Claim to fame: Founder and editor of Success, a pioneering self-help magazine.
Quote: “Success is the child of drudgery and perseverance. It cannot be coaxed or bribed; pay the price and it is yours.”
Another one: “He can who thinks he can.”
Life in 400 words or less: In the long-ago era when male magazine readers were as eager to improve themselves as their female counterparts were, Success occupied a special place on the periodical racks. The magazine was the brainchild of Orison Swett Marden, a prolific self-help book author, whose own life story was perhaps his richest source of inspiration.
Orphaned at age 7, he put himself through Harvard Medical School and Boston University Law School, attending the two programs simultaneously and graduating from them a year apart (1881 and 1882). He was also a successful caterer and hotel manager, eventually drawing on all that experience when he became an author. Frank Munsey, a leading magazine entrepreneur and friend of Marden, supposedly lamented that, "If Doctor Marden had not written his first book he would have been a millionaire. He had a genius for hotel making."
Marden launched his first Success magazine in 1897 and built it into a substantial property, only to see it fail in 1912. In 1918, heeding his own advice to persevere, he gave it another shot, with New Success. That iteration, eventually just called Success again, would survive Marden himself. He died in 1924, and the magazine continued until 1927. (Several later Success magazines, including one I once worked for, have continued the name or some variation of it.)
A typical table of contents for Marden’s Success might include a serialized novel, an article or two on current affairs, some poetry and, of course, one or more uplifting pieces on topics such as “Minimizing Difficulties” and “Keeping Fit for Work.” Theodore Dreiser, then a young freelancer, was a frequent contributor, interviewing big shots like Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison.
While Marden had countless fans and his ideas are rebottled by self-help authors to this day, he also had his detractors. H.L. Mencken, perhaps not surprisingly, had little use for him. “It was the heyday of some of the most banal eminentissimos that even the United States… had ever known,” Mencken recalled in “My Life as Author and Editor” (Knopf, 1993), citing Marden and eight other contemporaries. “The spectacle they provided was a gaudy one, and I surely enjoyed it as much as most, but meanwhile my hand itched for a club to belabor them to the glory of God.”
For more: The standard biography, though a bit gushy by today’s standards, is “The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden, A Man Who Benefited Men,” by Margaret Connolly (Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1925). Marden himself wrote dozens of self-improvement books and pamphlets, including “How to Get What You Want,” “Making Friends With Your Nerves,” “Pushing to the Front,” and (worth seeking out for its title alone) “Self-Discovery: Why Remain a Dwarf?” -- Greg Daugherty, 9/08