Friday, May 29, 2009

Jack Kilby


There are many heroes of the information age. The technology that drives our lives today, making them simpler and more efficient than could have even been dreamed of a mere 50 years ago is a compilation of the best ideas of many of the best thinkers of the time. Today’s hero comes from this group. Jack Kilby was a researcher with Texas Instruments in the late 1950’s. At this time, a computer was a huge entity, filling a room in order to be capable of performing relative simple computations. And it was certainly cost-prohibitive for even the wealthiest of households.

Kilby changed this with the invention of the integrated circuit (a.k.a. the microchip) in 1959. This chip replaced the bulky vacuum-tube design that had been used as the “guts” of these mammoth computers, and allowed more processing power in significantly less space. (To be fair, Robert Noyce completed work on an integrated circuit of his own within months of Kilby and they are today recognized as co-founders of the technology.)

The integrated circuit was first used in creating affordable hand-held calculators, but as I’m sure you are all aware, such circuitry is now common in a staggering array of devises, from high-tech toys like cell-phones and laptop computers to modernized versions of older technologies like refrigerators and automobiles.

Texas Instruments became a household name on the strength of the circuit invented by Kilby, becoming a leader in calculators and an early producer of home computers as well. Kilby left Texas instruments in the 1983 to continue to work on engineering projects of his own choosing and also spent time teaching a new generation of engineers at Texas A&M University.

Kilby passed away in 2005, and many of the stories written about him at the time describe a humble man, who deflected much of the praise directed his way regarding his greatest accomplishment. But as I type this entry on my tiny laptop, listening to music on my iPod, while my microwave oven warms my coffee, I join those who wish to make a big deal about Kilby’s life.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Frank McNamara and John Biggins

Because the credit card companies are currently being unfairly demonized in the media, by the President, and by Congress, I thought today we could celebrate the modern credit card as the wealth-creating and life-promoting innovation that it truly is. (For a great debate on the current issue, see here.)

Throughout the history of business, customers and merchants have depended on credit accounts to facilitate transactions. Prior to modern credit accounts, merchants would have to look up records of payments and assess credit risks on an per transaction basis with their customers. The development of the credit card facilitated an automatized means of offering a set amount of credit to the bearer of the card. Although individual stores and oil companies had issued their own company credit account cards for major clients in the early twentieth century, the first modern credit card was the Diners Club card.

Invented by Frank McNamara, who, when he was out to dinner with friends realized he had forgotten his wallet, realized how convenient it would be to have a credit account at his favorite dining spots, the Diners Club was recognized at multiple locations. Originally a cardboard wallet-sized card, the Diners Club was a charge card that required a full payment upon receipt of the monthly bill. Soon, banks entered the market and offered revolving credit lines to compete with the existing cards.

At about the same time that McNamara was developing the Diners Club, John Biggins, a banker in Brooklyn, started to offer a bank card that could be used with local merchants. The bill for the items purchased with the card would be forwarded to the bank, which would then pay the merchant and collect payment from the bank customer on agreed-upon terms.

By the 1960s, American Express, Bank of America (BankAmericard later known as Visa), and the Interbank Card Association (later MasterCard) had entered the business and the modern, general purpose credit card had taken off. Heavy Congressional regulations would follow in the 1970s, but as modern processing systems and computerized communications took off, more Americans turned to the use of credit cards and the use of personal checks and cash declined. In 1995, there were 49.5 billion checks paid in the United States and 15.6 billion credit card transactions. By 2003, that ratio had changed to 36.6 billion checks and 19 billion credit card transactions. Credit and debt cards have expanded from 33% of non-cash payments in 2000 to more than 43% in 2003, and likely even more today.

Now, as banks offer debit cards as a means of competing with credit cards, offering better rates to merchants and more limitations on spending (for those customers without impulse control), the genius of a little piece of plastic to facilitate transactions has revolutionized the customer-merchant relationship. Further, credit card companies now vigorously compete for business by offering cash back, bonus points, airline miles, and other perks for the customers.

By facilitating a quick, easy transaction model and by providing credit to those who merit it, the modern credit card, along with McNamara and Biggins, stand as giant heroes of capitalism.

Sources:
About.com article
Wikipedia entry on McNamare and Diners Club
Brief history of credit cards

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Joseph Armand Bombardier


Today we celebrate J. A. Bombardier(1907-1961), pioneer of personal recreational vehicles. Every since 1942, Bobaardier's company has made its name inventing recreational vehicles for all terrain and conditions - land, water, and snow.

Bombardier's interest in recreational vehicles stemmed from a fascination with mechanics and travel. As a native of Canada, an early goal of his was to invent a way to travel easily in the snow. In 1937, Bombardier invented the first snow mobile - a vehicle propelled by tracks (much like a tank), and guided by a pair of skis attached to a steering column.

Probably the most popular of Bombardier's products is the Sea-Doo personal watercraft (PWC). The PWC was first introduced in 1968. Due, however, to limitations on engine development, production of the watercraft was discontinued a year later and put on hold for nearly 20 years. In 1988 Bombardier began production of the PWC for the second time. Since then, the popularity of the vehicle has exploded. Engine limitations are no longer an issue. In fact, Bombardier is the leading innovator and manufacuturer of personal watercraft engines. The company maintains over half the market share for water vehicles.

Besides watercraft, Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) is also the leading producer of snow mobiles - Ski-Doo and Lynx - and large competitor in the market for all terrain vehicles (ATVs), sports boats, and roadsters.

Bombardier's vision and subsequent success led to the development of an entire industry for recreational vehicles.

Sources:
www.Sea-Doo.com
Wikipedia: Sea-Doo, Bombardier Recreational Products
BRP Company Website
www.canada-heros.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

John A. "Bud" Hillerich

Today we honor Bud Hillerich, founder of the Louisville Slugger. The Louisville Slugger celebrates its 125 year of production this year.

Though the origin of the first bat made by Hillerich is debated, the most popular story involves baseball great Pete Browning of the Louisville Eclipse, Louisville's major league team. In 1884, Bud Hillerich was watching Pete Browning play when Browning's bat broke. Hillerich invited Browning back to the woodworking shop that Hillerich's father owned. There Hillerich crafted Browning a baseball bat from a long piece of wood, and the next day Browning went 3 for 3. Shortly after orders for bats came flying in from professional baseball players across the country.

Hillerich's father, J. F. Hillerich, originally did not want to produce the bats, actually turning away some baseball players in the beginning, thinking the woodworking company would be more successful producing stair railings, porch columns, and similar items. Bud continued to be interested in producing the bats and later convinced his father that baseball bats had a large market.

In 1894, Bud registered the name "Louisville Slugger" with the U.S. Patent Office. Bud became a partner in his father's company in 1897 and the company J.F. Hillerich and Son (later changed to Hillerich & Bradsby Co.) is still a family company today.

Not only did Bud recognize the market for quality produced baseball bats, he was also a keen business man. His company was the first company to have a professional player endorse an athletic product and encouraged players to autograph the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Hillerich & Bradsby Company also produced amateur baseball bats, a big seller since people could then use the same bat as their favorite player.

Over the years, the company has expanded the line of products they sell, but baseball bats remain a staple of the company; they have sold over 100,000,000 bats and supply over 60% of the bats for Major League Baseball players.

Today we honor Bud Hillerich for the contribution he has made to America's pastime, baseball.

Sources:
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
Louisville Slugger

Monday, May 25, 2009

Walter Reed

Today we honor Walter Reed (September 13th, 1831-November 23, 1902) for spearheading the effort that confirmed that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. This scientific discovery is sometimes credited as the reason the Panama Canal was completed and moved forward the boundaries of epidemiology and bio-medicine.

Reed grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. He graduated from the University of Virginia at age 17. In 1875, Reed earned his commission into the Army. Reed traveled to Cuba and saw first hand the terrible diseases (including yellow fever) that, much to the embarrassment of the US government killed more men than the enemy did during the Spanish-American War.

Reed led The Yellow Fever Commission. This group of men discovered that contrary to other researchers' claims, yellow fever was in face transmitted by mosquitoes, not bacteria. Reed is also credited with discovering that a mosquito has to bite an infected yellow fever patient during the three day yellow fever incubation period and can spread the disease for up to 12 days afterward. These discoveries eventually led to yellow fever becoming a non-threat throughout Cuba.

Today we honor Walter Reed for using his skill and talents to create great wealth for so many.

Sources:
Walter Reed on Wikipedia
A cool little video about Walter Reed
Walter Reed biography

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rose Totino


While working in the pizza store that Rose Totino (1915-1994)owned and ran with her husband, Rose first developed the idea for making a crisp crust frozen pizza. Today we honor Rose for her ingenuity, business skills, and for inventing the crisp crust frozen pizza.

Rose was born into an Italian family in Minneapolis. She became well known in her neighborhood for the small Italian pies, pizzas, that she would make. This skill became her livelihood when she married Jim Totino and the two opened a pizza store together. Rose made a pizza and brought it into the bank to demonstrate its quality and to help secure the loan.

The couple's small pizza shop was a huge success, and was expanded from a take-out only shop to a sit down restaurant on customers wishes.

In 1962, the couple formed the business Totino's finer foods and sold frozen pizzas that could be sold at home. The new idea became a national phenomenon and the nation's love for frozen pizza was formed. While their pizza was a huge success, Rose was unhappy with the quality of the crust and continued to work to improve it.

The Totino's sold their business to Pillsbury Company for $22 million (raised from the original offer of $16 million, which Rose refused). Rose continued to work on the recipe for the pizza crust, and with Pillsbury Company discovered the pizza's quality improves if the dough is first fried and with that discovery, Totino's Crisp Crust Pizza was invented.

Rose was an innovator and an entrepreneur who introduced the world to frozen pizza and then worked to make that pizza better. She successfully realized the potential for her invention and worked to develop her idea into becoming a money making reality.

Rose is a prime example of how someone working for their own self interest can benefit multitudes of people. Not only is the world richer for having a quick late night snack or no fuss dinner, Rose and her husband were also generous philanthropists, giving away millions of dollars throughout the years to charities and educational institutions.



Sources:
The New York Times Obituary
Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame
MIT Inventor the of week

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Robert Maurer, Donald Keck and Peter Schultz


While working for Corning Glass, Robert Maurer, Donald Keck and Peter Schultz invented fiber optic wire. Fiber optic wire carries up to 65,000 times as much information as copper wire and was a transformative technology in the world of communications. Without this breakthrough, the current “information age” would have been severely limited by the bandwidth limitations of the older technologies.

Corning remains one of the six major fiber optic companies operating today and nearly all of the fiber optic cable distributed across the United States is based closely to the Maurer, Keck, Schultz design. It is impossible to estimate the total wealth generated by this revolutionary technology, but over 1/3 of Corning’s $5 billion in annual revenues comes from its telecommunications division. Verizon’s plans to spend nearly $23 billion between 2004 and 2010 on installing their own nationwide fiber optic network gives another small glimpse into the incredible wealth generating capabilities of this technology.

Today, over 80 percent of the world’s long-distance communications are transmitted using fiber optic cable. The improvement in communication efficiency provided by fiber optics was a key driver of the worldwide economic expansion of the 1990’s. For their scientific achievements, Maurer, Keck and Schultz received many awards and accolades including the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor. For the enormous contribution to the growth of the worldwide economy, today they can add one more accolade: Heroes of Capitalism (I’m sure that one is almost as important to them as that National Medal of Technology)

More on Fiber Optics

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Craig Barrett

Today we honor Craig Barrett, who marks his official retirement from Intel Corp. today. Barrett served as Intel's CEO from 1998 to 2005, and as its Chairman of the Board since then. He has been at Intel since 1974, having come to the company from Stanford University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

When Barrett rose to the top of Intel, he had many legendary sets of shoes to fill, including those of former CEOs Robert Noyce (co-inventor of the integrated circuit), Gordon Moore (author of Moore's Law), and Andy Grove (who oversaw a 4,500% increase in the company's market cap as CEO).

When Barrett took over at Intel, he faced significant challenges. When the company persisted in manufacturing Pentium IV chips "too long," he witnessed rival AMD expand its market share. He immediately set the company on the task of re-gaining a leading position in the marketplace. By continuing the company's level of capital investment during the dot-com bust (a technique of spending pioneered by Andrew Carnegie in the nineteenth century), Barrett was able to bring Intel out of the hard times in a much more favorable position, allowing them to ramp up capacity when demand returned. Paul Otellini, the current CEO, has followed suit and recently announced a $7 billion projected outlay by the company in this tough economy.

As a former manufacturing manager, Barrett also knew the value of keeping manufacturing principles simple and repeatable. He implemented a "copy exactly" concept for his facilities so that everything the company did right in chip fabrication would be the same at every facility, and also so that every problem that was solved could be fixed at every location. As he told the Wall Street Journal, "I got the idea from McDonald's, "I asked myself why McDonald's french fries tasted the same wherever I went. That's what I told my guys, "We're going to be the McDonald's of semiconductors."

That level of consistency is what has helped Intel to regain the leading position in chips in the world today, so much so that the company now faces a massive (and massively unjust) $1.45 billion fine from the EU's antitrust prosecutors. Because of the great achievements he has helped Intel make, we celebrate a living hero of capitalism today, on his official retirement from the company he helped make so great.

Sources:
Intel bio
Wikipedia entry
CNN/Fortune interview
Wall St. Journal Profile
"Farewell" Interview in Forbes

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rick Rubin


Today we celebrate Rick Rubin, award-winning producer and musical "guru." Rubin is best known for his creation, Def Jam Records - though he has moved on to create other now-well-known production companies, such as American Recordings, and produce for other big name production companies, such as Columbia Record.

Rubin founded Def Jam during his senior year in high school. The first album the company produced was one of Rubin's creations - a band called "Hose." After arriving at New York University, Rubin discovered a passion for hip hop. More importantly, hip hop artist found an interest in Rubin's ability to mix and produce. Through the 1980s, Rubin and Def Jam Records would be responsible for introducing such artists as the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, and Public Enemy.

Following the success of Def Jam in New York, Rubin took his skills to the west coast and founded another production company, Def American. There he would sign and produce such artists as Slayer, Danzig, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Rubin later changed the name of this venture to American Recordings and continued to produce big names - Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, and more.

Rubin's affiliation with Columbia Records has continued to attract the largest names in the industry. His work with the Dixie Chicks, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Justin Timberlake, Johnny Cash, and more won him the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, 2007.

Rubin's interest in music, specifically his musical imagination has not only contributed to his success, but the success of many musical talents. He continues to encourage and produce new and up-coming artists (see the Avett Brothers)- often leading instant fame for the artist, and an outstanding representation of their talent. Rick Rubin is certainly considered a hero of the music industry, today we recognize him as a true hero of capitalism.

Sources:

Wikipedia
Time
The New York Times

Monday, May 18, 2009

Maurie and Flaurie Berman

Hot dogs may be universal, but the Chicago dog is an icon that rivals the Philly Cheesesteak. You'll find mustard, pickles, relish, tomatoes, onions, and celery salt on a Chicago dog, but don't ask for ketchup. Hot dogs have been in Chicago since the 1893 World's Fair, where they were introduced by Austrian immigrants. Nothing was particularly new about the sausage; what makes a frankfurter a hot dog is the bun, a novel concept at the time (earlier introduced in St. Louis and NYC). In the century since, the Chicago dog has been honed to include the toppings mentioned above by thousands of hot dog vendors. I believe they are all Heroes of Capitalism, but today I'll highlight one particularly famous stand I pass on my bike every week: Superdawg.

Superdawg was opened in 1948 by the newly married Maurie and Florence Berman. Maurie was a WWII veteran who was said to have noticed many of his fellow vets opening hot dog stands in the city. Believing this to be a great idea, and wanting to differentiate themselves, Berman and his wife founded a stand at the end of the Milwaukee streetcar line with two massive hot dogs on the roof. Their hot dogs were unique as well; in fact, they've never been called hot dogs - or frankfurters - at all. They were named "Superdawgs," spicier than the traditional Vienna Beef-brand frankfurters common around the city.

Superdawgs retain much of the Chicago traditional toppings, save the celery salt. They come on a poppyseed bun. Ketchup is available, but do you really want to draw attention to yourself, outsider? The stand celebrated 60 years in the business last year and has cautiously opened a second location at Midway airport with plans for a third. They also offer another Chicago staple, the Italian Beef sandwich (named the "Superbeef"), as well as a polish sausage (the "Whoopskidawg") and hamburgers.

One of the reasons I love Chicago is the dynamism found in its neighborhoods. Chicagoans are very entrepreneurial; concepts may sweep the city but brands rarely do. Hot dog stands come and go and no-one dominates the market, so it's quite remarkable to have (until recently) a single joint with national appeal. For 61 years of serving Chicago dogs with a twist, The Bermans are today's Heroes of Capitalism.

Superdawg history
Superdawg menu
Favorable review
Average review
Image taken from here

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gary Erickson

Today we honor Gary Erickson for founding Clif Bar Inc. Erickson started selling Clif Bars in his Emeryville, CA bakery when he did not like the energy bar options on the market. Erickson wrote that he and a friend were biking all day and simply could not eat another bite of energy bars. Thus, Erickson took his private property and started producing Clif Bars.

Erickson named Clif Bars after his father, Clifford. Later, he started Clif Bars Inc. Erickson also created Luna Bars, which are specifically aimed at women. Founded in 1992, Clif Bars caught onto the demand for organic products early. Clif Bars are vegan and 70% organic. Clif Bars Inc has a distinct food philosophy that many of its patrons recognize and appreciate.

So today we honor Gary Erickson for taking his private property and starting Clif Bars Inc. He's brought great wealth to energy bar eaters everywhere!

Thanks to the Dangerous Economist for the suggestion.

Sources:
Clif Bar on Wikipedia
Clif Bar's Official 'Who We Are' Page

Thursday, May 14, 2009

John Schnatter


Today we honor John Schnatter, business man and founder of Papa John's Pizza. Like many of the people honored, Schnatter started a small business and through careful and innovative practices lead that business to become a national leader.

Schnatter began selling his first pizzas in 1984 when he gutted a broom closet in the back of Mick's Lounge, his father's tavern. The pizza was a success and in 1985 he opened the first company restaurant.

Under his leadership, Papa John's Pizza has expanded to include 3,330 restaurants in the US and 30 international markets. Schnatter's success in such a crowded market is remarkable. Papa John's is now the third largest take-out and delivery pizza chain in the United States. The company was the first pizza chain to offer online ordering and was also the first to offer dipping sauce with all of their pizzas (a personal favorite).

Papa John's logo, "Better ingredients. Better Pizza." has become a model that Schnatter strives to maintain in his business. He credits his dedication to this logo to his business's success. Schnatter is now the Chief Executive Officer of Papa John's and maintains an active role as the company's spokesman.

Like many of our other heroes, Schnatter also gives back heavily to his community in Louisville, Kentucky, supporting the university, helping to build bike trails, and supporting the zoo. What started as a small pizza place in a broom closet has become a national leader due to smart business practices and the self interested behavior of one Schnatter. Thanks to Schnatter for founding a company that delivers some of my favorite pizza for Saturday football games.

Sources:
Papa John's Pizza- History
Wikipedia: John Schnatter

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Frank Batten

It is going to be clear with a high of 62 degrees in Huron, OH, where I am today. In Clemson, SC (where I’m from) it will be partly cloudy with a high of 79. I know these things thanks to Frank Batten, Sr. and weather.com.

Batten is a veteran newsman who built his wealth though the acquisition and running of several newspapers starting with his work as the publisher of The Virginia-Pilot in the 1950’s. But when he teamed with weatherman John Coleman to launch the first 24-hour all-weather television network, he made the leap from rich guy to Forbes 400 worthy super-rich guy.

The Weather Channel was initially met with a great deal of skepticism, as most people could not envision the need for such an entire station dedicated to 24 hours of weather related programs. But from his time as a newspaperman, Batten recognized that the weather section of his paper was one of the most consistently read sections of the paper. The Weather Channel was a surprising success and its empire eventually included the incredibly popular weather.com, which gets over 300 million hits per month. Batten cashed out at an opportune time, selling his Weather Channel empire to to NBC Universal for $3.5 billion, just prior to the collapse of the stock market last year.

Batten is often quoted regarding the importance of his education in his development as a successful entrepreneur. Like so many of our other Heroes, Batten has become increasingly well-known as a philanthropist in recent years and fittingly his focus has been education. He has given large sums of money to Harvard Business School, the University of Virginia and Old Dominion University.

See if this sounds familiar. Frank Batten recognized an opportunity to provide a much desired service more creatively and efficiently than anyone else previously had attempted. As a result, his Weather Channel is a regular feature on most people’s basic cable package and a frequent stop during morning coffee for millions of Americans, and Frank Batten is an extremely wealthy man.

Batten Profile

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Aleksandr Borodin

Today we celebrate the unique contributions to capitalism of Aleksandr Borodin.

Outside of specialists in chemistry, most people today, if they know him at all, know Borodin primarily from his career as a composer of classical music. Borodin was a member of "The Five" aka "The Mighty Handful," a group of late nineteenth century Russian composers (including Cui, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov) who focused on producing a distinctively Russian form of romantic music instead of imitating salon styles of contemporary Europe. Borodin wrote some of the most moving music, including the Polovstian Dances, the opera Prince Igor, and what I think is one of the most moving pieces in the classical chamber repertoire, his String Quartet No. 2 (see below for the stunning third movement played by the Pacific Strings).

Despite the immense aesthetic contribution Borodin made, which can inspire other heroes of capitalism and give them spiritual fuel, he also made important contributions to chemistry, which forms the basic foundation of dozens of industrial applications today.

Borodin made his living as a research chemist, having received a Doctorate in Medicine from the Medico-Surgical Academy in St. Petersburg and served as a post-doctoral fellow at Heidleberg University (the oldest university in Germany and one of the premier research centers for centuries) where he befriended and worked with Dmitrii Mendeleev, originator of the periodic table of the elements, and in many private labs. Borodin was known for his work on aldehydes, the aldol reaction, and the detection of urea in urine.

Though Borodin's achievements were not earth-shattering in themselves (see this article in the Journal of Chemical Education), his work did contribute the basis of much modern chemistry. For example, the aldol reaction he reported observing in 1872 (simultaneously discovered by Charles-Adolphe Wurtz, with subsequent work being halted by Borodin in favor of Wurtz as was the custom at the time) forms the basis of much pharmaceutical industry developments (including the production of stereochemically pure drugs) in everything from immunosuppressants and statins to tetracycline antibiotics and antifungals. Borodin is also credited with having developed the first organic fluorine compound through nucleophilic displacement. His music and his wife's ill health gradually drew away from his original chemical research, he emphasized the need to overhaul chemical education at his alma mater in St. Petersburg (including advocating the scientific training of women). Later students at St. Petersburg Medico-Surgical Academy would make important advances in medicine and chemistry that would help further advance both fields.

For his contributions to modern chemistry and for his beautiful music, we honor Borodin as a hero of capitalism.

Sources:
Borodin the chemist
Wikipedia entry
Grove biography (mostly on his musical career)


Monday, May 11, 2009

Rick Bayless


Today we celebrate Rick Bayless, award-winning chef and owner of Chicago's Frontera Grill. Rick and his wife opened the restaurant in 1987 following Rick's intensive 6-year culinary study in Mexico.

Rick also hosts a PBS cooking show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, which is in its sixth season, and has authored six cookbooks. Following the success of the Frontera Grill, in 1989, Rick and his wife decided to try their hand at gourmet Mexican cuisine. They opened Topolobampo across the street from Frontera in Chicago.

Today consumers around the world can enjoy Rick's delicious foods. In 1996, due to popular demand, Rick began mass-marketing some of his most famous salsa recipes, chips, and grilling rubs under the umbrella of a newly created Frontera Foods Inc.

Rick's interest in researching and developing new and traditional Mexican cuisines has led to a very successful career. His PBS series continues to grow in popularity as do his delicious recipes.

Sources:

RickBayless.com
Wikipedia

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Linus Yale, Jr.

Today we honor Linus Yale, Jr. for his innovation, which made the combination lock a reality. There are records that suggest the basic premise of a cylinder lock had been invented thousands of years before Yale (by the Egyptians), but he was the first to make a practical lock from the idea. Before combination locks, all locks were based on keys, which Yale believed were innately unsafe due to the possibly of lock-picking. This quote from Wikipedia.com explains the invention's usefulness:
"Yale stated 9 peculiarities for his Yale Magic Infallible Bank Lock that separated it from its peers: [1] 1. Being without springs, there are none to fail; it is impossible to damage by fire, dampness, or neglect. The design rid itself of the vices of the springs that become rusty or softening by heat or moisture. 2. The lock has a head that is detached from its key-bits, thus leaving a space between the head and the key-hole, making it virtually impossible to be picked. 3. When the key is withdrawn, all print or record of its action is obliterated, and no tell-tale left for duplicate keys to be made 4. Powder proof. No powder can possible be introduced into the lock itself, which eliminates the threat of gunpowder explosions. 5. Permutation lock has the ability to rearrange new key combinations. 6. In the event of a lost key, a duplicate key can be set up to unlock the lock, and upon changing the arrangement of the lock, the lost key will be powerless to open the lock. 7. The portability of the key conveys a vast advantage over traditional bank locks’. 8. Every motion of the lock is derived from movement of the hands rather than elements beyond the operator’s control, such as dirt, rust, or memory. 9'. The lock is not liable to get out of order, having been made by first class machinists.
Before Yale decided to join the family lock business (his father held patents on locks as well), Yale was an artist. Those skills came in handy as he left detailed drawings of his intricate inventions. Ultimately, he was more than inventor; Yale went on to manufacture, market and sell his locks with his partners, John and Henry Towne. Yale's combination lock mechanism is still used to secure safes today. We honor Yale today for taking his private property and creating great wealth for himself and others.

Sources:
Linus Yale, Jr.'s Wikipedia page
Linus Yale, Jr. on Biography.com

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Brook Lundy & Duncan Mitchell


Brook Lundy and Duncan Mitchell created a free online e-card service, but the messages on the cards are somewhat different than other ecards, a semi warped version of traditional ecards. Their ecards cover all occasions, birthdays, weddings, graduations, get well cards, but they also have cards for break-ups, for flirting, and for awkward thinking of you moments.

Their website, someecards.com describes the company as follows:
Someecards may or may not be the greatest thing since ecards. It was created by Brook Lundy and Duncan Mitchell and a dollar and a half-assed dream. New cards, categories, and features will be frequently added until everyone involved with the site dies.

Their dream is certainly paying off. Lundy originally pitched the idea for Someecards to Mitchell as "the lamest idea I've ever pitched you". Mitchell loved the idea and the two set to work to form a "funny ecard site". They set the site up, found some investors, hired some writers and a Director of Sales all in hopes to make the site a "successful business", a full time job. The site has become such a huge success that Lundy and Mitchell recently decided to quit their day jobs and work on Someecards full time. As of October 2008 the site had 1.5 million unique visitors a month and 10 million pageviews a month.

Someecards now also allows customers to create their own ecards and they also have a very fine blog.

Lundy and Mitchell are heroes of capitalism for taking their private property and founding a profitable website that is free for users. They have successfully met their dream of creating a "success business" and continue to expand their company. They wanted a site where people not only set ecards, but also went to just read. I have spent many hours procrastinating on their site.

A closing thought, their most popular card is vintage black-and-white illustration of a little boy sitting on a stack of books, bearing the message: “When work feels overwhelming, remember that you’re going to die."

Sources:
Someecards - about
The New York Times - Don’t Care to Send the Very Best?
The Huffington Post - Interview with Brook Lundy
Wikipedia - Someecards

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rupert Murdoch


Today, Rupert Murdoch is best known as the media mogul who owns and runs the Fox Network. This empire reaches well beyond Fox however, and in total it has made Murdoch one of the richest men in the world with a net worth of an estimated $4 billion.

Murdoch’s empire rose not from a long-held family fortune, but instead from ownership of a single newspaper in his native Australia. Murdoch converted Perth’s Sunday Times into a tabloid and in doing so, found a successful formula that he repeated throughout Australia before moving into international markets. But Murdoch is not just a one-trick pony. He found a great deal of success in generating tabloid headlines for his papers, but as his holdings expanded, he also found value in innovation within the newspaper industry. Murdoch’s pioneered electronic production processes in the newspaper industry in Australia, England and the U.S. and achieved significant savings through this innovation. As with many innovations, this automation reduced the need for labor, and Murdoch was an unpopular figure with labor organizations as a result. He weathered the storm however, and his production techniques are copied through the newspaper industry today. Given the dire financial straits of many of these papers in today’s electronic media age, there is no question that this innovation has been critical in the survival of many of these papers thus far.

Also in the 1980’s, Murdoch began to expand his reach into the television market. His initial efforts with a British satellite TV company led Murdoch into enough debt that he had to sell off many of his Australian magazine holdings, but as a good businessman, Murdoch recognized that there was money to be made in television and continued to work to perfect his efforts in this medium. With his Fox Network, Murdoch found a winner. With a national network in the U.S., a 24-hour news network and a rapidly expanding regional sports network, Fox has become a major player in multiple media channels and has become a legitimate 4th network in a market that had been long controlled by just the big 3 (ABC, CBS and NBC).

Murdoch has not always been a popular figure. Some contend that his relationships with British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair afforded his preferential treatment from that government. Others have claimed conflicts of interest between him various news holdings, and as many sports fans remember, his brief ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers was not about building a winning baseball teams as much as it was about building a regional sports network to rival ESPN. Regardless of your opinion about his tactics, it is clear that Rupert Murdoch has built a tremendous amount of wealth for himself and for the tens of thousands of employees he has working for him worldwide. And this makes him a Hero of Capitalism.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Harvey and Bob Weinstein


Harvey and Bob Weinstein are the brother team that owns the Weinstein Company, one of the more successful production companies producing movies in Hollywood today. The brother became famous (and rich) after founding Miramax films. Under the Miramax umbrella, the Weinstein ran off a string of successes, starting with The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball in 1982, and included hits like sex, lies and videotape, The Crying Game, Shakespeare in Love and Pulp Fiction.

Miramax was purchased by Disney in 1993 and the Weinsteins stayed on to guide the division to successes like Clerks, Beautiful Girls and Rounders, but Disney’s control of what the studio could and couldn’t release (Disney refused to allow the Weinstein to release Fahrenheit 9/11, for example) led to the Weinstein’s departure, and the creation of a new studio, the Weinstein Company. Estimates of the studio’s value to Disney were as high as $1.5 billion at the time of the Weinstein’s departure. In the 4 years that the Weinstein Company has been doing business, they have produced over 40 films (and Project Runway, Ann!).

According to imdb.com, Miramax is listed as the production company on over 200 films, though roughly 15-20 of those came after the Weinstein’s departure from Disney. Many of these films have been quite profitable for those involved. So for generating more than just a few entertaining moments in a movie theatre, the Weinstein Brothers are Heroes of Capitalism. Of course, being part of Hollywood and their strange value structure, I wonder exactly how proud they would be of this accomplishment.


There are more exciting clips, but not many that I could show and still keep this site "family friendly" (or even "safe for work").

Details on the Fahrenheit 9/11 issue

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bill Bowerman

Kerry honored Nike co-founder Phil Knight a month ago, so I thought it would be appropriate to highlight the contribution made by the other half of the original Nike team: Bill Bowerman. Bowerman (1911 - 1999) had an illustrious career that included running one of the nation's most successful track programs, popularizing jogging in the US, and developing the waffle-soled running shoe. And before his success as Phil Knight's business partner, he had success as Knight's running coach.

William Bowerman knew a lot about shoes as a track coach for the University of Oregon, where he would individually shape his runners' shoes. His Oregon programs, through a 24-year tenure, finished in the NCAA top ten 16 times and won four titles. During this time he was also involved with the '68 and '72 Olympics. So it was no surprise that when former Oregon athlete Phil Knight showed up in 1964 with a pair of Japanese sneakers and a business idea, Bowerman wanted to get involved.

Knight and Bowerman formed Blue Ribbon Sports to distribute shoes for Onitsuka Tiger, the Japanese company with which Knight had entered a sales agreement a year earlier. Bowerman offered suggestions for improvements to the shoes, which consequently became top sellers for the manufacturer. The two entrepreneurs sold shoes out of the trunk of a car for several years before opening a retail store and eventually designing shoes for themselves. Their first line, the Nike line of shoes, inspired the company name change to Nike in 1978.

Bowerman's most famous shoe design was the waffle-soled running shoe he developed out of his home using a waffle iron and rubber compounds. He was aiming for a winning combination of weight and grip, with Oregon's new synthetic rubber track in mind. The simple but smart concept was Blue Ribbon's first major success and today a variety of shoes make use of the waffle outsole.

Nike's future growth made it a powerhouse in sportswear and as Kerry described, the marketing successes of Phil Knight were tremendously important to that growth. Bowerman's improvements on shoe design are the other half of this success story and make him today's Hero of Capitalism.

Guardian Obituary

NYT Obituary

Wikipedia Entry for Bowerman

Oregon Experience Timeline and Bio

Helium Profile by Lucas Smith