Oliver Napoleon Hill: The man who willingly committed 20 years of his life to documenting and recording philosophy of success

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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. His father was an unofficial dentist and a moonshiner. His mother died when he was 10 years old, and his father remarried two years later to Martha. His stepmother was a good influence on him: “Hill’s stepmother, the widow of a school principal, civilized the wild-child, Napoleon, making him go to school and attend church.” She promised to buy him a typewriter if he gave up on his six-shooter.

At age 15, he landed a job as a freelance reporter for a group of rural newspapers, followed a few years later by a job with Bob Taylor’s Magazine, a popular periodical that offered advice on achieving power and wealth.

His first major interview was with the richest man in America – 73 years old Pittsburgh steel magnet Andrew Carnegie, this interview changed his life. He intently listened as Carnegie recounted his extraordinary accomplishments and proffered his theories on a personal achievement. “It is a shame that each new generation must find the way to success by trial and error when the principles are really clear-cut”

Carnegie challenged Hill to commit the next 20years without compensation to documenting and recording such philosophy of success and he will introduce him to the wealthiest and most successful men of the time, which Hill jumped to the opportunity. And so far, the next two decades, between numerous business ventures and starting a family, Hill went about fulfilling the pledge. He met with Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockafallar, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, King Gillette, and other contemporary giants. Carnegie believed that “definiteness of purpose” was the starting point for all success and this concept became the foundation for Hill’s later writings and professional focus.

Early Career

At the age of 177, 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. He left his coal mine management job soon afterwards and enrolled in law school before withdrawing due to 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 Charge 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 countries in Alabama and Florida, and selling it below cost, thereby failing to generate a return.

Early Career

At the age of 177, 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. He left his coal mine management job soon afterwards and enrolled in law school before withdrawing due to 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 Charge 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 countries 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.  The Washington Post – 10 October 1909, Sun – page 13 published “Napoleon Hill, president of the Automobile College of Washington, has bought out the other members of that corporation and will manage the school himself. Mr. Hill states that from the present outlook the season of 1910 will far surpass all previous ones.” The college 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 college closed its doors later that year.

While running his automobile college, in June 1910, Hill married his first wife, Florence Elizabeth Horner. The couple had their first child, James in 1911, a second child name Napoleon Blair in 1912, and a third son, David in 1918. After his automobile college folded, Hill moved to Lumberport, West Virginia with his wife’s family. He later  that same year Hill moved to Chicago, leaving the family behind and spent little time with Florence or his sons for the next 17 years.  In Chicago, he worked as an advertising writer, candy store owner and teacher of a Correspondence course in salesmanship. Hill took a job with the LaSalle Extension University as an advertising writer before co-founding a candy business that he named the Betsy Ross Candy Shop.  In 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 $1,200.

Following the closure of the George Washington Institute, Hill embarked on various other business ventures. He founded several personal magazines, including the 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.

When the United States entered WW1, he wrote to President Woodrow Wilson offering his services. Hill had interviewed him years earlier as part of his Carnegie research project when Wilson was president of Princeton University. Wilson took the offer ABD put Hill to work on a series of propaganda materials. By the end of the war Hill was certain of his calling as a writer. He went to Chicago printer George Williams and pitched the idea for a magazine dedicated to a philosophy of success. Hill’s golden Rule was a blend of Biblical psalms, gospel teachings and lessons he had learned from this research. This magazine written and edited by Hill was an instant hit and he began to receive the fame he had long sought.

In 1920, Hill moved to New York due to his business rift. He started another magazine which became a bigger success than the previous magazine but his colleague became embroiled in a bad business venture and this lead to repercussions for the magazine and Hill dusted himself off and started over by moving to Ohio and purchased and operated a business college offering courses in journalism, advertising and public speaking. Then he met Don Mellet, the publisher of Canton Daily News, who persuaded him to write a book on the principles of success he had been compiling over the years. Mellet exposes the local police who were turning a blind eye to prohibition gangsters distributing narcotic and bootlegs is o area school children in his paper and Hill wrote to the governor of Ohio and asked for an investigation. Mellet was gunned down outside his home in 1926 and the assassins were also lying in wait for Hill but due to sheer luck, his car broke down and couldn’t go home that night. After hearing of Mellet’s murder and receiving an anonymous warning to get out of town, Hill fled to West Virginia.

The Law of Success

During 1928, Hill committed to himself to finishing the work he had started. Re-energies, he set off to Philadelphia in search for a publisher for the book he had long hoped to write. After numerous rejections, Connecticut publisher Andrew Pelton agreed to pri