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Posts Tagged ‘R. G. LeTourneau’

If you’d asked Robert’s mother Elizabeth about her teenage son, she may have replied, “He is a strong-willed, rebellious daredevil. If God doesn’t get ahold of him, he may not make it to twenty!”

No doubt Robert’s parents wondered if they’d made the right decision, when they allowed him to drop out of school at age fourteen and work in an iron foundry. But given his learning difficulties, on-the-job training seemed appropriate, to prepare Robert for his future.

Two years later in 1904, God answered the concerned parents’ prayers for their son. Robert decided hell was not an option he wanted to risk and at age sixteen invited Jesus into his life.

Later he would write, “No bolts of lightning hit me. No great flash of awareness. I just prayed to the Lord to save me, and then I was aware of another presence. No words were spoken. I received no messages. It was just that all of my bitterness was drained away, and I was filled with such a vast relief that I could not contain it all.”[1]

Robert moved from one uninspiring tradesmen job to another until he became an auto mechanic and discovered his passion—machinery. He opened his own garage with a business partner in 1911.

In April of 1917 the U.S. entered World War I. Robert volunteered for the war effort, working in a naval shipyard north of San Francisco. In August of that year he married Evelyn Peterson.

Upon returning home to Stockton, CA in 1918, Robert discovered his partner had sunk their business into debt. Robert carried $5000 of that liability.

He wondered, was God trying to transition him out of business? Should he become a missionary so he could work for God more directly? Robert sought guidance from his pastor and after praying together the clergyman remarked, “You know God needs businessmen too.”

Not long after, a rancher asked Robert to level a large parcel of land. The job paid well and Robert signed on. He satisfactorily completed the task in good time and actually enjoyed the work.

Through the 1920s earth-moving contracts kept coming Robert’s way. He bought land and built an engineering shop where he put his ingenuity and giftedness for engineering to work, designing machines that completed the task more efficiently. Most other companies still used mules with plows and dozens of men with shovels.

(Two of LeTourneau’s early machines)

But even as a top-notch, road-construction contractor, financial struggles still plagued Robert. Now and then he’d sell one of his earth-moving inventions to help make ends meet for his growing family. (He and Evelyn had five children, though tragically their first died during the Spanish influenza epidemic.)

In the early 1930s, Robert’s attorney suggested, “Why don’t you focus on manufacturing your machines? That might prove more profitable.”

Robert decided to try, even though the nation was suffering through the Great Depression. During his first year in 1932, he earned a profit of more than $52,000 and by 1935, well over two million.[2]

(Robert nearly always included reference to his life verse with each signature.)

It was then that he and Evelyn decided to live on 10% of Robert’s income and give 90% to Christian mission work, colleges, and institutions. Meanwhile Evelyn started Sunday Schools and youth camps. God blessed each of their endeavors.

Robert not only invented the earth mover, but also the bulldozer, the electric wheel, the tree crusher, the log picker, the Tournawheel (a two-wheel tractor), and more. Eventually he’d own 300 patents and construction plants on four continents. He’d also design the first off-shore oil rig.

(from the he R.G. LeTourneau Museum and Archives, The Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University)

During World War II Robert’s company supplied 70% of the U.S. Army’s earth-moving equipment, making it possible for the Allies to quickly build roads, airports, and military bases.

After the war, Robert’s machinery helped construct the 48,000 miles of U.S. interstate highways.

(R.G. LeTourneau:  The Man, Machines, and Mission Collection
Evelyn LeTourneau Collection)

In 1946 he and Evelyn founded the LeTourneau Polytechnic Institute, a Christ-centered school especially for veterans who desired training in engineering. It has since become LeTourneau University.

Business and philanthropy weren’t Robert’s only pursuits. Though he’d always feared public speaking, Robert felt compelled to accept an invitation to share his story at a banquet in 1935. Soon he was speaking all over America and even overseas.  Robert would encourage others to honor God with their wallets and see what God would do.

“You will never know what you can accomplish

until you say a great big yes to the Lord.”

Robert Gilmour LeTourneau (1888-1969)

How has God blessed you as you’ve honored him with your wallet? Please share your story in the comment section below!


 Notes:

[1] https://www.wayoflife.org/reports/christian_inventor_rg_letourneau.html

[2] Ibid

Other sources:

 http://www.giantsforgod.com/rg-letourneau/

https://www.letu.edu/75/exhibit/panel-faith.html, and subsequent panels

https://www.oemoffhighway.com/trends/article/21366254/historical-construction-equipment-association-hcea-the-great-innovator-r-g-letourneau

https://www.peoriamagazines.com/ibi/2011/jan/rg-letourneau

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.wikimedia.org; Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University (2); http://www.dailyverses.net.

Special thanks to Shelby Ware at the Margaret Estes Library, LeTourneau University, for arranging permission to use the two images of R. G. LeTourneau in this post.

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