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.

Sources:
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.

Sources:

About.com
MIT-Inventor of the Week
Wikipedia
SillyPutty.com

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
TruettCathy.com

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.

Sources:
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.

Sources:
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.

Sources:
LEGO at Wikipedia
LEGO.com
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.

Source:
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

Sources:
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 Mises.org 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.


Sources:

About.com
Wikipedia
www.8notes.com (picture)
Mises.org

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 Beerscribe.com

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.

Sources:
Wikipedia: Cat's eye
Pawsonline.info

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. 

Sources:
A variety of links at About.com
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.

Sources:
Erector Set at:
GirdersandGears.com

ErectorUsa.com
About.com
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.

Sources:
Wikipedia- Barcode
Inventors.about - History of Barcodes