Charles Ward: From Convicted Felon to President

From Napoleon Hill's book “Succeed and Grow Rich Through Persuasion”:

Charles Allen Ward spent much of his early life in poverty. He worked various jobs just to make ends meet. At one point, he joined Pancho Villa's army in Mexico after President Diaz of Mexico was overthrown.

There Charles saw that the soldiers were slaughtering ranchers cattles and leaving them to rot. He saw an opportunity. He got permission from Pancho Villa to get collect the hides of the dead cattles. Charles then salted them and sent them to be sold at El Paso. Eventually he managed to save up a considerable amount of money, about $70,000 in those pre-inflation days.

He left Pancho Villa's army and moved to El Paso. He gambled and spent a lot of money with the saloon's drinkers and eventually all of his hard earned money were down the drain. He moved to Denver and started living off by accepting drinks and handouts from saloon hangers-on.

In the meantime, Narcotics agents had been investigating him for two years, starting when he came to El Paso with all of his savings from the hides deal. They eventually arrested him for peddling narcotics. Charlies claimed they planted the drugs in his lodging to justify the two years they spend investigating him and coming up with nothing.

He was tried and convicted, and at thirty-four he entered Leavenworth prison to begin the long term the judge had meted out.


Charlie had never been in jail before, despite the fact that he rubbed elbows with criminals and underworld characters most of his life. Conviction for a crime he claimed not to have committed made him bitter. As soon as he arrived at Leavenworth, he vowed to himself that the place was not strong enough to hold him and immediately began to look for some means to make a break. But at this point, something important happened to Charlie Ward. Some silent power within his brain caused him to resolve to adapt himself to the prison rules and to become the most agreeable inmate in the prison. With this resolution, the entire tide of affairs of his life began to reverse. Charlie Ward had finally mastered his greatest enemy, himself. He quit hating the federal agents who, he said, had framed him. He quit hating the judge who had, in harsh language, sentenced him. For once in his life, he took a good look at the Charlie Ward he had known in the past, and the picture he saw was not pretty.

He started to look for ways to make his prison stay as pleasant as possible. His first big reward for his change was when a friendly convict clerk named Peter gave him a tip that one of the “trusties” who worked in the power plant was to be released in three months, leaving an opening for someone who knew electricity.

This happy turn of the wheel of fate gave Charlie an opportunity to move, on his own initiative, in a direction that was destined to bring good fortune. It also gave him an opportunity to learn what a man can do by going the extra mile, giving more than that for which he is paid.

Charlie knew nothing about electricity, but he got technical books from the prison library and began devoting all his spare time to learning. When three months were up, he walked into the deputy's warden's office and applied for the job. Something about his manner and his tone of voice impressed the deputy, and he got the job. That “something” was his changed mental attitude from negative to positive.

This job gave Charlie a taste of freedom, since some of the electrical work took him outside the prison walls, such as repairing electrical appliances for the warden's wife and other light jobs. In order that he might do this work, he was given a gate pass good from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M.

In his second year at prison, Charlie, who had continued his night studies, became superintendent of the power plant, supervising one hundred fifty men. From the very first, he showed a kindly attitude toward these men and endeavored to help them to make the best of their situations. By this time, he had gained the confidence both of the prison officials and of his fellow convicts, and he was enjoying privileges not accorded to many of the other trusties.


Then came the biggest break Charlie had ever known: Herbert Huse Bigelow, sentenced for income tax evasion, arrived at the prison. Mr. Bigelow was the president and major stockholder of the Brown-Bigelow Calendar Company of St. Paul, at the time one of the largest of its kind in the world.

“When I saw Mr. Bigelow,” said Charlie, “something within me said, 'Here is the man who can pull you out of the mud.'”

Mr. Bigelow was fifty-three when he entered prison. He walked in with his head high, sporting an overbearing manner. The convicts, who had heard of Mr. Bigelow, did everything in their power to make life miserable for him.

Charlie watched the older man's ordeal with sympathetic interest, and he recognize that Bigelow's spirit was rapidly being broken. One day, he offered the millionaire a cigarette, and as they smoked together, he offered to act as a buffer between the cultured manufacturer and the harshness of prison life. First, he had Mr. Bigelow transferred from the small cell he occupied to his own quarters in the basement, a spacious room without bars adjoining in the showers. Next, he got Bigelow an outside job and the daylight pass that went with it. When Bigelow expressed a fear that some of his executives might mismanage his company while he was away, Charlie arranged for him to supervise his office from the penitentiary. He got a typewriter and the services of a convict stenographer to take Mr. Bigelow's dictation after prison working hours. He also managed to get the prison rules relaxed so that Mr. Bigelow could send out seventy-five to a hundred letters a day, instead of only the few that prison rules permitted.

As Mr. Bigelow's term approached its completion, he said to Charlie, “You've been good to me, and I want to show you that I appreciate it. When I leave here, I'm going to stop off in Kansas City and deposit $15,000 in your name, so you will have something to go on when you get out.”

Charlie thanked him, but declined the offer.

A little later, the manufacturer was paroled, and on bidding Charlie good-bye he said, “You'll be out in another month, Charlie. I want you to come to St. Paul and go to work for me. I'll never forget what you did for me.”


Five weeks later, Charlie arrived in St. Paul and was met at the station by Mr. Bigelow, who drove him to his home for luncheon. After luncheon, he drove Ward to a rooming house near the plant, where he had rented a room for his friend.

On Monday morning, Charlie reported for work at the Bigelow plant and was assigned to a job, at $25 a week, feeding raw rubber into a processing machine.

After all that Charlie had done for Mr. Bigelow, his assignment to a dirty job at starvation wages seemed the last word in ingratitude, but instead of quitting in disgust, or complaining to Mr. Bigelow, Charlie did what most men would not have done under the same circumstances. He worked hard and did such a good job that Mr. Bigelow began to think of letting Charlie work where his positive mental attitude would be of most help to the company.

Within two months, Charlie was a foreman.

Personal initiative and the habit of going the extra mile had paid off for Charlie. Every subsequent job he has assigned was handled so efficiently that the company felt obliged to promote him to a higher one.

Finally, the directors proved that they recognized Charlie's value by creating the job of vice-president and general manager at a salary that was second only to the president's.

Eight months later, Mr. Bigelow died and the directors appointed Charlie to take his place. From that time, the financial sheets of Brown-Bigelow Calendar Company saw nothing but black ink.

Then came the biggest surprise of Charlie's life. He discovered that Mr. Bigelow had left him a third interest in his estate. Charlie continued to prosper until it became known that his personal net work was in the millions. He was received by the leading business and political figures of St. Paul. He joined the best clubs and became a thirty-second degree Mason. President Franklin D. Roosevets officially restored his civil rights as a citizen as a token of appreciation for his “exemplary life.” As one of his close friends said, “When Charlie rises, he invariably pulls many others along with him.”

This story proves once again that a man can change his world and his entire life by changing his mental attitude from negative to positive. It proves that the habit of going the extra mile is without equal as a means of lifting oneself to higher levels in life. It also proves that “every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.”

There is no mystery about Charlie Ward's rise to fame and fortune. He did it by following principles of success which can make any other person as successful as he became. You have a right to use those same principles. What are you going to do with your right?


Charlie Ward first came to the attention of Napoleon Hill when an autographed copy of Think and Grow Rich was presented to Franklin D. Roosevelt by the author. The President thumbed through the book for a few minutes, read some of the names of the successful men it described, then exclaimed, “I don't see Charlie Ward's name here. If you want a success story running all the way from rags to riches, meet Charlie Ward and you will have it. He is the smartest of all big fellows now living, and a rich man who has not become a slave to money. Charlie's hobby is sharing himself and his blessing with others, You will like Charlie and he will like you.””


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