Pine Nuts: Young leaders of the Americas

Zoom meetings are like Near Beer, you don’t get a buzz, but you still get the weight gain. However, when Kevin Sung called from the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative at the Northern Nevada International Center, well, I jumped in with both virtual feet. We agreed to a Zoomed Cultural Session with young entrepreneurs from ten countries who desired to meet our mutual friend, albeit really bad businessman, Mark Twain.

So we hooked-up with eleven hard-driving founders of emerging companies in Saint Kitts, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Bolivia.

Well, Mark Twain, in his 185 years, never met a more stimulating bunch of young up-and-comers! They asked the best questions and invited Samuel to visit them in their home states once the pandemic is finally behind us.

They were happy to hear that Mark Twain had not yet broken his New Year’s Resolution, “I intend to live within my means this year, even if I have to borrow money to do it.” And they were especially eager to hear about some of Samuel’s entrepreneurial excesses…

“Alexander Graham Bell gave me the first telephone in a private residence, but I took it out; I never got any calls.”

The Washington Post wrote one morning, “If you want to know what to invest in, avoid whatever Mark Twain is investing in.”

Yes, it gets worse … In 1894 I declared bankruptcy. I had invested over $200,000 (about 5 million in today’s dollars) in the fatally flawed Paige Typesetter, which had 18,000 moving parts, all moving in the wrong direction. (The patent attorney assigned to the case died in an insane asylum.) We were racing the Linotype to the market place, and lost. So here I was, fifty-nine years of age, and about five million dollars in debt, when the life expectancy wasn’t even fifty-nine.

The billows of hell were rolling over me. The devil was on deck and having everything his way, until Henry Rogers, the number two man at Standard Oil, invited me up to his office. Henry took an interest in my financial affairs and told me, “Sam, you can afford to be money poor, you cannot afford to be character poor, you must pay back one hundred cents on the dollar.”

Well, this was a dismal revelation to me, but Henry helped plan an around the world lecture tour by way of steamer, and off we went, my wife, Olivia, and our middle daughter, Clara. It took one year to complete that raid on an unsuspecting public, and every half-dime I made I sent to Rogers to invest. Subsequently, I wrote a book about that world tour, “Following the Equator,” and dedicated that book to Henry Rogers.

And three years later, 1898, I received a cable from Henry: “Sam you are in the black, having paid back one hundred cents on the dollar.”

I learned from Rogers that there is no statute of limitations to honor. And were it not for Henry Rogers the only shelter I would have today would be an umbrella, and a borrowed one at that.

Such was the heart and soul of the Mark Twain message we left with these talented young leaders of the Americas, and I will leave it here with you, the gentle reader, “Honor has no statute of limitations.”

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at


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