Biography of Napoleon Hill

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Napoleon Hill
Photograph of head of young man clad in white shirt, jacket and tie.
Hill in 1904
Born(1883-10-26)October 26, 1883
Pound, Virginia, U.S.
DiedNovember 8, 1970(1970-11-08) (aged 87)
Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, journalist, salesman, lecturer
GenreNon-fiction, self-help
Notable worksThink and Grow Rich (1937)
The Law of Success (1928)
Outwitting the Devil (1938)

  • Florence Elizabeth Horner (1910–1935)
  • Rosa Lee Beeland (1937–1940?)
  • Annie Lou Norman (1943–1970)
Signaturesignature of Napoleon Hill
Books-aj.svg aj ashton 01.svg Literature portal

Oliver Napoleon Hill (born October 26, 1883 – November 8, 1970) was an American self-help author. He is known best 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 grandson of James Madison Hill and Elizabeth (Jones). His grandfather came to the United States from England and settled in southwestern Virginia during 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 17, Hill graduated from high school and went 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. The author Richard Lingeman said 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 afterwards, and began law school before withdrawing for 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 liable to bankruptcy proceedings and charges of mail fraud. The newspaper reported that Hill's lumber company had bought lumber from outside Mobile, including other counties in Alabama and even from Florida, before it sold the lumber "at a much lower price and so far as known at this time have made no returns".

During May 1909, Hill relocated to Washington D.C. and initiated 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 during early 1912. During April 1912, the automobile magazine Motor World accused Hill's college of being a scam, using misleading marketing materials that would be "a joke to anyone of average intelligence". Hill's automobile college ended its business later that year.

During June 1910, while managing his automobile college, Hill married his first wife, Florence Elizabeth Horner. The couple had their first child together, James, in 1911, a second child named Napoleon Blair in 1912, and a third son, David, in 1918. After his automobile college ended, Hill relocated to Lumberport, West Virginia with his wife's family. He later relocated to Chicago and accepted a job with the LaSalle Extension University before co-initiating a candy business that he named the Betsy Ross Candy Shop.

During September 1915, Hill established and served as the dean of a new school in Chicago, the "George Washington Institute of Advertising", where he intended to teach the principles of success and self-confidence. On June 4, 1918, the Chicago Tribune reported that the state of Illinois had issued two warrants for the arrest of Hill, who was charged with violating blue sky laws for fraudulently attempting to sell shares of his school with a $100,000 capitalization, despite the school's assets only being appraised at $1200. The school ended soon afterwards.

Later in his life, Hill would say that he spent this time advising President Woodrow Wilson amidst World War I; however, White House records included no reference to his ever being there.

After the end of the George Washington Institute, Hill embarked on various other business ventures. He initiated several personal magazines, including Hill's Golden Rule and Napoleon Hill's Magazine. In 1922, Hill also initiated the Intra-Wall Correspondence School, a charitable foundation intended to provide educational materials to prisoners in Ohio. The foundation was directed by, among others, the check forger and former convict Butler Storke, who would be sent back to prison only a year later. According to Hill's official biography, this period was also when hundreds of documents associating Hill with various famous figures were destroyed in a Chicago storage fire.

The Law of Success

During 1928, Hill relocated to Philadelphia and convinced 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.[citation needed]

During 1935, Hill's wife Florence filed for a divorce in Florida.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Think and Grow Rich

During 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

This section needs expansion with: finishing incomplete life chronology. You can help by adding to it. (March 2018)

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

Photograph of the head of a man with head tilted and rested on the back of his right hand while reading a book Napoleon Hill holding his book Think and Grow Rich, 1937.

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

A "secret" of achievement was discussed in Think and Grow Rich, but Hill insisted readers would benefit most if they discovered it for themselves. Although he did not explicitly identify this secret in the book, he offered, 20 pages into the book:

"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 actually 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 also inspired Manuel L. Quezon of the Philippine Islands to 'gain freedom for his people, and went on to lead them as its first president.' Although he mentions a 'burning desire for money' repeatedly throughout the book, he also suggests it is not in fact his "secret" at all. By contrast, at the end of his first book, The Law of Success, nine years earlier, he identifies his secret as The Golden Rule: Only by working harmoniously in co-operation with other individuals or groups of individuals and thus creating value and benefit for them will one create sustainable achievement for oneself.

He presented 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 had few or no strong beliefs, which made success unlikely.

Hill used a story of his son, Blair, who he says was an inspiration to him because although Blair was born without ears, and though his doctor told Hill his son would neither be able to hear nor speak, Blair grew 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 not hear or 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 "These two men [Hill and Stone] have the rare gift of inspiring and helping people... In fact, I owe them both a personal debt of gratitude for the helpful guidance I have received from their writings."

It 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, saying 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 (d. 1919).

During 1908, Carnegie was among the most powerful men in the world. Hill wrote, after Carnegie's death, 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 45 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 had then introduced him to Alexander Graham Bell, Elmer R. Gates, Thomas Edison, and Luther Burbank.

According to the publishers, Ralston University Press (Meriden, Conn.), 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 have been widely disputed. Napoleon Hill's collaboration with Andrew Carnegie has never been confirmed by Carnegie 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. According to Andrew Carnegie biographer David Nasaw he said of the alleged meeting between Carnegie and Hill that he "found no evidence of any sort that Carnegie and Hill ever met" and "I found no evidence 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, Napoleon Hill's other claims have been called into question. Napoleon Hill claimed to have aided President Wilson negotiate Germany's surrender in World War I, but there is no known evidence. He claimed he helped F.D.R. write his fireside chats with no known evidence. He claimed to be an attorney although his official biography notes "there is no record of his having actually performed legal services for anyone." There are no known records of Hill interviewing the famous men he claimed to have interviewed, such as Charles M. Schwab, Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, Edwin C. Barnes, and Alexander Graham Bell.

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 in order 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."


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)
  • 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)

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