The Gospel of Carnegie
Did success author Napoleon Hill ever meet the world’s richest man?
Success author Napoleon Hill described his first encounter with steel magnate Andrew Carnegie — “the richest man that the richest nation on earth ever produced” — in terms that brought to mind Moses receiving the tablets on Mount Sinai. Hill said that he interviewed the industrialist in 1908 and received marching orders to codify a philosophy of success, which formed the basis for his 1928 book The Law of Success and the wealth-building classic that followed nine years later, Think and Grow Rich.
Whatever impression Hill left on Carnegie, the industrialist made no mention of the younger man in his writings. Nor did Hill begin making references to the fateful meeting until nearly a decade after Carnegie’s death in 1919.
Critics question whether the encounter ever took place. I am agnostic on the point. Hill was working that year for Bob Taylor’s Magazine, an inspirational and general-interest monthly published by the former governor of Tennessee who continued the magazine as a U.S. senator.
The journal featured up-by-the-bootstraps stories of millionaires — a staple of the day’s popular literature — and the job (and Taylor’s position) could have facilitated contact between journalist and subject. In December 1908, under his birthname “Oliver Napoleon Hill” (one of the last times he would use that byline), Hill wrote a regional essay on “Mobile and Southern Alabama” accompanied by an author photo, seen above, of the bow-tied young writer. No interview with Carnegie ever appeared, nor have I located any further byline for Hill in magazine.
In any case, Carnegie’s memoirs do paint the image of a man who enjoyed discussing the metaphysics of success. In his autobiography, published posthumously in 1920, Carnegie recalled that as an adolescent he “became deeply interested in the mysterious doctrines of Swedenborg.” A Spiritualist aunt encouraged the young Carnegie to develop his psychical talents, or “ability to expound ‘spiritual sense’.”
Carnegie was eager to be taken seriously as an author and he reveled in probing whether there exist natural laws of money and accumulation. In June 1889, Carnegie published his essay “Wealth” for the North American…