Yes. We’ve gotta find a way to live together peacefully. Well, that is all we have for today on this one. we’re gonna put that stuff in the show notes, the inflation calculator, and more information on Leonard Read if you’d like to read up a little more about him. But we will talk to you guys soon.
Brittany: Talk to you later.