Name at birth: William Sydney Porter
O. Henry was the pseudonym of William Sydney Porter, who wrote colorful short stories with surprising and ironic twists. His best-known titles included "The Last of the Troubadours," "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Ransom of Red Chief." Porter grew up in North Carolina, but moved to Texas in the 1880s. He worked as a draftsman, a bookkeeper, a bank teller and a newspaper columnist until 1898, when he was sent to prison for embezzlement (from his days as a teller in Austin). After more than three years in jail, O. Henry moved to New York to work full time as a writer. His short stories were masterworks of careful plotting and surprise endings: in The Ransom of Red Chief, for instance, a kidnapped tyke is so much trouble that the kidnappers end up paying the boy's father to take him back. O. Henry's work appeared in magazines and journals across the country and were collected in such books as Cabbages and Kings (1904), Heart of the West (1907) and The Voice of the City (1908). No stranger to alcohol and plagued by ill health, he died broke at the age of 47.
Bill Porter is also the name of a 20th-century door-to-door salesman.