Biography of Napoleon Hill

Oliver Napoleon Hill (October 26, 1883 – November 8, 1970) was an American self-help author. He is best known for his book Think and Grow Rich (1937), which is among the 10 best-selling self-help books of all time. Hill's works insisted that fervid expectations are essential to improving one's life. Most of his books were promoted as expounding principles to achieve "success".

Hill is, in modern times, a controversial figure. Accused of fraud, modern historians also doubt many of his claims, such as that he met Andrew Carnegie and that he was an attorney. Gizmodo has called him "the most famous conman you've probably never heard of".

Life and career


Hill was born in a one-room cabin near the Appalachian town of Pound in southwest Virginia. His parents were James Monroe Hill and Sarah Sylvania (Blair) and he was the grandson of James Madison Hill and Elizabeth (Jones). His grandfather came to the United States from England and settled in southwestern Virginia in 1847.Hill's mother died when he was nine years old, and his father remarried two years later to Martha. His stepmother was a good influence for him: "Hill's stepmother, the widow of a school principal, civilized the wild-child, Napoleon, making him go to school and attend church." At the age of 13, Hill began writing as a "mountain reporter", initially for his father's newspaper. At the age of 15, he married a local girl who had accused him of fathering her child; the girl recanted the claim, and the marriage was annulled.

Early career

At the age of seventeen, Hill graduated from high school and moved to Tazewell, Virginia, to attend business school. In 1901, Hill accepted a job working for the lawyer Rufus A. Ayers, a coal magnate and former Virginia attorney general. Author Richard Lingeman wrote that Hill received this job after arranging to keep confidential the death of a black bellhop whom the previous manager of the mine had accidentally shot while drunk.Hill left his coal mine management job soon afterward and enrolled in law school before withdrawing owing to a lack of funds. Later in life, Hill would use the title of "Attorney of Law", although Hill's official biography notes that "there is no record of his having actually performed legal services for anyone."

Failed business ventures and charges of fraud

Hill relocated to Mobile, Alabama, in 1907 and co-founded the Acree-Hill Lumber Company. In October 1908, the Pensacola Journal reported that the company was facing bankruptcy proceedings and charges of mail fraud for purchasing lumber from outside Mobile, from other counties in Alabama and Florida, and selling it below cost, thereby failing to generate a return.In May 1909, Hill relocated to Washington, D.C., and launched the Automobile College of Washington, where he instructed students to build, chauffeur, and sell motor cars. The college assembled cars for the Carter Motor Corporation, which declared bankruptcy in early 1912. During April 1912, the automobile magazine Motor World accused Hill's college of being a scam and derided its marketing materials as "a joke to anyone of average intelligence". The automobile college closed its doors later that year.During June 1910, Hill married Florence Elizabeth Horner, with whom he had three sons: James, born in 1911; Napoleon Blair, born in 1912; and a David, born in 1918. After his automobile college folded, Hill relocated to Lumberport, West Virginia, to be with his wife's family.He subsequently moved to Chicago and accepted a job with the La Salle Extension University, before co-founding the Betsy Ross Candy Shop. In September 1915, he established the George Washington Institute of Advertising, where he intended to teach principles of success and self-confidence. On June 4, 1918, the Chicago Tribune reported that the state of Illinois had issued two warrants for his arrest, charging him with violating blue sky laws by fraudulently attempting to sell shares of his school at a $100,000 capitalization, despite the school's possessing assets appraised only at $1,200. The school closed soon afterwards.Hill later claimed that he spent this time advising President Woodrow Wilson amidst World War I; however, White House records include no reference to his ever being there.Following the closure of the George Washington Institute, Hill embarked on other business ventures, among them the personal magazines Hill's Golden Rule and Napoleon Hill's Magazine. In 1922, he opened the Intra-Wall Correspondence School, a charitable foundation intended to provide educational materials to prisoners in Ohio. The foundation was directed by, among others, check forger and former convict Butler Storke, who would be sent back to prison only a year later. According to Hill's official biography, it was during this period that hundreds of documents proving Hill's association with various famous figures were destroyed in a Chicago storage fire.

The Law of Success

During 1928, Hill relocated to Philadelphia and persuaded a Connecticut-based publisher to publish his eight-volume work The Law of Success (1925). The book was Hill's first major success, allowing Hill to adopt an opulent lifestyle. By 1929, he had already bought a Rolls-Royce and a 600-acre (240-hectare) property in the Catskill Mountains, with the aid of some lenders.The beginning of the Great Depression, however, affected Hill's finances adversely, forcing his Catskills property into foreclosure before the end of 1929.Hill's next published work, The Magic Ladder To Success (1930), proved to be a commercial failure. During the next few years, Hill traveled through the country, returning to his habits from the prior decade of initiating various short-lived business ventures.During 1935, Hill's wife Florence filed for a divorce in Florida.

Think and Grow Rich

In 1937, Hill published the best-selling book Think and Grow Rich, which became Hill's best-known work. Hill's new wife Rosa Lee Beeland contributed substantially to the authoring and editing of Think and Grow Rich. Hill's biographers would later say this book sold 20 million copies over 50 years, although as Richard Lingeman remarks in his brief biography, "Alice Payne Hackett's '70 Years of Best Sellers' suggests the amount was considerably less."Wealthy once more, Hill re-initiated his lavish lifestyle and purchased a new estate in Mount Dora, Florida. The couple divorced around 1940, with much of the wealth from the book going to his wife Rosa Lee Hill, leaving Napoleon Hill to start his pursuit of success once again.

Starting again

Hill met Annie Lou Norman, who was 47 years old, where he rented a room. They married in 1943 and relocated to California. Hill went on the lecture circuit once again.

Philosophy of Achievement

Hill's "Philosophy of Achievement," offered as a formula for rags-to-riches success, was published initially in the 1928 multi-volume study course entitled The Law of Success, a rewrite of a 1925 manuscript. Hill identified freedom, democracy, capitalism, and harmony as being among the foundations to his "Philosophy of Achievement". He asserted that without these foundations, great personal achievements would not be possible.

). The formula was detailed further in home-study courses, including the seventeen-volume Mental Dynamite series.Hill claimed his philosophy was superior to those of others and that its principles were responsible for the successes of Americans. Hill blamed failure on such emotions as fear and selfishness.A "secret" of achievement was discussed in Think and Grow Rich, but Hill insisted that readers would benefit most if they discovered it for themselves. Although he did not explicitly identify this secret in the book, he did offer the following:

If you truly desire money so keenly that your desire is an obsession, you will have no difficulty in convincing yourself that you will acquire it. The object is to want money, and to be so determined to have it that you convince yourself that you will have it. . . . You may as well know, right here, that you can never have riches in great quantities unless you work yourself into a white heat of desire for money, and believe you will possess it.

In the introduction, Hill states of the "secret" that Andrew Carnegie "carelessly tossed it into my mind" and that it inspired Manuel L. Quezon of the Philippine Islands to "gain freedom for his people." Although he mentions a "burning desire for money" repeatedly throughout the book, he suggests that avarice is not his "secret" at all. Indeed, in The Law of Success, published nine years earlier, he identifies the secret as the Golden Rule, insisting that only by working harmoniously and cooperating with other individuals or groups of individuals and thereby creating value and benefit for them can one create sustainable achievement for oneself.He presents the notion of a "Definite Major Purpose" as a challenge to his readers to ask themselves: "In what do I truly believe?" According to Hill, "98%" of people have few or no strong beliefs, which made their achieving success unlikely.Hill declares that the life story of his son Blair is an inspiration to him, claiming that despite being born without ears, Blair had grown-up able to hear and speak almost normally. Hill reports that his son, during his last year of college, read chapter two of the manuscript of Think And Grow Rich, discovered Hill's secret "for himself", and then inspired "hundreds and thousands" of people who could neither hear nor speak.From 1952 to 1962, Hill taught his Philosophy of Personal Achievement—Lectures on Science of Success in association with W. Clement Stone. During 1960, Hill and Stone co-authored the book Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude. Norman Vincent Peale is quoted saying that Hill and Stone "have the rare gift of inspiring and helping people" and that he owes "them both a personal debt of gratitude for the helpful guidance I have received from their writings."The book is listed in John C. Maxwell's A Lifetime "Must Read" Books List.Hill claimed insight into racism, slavery, oppression, failure, revolution, war, and poverty, asserting that overcoming these difficulties using his "Philosophy of Achievement" was the responsibility of every human.

Influence of Andrew Carnegie

Later in life, Hill claimed that the turning point of his life had been a 1908 assignment to interview the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. At that time, Carnegie was among the most powerful men in the world. Hill wrote, after Carnegie's death in 1918, that Carnegie had actually met with him at that time and challenged him to interview wealthy people to discover a simple formula for success, and that he had then interviewed many successful people of the time.The acknowledgments in his 1928 multi-volume work The Law of Success, listed forty-five of those he had studied, "the majority of these men at close range, in person", like those to whom the book set was dedicated: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Edwin C. Barnes (an associate of Thomas Edison). Hill reported that Carnegie had given him a letter of introduction to Ford, who Hill said then introduced him to Alexander Graham Bell, Elmer R. Gates, Thomas Edison, and Luther Burbank.According to Ralston University Press, endorsements for The Law of Success were sent in by William H. Taft, Cyrus H. K. Curtis, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, E.M. Statler, Edward W. Bok, and John D. Rockefeller. The list in the acknowledgments includes, among those Hill wrote that he had personally interviewed, Rufus A. Ayers, John Burroughs, Harvey Samuel Firestone, Elbert H. Gary, James J. Hill, George Safford Parker, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles M. Schwab, Frank A. Vanderlip, John Wanamaker, F. W. Woolworth, Daniel Thew Wright, and William Wrigley, Jr.


The authenticity of many of Hill's claims has been widely disputed. Napoleon Hill's collaboration with Andrew Carnegie has never been confirmed either by Carnegie himself or the Carnegie estate, and Hill allegedly only started making claims of interviewing Carnegie after he had died. Aside from Hill's writings, there are no accounts of the meeting taking place. Carnegie biographer David Nasaw stated that he "found no evidence of any sort that Carnegie and Hill ever met" or "that the book was authentic."Outside of Hill's own writings, and aside from briefly meeting Thomas Edison in 1923, the evidence is lacking for many of Hill's other claims of meeting other famous men. According to the official Napoleon Hill biography, the reason for this is that his photos, letters from presidents, and endorsement letters from famous men were all lost in a fire.Aside from these and charges of fraud, Hill's other claims have been called into question. There is no known evidence that he aided President Wilson to negotiate Germany's surrender in World War I; that he helped President Roosevelt write his fireside chats; or that he was an attorney. There are no known records of Hill's meetings with the famous men he claimed to have interviewed.

Alleged spirit visitations

Hill openly described visits from spirits in Chapter 12 of his book Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind (1967). He described them as unseen friends, unseen watchers, strange beings, and the Great School of Masters that had been guarding him, and who maintain a "school of wisdom". Hill states that the "Master" spoke to him audibly, revealing secret knowledge. Hill further insists that the Masters "can disembody themselves and travel instantly to any place they choose to acquire essential knowledge or to give knowledge directly, by voice, to anyone else."

Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind was allegedly influenced by Hill's spirit voices; Hill cites the "Master", saying, "Much of what he said already has been presented to you in the chapters of this book or will follow in other chapters." In Chapter 14 of his book Think and Grow Rich (1937) he openly talks about his "invisible counselors" with whom he discusses various areas of his life. Hill refers to these meetings with his counselors as being real because he consistently told himself they were real, a principle he refers to as "autosuggestion". Hill does admit the talks were only real to him because of his imagination but professes his belief that the "dominating thoughts and desires" of one's mind make those thoughts real.


Napoleon Hill died aged 87 on November 8, 1970.


Hill's works were inspired by the philosophy of New Thought and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and are listed as New Thought reading.Hill has been seen as inspiring later self-help works, such as Rhonda Byrne's The Secret.


The Law of Success (1928)

The Magic Ladder to Success (1930)

Think and Grow Rich (1937)

Outwitting the Devil (1938, published 2011)

How to Sell Your Way Through Life (1939)

The Master-Key to Riches (1945)

How to Raise Your Own Salary (1953)

Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (with W. Clement Stone) (1959)

Grow Rich!: With Peace of Mind (1967)

Succeed and Grow Rich Through Persuasion (1970)

You Can Work Your Own Miracles (1971)

See also

Dale Carnegie

Law of Attraction


External links

Quotations related to Napoleon Hill at Wikiquote

Media related to Napoleon Hill at Wikimedia Commons

Works related to Think and Grow Rich at Wikisource

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