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Elbert Hubbard: An American Original - WNED | PBS

For Educators

A Message to Garcia: Work, Ethics, Loyalty and Obedience


"A Message to Garcia" by Elbert Hubbard is loosely based on an actual event in the Spanish-American War. The essay extols Lieutenant Andrew Rowan for his perseverance and obedience. The lieutenant was charged with delivering an important message to a Cuban general, and did not abandon his mission in the face of many obstacles. Seeing the essay as a decree for worker loyalty and obedience, George Daniels of the New York Central Railroad ordered 100,000 reprints to distribute to his employees. Many other business and military leaders followed suit. "A Message to Garcia" sold over 40 million copies, and has been translated into many languages. It is still used by corporate and military leaders as a model of exemplary work ethic. With the success of his essay, Hubbard became a celebrity in high demand on the lecture circuit. The Roycroft campus grew and prospered until it was the most successful arts and crafts community in the nation.

Students will examine "A Message to Garcia" from a historical and literary standpoint. They will explore its translation into the world of modern business, school and home.

Objectives Students will:

  • Retell the story of "A Message to Garcia" in their own words using various formats.
  • Extract Hubbard's intended lesson about work ethic from "A Message to Garcia."
  • Transfer the information and meaning of "A Message to Garcia" to modern settings and situations.

Necessary Materials

  • "A Message to Garcia" - printed version
  • Internet connectivity

Relevant National Standards:
NL-ENG.K-12.3, NL-ENG.K-12.2, NL-ENG.K-12.6

Teaching Procedure

  • Display and discuss the following epigrams:
    - "If you work for a man, in Heaven's name work for him." (Hubbard)
    - "If you disparage the concern of which you are part, you disparage yourself." (Hubbard)
    - "Produce great people and the rest will follow." (Whitman)
  • Present background information about "A Message to Garcia" and the Spanish-American War (see lesson overview).
  • Read or listen to "A Message to Garcia." Discuss the idea of the story within the story.

    Possible discussion questions:
    - Why was "A Message to Garcia" so popular with leaders in the corporate world and in the armed services?
    - What work ethic and virtues are stressed in your home, school and/or workplace? Are they different from those promoted in "A Message to Garcia?"
  • Summarize the sequence of events in "A Message to Garcia" either verbally or in writing.
  • Discuss the meaning of the word "parable." Give examples. Students write a modern day parable that illustrates the virtues of industry, promptness, loyalty and obedience exemplified in "A Message to Garciaā€¯ or that illustrates virtues deemed to be important at home, in school or in the workplace.
  • And/or retell the story of "A Message to Garcia" in graphic novel or comic strip form using a comic strip creator Web site (see Online Resources listed below).


  • Summary of "A Message to Garcia" which includes major points and themes
  • Completion of parable and/or graphic version of "A Message to Garcia"

Extension Activities:

  • Discuss interview strategies (see Web sites listed below). Brainstorm interview questions for someone who supervises others in a work environment. What qualities do they look for in their employees? Give students the assignment of interviewing a supervisor and recording their results. Share the results as a class.
  • Explore sample job applications (see Web site listed below). Have the students practice filling one out.
  • Compare and contrast the character of Lt. Rowan with a character from a book, movie or television series ("The Office," "Saving Private Ryan," etc.)

Online Resources

Interview tips and strategies:

Comic creators:

Sample job applications:

Supplemental Material:

Background Information on the Spanish-American War and the Actual Message to General Garcia:

In 1898, Cuba was still a Spanish colony. For several years, Cuban revolutionaries had been waging a war with the Spanish colonial government in hopes of establishing independence. President McKinley was reluctant to intervene, but with the destruction of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana Harbor (which later proved to be accidental), it seemed inevitable that the United States would become involved. In April 1898, President McKinley delivered his "war message" to Congress, and received approval to send troops to Cuba. The resulting conflict lasted from April to August, with victory for the United States. In December 1898, the Treaty of Paris gave the United States control of Cuba, as well as the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam.

Two days before the president's "war message" to Congress, Lt. Andrew Rowan, an infantry officer attached to the War Department's Military Information Bureau, was sent to establish contact with Cuban guerilla forces under the command of General Calix to Garcia. However, the difficulties that Lt. Rowan encountered were greatly embellished by Hubbard in his essay. Hubbard readily admitted that he had little interest in the actual facts of the episode. His point in writing the essay was to sermonize about work ethics and obedience.

The Spanish American War:

Hernandez, Roger E. The Spanish-American War. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark Books, 2010. Print.

Poulakidos, Georgene. The Spanish-American War. New York: Powerkids Press/Primary Source, 2006. Print.

Interviewing and Job Applications:

The Big Books of Jobs. Editors of McGraw Hill and U.S. Department of Labor. McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.

Coon, Nora. Teen Dream Jobs: How to Get The Job You Really Want Now. Hillsboro, Or.: Beyond Worlds Publishing, 2003. Print.

Levit, Alexandra. How'd You Score That Gig? A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How to Get Them. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008. Print.

Suggested Vocabulary: disparage, parable, virtues, work ethic

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Funding for Elbert Hubbard: An American Original provided by The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation
Elbert Hubbard: An American Original is a production of WNED-TV