In his acclaimed book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell illustrated how time of birth can predict a life of good luck and success. This is an example of how it can work the other way.


A man named Gene

We have all said something like “so and so has all the luck”. This person probably had something good happen around the time we said it. Nobody is persistently lucky – just because. And a lot of what could be called luck may be the result of hard work and persistence. But bad luck can persist for a person because of things beyond their control.

An example was Gene. He was born in 1899.  This made his time of birth just 35 years after the end of the Civil War. His birthplace was Woodbine, Georgia, still reeling from the devastation of Sherman’s march to the sea in the Civil War. Gene was the fifth of five children. His father was a farmer who died when Gene was nine years old. He finished the eighth grade before going to work in a box factory where he earned 10 cents an hour.

At age 18 he traveled north to Detroit following his four older siblings. There he enrolled in Ford trade school and earned his journeyman’s papers as a tool and die maker.

At 24 he joined the National Cash Register Company, which at the time was an industry leader in technology. Gene shed his shop apron for a suit and tie. In the heady “roaring 20’s” Gene was making a name for himself as a successful salesman working in Cleveland. He was riding high.

Barely months after he married Anne in 1929, the stock market crashed. Their first son was born in 1931. Business was at a crawl and Gene lost his job at National Cash Register. He moved his family to Detroit as the Great Depression enveloped the country. By 1934 their second son was born. Gene decided to put his shop apron back on and return to working as a tool and die maker. There were food lines for the unemployed, but jobs for this skilled trade were available throughout the depression.

Gene was good at what he did and had leadership qualities. He was offered several management positions but turned them down. He was unwilling to give up the steady paycheck earned working at a job he knew was secure. The lessons from the crash of ’29, the responsibilities of his growing family, and now the depression shaped him. Take no chances.

In 1941 with a wife and four sons, Gene was locked into the war effort. He worked seven days and sometimes 12 hours a day for most of the war years. When the war ended, he continued as a tool and die maker until he died in 1963. The last 30 years of his life Gene missed no more than a handful of days at work. These were the times his gout was so painful he was unable to drive his car which in those days required frequent use of the clutch pedal.

Gene began paying into social security in 1934 at the program’s outset and continued doing so for 30 years. He died two years before he was eligible to receive benefits.

His birthplace, birth order, time of birth, father’s death, the crash of 1929, the Great Depression and WW II were all external events which could be considered bad luck and setbacks, or at least bad timing. Gene soldiered on doing the same work without shirking his responsibility as a father of four sons and a husband without ever looking for sympathy. How do I know all this? Gene was my dad.


By Savvy Senior

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7 thoughts on “Time of Birth and Luck

  1. My father was born in 1894, was in WW I, graduated with an engineering degree from Purdue. Joined Jim Allison in his little shop on Main Street in Speedway, designing racing car engines, then airplane engines. He turned down offers to advance in management. No, as he worked on his engineering projects, he’d rather spend his time the floors getting to know and admire the tool and die makers, his favorites.

  2. Your dad lived his life in service to his family and his country. It’s easy to see where you acquired your strong work ethic.

  3. Hi Gene : I was very touch reading about your father’s short story, I think all he did was an act of love for his family, he had to work hard during a recession. Thank you for sharing , I liked it a lot.

  4. This is a great story, Gene. Thanks for sharing.
    We saw many examples of individuals who came to Mexico from Spain as refugees whose careers were truncated and they had to start all over. Close to us I can cite my father in law who was a veterinary student in Spain when the civil war started there and when he arrived in Mexico he had to start working to put food on the table. The job he found was as bellboy in a pharmaceutical company. He was promoted multiple times over the years until he was able to start his own pharma company and became a successful businessman. My own father had a similar story. When I was growing up and trying to decide what I should study he always advised me to make sure I was good at what I did so that I had satisfaction from my profession. What is important is not what you do but how well you do it, whatever it is.

  5. C, Krauthammer quotes John Adams as saying “I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathtmatics and philosophy,geography, natural history,, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary , tapestry and porcelain”. Like your Dad and mine ( a mailman , widowed shortly after he returned from service in WWII,with two young children gave up his dream of architectural studies to provide for us.) My brother and I finished college thanks to the silent Heroics of men like your Dad and mine, Your article brought this to mind. Thank you.
    Your article reminded me of the silent heroics of our father/providers that enabled

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