The Greatest Entrepreneurs of All Time

Sep 30, 2020

To count the number of entrepreneurs in the history of the world would be impossible. It surely numbers in the millions, if not the billions. These men and women have an idea, take money that might be theirs or someone else’s (the best kind), and use it to make more money. Some of them fail in spectacular fashion and some succeed to the benefit of the entire world. Starting a business was probably terrifying even for these titans of industry. It is a grand endeavor that is invested in fully by the proprietor in mind, body, and wallet. Without such visionaries, the world would have a much different look. There would be no high-rise office buildings, smartphones, automobiles, fast food, or airplanes. The world economy would be reliant on agriculture and trading without the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.

King Croesus

Have you ever hear the phrase “as rich as Croesus”? This guy is the reason for it. King Croesus ruled the Asia Minor Empire in the sixth century B.C. The world owes him a collective debt for minting the world’s first coinage. In one inspired moment, he created the reason for business: money. His rich, opulent lifestyle has given entrepreneurs everywhere something to strive for.

Benjamin Franklin

In a very real sense, Ben Franklin is America’s first entrepreneur. Unlike the other founding fathers, the hyper-moral Washington and the intellectual Jefferson, Franklin was a model of what many leaders of business would become. Beneath his statesman mantle lay a popular author, printer, and inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals. He was a very savvy businessman who knew how to commercialize the fruits of his active mind. We honor his business acumen by putting him on the $100 bill, the “Benjamin.”

Jeff Bezos

It’s lonely at the top, and Jeff Bezos would know. The founder of online retail giant Amazon is the richest man in the world presently. What started out as an online bookseller turned into an ecommerce giant. Bezos started out by making electronics in his garage, graduated from Princeton, and got an honorary doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University. He came up with the idea for Amazon on a road trip from New York to Seattle in 1994. During the lockdowns over the coronavirus earlier this year, Amazon was one of the few retailers supplying people with toilet paper and other necessities. Amazon is also responsible for forcing the US Post Office to deliver on Sunday. That’s power.

Oprah Winfrey

The queen of talk shows took that early success and created a media empire. From humble beginnings in Mississippi, Winfrey worked her way up the news and entertainment world in Chicago. She got her first talk show in 1986 and never looked back. She quickly became a household name but didn’t stop there. She founded Harpo Studios, a production company, and expanded that to a magazine, television studio, and lifestyle brand. If any trend is popular with women aged 25-50, it likely started with Oprah.

P.T. Barnum

Americans have always loved to stop and look at a train wreck and freak show. Phineas Taylor Barnum took that fascination to the highest levels of art. He played on the fascination with the bizarre and freakish and staged sideshow acts ranging from the midget Tom Thumb to Jumbo the Giant Elephant. He went on to create the Barnum and Bailey Circus, dubbed the “Greatest Show on Earth,” which operated up until a few years ago. He is credited with creating modern advertising and marketing.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford is arguably the greatest entrepreneur of all time. He is not only responsible for bringing the automobile to the masses, but he revolutionized the manufacturing process. By making his Model T available to everyone at a reasonable price, he altered human existence. He made people more mobile and increased their range of movement. He was able to make cars faster with the assembly line and allowed people to move out of cities and gave rise to the suburbs. Ford got his start by working as an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison is the father of perhaps the greatest invention known to man, the lightbulb. He also gave the world the phonograph, talking motion pictures, and more than 1,300 other patented inventions. Not only was he a gifted inventor, but he was also able to exploit the profit potential in his inventions. His entrepreneurial spirit emerged as a teenager when he printed a newspaper in the baggage car of a moving train and sold them to passengers. He stands alone as an inventor and entrepreneur.

Ray Kroc

One can’t drive anywhere in America without seeing the Golden Arches soaring high in the sky. Ray Kroc was a middle-aged kitchenware salesman who was in poor health when he took a fateful trip. He saw a family restaurant in LA that captured his imagination. He took the McDonald brothers’ idea of a limited menu and fast service and created the largest restaurant chain in the world. He invented the concept of “fast food” and forever changed the way people eat.

H. Ross Perot

Every entrepreneur is a bit of a cowboy and none personified that better than H. Ross Perot. Before he was a presidential candidate in the ’80s and ’90s, he was a Texas billionaire. He took a $1,000 loan from his wife and created Electronic Data Systems. Perot’s idea was that large companies needed data processing help if they were going to take advantage of computer technology. In the mid-1960s, he won two mega contracts with two new federal programs, Medicare and Medicaid.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

These two need no introduction, as Jobs and Wozniak are household names and are forever linked together. They created Apple Computers out of a garage in Palo Alto, California. Their machine was so intuitive that even technophobes loved its ease of use and intuitiveness. The combination of Wozniak’s operating system design with Jobs’s marketing savvy was a true phenomenon. To this day, Apple is a bleeding-edge company that shapes what every other tech firm does.

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