I’ve finished reading The Forbes Book of Great Business Letters: Memos, Missives, Pitches, Proposals and E-Mails (edited by Erik Bruun) last week and I want to share some of my favorite letters from this book with you.
There were many fantastic letters (especially some of the ones that are copyrighted) so I’ve chosen some that I believe to be in the public domain. Some of the letters in The Forbes Book of Great Business Letters were several pages long but the ones I’ve listed here were all one page letters.
This letter offers wonderful advice on how to be a good businessman (and a good doctor).
Dr. Benjamin Rush to William Claypoole (Advice)
July 29, 1782
The following short directions to Dr. Claypoole were given as the parting advice of his friend and master. If properly attended to, they will ensure him business and happiness in North Carolina.
- Take care of the poor. By becoming faithful over a few, you will become a ruler over many. When you are called to visit a poor patient, imagine you hear a voice sounding in your ears, “Take care of him, and I will repay thee.”
- Go regularly to some place of worship. A physician cannot be a bigot. Worship with Mohamitans rather than stay at home on Sundays.
- Never resent an affront offered to you by a sick man.
- Avoid intimacies with your patients if possible, and visit them only in sickness.
- Never sue a patient, but after a year’s service get a bond from him if possible.
- Receive as much pay as possible in goods or the produce of the country. Men have not half the attachment to these things that they have to money.
- Acquire a habit of visiting your patients regularly at one certain hour.
- Never dispute a bill. Always make reductions rather than quarrel with an old and profitable patient.
- Don’t insert trifling advice or services in a bill. You can incorporate them with important matters such as a pleurisy or the reduction of a bone.
- Never make light (to a patient) of any case.
- Never appear in a hurry in a sickroom, nor talk of indifferent matters till you have examined and prescribed for your patient.
This satirical letter from a Texan farmer to his congressman pokes fun of the irrationality of federal farm subsidies.
J. B. Lee, Jr., to Congressman Ed Foreman (Business and Government)
March 20, 1963
The Honorable Ed Foreman
House of Representatives
Congressional District # 16
Washington 25, D.C.
My friend over in Terebone Parisk received a check for $1,000 check from the government this year for not raising hogs. So I am going into the not-raising hogs business next year.
What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on and the best kind of hogs not to raise? I would prefer not to raise Razorbacks, but if that is not a good breed not to raise, I will just as gladly not raise any Berkshires or Durocs.
The hardest work in this business is going to be in keeping an inventory of how many hogs I haven’t raised.
My friend is very joyful about the future of the business. He has been raising hogs for more than 20 years and the best he ever made on them was $400, until this year when he got $1,000 for not raising hogs.
If I get $1,000 for not raising 50 hogs, then will I get $2,000 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 hogs which means I will have $80,000 coming from the government.
Now, another thing; these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that you also pay farmers for not raising corn. So will you pay me anything for not raising 100,000 bushels of corn not to feed the hogs I am not raising?
I want to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of year for not raising hogs.
One more thing, can I raise 10 or 12 hogs on the side while I am in the not-raising-hogs-business just enough to get a few sides of bacon to eat?
Very truly yours,
J. B. Lee, Jr.
Potential Hog Raiser
This one from Clyde Barrow to Henry Ford is amusing. It was written six weeks before being gunned down with Bonnie Parker.
Clyde Barrow to Henry Ford (Compliments and Complaints)
10th April 
Mr. Henry Ford
While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever[y] other car skinned, and even if my business hasn’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt enything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8.
Clyde Champion Barrow
This letter from Andrew Carnegie just after he sold Carnegie Steel to J. P. Morgan for $480 million marks the beginning of Carnegie’s second career as a philanthropist.
Andrew Carnegie to Henry Phipps Jr. (Deals)
5 West 51st Street
My dear H.P.
Mr. Stetson has just called to tell me it is closed, all fixed — big times on Stock Exchange tomorrow.
Well, this is a step in my life — a great change, but after a time, when I get down to new conditions, I shall become I believe a wiser and more useful man, and besides live a dignified old age as long as life is granted, something few reach.
Sinclair Lewis (first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930) received a letter from one woman offering to work as his secretary (“Dear Mr. Lewis,” she wrote, “I’ll do everything for you — and when I say everything I mean everything”) and Lewis’s wife Dorothy Thompson replied on behalf of her husband.
Dorothy Thompson to an Admirer of Her Husband (Employment)
My dear Miss–:
My husband already has a stenographer who handles his work for him. And, as for “everything” I take care of that myself — and when I say everything I mean everything.
(Mrs. Sinclair Lewis to you.)
The Kentucky Distillers’ Co offer to sell its list of customers to the Keeley Institute, the widely known alcoholics’ sanatorium is another one that makes me laugh:
Kentucky Distillers to Alcoholic’s Sanitorium (Marketing)
Kansas City, Mo.
Dec. 3, 1913.
Gentlemen: Our customers are your prospective patients. We can put on your desk a mailing of over 50,000 individual consumers of liquor. The list is the result of thousands of dollars of advertising.
Each individual on the list is a regular user of liquor. The list of names is new, live and active. We know this because we have circularized it regularly. We furnish this list in quantities at the prices listed below. Remittance to accompany each order.
40,000 to 50,000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $400
20,000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $300
10,000 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $200
We will not furnish this list in lots less than 10,000. Discontinuance of business January 1, is the occasion for selling our mailing list.
Kentucky Distillers’ Co
W. Franklin, President
Hope you enjoy these as much as I have!