Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Adolph Ochs

Every year, when Americans celebrate New Year's Eve, many imagine what it would be like to take in the new year at Times Square in New York City. Hundreds of thousands make the trip every year to experience the magic of New York on New Year's.

To commemorate New Year's, I've selected the man responsible as today's hero of capitalism. The Times Square tradition began when the publisher of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs, held a fireworks display in 1904 to help bring in the new year and to celebrate the opening of the newspaper's new offices nearby. After city officials banned fireworks, Ochs in 1907 began the tradition of having a decorated, lighted ball drop to mark midnight. The celebration has continued uninterrupted since (though the ball was not lighted during WWII because of government-imposed "dimout" of lights at night).

In addition to helping to create a lasting New Year's tradition, Ochs was a successful publisher as well. He had been born to African-Jewish immigrant parents in Cincinnati in 1858. At the age of eleven, he began working his way up from an apprentice at local newspapers until the age of 19, when he bought a share of the Chattanooga Times, then becoming its publisher.

In 1896, he borrowed money to purchase a struggling paper in the Big Apple, the New York Times. Ochs insisted that the paper and its editors focus on objective reporting (at a time when most American newspapers still adopted openly partisan or sensationalist stances) and he reduced prices. In a further effort to establish the strict separation of editorial opinion from straight news reporting, he also refused contracts with governments and dubious (i.e., fraudulent) advertisements.

He stated at the time that "It will be my earnest aim that the New York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form." He would later adopt the masthead slogan "All the News That's Fit to Print." Competing against eight other daily New York papers, including those of sensationalists Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, Ochs built the Times's readership from 9,000 to 780,000 in just twenty years, thereby winning it a permanent place in American journalism.

Ochs also pioneered the idea of a "newspaper of record" when he began publishing the New York Times Index, a comprehensive cross-referenced guide to almost every article, name, and news item that had appeared in the paper. Long before modern search engines gave people the ability to search old newspapers, Ochs created a researcher's dream tool and published it for a profit. (Other newspapers kept internal index files for reporters and editors, but none considered publishing and selling it until Ochs.)

We celebrate Ochs today as an innovator in the newspaper business as well as a visionary in how to mark (and market) the celebration of a new year.

Profile on Jewish Virtual Library
Wikipedia profile of Ochs
Official NYT obituary of Ochs
History of Times Square New Year's Eve party

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

James Wright and Peter Hodgson

Today we celebrate James Wright for his invention - Silly Putty - , and Peter Hodgson for discovering a way to use Wright's invention - as a toy.

James Wright, a GE engineer, developed Silly Putty while attempting to construct an alternative to rubber that might prove more practical in its uses than that of the synthetic material of the day. After sharing his discovery with scientists around the world, many would agree that Wright's putty exhibited interesting characteristics - e.g. its ability to stretch and rebound greater than rubber, and its interesting ability to copy the print of any newspaper that it touched - but, found it would hardly be practical to replace rubber.

Peter Hodgson, however, found marketing potential in Wright's putty. He purchased the rights from GE and began selling Silly Putty as a toy. The familiar plastic egg that Silly Putty comes packaged in today is the result of Hodgson's first attempt - and successful attempt - at marketing the product around the Easter holiday. Silly Putty became and instant hit and soon a multi-million dollar seller.

Many other uses for Silly Putty have been discovered since it was first sold to the public in 1949. This excerpt from the MIT "inventor of the week" article summarizes:

"Ironically, it was only after its success as a toy that practical uses were found for Silly Putty®. It picks up dirt, lint and pet hair, and can stabilize wobbly furniture; but it has also been used in stress-reduction and physical therapy, and in medical and scientific simulations. The crew of Apollo 8 even used it to secure tools in zero-gravity."

The unintended use of James Wright's invention - deemed a failure in its initial purpose - brought a world of wealth to Peter Hodgson and the consumers of his fantastic product.

MIT-Inventor of the Week

Monday, December 29, 2008

Truett Cathy

Today we honor Truett Cathy (born 1921) for making us all richer with his business acumen while running Chik-fil-A.

Cathy was born in Georgia and even at a young age started flexing his entrepreneurial muscles. His website says he started selling soda when he was 8 years old. After high school, he was drafted into the Army, but soon after went into business with his brother. Though his brother died shortly after their venture, he opened the Dwarf Grill in the 1940s. In 1964, Cathy officially started Chik-Fil-A Inc.

Let me be clear, Chil-Fil-A is a great place, but I honor Cathy's business practices. First, he brought the chicken sandwich to the fast food world. Second, he took restaurants inside malls! Third, he created a unique vision for his fast food restaurants which includes a positive culture ("my pleasure"), loyalty, and giving back to the community.

So, today we honor Truett Cathy for his business savvy that has made us all richer (and fuller).

Truett Cathy on Wikipedia
Chik-Fil-A on wikipedia
The Chik-Fil-A Story

Friday, December 26, 2008

Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen and Frank Plomp

Today we honor Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen and Frank Plomp for their perfect day-after-Christmas invention: the disposable green polyethylene garbage bag. This Canadian trio originally intended the bags to be used commercially, but Larry Hansen changed all that when he started marketing Glad Trash Bags.

I was hoping to beguile readers with fantastic statistics about garbage bag use but found no reliable facts. I DID find about a million different things that can be done with garbage bags. Rest assured, the wealth created by trash bags goes way beyond the money creation. Trash bags are used to store hazardous material and keep trash safely away from people. This is a large improvement over living side by side with waste or washing a trash bin weekly.

So today, as you stuff the Christmas aftermath into a trash bag, think of Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen and Frank Plomp and the wealth they created.

Trash Bags on Wikipedia
Harry Wasylyk on Wikipedia
The History of the Trashbag
Glad Bags
One list of things to do with trash bags

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Isidor and Nathan Straus

Today we celebrate Isidor and Nathan Straus, the early architects of Macy’s success. Macy’s was founded by Rowland Hussey Macy. Macy opened the original Macy’s store at 6th Avenue and 14th Street in New York City. But Macy died before Macy’s became a regional success. From Macy’s relatively humble beginnings, the Straus brothers built up a highly successful regional chain of department stores. In 1902, The Straus brothers open a Macy’s store in Herald Square in New York City which has since been billed the world’s largest store (though this is now a disputed claim).

Macy’s stayed as a regional chain for several decades until 1983, when a wave of acquisitions took the chain national. Today Macy’s operates over 800 stores across the U.S.

Macy’s become forever associated with Christmas through the movie Miracle at 34th Street and their sponsorship of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1924 has allowed this regional chain to be a recognizable name long before they began to expand.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Joyce Clyde Hall

This Christmas Eve, we celebrate Joyce Clyde "J.C." Hall (1891-1982) for his part in the evolution of Christmas wrapping paper. While Hall contributed to capitalism as the founder of Hallmark Cards and Halls Brothers Store, today we honor him for his work in the innovation of wrapping paper.

In the early 1900's, people used white, green, and red tissue paper to wrap their gifts for the Holiday Season. But in 1917, Halls Brother's store sold out of the festive tissue paper.

Hall began to sell envelope liners, ornately adorned paper, for wrapping use. The sheets sold for 10 cents a piece. The next year Hall sold the same style of envelope liner paper as wrapping paper, three sheets for 25 cents.

Wrapping paper was a huge success and Hall continued the marketing plan in the years to come. As of 2006, Hallmark remained the industry sales leader in wrapping paper.

Hall had already created a large, successful business by 1917. His talent in recognizing new opportunities and possibilities helped both Hallmark and his department store to become flourishing companies. Hall's ability to see the promise in envelope liners has made all of our Holiday Seasons just a little bit richer.

Associated Content: The History of Wrapping Paper
Wikipedia: Joyce Hall

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

John Dorrance

American soup consumption has grown significantly in the last century, thanks in no small part to the development of condensed soup in 1899. John Dorrance (1873 - 1930) was a chemist working for Joseph Campbell & Co., a canning company, when he figured a way to make canned soup easier to ship and preserve. With a soup's substantial ingredient, water, mostly removed from the stock, it was cheaper to truck to stores across the country. Condensed soup improved upon evaporated soups and bouillon cubes, which were available at the time but deemed inferior to standard soups.

With a marketable product and what has become an enduring marketing program, the company grew to dominate the soup market. Dorrance eventually became president before buying the company and changing the name to Campbell Soup Company. Looking back, condensed soup seems a simple invention. Yet the Campbell's soup can changed the American dinner table.

This post isn't Christmas-related, but here's a Campbell's commercial that is. In case you haven't seen it this year: the Campbell's snowman.

Campbell's Soup
Condensed Soup
More on Condensed Soup
John Dorrance
Dorrance Wikipedia Entry

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ole Kirk Christiansen

I'd like to kick off the Christmas week honoring Ole Kirk Christiansen, inventor of one of my favorite toys of all time - the LEGO.

Christiansen (1891-1958), born in Filskov, Denmark, was a master carpenter and woodworker. In 1932, he founded the company that would eventually become LEGO. The company first manufactured wooden toys, but moved into the more familiar plastic production in 1940. The now-famous LEGO brand interlocking blocks - first known as "Automatic Binding Bricks" hit the streets in 1949.

The LEGO building blocks were first sold in the U.S. in the 1960s. By this time, Christiansen had begun offering his product in sets. Consumers could purchase blocks bundled to create a specific scene or object - e.g. buildings, vehicles, etc. These sets have since expanded to include blocks for entire city scenes, remote controlled robotics (such as the MINDSTORM NXT pictured above), trains, and more.

Today, the company is headed by Ole's grandson, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. The LEGO company continues to manufacture new and innovative products that sell worldwide and appeal to every age group.

LEGO at Wikipedia
MIT-Inventor of the Week Archives

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dr. Seuss

Today we honor Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991) for his brilliant book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Though his contributions to capitalism are many, today we celebrate How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is a prime example about how intellectual property brought about great wealth.

Seuss grew up in the North East. His family is of German decent and owned breweries. They struggled through prohibition. There are many interesting tales about how he came up with his creations, including the story that inspiration for his pacing came from a steamboat engine's cadence.

Originally published in 1957, Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been adapted to many forms, including a TV film and feature film. I have found no aggregation of total profits made as a result of this wonderful story. According to box office reports, the most recent remake made more than $130M worldwide since its release.

Today we honor Dr. Seuss for taking his intellectual property concerning a story about a Grinch and turning it into wealth for so many.

Dr. Seuss in Wiki
Grinch Homepage
The Grinch in Wiki
Box Office Data

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chip Davis

Today we celebrate Chip Davis (born 1947) for his innovations in marketing and music. In the 1970s, Davis could not find a record label to release his particular style of music, so he created his own label, American Gramaphone. In 1975, Davis released his first record using the name which most of us know him: Mannheim Steamroller.

Born in rural Ohio, Davis starting composing at 6 years old. He pursued his musical education at the University of Michigan where his unique style started to emerge. When he started looking for labels and was rejected again and again. His reaction was, ""I don't care what you guys say. I'm going to do it" (from here). Davis has followed his personal vision throughout his career.

But be assured, Davis is no ordinary musician. After creating his own label, his innovations in marketing his music has led to great success. Though he is most famous for his Christmas music, Davis started a four seasons method of marketing. American Gramaphone now has a seasonal catalogs that sells everything from music to clothing. Also, he took his albums to grocery stores and other non-tradition music outlets, which was all part of his marketing plan.

Davis' innovations in marketing and music has built Mannheim Steamroller into a $40 million dollar company. We celebrate Chip Davis for using his personal property to create great wealth for many people.

Mannheim Steamroller Official Site
Chip Davis on Wikipedia
An Interview with Chip Davis

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gregory Keller

Today we honor Gregory Keller, inventor of the Keller Machine, a machine that revolutionized the production of the candy cane.

In 1950, 22 percent of Bobs Candies' candy stick production was broken as it was made and had to be thrown away. Bob McCormack, owner of Bobs Candies, asked his brother-in-law Father Harding Keller, to try and invent a machine that wouldn't break the candies.

Father Keller invented the Keller Machine six months later. The machine twisted the soft candy into spiral striping and then cut the candy. Previous to Keller's machine, most candy was made by hand and those that were made in machines were often the wrong size or broken.

Bob McCormack took his brother-in-laws invention and made his company by 1956 "the world's largest peppermint candy cane producer" as proclaimed by the Albany Herald.

Father Keller's invention was created as a favor to his brother-in-law and helped make the family business into a multi-million dollar success. Keller's invention of a simple, easy way to produce candy canes has also made all of us with a sweet tooth much richer also.

Farley's & Sathers Candy Company, Inc: Bobs

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus

Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus founded Home Depot in 1978 after having both spent time as regional managers in another hardware store chain, Handy Dan Hardware. It has been reported that Blank left Handy Dan after a disagreement with management. I’m not sure what the disagreement was over, but given Blank’s success since that time and the fact that I’ve never set foot in a Handy Dan Hardware store, I have to believe that they might have been better off listening to Blank.

The particular genius of Home Depot lies in its warehouse concept and its focus on customer support. Blank and Marcus begun by leasing some warehouse spaces from a struggling chain and worked hard to develop the vendor chain necessary to offer the customer a wider variety of products than had previously been available, essentially following the Wal-Mart model. To this model, they added a specialized workforce of individuals with knowledge about the construction and home improvement worlds. This workforce makes the Home Depot warehouses less intimidating to a less informed consumer (like myself), greatly expanding their customer base.

In their book, How a Couple of Regular Guys Grew The Home Depot from Nothing to $30 Billion, Blank tells a story that sums up the Home Depot revolution perfectly.

“In 1981, before we went public, Bernie made speeches locally in the Atlanta area, where we are based. Standing before 400 members of a local Rotary Club, he asked, "How many people consider themselves real do-it-yourselfers?" He described a DIYer as someone who owned power saws, electric drills, etc., or who could change a light fixture. How many, he asked, could repair a toilet themselves rather than call a plumber? "A do-it-yourselfer is somebody who really can do those things," he said.

Out of 400 people, maybe 20 raised their hands.

In 1997, he made another speech to the same group and asked the same question. This time, only 15 out of 450 people did not raise their hands. We had changed America.”

Along the way to “changing America” Blank and Marcus created a company that is still worth nearly $40 billion, despite recent losses in the slumping stock market. Blank has since retired from his position on Home Depot's board and is well known as the owner of the Atlanta Falcons. He is also an active philanthropist and his family foundation has donated millions to community based organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Marcus has also reamined active in the community, having spearheaded the effort to build a world-class aquarium in downtown Atlanta. Marcus also funded and founded The Marcus Institute, a nationally recognized center of excellence for the provision of comprehensive services for children and adolescents with developmental disabilities.

Monday, December 15, 2008

James Kilts

James Kilts graduated from Knox College and earned an MBA at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. From there, he has worked at many of the leading companies in America, becoming known as one the leading turn-around men in the business. In other words, he has taken many struggling and even failing companies and put them back on the path to prosperity and innovation.

The most famous of Kilts's rescues involves the Gillette company, founded by another hero of capitalism, King Camp Gillette in 1901. When he took over the company in early 2001, it was struggling to stay afloat—the company had missed earnings projections for fourteen straight quarters, sales and earnings had not grown in five years, and over two-thirds of their product line had declining market shares. The stock had lost thirty percent between 1997 and 2000, a period when the Dow Jones gained over 70% and the S&P Index was up over 90%. In short, the company that made Duracell batteries, Mach 3 razors, and Oral-B toothbrushes was hurting badly.

Kilts had vast experience in saving long-favored but struggling retail brands—he had saved Kool-Aid, then Post Cereals and cheeses at the Kraft group, then at Nabisco he turned Oreo and Chips Ahoy brands around to success. Because of these former successes, Gillette board member Warren Buffett lobbied to hire Kilts to help save the company. Kilts's detail-orientation and ruthless focus on accountability helped turn the company back to profitability and saw its market share in its most important brands grow.

Kilts brought discipline to the company by bringing spending and overhead growth into line with industry standards, reduced working capital as a percentage of sales (which had been as high as 35% compared to rivals Proctor and Gamble's 1%), and he revitalized their supply chain by bringing together orders for raw supplies from different divisions instead of having duplicate orders, saving the company hundreds of millions of dollars overnight.

Kitls has since moved on from Gillette after he negotiated its $57 billion sale to Proctor and Gamble. He now works at Centerview Partners Management, a New York-based investment group. He also serves on the boards of directors for Pfizer, Met-Life, and MeadWestvaco

James Kilts profile in Fortune
James Kilts, Doing What Matters

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bartolomeo Cristofori

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1665-1731) is regarded as the inventor of the Piano. Cristofori's invention - derived from the harpsichord - throughout history, has been a staple in the world of music and musical instruments. His contribution to society nearly unmeasurable when we consider the wealth created from this single invention - from musical careers to manufacturing and beyond.

Today I'd like to detour from simply honoring Bartolomeo Cristofori's invention and his contribution to creating industry and prosperity, and focus instead on the wealth of knowledge surrounding the piano industry and what we can learn from it today.

Yesterday, while scanning my usual list of daily blog articles, I came across a particular discussion at I thought I should share here at HOC. The article, The end of the U.S. Piano Industry, I think, is a very good analysis of industry cycle in the U.S.. In today's world of bailouts and increasing government oversight (car czars, etc.) the author, Jeffrey Tucker, highlights an idea that I think is very important we understand - that is, these things happen, industries fall and new industries emerge - never-ending success is no guarantee. Mr. Tucker makes a very nice connection between the U.S. piano industry and today's car industry.

View the article here.

Wikipedia (picture)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jim Koch

Jim Koch, born into a family of brewmasters, does what he loves and in that pursuit has made American beer drinkers happy for over twenty years. Koch started Boston Beer Company in the mid 1980's in the midst of an American craft beer revival. He recalled his great-grandfather's lager recipe to create Sam Adams Lager, the company's initial and famous signature beer. Koch didn't want to settle for making a hobby brew; his goal was to grow the market for higher quality beer beyond the localized microbreweries. After two decades of success, Boston Beer Company produces nearly 1.5 million barrels annually and hosts some 25+ beers (from my count at the website) including seasonal, traditional, and "extreme" varieties.

Koch is somewhat famous because he's been featured in Sam Adams commercials. While the love-for-the-craft theme of those commercials may seem common these days, twenty five years ago the high-end beer market was growing in fits and starts. Koch believed he knew how to improve upon the burgeoning microbrewery movement, which according to him suffered from inconsistencies in quality. He believed that Americans had a demand for better beers, but someone had to get it to them reliably. First he home-brewed his family lager recipe and sold bottles to bartenders in the Boston area. He didn't have enough money or any infrastructure to brew on a large scale, so he managed to convince a Pennsylvania brewery and the man who invented light beer to go along with him for several years. Suffice it to say, Jim Koch and his beer company have been in the vanguard of the craft beer movement ever since.

I'm personally a fan of Sam Adams Octoberfest. Because of his beers as well as his role in the diversification of the American beer market, Jim Koch is today's Hero of Capitalism.

Samuel Adams Beers

Boston Beer Company history
Interview on Craft Beer Radio
Interview with All About Beer Magazine
CNN Profile
Interview on

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Robert H. Osher

Today we honor Dr. Robert H. Osher for his innovations in cataract removal. Two weeks ago, Dr. Osher performed cataract surgery on my mother. He broke up the cataract, replaced her lens and now she has 20/20 vision. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the surgery was done in ten minutes and she could see perfectly that same day. Osher invented the lenses and the method that is now performed on thousands of people all over the world.

Dr. Osher's method involves taking the time to customize lenses to replace the lens after breaking up the cataract. This means that patients' organic lenses are replaced with specialized synthetic lenses that are perfectly chosen to give them clearer vision. Then, the surgery itself is performed after a patient's eyes are temporarily paralyzed. All and all, the patient is only knocked out for about 5 minutes while the eye is paralyzed.

Dr. Osher's pursuit of personal wealth and recognition has led to great amounts of wealth. Not only are people seeing better, but the recovery time from cataract surgery has been greatly reduced.

Osher's Profile the Cincinnati Eye Institute
More about Custom Cataract Surgery
More about Cataracts

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Percy Shaw

Today we honor Percy Shaw (1890-1976) for helping to make roads safer everywhere with his invention of Catseyes, also called road reflectors.

Shaw developed the idea for the road reflectors while driving on a dark and foggy night. Having trouble seeing in the weather, he noticed two small green lights ahead, the eyes of a cat sitting on a fence.

He began working on a simple and cheap device that would act similarly. His invention is two small metal marbles placed close to each other in a hard, protective rubber casing. The Catseyes are then placed on the road at intervals so that headlights will reflect the light back. The invention is cleaned by collecting rain water and then when a car drives over it, the reflector is depressed and the water is flushed out.

Shaw formed Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd in 1935 to manufacture Catseyes. His company remains in operation today. Shaw's invention received a boast in popularity when then junior minister James Callaghan ordered the purchase of millions of Catseyes for instillation on British roads. It is rumored Shaw received a farthing for each Catseye that was installed. It was also popularized by the black outs of WWII.

Shaw was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965.

Shaw took a simple invention and successfully marketed it, increasing his own wealth and contributing greatly to road safety.

Wikipedia: Cat's eye

Monday, December 8, 2008

Henry Ford

It is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile. So when people say that Henry Ford “invented” the car, they don’t have it exactly right.

In 1769, the very first self-propelled road vehicle was a military tractor invented by French engineer and mechanic, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot (1725 - 1804). Many others made important contributions, including moving the automobile from steam power to internal combustion. But at Heroes of Capitalism, we look to celebrate those who used these revolutionary ideas to create wealth. And this is where Ford comes in.

Ford’s real contribution to the history of the automobile was his improvement of the assembly line. Others had begun to use assembly line technology to assemble their cars, but Ford perfected the process. His assembly line reduced production costs for cars by reducing assembly time. Ford's famous Model T was assembled in just ninety-three minutes.

Ford is known for his intense commitment to lowering costs. His efforts at this led to many of his 161 patents. So when Ford, in 1914, offered to pay workers $5 a day - roughly double what they typically made in factory job – people were shocked. Of course, this move turned out to be brilliant, as Ford attracted high quality workers and suffered much lower turnover (and consequently lower training costs) than other early manufacturers.

These reduced costs made the automobile accessible to a wider audience. Ford’s cars were significantly more affordable than any of his rivals, and it was this affordability that made the Model T a huge success. The first model T came out in 1908 at a cost of $950. The moving assembly lines were completed in 1913 and shortly thereafter, the price fell to as low as $280. By 1927, over 15 million Model Ts had been assembled and sold in the U.S. alone.

A great deal of attention is being paid to the modern car companies, as they descend on Washington with their hats in their hands. Ford’s legacy carried them to nearly a century of prosperity. Perhaps a focus on innovative ways to cut costs would serve them better than any temporary bailout ever will.

History of early autos
Ford Bio

Friday, December 5, 2008

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak

Personal computers have revolutionized every aspect of American business and, indeed, American life generally. Though today's heroes of capitalism did not, strictly speaking, invent the modern personal computer, they did more than anyone else to make the concept work.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, working at Hewlett-Packard and Atari respectively, began working together in the Homebrew Computer Club in California. They shared an interest in gadgets and a vision of what computers might do for average people. By 1976, they had perfected their Apple I, a personal computer kit literally hand-made by Wozniak in his garage. By 1977, working to improve their basic design, Jobs and Wozniak introduced the Apple II, a series that would last until 1993, when almost six million had been manufactured and sold. The Apple II became the standard computer in education and in the home, vaulting Apple Computer to the upper echelons of business success.

By 1984, with the introduction of the Macintosh, Jobs and Wozniak again pushed the personal computing envelope by developing the first commercially-successful operating system with a graphical user interface (GUI), thereby bringing computers to the non-programming masses.

Over the years, despite many ups and downs, Jobs and Wozniak have remained involved in the development of literally hundreds of innovations in the industry. When Jobs returned to a struggling Apple in 1997, he re-revolutionized the company, bringing with him the creative and dynamic push that helped Apple to introduce such wildly successful i-series products as the iMac, iPod, and iPhone. Jobs also bought the computer graphics side of LucasFilm and helped guide the newly-named Pixar to industry dominance in animated feature films. After he left full-time work at Apple, Wozniak has been involved in such diverse projects as the development of the first universal remote control, the commercialization of GPS technology, and modern music festivals.

For all that they have done to bring the computer revolution to the masses with style and flair, Jobs and Wozniak are today's heroes of capitalism. 

A variety of links at
History of Apple II
Wikipedia on Jobs and Wozniak
Brief information on Macintosh

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Alfred Carlton Gilbert

Today we honor Alfred Carlton Gilbert - a magician, doctor, Olympic gold medalist, inventor, and toy manufacturer. We celebrate all of his accomplishments, but today we focus on just one - the Erector Set.

The Erector Set is a building toy that allows children (and adults) to bring their architectural visions to fruition. Introduced in 1913, the original Erector Set - then known as the "Mysto Erector Structural Steel Builder" - consisted of miniature versions of actual construction materials such as steel beams, bolts, screws, pulleys, and gears. The toy was an instant success. The following excerpt from an article published by the MIT school of engineering explains:

"The Erector set quickly became one of the most popular toys of all time: living rooms across the country were transformed into miniature metropoles, filled with skyscrapers, bridges and railways. Those kids who already owned a set would beg Santa annually for an upgrade, aiming for the elusive "No. 12 1/2" deluxe kit that came with blueprints for the 'Mysterious Walking Giant' robot."

Today the Erector Set family extends beyond skyscrapers and walking robots to include sets for all ages. Young children may construct an entire miniature plastic city; older children may do the same with metal parts or endeavor to build a remote controlled vehicle from the ground up. Spykee, one of the latest additions to the Erector Set collection, is a product aimed at young adults and home- or business-owners. The Spykee robot is a wireless, mobile, audio/video surveillance "toy" that can be controlled via WiFi connection from anywhere in the world.

Today the Erector set is owned and produced by Meccano Toys Ltd. - Gilbert's original competitor.

Alfred Gilbert deserves praise, not only for his contribution to the toy industry, but for the inspiration of his grandest invention. One has to wonder how many of today's entrepreneurs, industrialists, architects, builders, etc. across the globe first realized their ambition and potential with the pieces of Gilbert's creation.

Erector Set at:
MIT-inventor of the week archive

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Vince McMahon

Today we honor Vince McMahon (born 1945) for his leadership and direction of World Wrestling Entertainment that ultimately built a corporation that earned more than $400M in net revenues in 2007.

McMahon started as a traveling salesman after graduating from Eastern Carolina University. His father, Vince McMahon Sr., did not want him to enter the wrestling business. However, McMahon saw an opportunity. Much of the research material reveres McMahon as a genius. I personally enjoyed this quote, which gives a glimpse of his business acumen:
You need to surround yourself with quality human beings that are intelligent and have a vision.
McMahon put his vision to work when he took over his father's business in the early 1980s and became a wrestling promoter. Before the 1980s, pro wrestling was small, regional and unreliable. McMahon built his empire by breaking the handshake agreements with other promoters. There is an interesting history of collusion for those interested in industrial organization (see the links below). McMahon is also credited with the complete rebranding of wrestling. He invented the term "sports entertainment" and is credited with giving wrestling appeal to adults, instead of "drink your milk and eat your vitamins" kids' programming.

Regardless of personal feelings about sports entertainment, there's no denying that the WWE has brought great wealth to many. That is why today we celebrate Vince McMahon's contributions to the WWE that created wealth.

Vince McMahon in Wiki
WWE's Main Site
WWE in Wiki
WWE's Corporate Site
Vince McMahon Quotes

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ralph J. Stolle

Today we honor Ralph J. Stolle (1904-1996) for making the pop top a viable option for soda lovers. Though he held more than 50 patents throughout his life, today we celebrate his innovation that allowed pop tops to be mass manufactured. According to an obituary, "the concept for the can top was developed elsewhere, it was not until the Stolle Corporation developed devices for rapidly and cheaply scoring the top that the cans went into widespread use." Basically, Stolle is responsible for making the grooves in cans that allows the tab to break through easily.

Stolle owned several business throughout his life and eventually many of his holdings were bought by Alcoa. He mostly focused on heavy metal and farming implements. His business eventually moved into using animals to develop human vaccines.

Stolle's long career as an entrepreneur earned him a reputation as an innovator. One article states, "Steven Stovall, holder of the Stolle Chair in Entrepreneurship, described the late Ralph. J. Stolle as 'the epitome of the entrepreneur'." Stolle was generous with his wealth. I initially knew him to be the man who donated time and money to start the YMCA in the town I grew up in, which still bears his name. As my research has continued, I've found more and more tales of his charitable giving.

Today we honor Ralph J. Stolle for his innovation in making pop tops a viable option. This invention created great personal wealth for Stolle, and made us all richer by offering a cheap easy way to access sweet bubbly drinks without a bottle opener.

Stolle's obituary
The Ralph J. Stolle Entrepreneurship Lecture Series
The Ralph J. Stolle Countryside YMCA
More on the pop top

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland

In honor of the holiday shopping season, today we honor the inventors of the Barcode.

Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland were both graduate students at Drexel Institute of Technology when they first started working on the Barcode. Silver had overheard the president of a local food store chain asking one of the deans at Drexel if they could find a way quick to capture product information. Silver was interested in the idea and asked his friend Woodland to help him in his work.

The pair first experimented with ink that would glow under ultraviolet light, however this method proved to be too expensive. Woodland than tried a method similar to Morse code, dot, dash where each was extended to form thick or thin lines. He then changed the idea into a bull's eye so that the Barcode would not need to be lined up in order to be scanned. Silver and Woodland patented this idea and then worked on developing a scanner for their product.

In 1962, Philco bought the rights to the barcode and RCA obtained the rights a few years later.

Woodland, while working at IBM, helped design the Universal Product Code in 1973, helping to standardize the use of digits and making it so the scanner could read the code easier.

The first product scanned using the Barcode was in 1974 in Troy, Ohio. A packet of chewing gum was successful scanned at a Marsh supermarket. Silver and Woodland's invention is used in stores everywhere; they have made the selling of products easier and faster.

Wikipedia- Barcode
Inventors.about - History of Barcodes

Friday, November 28, 2008

William Bradford

A quick Thanksgiving related post on this holiday week.

Like so many of history's tales, the story of Thanksgiving may have an economic explanation that differs from the story told by the history books. The history books tell us that the Pilgrims were saved from starvation after the local indians taught them how to plant corn.

But around that same time, the Governor of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, identified the problem as one of property rights. Initially, the colony had been formed using a system of comunal property rights. Everyone would work the fields and the harvest would be distributed according to need. Not surprisingly, this system led to several lean years.

Bradford advocated switching to a system of private property rights, where everyone would be able to keep all that they were able to grow, but were also now responsible for feeding themselves. Each family was given a parcel of land, and under the new system, the starvation problems of the previous years were gone. It was at this point that the settlers were able to feast without fear of famine hanging over their heads.

The legacy of lessons learned during the early years in the "New World" are what I'm thankful for during this holiday season.

Thanks to Benjamin Powell of the Independent Institute for the inspriation for this entry.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Robert E. Wood

After a successful military career, including stints in the Philippines, the Panama Canal Zone, and service in World War I, General Robert E. Wood entered the business world. Wood began working at Montgomery Ward, rising to vice president before leaving the company over a dispute about company strategy. After leaving Ward's in 1924, he joined their main competitor, Sears, Roebuck, where he contributed to their wild successes and their eventual dominance over Ward's.

During his time at Sears, Wood served as a vice president and eventually rose to be the chairman from 1939 to 1954. Wood brought to Sears two key attributes that made him a business success and that helped make American capitalism flourish. The first was a deep knowledge of operations management. During his time in the Panama Canal Zone when the canal was still under construction, he rose to the post of Chief Quartermaster when he quickly mastered the management of a massive workforce as well as a intricate supply network. Contemporary reports indicate that Wood was able to keep enough fresh Portland Cement coming to the canal zone so that workers could be constantly and efficiently employed, but not so much that the humid conditions would spoil any excess supply. This organizational genius would later serve him well in running an ever-expanding Sears. The second trait that Wood brought to the business world was his deep interest and understanding of demographics. Again, during his time in the canal zone, Wood would spend his free time studying the Statistical Abstract of the United States and various Census reports. From this arid study of the trends of the American population, Wood gained a deeply-focused sense of how to stay ahead of changes in settlement patterns and shopping habits.

At Sears, Wood first oversaw the expansion of the company from a strictly mail-order business to one that operated retail locations. He pushed this strategy further when he led the company to open retail locations both in the growing urban centers as well as in the more rural areas, when improved transportation allowed such customers to enjoy shopping at a centralized location.

During the years of World War II, Wood also planned and executed a brilliant corporate expansion strategy that put Sears ahead of its competitors when the post-war economic explosion took place. Unlike his peers, who feared that the end of WWII might bring a return to a recession or even depression conditions, Wood knew from his study of demographics that Americans had been becoming more urbanized and that war-time rationing and Depression Era conditions had created a great pent-up demand for consumer goods. In the decade after WWII ended, thanks to his vision and willingness to make capital investments, Wood oversaw a near tripling of Sears, Roebuck's sales. By the 1967 Christmas season, Sears became the first retailer to reach $1,000,000,000 in sales in one month.

Wood's place as a hero of capitalism comes from his principal achievement, the use of knowledge of demographic trends to dramatically expand his business, thereby resulting in cheaper and more easily-available goods for everyone. Though the Sears company have since faltered, Wood's vision blazed the trail for later retail geniuses such as Sam Walton to continue expanding that sector of the economy and bringing more prosperity to the American people.

Biography at Sears Archives
Wikipedia entry
Information at

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Norm Larsen & Company

Today we celebrate the invention of a product that has made millions of people's lives easier and put a stop to squeaky doors around the world - WD-40.

WD-40 literally means "Water Displacement, 40th attempt" in honor of the number of trials it took chemist Norm Larsen and his colleagues of the San Diego Rocket Chemical Co. to produce a solution that would effectively ward off rust.

Developed in 1953, WD-40 was to initially prevent rust corrosion on missile bodies. Discovery of further uses prompted Larsen, in 1958, to come up with a way to distribute the product for commercial use. The aerosol can was his answer. Within two years the company more than doubled in size (to a total of seven employees) and was selling more than 45 cases of WD-40 daily. In 1969, the the company changed its name to WD-40, in honor of its only product. In 1973, when the company officially went public and WD-40 became available to households over the counter, the company grew exponentially - by 1993 estimates place sales at more than one million cans daily.

Today the company prides itself on its product's "2000+" uses. Consumers tend to find WD-40 a "must-have" around the house. In recent years, the company has acquired the products of several other household companies and offer such familiar items as Carpet Fresh, 2000 Flushes, Spot Shot, 3-in-one oil, and others - all of which make our lives easier.


WD-40 at:


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

George Halas

While the National Football League may be a ubiquitous, multi-media juggernaut today, the league was once a second-rate group of semi-professional clubs whose quality paled in comparison to college teams. George Halas (1895-1983) played a significant role in the development of professional football, and he formed one of football's most enduring franchises: the Chicago Bears.

After playing in college and minor league sports, Halas had an opportunity in 1920 to manage a football team for his employer in the town of Decatur, Illinois. The A.E. Staley Company, a Starch producer for which he was a sales rep., wanted him to front both baseball and football teams. After early football success with the Staleys, Halas bought that club and moved it to Chicago. The rechristened Bears (named in honor of the baseball Cubs, with whom they shared Wrigley Field) were a founding member of the American Professional Football Association, precursor to the NFL.

Halas was a player, coach, and manager for the Bears. Two of his early major accomplishments were recruiting star talent to the league to bolster its respectability and introducing the T-formation to professional football. After his Bears crushed the Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 title game, the new offensive formation caught on like wildfire and spelled the end for the old single-wing offense.

As a life-long Bears fan, I benefit every autumn from the team and traditions Halas created. Chicago has a great atmosphere for football which allows hundreds of thousands of locals to engage in a passionate, yet nonviolent form of collective association on Sundays. Notwithstanding some of the weaknesses of the modern NFL, professional football and each of its teams enrich the lives of millions of fans every year. For his instrumental role in this outcome, George Halas is today's Hero of Capitalism.

Wikipedia Bio
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Bears Website Bio

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hank Fischer

Last week, I introduced Terry Anderson and PERC and talked about how someone can be an environmentalist and a capitalist simultaneously. This week, I present a specific example of a man who initiated a market-based solution to an environmental issue that was important to him.

Hank Fischer is an environmentalist. He is the Special Projects Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. And in 2001, he won an award for being not just an environmentalist, but and Enviro-Capitalist.

Fischer made a major mark on the enviro-capitalist world with his efforts to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Opposition from the plan came, not surprisingly, from local ranchers who feared that the wolves would kill their livestock. According to Fischer, when he met with local ranchers to discuss their opposition, one rancher put their concerns into very simply words. “It’s easy to be a wolf lover. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s the people who own livestock who end up paying for wolves." This simple statement made the solution obvious to Fischer. He needed to find a way that these ranchers could be paid for their losses.

At the time, Fischer worked with the Defenders of Wildlife, a group dedicated to projects like wolf reintroduction, and they began fund raising efforts aimed at creating a fund from which farmers could be compensated for any losses. But the necessary funds did not come simply from the kindness of others. They came about once Montana artist Monte Dolack created his vision of how wolves might look if restored to Yellowstone Park. Defenders of Wildlife sold posters of this artwork for $30 each and raised over $50,000, making the idea of a permanent fund a realistic possibility.

By devising a program where the environmentalists took “ownership” of the wolves, Fischer was able to devise a contract with the ranchers. The environmentalists side of the contract is that they will control (move, relocate, or kill) wolves that kill livestock, and compensate the ranchers for their losses, and the rancher’s side is to tolerate wolves that do not kill livestock.

By most measures, the program was a success. Wolves are back in Yellowstone and are growing in numbers. Plans are being put in place to remove them from the endangered species list, thanks in no small part to programs similar to the Yellowstone one in other states that have allowed wolves to thrive.

Fischer has moved on to grizzly bears and is trying to improve upon his plan in his work there. With the benefit of hindsight, Fischer sees flaws in the original program (according to Fischer it took too long, cost too much and still left some with bad feelings), but the environmentalists are happier and ranchers are no worse off after Fischer’s plan than before. So by introducing ownership into a market where external costs were preventing two sides from coming together and finding the best outcome, Fischer use a capitalist notion to advance an environmentalist view – making everyone better off in the exchange. Is anything better than that?

Friday, November 21, 2008

King Camp Gillette

Today we honor King Camp Gillette (1855-1932) for his invention of the disposable safety razor. Gillette wanted to invent something people would use, throw away, and then buy again, allowing the inventor to become very wealthy. He soon came up with the idea of a disposable shaving blade. He worked on developing the razor for six years, and with the help of William Nickerson also developed the T-shaped handle for the razor.

In 1903, Gillette sold 168 blades and by 1904 sales had dramatically increased: he sold 90,000 razors and 123,000 blades. Gillette was also one of the first people to use freebie marketing in his business model; he gave every soldier heading overseas in WWI a free razor.

Gillette soon became a millionaire and retired from active management of his company. Upon retirement he developed interesting economic ideas. Gillette advocated for a economy where engineers ran the world, thinking this would abolish wasteful competition. Among other ideas, he wanted to eliminate the waste of each household preparing its own meals and proposed communal dinning halls as a solution.

Gillette is a Hero of Capitalism, he took his private property and ideas and created vast amounts of wealth. However, he remains an interesting hero because of his economic and social ideas that often seem to contradict his business plan.

Wikipedia: King Camp Gillette
Wikipedia: Safety Razor
Van Dulken, Stephen. Inventing the 20th Century. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Charles B. Clark

Today we honor Charles B. Clark (1844-1891) for putting his private property to work to eventually form Kimberly-Clark Inc. He was one of four original owners that put up $30,000 in 1872 to start a company that largely worked with papers goods. He is credited with having the initial idea for starting a paper company. Today, we know that company for producing amazing products like Kleenex Brand Tissues (yes, I have a cold right now).

Throughout Clark's short tenure at the company (he died at age 47, still a part of the company at the time of his death), he helped the firm grow from a few paper mills in Wisconsin to the number one paper producer in the Midwest.

Because of the contributions of Clark and his partners, today Kimberly-Clark is a worldwide company that employs over 55,000 people and had sales of over $18B in 2007. It is well known for its brands like Kleenex Tissues, Kotex, Cottenelle and Huggies. This company has a long history that is really interesting. Check out the company website below for an interactive history of the company that includes pictures and interesting facts about the men who helped make it into a great worldwide company.

We honor Charles B. Clark for using his private capital and intellectual property to help form the Kimberly Clark Company.

Kimberly-Clark on Wiki
Kimberly-Clark Corporate Site

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Edward Clark

Edward Clark (1811–1882) helped Isaac Singer found the Singer Sewing Machine company in 1851, eventually leading it to world-wide prominence in the 1870s.

Clark pioneered the use of franchise offices for sales and a network of independent distributors. His multilevel sales division created one of America's first models of multi-level management, helping to create a managerial revolution in business. At its height, the Singer company under Clark's management was shipping 20 to 25,000 machines to all parts of the world. 

The sewing machine revolution not only made mass-production clothing possible, but it also enabled easy and cheap repair of clothes in the home. Every time we pull on a comfortable machine-sewn garment, we can thank Edward Clark, a true hero of capitalism.

Singer Memories, Presidential profiles
Alfred Chandler, The Visible Hand

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney

Today we celebrate the pioneers of an industry that swept the world - the video game industry.

Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney are the minds behind the video computer system known as ATARI. Bushnell and Dabney began with the introduction of the first arcade game, Pong, in 1971. Four years later, Atari would re-release Pong as a home video game.

The success of Pong - over 150,000 units sold - in a single year prompted the interest of Warner Communications. In 1976, Atari would change hands for the first of many times when Bushnell sold Atari to Warner for $28 million. In the four remaining years of the decade, Atari would reach over $415 million in sales. Atari's success consequently prompted competition.

In the years since Atari's prosperous stint in the 1970s, Atari has faced many challenges - including an anti-trust lawsuit from Nintendo which proved a devastating loss for Atari. The intellectual property rights to Atari's games has since been sold to Hasbro - which has since been acquired by the French company, Infogrames - which re-established Atari as Atari Interactive, and later Atari Inc.

Despite Atari's dwindling success, today we can appreciate the motivation of original pioneers Bushnell and Dabney for kick starting an explosion in home gaming. Today the gaming industry spans the globe. 2007 figures estimate the game industry took in around $9.5 Billion in the U.S. alone.


Atari at:


Monday, November 17, 2008

Emile Berliner

If you're younger than me, chances are you've never listened to a vinyl record for any reason besides curiosity, a desire to be retro, or the nostalgia of your parents. CDs were introduced in 1982 and by the early 1990's had displaced LPs as the popular format for music albums. Circular records may not have lasted forever, but they enjoyed nearly a century of dominance and cultural transformation after surviving the first great format battle. In the late 1800's, Emile Berliner jumped into the middle of that battle. His invention, a lateral groove audio replaying device named the "Gramophone," would eventually best the vertical groove replaying devices that came before it.

Berliner (1851-1929) did not invent the LP, but the long play vinyl record was based on the discs his Gramophone read from. Thomas Edison's Phonograph and Charles Tainter's Graphophone (from the Bell labs) had met with some success recording and playing back audio, but suffered from numerous deficiencies. Both models were cylindrical playback machines with vertical recording and replaying action. Edison's first model used tin-foil and Tainter's used wax; neither device was replicable at the time and both were fragile. Berliner's development was inspired by an earlier lateral-cut audio recording invention called the phonautograph. While the first known recorded noises are preserved on phonautograph recordings, the device was never intended to replay sounds. Berliner was the first to try this and succeed, using discs, giving the Edison and Tainter models a run for their money.

Development of the Gramophone was a several-year process in which Berliner experimented with glass, celluloid, rubber and shellac discs. There were also two devices required (unlike the cylindrical models): one for recording and one for replaying. What helped Berliner's Gramophone achieve technological and market supremacy was the relative durability of the records and the ease with which they could be reproduced. Cylindrical models lasted until the 1920s while the Gramophone survived and morphed into the record players we're all familiar with. LPs arrived in the late 1940s and stereo recording (which combined vertical and lateral grooving) a decade later.

Berliner didn't invent the first audio playback machine and his invention hasn't survived the never-ending march of technological progress, but as an audio recording and playback innovator he played as important a role as anyone. Because of his ability to coordinate disparate developments in his burgeoning field, Berliner is an excellent example of an entrepreneur and of course, a laudable Hero of Capitalism.

Wikipedia entry on record-players
Wikipedia entry on Berliner
Library of Congress website on Berliner on Berliner

Friday, November 14, 2008

Steve Ditko

Today we honor Steve Ditko (born November 2nd 1927) for his many contributions to the world of comics. His best known contributions were the co-creating Spiderman and Dr. Strange. Ditko contributed to numerous comics over the years. Sometimes he was just a penciler, sometimes he helped ink the comics, and sometimes he did both. His creativity abounded. Many people find his style to be unique and pleasing. His professional career started in 1953, and he still works today.

Ditko is noted for being particularly careful about the right to have creative control over his creations. It is noted on his official website that he took a lower salary at a smaller firm so that he could maintain control of his creations. During the 1960s, he subscribed Ayn Rand's ideas and considered himself to be a Libertarian politically.

Ditko is a Hero of Capitalism because he took his intellectual property to make us all richer. Personally, I am richer because of his contributions to Spiderman and Dr. Strange.

A compete list of Ditko's work
Ditko on Wiki

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Erno Rubik

Erno Rubik invented the Rubik's Cube in Spring 1974 in Budapest, Hungary. Rubik wanted to make a geometric puzzle, so took blocks of wood attached to elastic springs and made an early version of the Rubik's Cube. After the elastic broke, Rubik redesigned the cube with a universal joint type mechanism and put color tape on the outside.

Rubik twisted the cube and found it was difficult to align the colors again, in fact, it took him a month of work to figure out the mathematics of the cube and solve it. The cube Rubik designed has one solution out of three quintillion different possibilities.

Rubik took his invention to a small toy making company in Budapest. The company produced the toy on a small scale and the Rubik's Cube gained in popularity purely through word of mouth.

It wasn't until Tibor Laczi came upon the toy that it became a sensation. Laczi recognized the toy would be a success and so went to Hungary's state trading firm asking for permission to sell the toy in the West. Laczi then met Tom Kremer, a British toy expert, at a trade fair and soon struck a deal with him to produce a million cubes through the Ideal Toy Company.

With this agreement and the Rubik's Cube huge success, Erno Rubik became one of the first self made millionaires from the Communist block.

HT: Frank

Van Dulken, Stephen. Inventing the 20th Century. New York: New York University Press, 2002. History of the Rubik's Cube

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Terry Anderson

Terry Anderson is an economist and an environmentalist. To a decent percentage of the population, those two things would seem to be in opposition. But not to Anderson. As Executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), in Bozeman, MT, Anderson is bringing the lessons of the free market to the challenging world of environmentalism. The basic premise is simple – you don’t change people behaviors by preaching, you change people’s behavior by changing their incentives. If you can make behaviors that are favorable to the environment in the best interest of everyday people, you will make “being green” a natural part of people’s routines.

PERC’s mission is to research the various challenges facing the environment and to educate people about market based environmentalism and through this work to improve environmental quality using markets and property rights.

Anderson has authored and edited numerous books on free market environmentalism and has raised the public consciousness to this line of reasoning enough that he has even had the opportunity to advise George Bush early in Bush’s presidency.

Anderson Bio

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gustavus Swift

Gustavus Franklin Swift (1839–1903) was a pioneer in the meat-packing industry, pioneering the delivery fresh and high quality beef to Americans from New York to California.

Swift began as a cattle buyer and butcher in Massachusetts, eventually moving to Chicago where the railroad nexus had created a centralized market for agriculture and livestock distribution. Swift quickly realized that transporting live cattle was costly since so much of the cow was waste. He turned to the idea of the refrigerated railroad car, which he helped design and implement. Soon after the adoption of the ice-cooled cars in the 1880s, Swift and Co. was transported tens of thousands of tons of beef to New York and beyond.

Swift also led the meat-packing industry in using ever greater portions of the animals until he used "everything but the squeal of the pig." The soap, glue, fertilizer, hairbrushes, knife handles, and pharmaceutical products revolutionized the meat industry. Finally, Swift used vertical integration and mass production line ideas (which later inspired automakers Ransom Olds and Henry Ford) to make the slaughtering and dressing process as efficient as possible.

Wikipedia profile
Biography of America section
Louis Swift, Yankee of the Yards

Monday, November 10, 2008

Walt Disney

Today we honor Walt Disney (1901-1966) for his innovation in animation and theme park design. Alongside his brother, Roy Disney, Walt co-founded Walt Disney Production - known now as The Walt Disney Corporation - which became a world leader in motion picture production.

As a film producer, Disney created many now world-famous fictional characters, beginning with Mickey Mouse. Disney's productions later grew to include live-action film. Coupled with animation, Disney's productions landed the company numerous awards and nominations including: 59 Academy Award nominations, 26 Oscar Awards, and 7 Emmy Awards. The company continues to thrive today.

Disney's vision of "Disneyland" which began as a series of sketches in the 1940s eventually became reality in the decade to follow. Today Walt Disney theme parks - Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts - occupy grounds around the world - the United Stated, France, China, and Japan.

Walt Disney's self-interest incorporated providing entertainment to the masses. As a result of his pursuit of happiness and profit, we are all better off.


Walt Disney at:



Friday, November 7, 2008

Richard Drew

It's often said that in a non-capitalist world, we'd all be equal: equally miserable. Without the invention of today's hero, most people would be equally useless at wrapping Christmas presents. Richard Drew (1899-1980) was a 3M lab worker who, in 1925, invented pressure sensitive adhesive tape.

Drew was looking for a solution to a problem faced by car detailers in the 1920's: the two-toned finishes that were popular then suffered from the two paints running together. The first tape Drew invented was a masking tape that protected edges during painting. His invention was said to have raised early skepticism after a failed initial trial, in which an auto painter referred to the bosses at 3M as "Scotch" (i.e. cheap) for not including enough adhesive. The kinks were shortly worked out, and the rest is history.

Transparent cellulosic tape, another Drew invention, shortly followed masking tape. In the Great Depression, tape was seen as a low-cost preservative of belongings when replacements were not affordable. Building upon its success with tape, 3M went from sandpaper manufacturer to technology-driven conglomerate. Today there are hundreds of varieties of pressure sensitive adhesive tapes, and few more popular than Drew's originals.

Adhesives & Sealants Industry Magazine

"Tale of the Tape" -

Wikipedia entry on Richard Drew

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ray Kroc

Today we honor Ray Kroc (October 5, 1902 - January 14, 1984) for his innovation in making McDonald's what it is today. Though he was not the original restaurant owner, I think this quote from Time sums up what he did for McDonald's (and ultimately the fast food industry):

"He sensed that America was a nation of people who ate out, as opposed to the Old World tradition of eating at home. Yet he also knew that people here wanted something different. Instead of a structured, ritualistic restaurant with codes and routine, he gave them a simple, casual and identifiable restaurant with friendly service, low prices, no waiting and no reservations. The system eulogized the sandwich — no tableware to wash. One goes to McDonald's to eat, not to dine."

As someone who has been on the road for 8 of the last 10 days, I cannot help but appreciate Ray Kroc's innovations that created a fast way to grab a bite to eat on the road. I wish I could count the hours that McDonald's has saved. Ray Kroc our Hero of Capitalism today because he used private property (McDonald's restaurants) and created vast amounts of wealth, both for himself and those of us who eat there.

Ray Kroc on Wiki

Ray Kroc profile from Time

McDonald's Timeline

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Edward Lowe

Today we honor Edward Lowe (1929-1995), the man who "brought the cat indoors" with his invention of Kitty Litter.

Lowe was working for his father's company, which sold industrial absorbents, when he came up with the idea for Kitty Litter. A neighbor, tired of her cat tracking ashes throughout her house, asked Lowe for sand to use in her cats litter box. Lowe suggested using clay instead. The neighbor loved the clay and would soon use nothing else.

Lowe soon began marketing his new invention. He took brown bags full of clay down to the local pet store and asked to sell them. The owner refused, stating people wouldn't be willing to pay 65 cents for their cats litter box when sand was very cheap. Lowe was sure people would be willing to pay for the new product and told the owner to give the Kitty Litter away until people were willing to pay. Lowe was right and soon the shop owner was asking to be able to sell the product.

Shortly after his products success he founded Edward Lowe Industries, Inc, to manufacture and distribute the Kitty Litter. Edward Lowe Industries, Inc. is now a billion dollar industry.

Lowe used his success to found The Edward Lowe Foundation. His foundation's mission is to help foster the entrepreneur through peer learning and help the exchange of ideas.

While a simple and small,Lowe's invention has helped to make taking care of cats simpler and easier. It has allowed for cats to become indoor pets, making him a Hero of Capitalism for pet lovers everywhere.

Edward Lowe Biography
About.comInventors- Edward Lowe

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bill Rasmussen

Bill Rasmussen founded the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, more commonly known today as ESPN. I think I can safely claim that ESPN has changed not only the world of sports, but that it has had an effect on all of cable television. From Rasmussen's own words, "As founder of ESPN, I saw a company and an entire industry explode on the American television scene with breathtaking speed. Its impact forever changed the way Americans watch television." Today ESPN is owned by Disney and between the original network, spinoff stations ESPN2 and ESPN News, its Spanish counterpart ESPN Deportes and the wildly successful, the brand generates revenues in excess of $3 billion annually.

Rasmussen’s idea was to provide a network dedicated exclusively to sports programming. With cable television in its infancy, the idea of a 24-hour sports only station was seen by many as lunacy, but Rasmussen, a lifelong sports fan, recognized the opportunity to fill a niche by feeding the ravenous sports fan more coverage and a higher quality of access and analysis then they have ever had previously.

Of course, the product was not always as sleek and professional as it is today. During the early years, ESPN did not have the resources to land contracts from NCAA college football, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball League (as it does today) and consequently they were forced to be creative in their programming choices, using events like The World’s Strongest Man to fill the their schedule. ESPN’s first show was Sportscenter, on September 7th, 1979, and Sportscenter was the key ingredient to ESPN’s early success. By providing a fun, lighthearted feast of sports highlights, ESPN captured the audience that Rasmussen knew was out there, clamoring for better access to sports.

Today, Sportscenter remains the at the center of the ESPN programming day, but now faces competition from numerous copycat shows that have appeared on the scene to try to duplicate the initial success that ESPN enjoyed.

For more on the beginings of ESPN
Quick Bio

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar (b. 1967) began eBay as a hobby, but in the end, he created the world's largest swap meet and second-hand store. With annual revenues over $7 billion (US$), eBay is one of the most successful and world-renowned Internet sites.

Omidyar began the site as a way of facilitating person-to-person auction transactions of collectible items. He started a site called Auctionweb. Within two years of launching the site, the newly-renamed eBay was facilitating over 800,000 auction sales per day. the eBay company has gone on to acquire other crucial Internet services such as and to add to the services it offers its close to 100 million registered users.

For creating and developing the technology where the world can buy and sell everything from Star Wars figures to cars to grilled cheese sandwiches with the image of the Virgin Mary on them, Pierre Omidyar is a hero of capitalism for expanding commerce beyond anyone's widlest imagination.

Wikipedia profile
Academy of Achievement biography
Forbes magazine profile story