Portraits from Our Past:
Southwest Virginia Authors
Napoleon Hill (1883 - 1970)


Napoleon Hill was born in 1883 in a one room cabin on the Pound River in Wise County and became one of America's best know motivational authors. He began his writing career at age 15 as a reporter at small town newspapers. One of his early jobs was working for Rufus Ayers, one time Attorney General of Virginia and builder of the mansion that houses the Southwest Virginia Museum. Hill wanted to work for Ayers because, he thought he was the richest man in Southwest Virginia.

At age 18 to earn tuition money for law school, Hill decided to write stories for several magazines about successful people. His first step was to approach former Tennessee Governor Robert L. Taylor, publisher of Bob Taylor's magazine. Taylor offered to compose letters of introduction for Hill to prominent individuals who might make good subjects for profiles, names like: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, and Andrew Carnegie. Dazzled by these prospects, Hill decided to give up his plans to study law and spend all his time writing.

In 1908, Hill interviewed Andrew Carnegie who challenged him to organize the world's first philosophy of individual achievement. Carnegie advised Hill that he would need to devote 20 years of his time and money to his research. In 1923, Hill began to transcribe his voluminous notes into his book Law of Success, which was printed in 1928. It had taken Hill 20 years to complete the project-exactly as Carnegie had predicted.

When the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson asked Hill to come to the White House to serve as his public-relations advisor. Hill also served President Franklin D. Roosevelt as an advisor throughout most of the Depression years. As a presidential speech writer he wrote much of the contents of the famous Fireside Chats. Hill is credited with coining the phrase made famous by Roosevelt "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself." While in Washington, Hill wrote six more books, among them his widely acclaimed philosophy of personal achievement, Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937. It is the all time best-seller in the field of personal development books.

In his lifetime, Napoleon Hill lived his personal motto which is his most famous repeated quote: "What the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve."


The Southwest Virginia Museum is a member of the American
Association of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.