Marden was born 11 June 1848 in Thornton Gore, New Hampshire to Lewis and Martha Marden. When he was three years old, his mother died at the age of twenty-two, leaving Orison and his two sisters in the care of their father, who was a farmer, hunter, and trapper. When Orison was seven years old, his father died from injuries incurred while in the woods. Consequently, the children were shuttled from one guardian to another, with Orison working for five successive families as a "hired boy" to earn his keep.
In addition to Samuel Smiles, Marden cited as influences on his thinking the works of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom were influential forerunners of what, by the 1890s, was called the New Thought Movement.
Pushing to the Front (1894) became the single greatest runaway classic in the history of personal development books at that time. American Presidents william McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, as well as England's Prime Minister william Gladstone, praised the book. People like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and J. P. Morgan cited it as inspiration. In summing up the scope and impact of Marden's first literary effort, Connolly states that "[t]wo hundred and fifty editions of Pushing to the Front have so far [in 1925] been published in this country alone. It is known and read in practically every country in the world." Marden went on to write fifty or more books and booklets during his career. Each of his books has produced dozens of famous quotes, and he is considered the base and inspiration of dozens of modern authors of self-help and motivation.
Founded in 1897, Marden's Success magazine eventually grew to a circulation of about half a million subscribers. The publication had its own building and printing plant in New York and was backed by a workforce of two hundred or more employees. For his magazine, Marden wrote articles that focused on self-culture, personal development and principles of success. Other articles featured personal interviews of successful men and women. Notable public figures included the late President Teddy Roosevelt, the poet Julia Ward Howe, inventors Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, and leading industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Over fifty of these interviews were later compiled into book form. The magazine is still published today by Dallas-based SUCCESS Partners.
Margaret Connolly, a contemporary who worked for Marden's publishing firm in the early 1900s, describes the incident of the hotel fire, his narrow escape from death, and the loss of his original manuscript, which he later re-wrote and entitled Pushing to the Front. Marden's unwavering determination to start from scratch after this devastating loss was characteristic of the man and his writings. Connolly writes:
Marden served as editor-in-chief in supervising the publication of the Consolidated Encyclopedic Library (1903, 1906, 1907), a collaborative work of nineteen volumes written for the benefit of the general public and young people in particular. He was also a regular contributor to Elizabeth Towne's New Thought magazine, Nautilus, during the first two decades of the twentieth century. During this time he served as the first President of the early New York City-based New Thought organization League for the Larger Life.
Most of Marden's books are now in Public Domain & available in eBook format for free but few are rare to find and unavailable online like "The Exceptional Employee (1913). A fairly extensive list can be found on Amazon Kindle's Timeless Wisdom Collection. Many of these eBooks seem to have been conscientiously proofread for correct spelling and provide navigable chapter links. Some of them are also available in other languages, such as German (see Amazon Kindle's Erfolgsklassiker - i.e., Success Classics).
Note: Information condensed from Margaret Connolly's The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden (1925) and Wende Marden Sinnaeve's Out of the Ashes - The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden (2004). Those marked with an asterisk are plausible approximates where no exact year was found. Events where no approximate year can be ascertained are marked (--).