It’s a great expression in our culture. “Moving heaven and earth.” An indicator of going the extra mile on behalf of something or someone.

For one businessman, it was more than a slogan. Maybe that’s why one source ranks him among the greatest of Christian businessmen of all time for his contribution to the advancement of the Gospel.

His name was Robert Gilmore (RG) LeTourneau.

A sixth-grade dropout, RG went on to become the leading earth-moving machinery manufacturer of his day. More than 300 patents in his name. Plants on four continents. Changing the world forever through major contributions to heavy equipment innovation and road construction technology.

R. G. LeTourneau

Robert Gilmour LeTourneau (November 30, 1888 – June 1, 1969), was born in Richford, Vermont, and was a prolific inventor of earthmoving machinery. His factories supplied LeTourneau machines which represented nearly 70 percent of the earthmoving equipment and engineering vehicles used by the Allied forces during World War II, and more than half of the 1,500-mile (2,414 km) Alcan Highway in Canada was built with LeTourneau equipment.

Working in an iron foundry at age 14. Later, as an auto mechanic. Then, the Navy during World War I. Returning to half-ownership of a car dealer. His partner drank the company into debt.

RG left. Jobless and beyond broke, with $5,000 in debt. The equivalent of $125,000 in today’s dollars. Ouch.

A wealthy rancher hired him to level some land. The most satisfying job he’d ever had. So much so, he turned it into a business.

Under-bidding competitors to win jobs. Scrambling to invent machines to speed up work historically done by hand-held shovels and mule-powered plows.

Even as RG was innovating machinery, he was feeling the tug to do more for God. He went to his pastor for advice in 1919, thinking he had to become a full-time pastor or missionary.

His pastor’s answer shocked him. Then, galvanized him. “God needs businessmen, too.”

Why RG LeTourneau Gave 90 Percent

If you’ve ever been part of a church fund-raising campaign, you’ve likely heard the name R.G. LeTourneau. His story of giving is the stuff capital-campaigns are made of. However, the story of why he and his wife Evelyn chose to give away 90 percent of their wealth–and the life-changing decision that prompted it–is rarely told.

RG envisioned his business as a partnership with God. His path forward, however, wasn’t uphill. In 1927, at age 40, RG found himself $100,000 in debt when a big construction job went bad.

$1.5 million in today’s dollars. Bigger Ouch.

What happened next was a miracle.

The surety company backing RG on the losing job was determined he pay back every penny. On the next job, they demanded RG work on Sundays or they would foreclose.

RG gave the problem to his Business Partner to solve. The surety owner boarded a train to shut RG down. Within 24 hours, he had a change of heart.

The job continued to completion… without working on Sundays. Though still deep in debt, RG remained determined to stay current on his financial pledge to God.

The pledge was paid in full. The business stayed afloat. Then… BREAKTHROUGH.

RB focused completely on manufacturing his machinery inventions. When the rest of the country was reeling from the Great Depression, RG’s net profits soared.  Year 1932 – $52,000+. Year 1934 – $340,000+.

In 1935, RG’s wife suggested (and he agreed) they transition to a 90/10 split with the Lord (with 10% going to RG).

It’s not how much of my money I give to God, but how much of God’s money I keep for myself.”

His net profits in 1938? Over $1,400,000. By 1959, after giving $10 million in donations to religious and educational works, the LeTourneau Foundation was still worth $40 million.

Not bad for a sixth-grade dropout. Amen?

Originally published:


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