1982 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"I had one advantage over most people-I started from scratch so I knew how to start again."
Born in Livingston, Texas, George Smith was three months old when his father died. He credits his mother, who worked as a maid, with molding his character. "She never took a nickel's worth of charity from anybody," he says. "She never wanted anything without earning it. She reared all six of us primarily by herself and the one thing she taught us was to never lie or steal. She would say, 'Son, you work for what you get.'"
As a child, Smith did work hard to help his family. He washed cars, picked cotton, and often hunted squirrel and rabbit for the family's dinner. Although he was a straight-A student, he had to quit school after the third grade to work full time. At 13, he left home and laid railroad ties before enlisting in the Air Force, in which he served as a cook in the Pacific. After he returned home, he worked his way up to become a receiving clerk with the railroad at $1.40 an hour, but took a pay cut to move to a job where he would learn everything there was to know about pipes. He felt the future for oil was greater than the future for railroading.
In 1952, Smith began an 18-year career with Atlas Bradford, a pipe company. He improved the hydrostatic testing process and began rising through the ranks of the company. After becoming the vice president and general manager of Seaboard Pipe, he invested his $4,000 in savings toward establishing his own business-Smith's Pipe Testing and Service Company. By 1979, with two additional companies, Smith's $34 million in sales made his company the seventh largest black-owned business in America.
Smith has spent a lot of time talking to youth about success. "I refused to accept failure," he says, "because I knew that if I did the best I could, I felt there was no limit to how far I could go." For a time, Smith yearned to go back to school. Throughout his career, he has encouraged and supported those around him to get a college education. He even put his wife through college. Through the years, Smith has hired high school dropouts to give them a chance to succeed. "I believe no one makes you a failure. You make yourself a failure. I want to give kids who need a chance a helping hand."
He is an ardent supporter of the Horatio Alger Association's efforts to help deserving youth attain a college education. "With a third grade education I've spoken at all the best colleges in the United States," he says. "Just think of what I could have accomplished with more education. You can never have too much."* Deceased