Friday, February 27, 2009

Paul Newman


Paul Newman will always be best known for his work as an actor. But since 1982, he also made his mark as an entrepreneur with his Newman’s Own line of food products. A company that started as a joke between two friends, and never expected to turn a profit, has turned into a fixture in grocery stores around the country. Newman’s Own finds its success from accessing a niche market that, to that time, had been under-serviced. The food products they provide are created with organic ingredients – a strategy which hardly seems revolutionary today, but in the 1980s, was somewhat novel.

Another part of the Newman’s hook was the notion that buying into the Newman’s name would mean that you were contributing to a charity. The novelty of this approach certainly drew some customers in, just as the organic ingredients did. Starting with salad dressing and branching out to a variety of foods (including popcorn…I seem to have popcorn on the brain these days), Newman’s Own generated over $250 million in profits in its first two and a half decades.

What makes Newman unique among entrepreneurs is that he then donated all of that wealth to charity. So although Newman was creating wealth, he was not creating it for himself, instead giving it directly to others. Capitalism is often associated with greed, but as you scroll through the entries in this blog, take note of how many of the known capitalists are also well-known philanthropists. This is not just a coincidence, is it?

The Story of Newman's Own

Thursday, February 26, 2009

J.R. Simplot

J. R. Simplot is a quintessential example of the American success story. He was born in Iowa and grew up in a log cabin with a sod roof. He dropped out of school at 14, went to work for himself, and seized every opportunity to create more wealth. When he died in 2008, he was the 89th richest American, worth over $3 billion and the owner of the most deeded land in the United States.

At age 14, he founded the Simplot company in Idaho with one simple potato-sorter. He quickly grew from the local boy who sorted potatoes to the young tycoon who had an empire. Eventually, he hired the food researcher, Ray Dunlap, that convinced Simplot he could make the first commercially viable frozen french fry. When he made a handshake deal with Ray Kroc, Simplot potatoes became a vital part of the new McDonald's empire.

Simplot did not rest on his potato business. He later developed businesses to sell fertilizer, oil, animal feed, cattle, and other agricultural products. Then he began developing ski resorts around the world. He invested the key capital that helped Micron Technologies (makers of the computer memory that has powered the Internet revolution) get off the ground.

Like many other capitalist heroes and unique American success stories, Simplot had always been known for his no-nonsense, down-to-earth attitude and his eye for a good investment.

Sources:
Forbes obituary
Wikipedia entry on J.R. Simplot
Interview in Esquire
Obituary in Idaho Statesman
Obituary in New York Times

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ludwig von Mises


Today we celebrate Ludwig von Mises for his life-long defense of capitalism.

Mises was born September 29, 1881 in Lemberg, Austria. As a young student at the University of Vienna, Mises discovered what he would spend the rest of his life teaching and defending: the importance of a free-market economy.

Former student and fellow Austrian economist, Murray Rothbard, described Mises:

One of the most notable economists and social philosophers of the twentieth century, Ludwig von Mises, in the course of a long and highly productive life, developed an integrated, deductive science of economics based on the fundamental axiom that individual human beings act purposively to achieve desired goals. ...Mises concluded that the only viable economic policy for the human race was a policy of unrestricted laissez-faire, of free markets and the unhampered exercise of the right of private property, with government strictly limited to the defense of person and property within its territorial area.

For Mises was able to demonstrate (a) that the expansion of free markets, the division of labor, and private capital investment is the only possible path to the prosperity and flourishing of the human race; (b) that socialism would be disastrous for a modern economy because the absence of private ownership of land and capital goods prevents any sort of rational pricing, or estimate of costs, and (c) that government intervention, in addition to hampering and crippling the market, would prove counter-productive and cumulative, leading inevitably to socialism unless the entire tissue of interventions was repealed.


Mises' work concerning the effects of government intervention extended to monetary theory. In fact, Mises and a fellow Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek, were of the few economists of the day to predict the crash of 1929 and subsequent depression.

For more on Ludwig von Mises, his ideas, and discussion of the relevance of his theory today, follow the sources and additional links below.

Sources:

Mises.org (biography)
Wikipedia

Links
Blog: The Austrian Economists
Blog: Ludwig von Mises Institute
Mises'works (Newschool.edu)
EconLib.org

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jean Nidetch

Today we honor Jean Nidetch (born 1923) for taking a simple idea and creating vast wealth through the creation of Weight Watchers. As an overweight Brooklyn housewife, Nidetch found that the only thing that helped her stay motivated to keep watching her weight was a support group of friends. She took this simple concept and turned it into a company that is a global phenomena.

In 1963, Nidetch took her idea to the masses. Several websites claim that Nidetch's first meeting in Queens, NY overwhelmed her with more than 400 people showing up without formal advertising. In less than a decade, Weight Watchers had over 102 franchises throughout the world. During the 1960s, Nidetch started marketing food through Weight Watchers as well. This helped expand Weight Watchers from just a support group to a highly recognizable brand name.

In the late 1970s, Weight Watchers was bought out by the Heinz company, which still produces much of the prepacked food under the Weight Watchers brand. In 2001, Weight Watchers went public and trades at the New York Stock Exchange. Today Weight Watchers has a market cap of just under $2 Billion and has a worldwide presence.

We honor Jean Nidetch for taking a simple idea and turning it into great wealth for many people. With the creation of Weight Watchers, she helped generate monetary wealth and the immeasureable wealth of people achieving their goal weights.

Jean Nidetch on Wikipedia
Weight Watchers
Weight Watchers History
Yahoo Finance Information for Weight Watchers

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dana White and Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta

Today we honor Dana White and Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta for their leadership and innovation in making the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) a mainstream, wealth-creating powerhouse. UFC is, in the words of the UFC website, "The entity of the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] is the world’s leading mixed martial arts sports association..." Today's Heroes took over UFC in January 2001. Prior to this, UFC was a fledgling, law-skirting entity that John McCain (yes, that John McCain) sought to outlaw in all 50 states. As you'll see below, White and Fertittas took UFC to another level.

To understand the contributions of White and the Fertittas, one must understand that the orgins of UFC are clouded with government censorship. Intially, in UFC there were almost no rules; including no weight classes or divisions. Let me be clear, this is not prowrestling. UFC is comprised of actual fighters from different disciplines. Many people called for the UFC matches to be disbanded because of the violence. Over time, there became more rules, including weight classes. Some of the contraversy died down.

The Fertittas bought UFC with their company Zuffa and made White the President. When White and the Fertittas took over in 2001, they began to get state commision sanctioning, which gave the sport some legtimacy. Under their watch, UFC was showcased on cable pay-per-views and other cable outlets, like Fox Sports and Spike TV. White's vision for UFC is to take the fights to the masses:
If you take four street corners, and on one they are playing baseball, on another they are playing basketball and on the other, street hockey. On the fourth corner, a fight breaks out. Where does the crowd go? They all go to the fight.

Today we honor Dana White, Frank Fertitta, and Lorenzo Fertitta for their direction and innovations that made UFC a wealth creating entity.

Sources:
UFC FAQ
UFC on Wikipedia
Zuffa LLC on Wikipedia
Dana White Quotes

Dana White Interview

Friday, February 20, 2009

Luther Burbank


Luther Burbank (1849-1926) was a botanist and horticulturist who developed over 800 strains and varieties of new plants, the most famous being the Russet Burbank potato, commonly called the Idaho potato.

Burbank only had a elementary school education, but was an avid reader. After reading Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, he began crossbreeding experiments on plants on a small farm in Massachusetts. Some of his more successful crossbreeds include the Fire Poppy, the Freestone peach, the Santa Rose plum, and the July Elberta peach.

The Burbank potato was developed in the early 1870s. Burbank sold the rights to the potato and traveled to his new home in California and continued to breed new variaties of plants.

The Russet Burbank potato was exported to help Ireland recover from the potato blight. His potato is also the sole source of potato in McDonald's french fries. Though many other horticulturists have tried to create an improved potato, Burbank's remains the most popular.

In 1921, Burbank wrote the book, How Plants Are Treated to Work for Man. This book as well as his other work are credited with helping in the creation of the Plant Patent Act in 1930. This act made new varieties of plants patentable for the first time. Burbank was issued 16 Plant Patents posthumously.

Burbank started a new trend of innovation in plant breeding. Today, horticulturists and bio-engineers continue working on developing new plant breeding.

Sources:
MIT Inventor of the Week: Luther Burbank
Wikipedia: Luther Burbank

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Orville Redenbacher

Orville Redenbacher is the first name in popcorn. He began growing his own popping corn at the age of 12. The money he made from this small business was enough to send him to college. After college, he actually made his fortune in fertilizer, but continually worked on developing a hybrid version of corn that was ideal for popping. By the early 1970’s, his local business had gained enough notoriety that he began to sell the popcorn out of grocery stores. In 1972, Redenbacher first appeared in a national television ad, promoting his “lighter, fluffier” version of popcorn, and his name soon because synonymous with popcorn.

He sold the company to Hunt-Wesson in 1976, but remained on as spokesman for his brand until his death in 1995. Popcorn was an obsession for Redenbacher, who, through Hunt-Wesson, introduced flavored popcorns starting in the late 1980’s, including such memorable favorites as chili and barbeque. The Redenbacher brand remained an innovator throughout the decade, introducing the first stable microwavable popcorn in 1983 and a microwavable light popcorn in 1989. Hunt-Wesson was acquired by Con-Agra Foods in 1990.

From humble beginnings on the family farm in Indiana, Redenbacher combined his passion for innovation and some savvy marketing to develop a brand of popcorn that has been making movies more enjoyable for decades. For all this, I’ll even forgive him for those creepy posthumous commercials they made in the late 1990’s.

Still marketing the man

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Frederic Tudor

In the first years of the nineteenth century, Frederic Tudor pursued what everyone thought was a crazy idea—he believed he could make money by selling ice to people in tropical locations. Although people who lived in high altitude or in northern latitudes had cut ice from frozen lakes, ponds, and mountaintops for centuries, no one had ever thought to transport the ice to distant locations, especially if that transportation involved ocean-going vessels and locations where the ice could melt within a day due to high temperature. Frederic Tudor committed himself to proving that it could be done, not just as a stunt, but as a way of making himself rich. With capitalist ingenuity and years of struggle, he succeeded and became a leading businessman in nineteenth-century America.

Starting in 1806, Tudor and his associates began carrying ice in the holds of sailing vessels from New England to the Caribbean. Though he would spend the next few years in and out of debtor's prison and waiting out the American Embargo on the eve of the War of 1812, Tudor eventually began making profits in the 1810s. He was also able to carry fresh tropical fruits back to Boston without spoilage, an unheard of feat in his time. By the 1830s, he and his company began shipping ice to the British in Calcutta, India, some 16,000 miles away and a four month long trip. Due to Tudor's innovations in packaging and insulation, the 180 tons he shipped only lost 80, leaving him a lucrative remainder to sell in summertime India.

By the time he died in 1864, Tudor witnessed an explosion in the ice trade. He had viable competitors and the world came to depend on ice harvested from frozen American lakes and shipped to the far corners of the earth. At one point before the Civil War, the value of American ice exports was second only to cotton. The trade persisted into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when electric refrigeration became a better option.

Tudor's story is
Sources:
Gavin Weightman, The Frozen Water Trade
Carl Seaburg and Stanley Paterson, Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle
(excerpt of Ice King on Harvard Business School)
Wikipedia entry on Tudor
Profile on IceHarvestingUSA.com

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Milton S. Hershey


Today we honor Milton Hershey (1857-1945) for his contribution to chocolate lovers world-wide.

Milton Hershey was born in rural central Pennsylvania. He received little formal education, but as a teenager Milton served as an apprentice to a local confectioner. Unfortunately, Hershey's attempts at the candy business following his apprenticeship, each ended in failure. It was not until he moved to Denver, Co, where he met another confectioner who taught him the secrets of caramels, that Hershey was able to gain ground in the business.

After failed attempts in both Philadelphia and New York, Hershey returned to Lancaster, Pa., better educated in candy making, ready to start the Lancaster Carmel Co. In a short time, Hershey held clients world-wide.

While the Lancaster Carmel Co. proved extremely successful, Hershey's most famous product had not yet hit the market and wouldn't for over a decade - Hershey's chocolate. In 1893, while visiting the World's Fair in Chicago, Hershey purchased equipment to produce chocolate. His initial intentions were to produce enough simply to cover his caramels, but after finding a much larger demand for chocolate, he decided to concentrate solely on chocolate recipes.

In 1900, Hershey sold the Lancaster Carmel Co. - for $1 million (1900 money) - and began his new venture, the Hershey Chocolate Company. In 1903, Hershey began construction on his now world-famous chocolate factory in his birthplace, Dewey Township - now Hershey, Pa. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Hershey's quest is an excellent example of social benefit as a result of self-interest. Prior to Hershey, European producers maintained the market for chocolates with heavily guarded recipes and luxurious prices. With a lot of effort and mass production, Hershey changed all of that. He created a recipe that consumers could easily enjoy and afford.

Sources:

Hersheys.com
Wikipedia
Hersheypa.com (picture)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ingvar Kamprad

While taste is subjective and the merits of ready-to-assemble furniture are debatable, no-one would deny that millions of people have benefited from the wares of Ingvar Kamprad , founder of IKEA. For over 55 years, Kamprad (b. 1926 Sweden) has made it his business to supply customers with the goods they want, cheaply. Along the way his company has transformed from a distributor of miscellany to a direct-selling producer of unassembled furniture.

Middlemen are Useful

Kamprad developed his business acumen early in life, learning that he could purchase items in bulk from Stockholm and sell them individually for a profit in the provincial areas. He began by selling matches, pens, seeds, and so on. As an economic coordinator, Kamprad improved his customers' welfare even though he didn't produce anything. Along with millions of other similar entrepreneurs around the world, this alone would have made Kamprad an unremarkable, though important, hero. But our enterprising Swede was on to bigger things*. At the age of 17 he started IKEA with some money he received from his father. Within four years IKEA began distributing furniture manufactured by Swedish craftsmen.

But Sometimes It's Best to DIY

IKEA faced tough competition in the 1950's - so tough, in fact, that suppliers had been pressured to stop selling their products to IKEA. So Kamprad had his company design its own furniture. Before long IKEA sold nothing else. An IKEA draftsman named Gillis Lundgren is said to have first suggested the company design its furniture with portability in mind. Flat packaging means more than selling furniture in pieces; IKEA's furniture is designed to be a cheaper, but not prohibitively laborious alternative for customers. The concept has succeeded globally with 285 stores in 39 countries.

Not everyone is taken by IKEA's furniture, but I can report anecdotal evidence that college students and twenty-somethings across the US are fond of the stores. I've even had a friend from Ohio open her itinerary to make time for a trip to one of the Chicagoland stores. In Europe, a popular myth is that one in ten children are conceived in IKEA beds. Needless to say, Kamprad has left a positive mark on civilization, one that lives on in the bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms of people around the world.

IKEA.com timeline
IKEA Wikipedia entry
About.com profile
Q&A about Kamprad by The Local, an English-language news-site about Sweden

*While the purpose of this blog is to celebrate innovators and not to paint complete portraits of the men and women we acknowledge, it should be noted that Kamprad had to apologize for involvement in a Nazi-sympathizing Swedish movement during WWII.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sean S. Cunningham

On this lovely 13th day of February (which happens to be a Friday), we honor Sean S. Cunningham for creating and marketing the film Friday the 13th.

Cunningham had worked on other films before Friday the 13th, including the cult horror classic Last House on the Left. Beyond simply producing and directing, it seems he managed every aspect of Friday the 13th; he hand chose the writer, took the initiative to start ad campaigns quickly, picked the release date, found financiers and generally made it his baby from start to finish. I think his passion for the movie is captured in this quote:
"The metaphor that I was using when I was working on the film and afterwards was that of a roller coaster. I was trying to create a roller coaster with hills and valleys. That metaphor works, especially when you watch a film with an audience. Like with a roller coaster, it's a social experience. If you see a horror film in an empty theater, it's just ugly and grim; there's no fun. But if you go with four hundred kids laughing and screaming, it's a different experience"(found here).
Not only did this film make bank at the box office with about $40 million in domestic box office receipts, but it continues to be a staple of horror movie viewing. It spawned at least 9 squeals, inspired spoofs, and influenced much of the horror genre since its release. The great monetary wealth this film generated by the film might only be outpaced by the horrifying joy it has brought millions since its release. On this Friday the 13th, we honor Sean S. Cunningham for creating great wealth with his film Friday the 13th.

Sources:
Friday the 13th on Wiki
Friday the 13th imdb page
Ultraviolent Movie Interview with Cunningham
Cunningham on Wiki

Enjoy the original trailer:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

David Strange

Today's hero of capitalism didn't invent a brand new product or start a successful business, but rather he acted as a middleman during a time of crisis.

When large portions of Kentucky lost power in an ice storm in January, David Strange bought 200 generators and headed to the hardest hit regions to sell these machines. Strange sold the generators for $50 to $100 above retail price. While some object to the mark up, Strange's customers call him a "Godsend" and his work allowed for people to remain in their homes during the blackout instead of needing to go to the hospital.

Transporting and selling the generators from the back of his truck, Strange would also stay and help set up the generators and poor in the gasoline for those customers who were unable.

Strange describes himself as "a hustler" but he is also a successful middleman. He was able to buy the generators cheaply, sold the products for a profit and still helped people become better off in the process.

Strange invested in capital and sold that capital to those who valued it more. He didn't create large amounts of money by his investments but he has certainly enriched the lives of his customers and has added wealth to his own life.

(HT Justin Ross at The Perfect Substitute

Sources:

Kentucky.com - The 'generator man'

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Michael Bloomberg


Michael Bloomberg is most famous for being the Mayor of New York. Before two largely successful term as Mayor, he was maybe best known as the guy who bought his way into office. Having avoided campaign spending laws by financing his own campaign, Bloomberg spent $73 million on his campaign, more than five times as much as his opponent. But before this successful entry into the political arena, Michael Boomberg was known as a businessman.

Before starting his own company, Bloomberg worked in the information systems department at Saloman Brothers. Bloomberg’s company, Innovative Market Systems, was a brainstorm born of this experience on Wall Street. Innovative Market systems focused on the provision of information to those who wished to play the market – answering a need that Bloomberg had identified in his earlier work career. In 1982, Merrill Lynch began using Bloomberg’s company, and Bloomberg was on his way. Shortly thereafter, he renamed the company Bloomberg, L.P. Today, Bloomberg L.P. is one of the leading information providers in the financial world (it competes closely with Thomson Reuters for the top spot), with over 250,000 subscribers spread across the financial sector, and even has its own radio network. It’s web-site, Bloomberg.com, bills itself as one of the five most-trafficked websites on the internet.

Bloomberg is still the majority stockholder in his company, and the wealth this venture created him has vaulted Bloomberg high on the Forbes 400 list. He currently sits as the 7th richest American on the 2009 rankings. Like many of our Heroes, Bloomberg has become well-known as a philanthropist, as well, giving money to education (over $300 million to Johns Hopkins) and health care.

Bloomberg created a staggering amount of wealth for himself by identifying a need in the financial sector and then answering that need. In the process, his improved mechanism for the distribution of information has created additional wealth for countless individuals within the financial sector.

Bloomberg Bio

More on Bloomberg

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thomas J. Watson

February 10, 1996 was the day that IBM's chess supercomputer, aka "Deep Blue," set a record—it was the first time a computer had ever beaten a reigning world chess champion. Although Garry Kasparov would go on to win the next three matches and ultimately triumph 4-2 against the computer, IBM's team had set an impressive mark in computing history. Thus, with this moment in mind, today we celebrate one of the pioneering forces behind IBM the company, Thomas J. Watson.

Thomas J. Watson, Sr., was born in New York in 1874, and as a young man went from being a traveling salesman to a butcher before he found a steady career. When he had to close his butcher shop, he had to arrange repayment for his new NCR cash register. When he went to the company, he determined that he would get a job with them, which led him back to sales.

After a successful climb up the corporate ladder, Watson left in 1914 to join the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, which he took over as general manager, eventually renaming the company International Business Machines in 1924. Watson led the company in producing the leading tabulating and computing machines. He persisted through the Great Depression, refusing to lay off workers, a strategy that paid off when the newly created Social Security administration needed powerful machines to track employment data. IBM punch-card machines also featured prominently in the calculations for the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.

After WWII, when IBM had produced Browning rifles and engine parts for the US Government, IBM would emerge as the leading R&D company in the emerging computer industry. Watson eventually turned over the company to his son in 1956, shortly before his death. The Watson imprint was strong on the company—he had created a corporate culture that strove to make new products, especially cross-compatible computing systems that made possible things like the Internet and the modern personal computer.

Sources:
Wikipedia entry on Watson
IBM company profile

Monday, February 9, 2009

J.K. Rowling


Today we celebrate J.K.Rowling as a Hero of Capitalism for transforming her intellectual property into world-wide wealth. What began in 1990 as an idea about "a young boy attending a school of wizardry" has, nearly two decades later, become a world phenomenon.

Rowling's first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published in 1997 with an initial print-run of 1000 copies. With much of the story in mind, Rowling continued to write and published three subsequent books in three consecutive years: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 1998; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1999; and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000. According to Wikipedia, Goblet of Fire broke sales records in both the U.K. and the U.S. - selling 372,775 copies in its first day on bookshelves in the U.K. and over 3 million copies in the first 48 hours in the U.S.

The three volumes that followed - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2003; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2005; and Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, 2007 - each shattered the previous sales record - the final two books in the series each sold, in their opening day, 9 million and 11 million copies, respectively.

In addition to the success of Rowling's novels, the Harry Potter series has continued to make its mark in cinema. Rowling's first five novels have already hit the big screen; the sixth and seventh are currently in production with tentative release dates extending into May 2011. In all, the Harry Potter empire is estimated to be worth over $15 billion.

"In a time when children were thought to be abandoning books for television and computers...", J.K.Rowling's innovative approach to childrens literature may have very well changed the course of history.

Sources:

Wikipedia-J.K.Rowling, Harry Potter
J.K.Rowling Official Site
OneIndia (picture)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Benjamin Day

In the 1830's, New York was coming of age as the nation's First City. Newspapers were also changing: from lightly-circulated publications for the higher classes to popular entertainment for the masses. While Boston saw the first permanent penny-paper in 1830 and New York itself had one by early 1833, it was New Yorker Benjamin Day who began transforming the world of newspapers in later '33 by founding the New York Sun.

Called a "penny-paper" literally due to its cost, the Sun transformed the news industry. It was 1/6 the cost of the eleven broadsheets published at the time, subsidized by advertising, and distributed by newsboys. Day is credited with starting the newsboy tradition as a way to cut costs; in their wake, newspaper consumption skyrocketed. Also unique at the time was the paper's focus on news items of low-brow appeal, particularly crime stories.

The Sun, later credited with "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," in Day's time gained ever-lasting fame for the Moon Hoax of 1835. Richard Locke, the writer behind the six-piece story, created a religious satire that was apparently believable to a majority of New Yorkers at the time and helped to raise the paper's profile.

According to Day's obituary in the New York Times, his goal in publishing the first edition of the Sun was to advertise his printing business. Whatever the origin, his creation reminds me of the first popular blogs from eight to ten years ago. Day is today's Hero of Capitalism because through the Sun he helped popularize newspaper consumption and changed irrevocably the face of journalism.

Time Magazine Centennial

Matthew Goodman on Bob Edwards Weekend Discussing The Sun and the Moon Hoax (33:00)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Edgar J. Helms

Today we honor Edgar J. Helms (1863-1942) for his leadership and founding of Goodwill Industries. With a Non-profit mission, Helms did not pursue profit in the monetary sense, but rather he pursued profit in a personal sense. His innovation into a company that grew into something huge:
"In 2007, Goodwills collectively earned more than $3.16 billion, and used 84 percent of that revenue to provide employment and training services to more than 1,113,000 individuals" (Source: Wikipedia).

Helms grew up in Iowa and was educated at Cornell and Boston Universities. His entrepreneurial spirit showed early, as he owned a newspaper with several other men. Eventually he sold his newspaper rights to go to school at Cornell, where he graduated with a BA in Philosophy.

Helms became a Methodist minister and settled in the Boston area. The idea for Goodwill was certainly simple and effective. Overwhelmed by requests for help from the poorest people, it is said that he started by taking a burlap sack to richer neighborhoods for items he could repair or give away. Goodwill officially started in 1902.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about Helms vision is that he understood the great power of mutually beneficial trade. This is simply put in part of their mission statement, "Goodwill provides opportunities, not charity, and fosters development, not dependency. Individuals are primarily responsible for their development and actions. " Helms utilized people's skills by employing them to help repair the items he collected. Today Goodwill provides job training as one of its main functions.

Today we honor Edgar J. Helms for taking private property and creating great wealth through the founding of Goodwill Industries. The wealth Helms created takes several forms. First, Goodwill Industries fosters growth of human capital, which generates other wealth opportunities for individuals. Second, Goodwill provides cheap, used goods that generate billions in revenue (and joy) throughout the world. Also, Goodwill supplies a simple way for people to unburden themselves of things they no longer use.

Sources:
Goodwill Industries on Wikipedia
The History of Goodwill
"Our Mission" from Goodwill Industries Website
Biography at Learning to Give
Famous Iowans

Here's a promotional video from youtube.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Otto Frederick Rohwedder (1880-1960) owned three jewelry stores and was working as a jeweler when he first came up with the idea of a machine a that would preslice bread for customers.

Rohewedder sold his business and in 1916 became to work full time on his idea. Bakers were worried that the bread would become stale too fast if it was presliced so Rohwedder began to look for a way to keep the bread together after it was sliced. One mechanism he tried was to put metal pins in the bread to try it keep it from going stale. However, in 1917 the factory that was to build the first bread slicing machine burned down and all the blueprints were lost.

He continued to improve his design and in 1927 the first bread slicing machine was created. His new invention not only sliced the bread but also wrapped it to keep it from going stale.

In 1926 Charles Strite invented the pop-up toaster. The new toaster greatly increased sales of presliced bread and helped Rohwedder sell his new invention.

During the Great Depression, Rohwedder was forced to sell his new invention to Micro-Westco Co. Rohwedder was made vice president of the company and sales for his bread slicing machine continued to soar.

His bread slicing machine also became the invention that all future inventions have been compared to; "that's the best thing since sliced bread!"

Sources
Otto Rohwedder
MIT Inventor of the week: Otto Rohwedder
Wikipedia: Sliced Bread

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

George Dean Johnson


In Spartanburg, South Carolina, the name George Dean Johnson is certainly more well-known than it is elsewhere around the country. Part of this is because his name is attached to the business school at USC Upstate. Others may know him from his role in luring BMW to South Carolina, where it now operates a manufacturing plant and employs over 23,000 people. (Johnson acquired the land that BMW wanted and donated it to the project.)

Johnson is a classic entrepreneur, having made his fortune in a wide variety of industries, ranging from waste management to video rentals. He is one of the lesser known partners from the Blockbuster Video empire, having partnered with Wayne Huizenga and managed the franchise rights for Blockbuster for much of the Southeast U.S. Johnson’s energies are now focused on developing Extended Stay America, a chain of extended stay hotels.

Johnson would be a Hero of Capitalism for his entrepreneurial spirit alone, but once you consider that he has used his wealth and power to promote education (USC Upstate) and to encourage investment (BMW), he becomes an even more obvious candidate for recognition by this site.

Johnson Bio

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ayn Rand

February 2 is Ayn Rand's birthday, and I can think of no better person to celebrate as a Hero's Hero of Capitalism. 

Ayn Rand was born in Russia in 1905 and witnessed the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. She escaped Lenin's communist state and came to America in 1925 to pursue a career as a writer. She began in Hollywood, first in wardrobe or other backlot jobs but ultimately as a screenwriter. In the mid-1930s, she began writing novels. From We the Living in 1936, a semi-autobiographical work about Soviet Russia, to The Fountainhead in 1943, the story of a daring architect who is a champion of individualism, Rand finally achieved publishing success. In the years after The Fountainhead (including working on the movie version starring Gary Cooper), she began work on a new novel, to be her greatest depiction of "man as he ought to be and could be."

Ayn Rand finished her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, in 1957. The novel is the single greatest literary depiction and celebration of capitalism in world literature. It chronicles the lives of leading industrialists, politicians, and intellectuals as the American economy begins to fall apart. In the face of the collapse of American institutions, the novel is a great whodunit, asking the question of who is to blame. The book was an overnight success, selling out its initial print run of 100,000 copies, hitting #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, and becoming a perennial favorite. To date, over 6 million copies have been sold, it has remained in print for over fifty years, and it annually sells more copies today (about 150,000 a year) than it did at any time when Ayn Rand was alive.

Atlas Shrugged marked Ayn Rand as unique among defenders of capitalism. She stood firmly on the side of capitalism, not merely for economic reasons, but because she argued that it was the only moral social system. Yet Ayn Rand's influence on capitalism was not just the remarkable feat of introducing millions of readers to a novel defending capitalism on moral grounds. She also spent the 1960s and 1970s developing a whole philosophic system, Objectivism, to present her views. From lecturing to interviews to television appearances, Rand became a widely-known, controversial, and influential intellectual who stood in defense of laissez-faire capitalism. Rand also wrote dozens of essays, articles, and books on her philosophy, including one of the greatest books ever written defending capitalism, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Her writing and ideas have influenced hundreds of thousands, and continue to be a part of the debate about our economy.

For all of her achievements, her inspiring example, and her uncompromising dedication to the moral defense of capitalism, I salute Ayn Rand as a hero among heroes of capitalism. Happy Birthday, Miss Rand.

Sources:
Biography on Ayn Rand Institute website
Ayn Rand's books and bookstore