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Napoleon Hill

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Napoleon Hill
headshot of young man clad in white shirt, jacket and tie
Portrait of Napoleon Hill, 1904
Born (1883-10-26)October 26, 1883
Pound, Virginia
Died November 8, 1970(1970-11-08) (aged 87)
South Carolina
Occupation Author, Journalist, Salesman, Lecturer
Citizenship American
Period 1928–1971
Literary movement Self-help
Notable works Think and Grow Rich (1937)
The Law of Success (1928)
Outwitting the Devil (1938)

Signature signature of Napoleon Hill

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Napoleon Hill (born Oliver Napoleon Hill; October 26, 1883 – November 8, 1970) was an American self-help author. He is well known for his book Think and Grow Rich (1937) which has sold 20 million copies and is among the top 10 best selling self-help books of all time.[1][2] Hill's works insisted that fervid expectations are essential to improving one's life.[3][4] Most of his books were promoted as expounding principles to achieve "success".

Life and career[edit]


Hill was born in a one-room cabin near the Appalachian town of Pound in Southwest Virginia.[5] 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 in 1847.[6] Hill's mother died when he was nine years old, and his father remarried two years later. At the age of 13, Hill began writing as a "mountain reporter", initially for his father's paper.[7] At the age of 15, he briefly married a local girl who had accused him of fathering her child; the girl later recanted the claim, and the marriage was subsequently annulled.[8]

Early career[edit]

At the age of 17, Hill graduated high school and went to Tazewell, Virginia to attend business school. In 1901, Hill took a job working for the lawyer Rufus A. Ayers, a coal magnate and former Virginia attorney general. Six months later, at the age of 19, Hill was promoted to manager of one of Ayre's mines.[9]According to the author Richard Lingeman, Hill received this position after arranging to cover up the death of a black bellhop, whom the previous manager of the mine had accidentally shot while drunk.[10]

Hill left his coal mine management job shortly afterwards, and entered law school before withdrawing for lack of funds. Later in life, Hill would claim a 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."[11]

Failed Business Ventures[edit]

After becoming estranged from Whitman, Hill moved to Mobile, Alabama in 1907 and co-founded the Acree-Hill Lumber Company. Novak accuses Hill of running this company as a fraudulent scheme; between 1907 and 1908, Hill took between $10,000 and $20,000 worth of lumber on credit, and then sold off the lumber at low prices without intending to repay his creditors. By September 1908, the Pensacola Journal reported that Hill was on the run, as he faced criminal proceedings, bankruptcy proceedings, charges of mail fraud, and warrants for his arrest.[9][12]

By December 1908, Hill had fled to Washington, D.C., seeking to reinvent himself. At this point, Hill started introducing himself by his middle name, Napoleon.

In May 1909, Hill founded the "Automobile College of Washington," where he instructed students to build and chauffeur motor cars.[13] The college assembled cars for the Carter Motor Corporation, which declared bankruptcy in early 1912. In April 1912, the automobile magazine Motor World accused Hill's college of being a scam relying upon on misleading marketing materials that would be "a joke to anyone of average intelligence."[14] Hill's automobile college went out of business later that year.

While running his automobile college, in June 1910, Hill married his third wife, the recent high school graduate Florence Elizabeth Horner.[15] The couple had their first child together, named James, in 1911, and a second child named Napoleon Blair in 1912. After his automobile college folded, Hill moved to Lumberport, West Virginia with his wife's family. He later moved to Chicago and took a job with the LaSalle Extension University before co-founding a candy business that he named the Betsy Ross Candy Shop.[16]

In September 1915, Hill established a new school in Chicago, the "George Washington Institute," 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.[17] The school closed shortly afterwards.

Later in his life, Hill would claim that he spent the years of 1917-1918 advising president Woodrow Wilson amidst World War I. However, the journalist Matt Novak denies that Hill ever met Wilson, noting that Hill's publishings at the time omit any reference to such an occurrence.[9]

Following the closure of the George Washington Institute, Hill embarked on various other business ventures. He founded several personal magazines, including Hill's Golden Rule and Napoleon Hill's Magazine. In 1922, Hill also founded the Intra-Wall Correspondence School, a charitable foundation intended to provide educational materials to prisoners in Ohio. The organization was headed by the check forger and former convict Butler Storke, who was sent back to prison in 1923.[18] According to Hill's official biography, this period was also when hundreds of documents connecting Hill to various famous figures were destroyed in a Chicago storage fire.[19]

The Law of Success[edit]

In 1928, Hill moved to Philadelphia and convinced a Connecticut-based publisher to release his eight-volume work The Law of Success. 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 six-hundred acre property in the Catskills, with the aid of outside lenders.[20]

However, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression aversely affected Hill's finances, forcing him to foreclose his Catskills property by mid-1930. Hill's next published work, The Magic Ladder to Success, proved to be a commercial failure. In the next few years, Hill traveled through the country, returning to his habits from the prior decade of founding various short-lived business ventures.

In 1935, Hill's wife Florence filed for a divorce in Florida. In 1936, the 53-year-old Hill entered his fourth marriage with the 29-year-old Rosa Lee Beeland, less than 2 days after the two met at a lecture in Knoxville, Tennessee.[9]

Think and Grow Rich[edit]

In 1937, Hill published the best-selling book Think and Grow Rich, which went on to become Hill's most well-known work. Unlike with his prior publications, Hill's new wife Rosa Lee contributed substantially to the authoring and editing of Think and Grow Rich.

Wealthy once more, Hill reinitiated his lavish lifestyle and purchased a new estate in Mount Dora, Florida. By early 1939, Novak claims that the "Hills were yet again nearly broke."[9]

Philosophy of Achievement[edit]

head shot 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 in 1928 in the multi-volume study course The Law of Success,[21] 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, 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: Napoleon Hill states in the introduction that the "secret" that Carnegie 'carelessly tossed it into my mind' also inspired Manuel L. Quezon to 'gain freedom for his people, and went on to lead them as its first president.' And 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 firm beliefs, which put success out of their reach.[22]

Hill used a story of his son, Blair, who he says was an inspiration to him because although Blair was born with no 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, in his last year of college, read chapter two of the manuscript of Think and Grow Rich, discovered Hill's secret "for himself", and went on to inspire "hundreds and thousands" of people who could not hear or speak.[23]

From 1952 to 1962, Hill taught his Philosophy of Personal Achievement – Lectures on Science of Success in association with W. Clement Stone.[24] In 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."[25]

Think and Grow Rich remains the top seller of Napoleon Hill's books. (In 2007, Business Week Magazine's Best-Seller List ranked Think and Grow Rich as the sixth best-selling paperback business book).[26] It is listed in John C. Maxwell's A Lifetime "Must Read" Books List.[27]

Sales of Hill's books demonstrate the continuing appeal of the myth of a "secret" of success. Hill claimed insight into racism, slavery, oppression, failure, revolution, war and poverty, saying that overcoming these obstacles using his "Philosophy of Achievement" was the responsibility of every human.[22]

Influence of Andrew Carnegie[edit]

Later in life, Hill wrote that the turning point in his life had been a 1908 assignment to interview the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (d. 1919). In 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,[28] and that he had gone on to interview many successful people of the time. However, according to the historian David Nasaw, there is no evidence that Hill and Carnegie had ever met. [9]

The acknowledgments in his 1928 multi-volume work The Law of Success,[21] listed 45 of those he had studied, "the majority of these men at close range, in person", like those the book set was dedicated to, 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,[29] whom Hill said had then introduced him to Alexander Graham Bell, Elmer R. Gates, Thomas Edison, and Luther Burbank.[30]

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.[29][30] The list in the acknowledgments includes, among those Hill wrote that he had personally interviewed,[30] 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.

Spirit visitations[edit]

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 watching over 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 heavily 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.."[31]


Napoleon Hill died on November 8, 1970.


Hill's works were inspired by the New Thought movement and the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and are commonly listed as New Thought reading.[32][33][34][35]


  • 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)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Milwaukee Sentinel - Google News Archive Search". 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Chang, Larry (2006). Wisdom for the Soul. Gnosophia Publishers. p. 514. ISBN 978-0-9773391-0-5. Retrieved September 10, 2014. 
  4. ^ Hill, Napoleon (1937). Think and Grow Rich. Chicago, Illinois: Combined Registry Company. ISBN 1-60506-930-2. A similar quote regarding Thomas Edison is on page 230. 
  5. ^ About Napoleon Hill, The Napoleon Hill Foundation.
  6. ^ Derby, George; White, James Terry. "The National Cyclopædia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the Men and Women who are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time". J. T. White – via Google Books. 
  7. ^ Ritt, Michael; Landers, Kirk (1 July 1995). A Lifetime of Riches. Dutton Book. p. 23. ISBN 0525941460. 
  8. ^ Ritt, Michael; Landers, Kirk (1 July 1995). A Lifetime of Riches. Dutton Book. p. 17. ISBN 0525941460. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Novak, Matt, "The Untold Story of Napoleon Hill, the Greatest Self-Help Scammer of All Time", Gizmodo, retrieved December 10, 2016 
  10. ^ Lingeman, Richard (13 August 1995). "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People". New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2017. 
  11. ^ Ritt, Michael; Landers, Kirk (1 July 1995). A Lifetime of Riches. Dutton Book. p. 46. ISBN 0525941460. 
  12. ^ The Pensacola Journal. (Pensacola, Fla.), 17 Oct. 1908. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>
  13. ^ Ritt, Michael J.; Landers, Kirk (1995-07-01). A lifetime of riches: the biography of Napoleon Hill. Dutton Book. p. 41. ISBN 9780525941460. 
  14. ^ Motor World Wholesale. Chilton Company. 1912-04-12. pp. 39–41. 
  15. ^ Ritt, Michael J.; Landers, Kirk (1995-07-01). A lifetime of riches: the biography of Napoleon Hill. Dutton Book. p. 35. ISBN 9780525941460. 
  16. ^ Ritt, Michael J.; Landers, Kirk (1995-07-01). A lifetime of riches: the biography of Napoleon Hill. Dutton Book. pp. 44–50. ISBN 9780525941460. 
  17. ^ "TWO WARRANTS OUT FOR MODEST NAPOLEON HILL". Chicago Daily Tribune. 4 June 1918. Retrieved 2017-01-31. 
  18. ^ Ritt, Michael J.; Landers, Kirk (1995-07-01). A lifetime of riches: the biography of Napoleon Hill. Dutton Book. pp. 88–91. ISBN 9780525941460. 
  19. ^ Ritt, Michael J.; Landers, Kirk (1995-07-01). A lifetime of riches: the biography of Napoleon Hill. Dutton Book. p. 94. ISBN 9780525941460. 
  20. ^ Ritt, Michael J.; Landers, Kirk (1995-07-01). A lifetime of riches: the biography of Napoleon Hill. Dutton Book. pp. 122–125. ISBN 9780525941460. 
  21. ^ a b Hill, Napoleon (1928). The Law of Success. Ralston University Press. 
  22. ^ a b Hill, Napoleon (1937). Think and Grow Rich. Chicago, Illinois: Combined Registry Company. p. viii. ISBN 1-60506-930-2. 
  23. ^ Hill, Napoleon (1937). Think and Grow Rich. Chicago, Illinois: Combined Registry Company. pp. 11, 52–63. ISBN 1-60506-930-2. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  24. ^ Napoleon Hill Timeline – Napoleon Hill Foundation.
  25. ^ Hill, Napoleon, Stone, W. Clement, Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude [Back Cover] Pocket Books (1991) ISBN 0-671-74322-8
  26. ^ The Business Week Best-Seller List, Business Week magazine, January 15, 2007
  27. ^ Maxwell, John A Lifetime "Must Read" Books List, March 2008
  28. ^ Hill, Napoleon (1937). Think and Grow Rich. Chicago, Illinois: Combined Registry Company. p. 8. ISBN 1-60506-930-2. 
  29. ^ a b Ritt, Michael J.; Landers, Kirk (1995). A Lifetime of Riches: The Biography of Napoleon Hill. Dutton Book. ISBN 0525941460. 
  30. ^ a b c Hill, Napoleon (2010) [1939]. How to Sell Your Way Through Life. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0470541180. 
  31. ^ Hill, Napoleon (1937). Think and Grow Rich. Chicago, Illinois: Combined Registry Company. ISBN 1-60506-930-2. 
  32. ^ Horowitz, Mitch (2009-01-01). Occult America: The Secret History of how Mysticism Shaped Our Nation. Bantam Books. p. 87. ISBN 9780553806755. 
  33. ^ Starker, S. (2002) Oracle at the Supermarket: The American Preoccupation With Self-Help Books
  34. ^ Books : Religion & Spirituality : New Age & Spirituality : New Thought : Napoleon Hill,
  35. ^