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13 Inspirational Entrepreneurs Throughout U.S. History

The work and ideas of past innovators set the groundwork for all future accomplishments, no matter how revolutionary. In American history, 13 prominent trailblazers across various industries have contributed to the scope of innovation, building the foundation for all today’s developments.

Henry Ford

John D. Rockefeller

Born in 1839, Rockefeller was studious and adept in executing strategic plans, starting his first business in 1859. When oil’s potential started to be discovered in the early 1860’s, Rockefeller capitalized on its movement, entering the oil refining industry in 1863. By 1912, his corporations and assets grew to a value of $900 million.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford, born 1883, played a significant role in the Industrial Revolution with his introduction of the modern assembly line. Displaying incredible mechanical aptitude at a young age, Ford’s automobile inventions and innovative advances in mass production changed America, and ultimately the world.

Oprah Winfrey

Born in a difficult home environment with a teenage mother, Oprah Winfrey found staggering success against all odds. Oprah started at a small radio station in Nashville, Tennessee, growing into an astronomical success on television and print, becoming both a societal and cultural icon. Her achievements reveal her incredible charisma, work ethic, and multifaceted aptitude.

Sam Walton

Born in 1918, the father of Walmart used a loan from his father-in-law to open his first store in 1945. From those humble beginnings grew a retail dynasty whose name is internationally recognized. By 2016, Walmart boasted 5,229 locations in the U.S. alone with a current estimated worth of $20 billion. Walton died the richest man in America in 1992.

Bill Gates

Considered one of the wealthiest men in the world, the co-founder of Microsoft brings personal computing to reality, contributing to lasting societal innovations. Gates directs numerous business ventures while helping lead global change through his philanthropic endeavors. With his innovative mind and savvy business sense, he is one of the most influential figures of today.

Elizabeth Arden

Elizabeth Arden made her mark on American business and society during the first half of the 20th century. Leaving her career as a nurse, she moved to New York to pursue a life as an entrepreneur, soon becoming an icon in the women’s suffrage movement. She played an instrumental role in revitalizing society’s view of women’s cosmetics, building her company into an international brand sold for $38 million in 1971.

Ruth Fertel

As a single mother struggling with finances in 1965, Ruth Fertel trusted her instincts and bought a restaurant through a newspaper classified ad. Ruth’s Chris Steak House eventually grew into a publicly traded international franchise worth $398.6 million in 2012.

Sandra Kurtzig

Kurtzig’s success story as the founder of ASK Computer Systems began in a spare bedroom with $2,000 and meager aspirations. In 1974, she began developing inventory management software as a side venture while raising her family. Her corporation was valued at $450 million by 1992, providing the software tools necessary for countless other businesses to reach success.

Sara Blakely

Starting with no business experience and only her entire life savings of $5,000, Blakely’s entrepreneurial journey began in 1998, developing the women’s shapewear line: Spanx. The company’s current value is now estimated at more than $1 billion.

Nina Vaca

Nina Vaca, a first-generation American with roots in Ecuador, founded her company in Dallas at age 25. Pinnacle Technical Resources, an agency that provides technical support and staffing to Fortune 500 corporations, was valued at $200 million in 2013.

Charles Merrill

Charles Merrill founded a brokerage firm in 1915, which eventually developed into the largest financial brokerage in America. He dedicated his life’s work to making the stock market both understandable and accessible to the common man. He held seminars across America, demonstrating incredible foresight and intuition regarding the financial markets, even predicting the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Charles Schwab

Born in 1937, Charles Schwab founded his own firm in 1971. Through his innovative business principles and leadership, his business catapulted into one of the world’s leading discount brokerage and financial services corporations – managing client assets of up to $2.15 trillion.

Walt Disney

Born in 1901, Walt Disney grew up with a love for animation. While his initial endeavors in the animation business proved unsuccessful, he continued to promote his work, undeterred. Upon the release of his first animated film, momentum carried his studio and efforts to incredible heights. His success ultimately secured his place as one of the most influential artists and entertainment leaders in history.

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