William E. Bailey, one of 11 children, was born and raised in the hills of Kentucky. His father, a farmer, could barely read or write. Their home had no electricity until Bailey's teen years, and they never had indoor plumbing. The family did not own a car or truck, and they plowed their fields with mules.
After graduating from high school in 1947, Bailey worked as a janitor before joining the U.S. Navy. He later used the GI bill to pay his tuition to the University of Illinois. After graduating with a degree in marketing, he accepted a job in data processing sales at IBM. Later, Bailey opened a variety store in California. He became interested in direct sales and joined a major marketing firm, becoming national sales director.
In 1966, Bailey started Bestline Products, a home-distribution network company. Within 10 years, the company was doing business in 10 countries while selling soap and cleaning products for both home and industrial use. "We were all young and excited in those days," said Bailey. "We didn't know we weren't supposed to work 12-hour days. We made a lot of mistakes, but we also did a lot of good things. I loved being in that business and enjoyed watching the young people grow and learn." According to Bailey, at least 30 of his former employees at Bestline went on to run their own companies.
Yet the hectic pace at which Bailey worked at Bestline took a toll on his health. In 1974, he had a mild heart attack, leading him to retire. But in the mid-1980s, he started Safety Plus, Inc., which manufactures fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and escape ladders.
Bailey served many years as a motivational speaker to youth. He told his audiences that despite its problems, America is the most wonderful country history has ever known. "We live better than any other humans in the world, and we have the greatest opportunity for individual accomplishment," Bailey said. "It is not as hard to be successful as you may think. If you've never known anyone who's become very successful, you'll have a false conception that it's difficult."
Bailey long enjoyed writing poetry. In 2008, he published Rhythms of Life, a book of his inspirational poems. He also marketed an audiocassette, Personal Growth. Bailey admired the Horatio Alger Association's work with youth. "Giving the Horatio Alger National Scholars hope for the future is an honorable thing," he said. "I'm very glad to be a part of that."