Edward Earle Purinton was a leading early twentieth-century health and efficiency expert as well as a philosopher, poet, and naturopath. His books and manuals sold over 10 million copies in 20 countries. He was a leading advisor to industry titans and teacher of the common man and woman.
Purinton was born on April 24, 1878, in Morgantown, West Virginia to Daniel Boardman Purinton and Florence Lyon Purinton. “Earle” as he was known to his family, came from a long line of educators. His father was a professor at West Virginia University, where he taught subjects as varied as logic, mathematics, metaphysics, and vocal music before going on to serve as the university’s acting president in 1881, and becoming president of Denison University from 1890 to 1901. He would return to West Virginia University to serve as its president for the remainder of his career. Earle’s grandfather, Franklin Smith Lyon, was one of the first professors at West Virginia University and the chair of its English department, and his great-great-great aunt, Mary Lyon, founded Mount Holyoke College. It would seem then that Purinton was destined to become a teacher.
While little is known of Purinton’s childhood, we do know that he graduated salutatorian in 1895 from Doane Academy in Granville, Ohio. He would go on to graduate from Denison University in 1899 and taught Greek at Doane Academy the following year.
Despite these achievements, Purinton states that he was “born a weakling” and that in his first 25 years, he was “ “anything but whole.” In the preface to The Philosophy of Fasting, he described himself as “a semi-invalid and chronic sufferer during most of my boyhood and youth.” He went on to note that he had at least fifteen forms of disease (mostly “nervous and digestive”) and was taking up to six kinds of medicine.
Earle reports that he traveled the world in search of healing and studied multiple healing systems. To improve his health, he utilized dietetics, physical culture exercises, breathing exercises, and other forms of naturopathy. Ultimately, he found that the thirty-day fast restored him to optimum health. At that time, he befriended and began to work with Benedict Lust, the founder of the American School of Naturopathy, head of the American Naturopathic Association, and a book publisher. Earle moved to New York City sometime in the first decade of the twentieth century.
With a zeal that is unique to the redeemed, Earle would devote the next several decades of his life to improving the health, happiness, and wealth of others. He did this through the publication of books, periodicals, courses, consulting, and professional service work.
Purinton’s first book was a volume of poetry, The Soul in Silhouette, published in 1904 by Acme publishers. He then wrote The Philosophy of Fasting, a treatise on naturopathic fasting, which was published in 1906 by Benedict Lust. Many of Purinton’s fasting methods, particularly his “Twenty Rules for Fasting,” are still used today. During this time, Purinton established himself as a moving and charismatic speaker, addressing largely female audiences on subjects of love, relationships, fasting and health.
By 1910, Purinton’s focus had turned to broader considerations of balance, efficiency, and happiness. In 1912 he published the essay “The Triumph of the Man Who Acts,” advertised it in the New York Times and The Sun and made it available free of charge. It would later become the cornerstone of his essay collection, The Triumph of the Man Who Acts.
Shortly after this time, he began work with The Independent, a magazine with articles on religion, politics, news, and business. Purinton regularly published there and would serve as director of the Independent’s Efficiency Service.
Purinton’s next book, Efficient Living, published by Robert McBride and Company in 1915, was an early collection of his ideas and systems for efficiency. In 1916, he released The Triumph of the Man Who Acts and Other Papers. This essay collection skillfully combined his interests in efficiency, health, balance, and relationships. This book was quite successful, selling over 700,000 copies within months of its release. In 1919, he released the seven-volume home study course, Purinton Practical Course in Personal Efficiency. He became recognized as an expert in home study courses; in 1921, he wrote an “efficiency study guide” for A Home Course in Mental Science by Helen Wilmens. Within his guide, he noted that he had taught at least 100,000 students either directly or through correspondence.
In addition to authoring books and courses, Purinton formed the Efficiency Publishing Company and published his own pamphlets and brochures as well as those of other efficiency experts. He also moved beyond the domain of personal efficiency, forming his own consulting company to guide large businesses and manufacturers on how to operate at optimal efficiency. His final book, Personal Efficiency in Business (1920) is a repository of his wisdom on the subject. His 1921 article in The Independent, “Big Ideas in Big Business,” is still taught in college classrooms today.
According to Magazine of Sigma Chi, Purinton’s books and lectures received endorsements from Elbert H. Gary, a judge and founder of U.S. Steel; judge and social reformer Ben B. Lindsey; John D. Rockefeller Jr., John Wanamaker; marketing expert and founder of the first American Department store; inventor John Hays Hammond; agricultural pioneer Luther Burbank; General John J. Pershing; F. W. Woolworth; Howard Heinz; and publisher Frank A. Munsey. He was endorsed internationally by Lord Kitchener, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the King of England.
We do not know much about Earle’s later life. The 1930 census shows that he returned to live with his parents at his boyhood home in Morgantown. His mother passed away in 1931 and his father in 1933. Earle would die in Chattahoochee, Florida on July 10, 1943, and be buried in the family plot in Morgantown. Although Edward Earle Purinton died in relative obscurity, his legacy survives through his teachings, writings, wisdom, and his indelible imprint on U.S. industry.