Walk into any bookstore in America and you'll find plenty of titles written by Napoleon Hill in the financial self-help section. He practically invented the genre in the 1930s with his most famous book Think And Grow Rich. And for that, Virginia has declared today Napoleon Hill Day. But many people have no idea that the man was a con artist.
Napoleon Hill sitting in an office in 1937 (Library of Congress)
Born on October 26, 1883 in Virginia, Napoleon Hill isn't exactly a household name. But he's seen as the grandfather of the self-help movement, influencing everyone from Tony Robbins to the purveyors of The Secret. And the state of Virginia has declared today to be Napoleon Hill Day. But the proclamation is pretty funny if you know anything about the real life of Napoleon Hill. The real dirty little secret? He was a complete charlatan.
The proclamation from Virginia Governor Terry McAullife declares:
Napoleon Hill's writings outline a philosophy of success that includes the importance of clear goals, focused determination, persistence, ethical dealings with others, and maintaining a positive attitude
Napoleon Hill's "ethical dealings with others" would be news to the countless people he swindled out of money throughout his lifetime. Whether it was lumber wholesalers through his fraudulent business in Alabama in 1907 or his fraudulent charity in Ohio in the 1920s, Hill always had some kind of scam going.
Hill also claimed to have advised two presidents, Woodrow Wilson and FDR, and even said that he coined the phrase, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It was all bullshit, of course.
The list goes on and on, and even includes a strange New York cult in the 1930s that tried to raise an immortal baby based on the teaching in his books. Napoleon Hill travelled the country bilking people out of thousands until his death, and was as crooked as they come. So it's a bit weird that we now have a day named for him.
I spent over two years researching Napoleon Hill and finally published my findings last year. You can read the article here if you want to learn more. But if you don't have time to read the whole thing, take my word for it, Napoleon Hill Day should only be a thing if it's acknowledged as a special day to look out for conmen.
Happy Napoleon Hill Day! Don't take any wooden nickels!