Little Red Book: “It Works” circa early 1930s

Three-Step Miracle

How a little red pamphlet changed the world — and may change you

Mitch Horowitz
11 min readMay 1, 2020

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Can thoughts make things happen?

A middle-aged Chicagoan who beat the Great Depression believed so — and he anonymously spread his mind-power secret to the world. His beguiling method may hold special relevance for people struggling through the lockdown recession today.

A Simple Idea

The messenger of success concealed his identity behind the initials R.H.J., which stood for Roy Herbert Jarrett. By profession Jarrett was a salesman of typewriters and of printing machines. But the seeker-salesman accomplished what few ministers or practical philosophers ever could: He worked out an ethical philosophy of personal attainment, and couched it in everyday, immensely persuasive language. At age fifty-two Jarrett brought his message to the world with a self-published, pocket-sized pamphlet called simply: It Works.

Published in 1926, Jarrett’s twenty-eight-page pamphlet has never gone out of print. It has sold over 1.5 million copies and remains popular — for good reason. It Works is one of the most intriguing and infectious books ever written on mental manifestation. Anyone who wants to taste (or test) such ideas can finish Jarrett’s pamphlet during a lunch break. And many people did so.

Wage-earning Americans who had never before given much thought to metaphysics wound up buying and often giving away large numbers of It Works, sending grateful testimonials to the address that Jarrett printed inside.

As the legend goes at the front of the booklet, Jarrett had sent his short manuscript to a friend for critique. Jarrett identified the friend only by the initials “J.F.S.” The helper returned it with the notation: “IT WORKS,” which Jarrett decided to use as his title.

The legend is true. The friend was Jewell F. Stevens, owner of an eponymous Chicago advertising agency, which specialized in religious items and books. In 1931, the advertising executive Stevens hired Jarrett to join his agency as a merchandising consultant and account manager. For Jarrett, the new position was deliverance from a tough, working-class background, and years of toil in the Willy Loman–domain of sales work. Jarrett became the example of…

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Mitch Horowitz

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