Wallace D. Wattles from a first edition of The Science of Getting Rich, 1910.

Heaven Is a Place on Earth

How a Quaker socialist revolutionized the prosperity gospel

Mitch Horowitz
22 min readMar 6


The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

— Paradise Lost

It began as the bleakest of Christmases at the Wattles home. In the Indiana winter of 1896, the family patriarch, Wallace, a rake-thin Methodist minister with a passion for defending workers and the poor, had been away in Chicago at a conference of social reformers. A Christian socialist, Wallace D. Wattles was already irritating the more conservative members of his congregation, some of whom were eyeing his dismissal.

Back home in La Port, Indiana, his family could not afford a Christmas tree; all they could muster was an evergreen branch decorated with a few smudgy tallow candles and strung with popcorn. Gifts were meager — the family spent the last of its holiday savings on a cuff box which waited for Wattles under the branch.

“Finally father came,” his daughter Florence recalled in a 1911 letter to his publisher Elizabeth Towne. “With that beautiful smile he praised the tree, said the cuff box was just what he had been wanting — and took us all in his arms to tell us of the wonderful social message of Jesus.”[1]

It was a critical turning point for Wattles. In Chicago, he had met a radical minister named George D. Herron (1862–1925). An ardent purveyor of the “social gospel,” Herron gained national prominence using the message of Christ to condemn the cruel mechanisms of an economic system that sent children to work in cotton mills. He impressed upon Wattles that Christ’s vision of social justice must be at the heart of the pastorate’s mission.

For Wattles, born in 1860 on an Illinois family farm, where he was still laboring at age 19 in the rural Nunda Township,[2] it was the final stroke in a spiritual philosophy he was developing himself. The minister had been imbibing metaphysical ideas that were bubbling up around him and combining them with his own experiments into the creative powers of thought.

As Wattles saw it, the individual was a prisoner to outer circumstance only to the degree that he or she was a prisoner of circumstance within. Free the mind, he concluded…



Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China