Famous Failures – 44 Men Who Braved Through Storms Of Bad Luck
As the $50 billion dollar man, Dan Peña would say, “Just fu-king do it”.
Now is the time for you to be honest with yourself, stop complaining, and start working towards success.
Take a look at all of these gentlemen below, all of them are famous failures. And chances are they were at some point, or still are responsible for products/services you purchase today. Their stories and lessons are invaluable when it comes to using failure to their own advantage.
However, this guide isn’t meant to be inspirational or make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. I wrote it to show you how failure can be an important stepping stone towards success. Understand these men didn’t cop out by blaming their lack of success or circumstances on someone else. Nor did they obsess over every single failure along the way and muddle around in sorrow.
They took charge of their lives from within and let the past be the past by moving forward.
Now get out there and embrace your failures.
1. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln took failure like a good sport; he refused to quit until he had become a champion. At the age of 9 his mother passed away from “milk sickness”, leaving behind an already struggling farm family. Years later he would leave his father’s home in 1831 and become a clerk/assistance at a general store. The store owned by Denton Offutt, provided Lincoln months of work, but he would eventually be laid off due to Offutts’ financial troubles.
A year later Abraham Lincoln ran for Illinois state legislature but placed 8th among the 13 candidates. However, it’s been said that this defeat was the only time he had been beaten on a direct vote of the people.
In 1833, Lincoln and William F. Berry purchased a general store in New Salem, Illinois. At the time, Lincoln couldn’t afford his share, so he did the next best thing, sign a note against his share to the previous owner. Within time, the duo would compete against a more prominent business and see their sales dwindle down. The debt would follow Lincoln around for years until it was finally paid off.
After celebrating a victory running for state legislature in 1834, Lincoln found himself heartbroken one year later when his soon to be wife passed away. Up until 1836 he suffered a total nervous breakdown and was bedridden at times for six months. Within time, Lincoln recovered and found himself seeking to become the Illinois House of Representatives speaker. But it wasn’t easy – He lost twice as a Whig candidate.
To summarize the rest of his story, it’s quite remarkable, uplifting and riddled with failure: In 1849, another candidate was picked over Lincoln as the commissioner of the General Land Office. An 1855 ballot showed Lincoln receiving the most votes but being six short of the requisite majority.
2. Akio Morita
“We tell our young managers: Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. But make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice”
Believe it or not, but the first Sony Corporation product was an electric rice cooker. Akito Morita who partnered with Masaru Ibuka on the venture ended up selling less than 100 to the public. What was supposed to be a tasty rice sourced from the black market, ended up as uncooked and overcooked rice.
However, while the two failed fast and cheap, it taught them to never be afraid of cutting losses and moving on from a mistake.
3. Albert Einstein
“Failure is success in progress”
History’s greatest physicist wouldn’t be known until his own failure occurred first. As a boy, Einstein didn’t speak fluently causing his teachers to below he was a slow thinker. At age 4 he could not speak and by age 7 he could not read. His rebellious nature of skipping classes and poor performance led to expulsion from the Rotterdam Academy, and a rejection letter from Zurich Polytechnic School. It’s been said he had released a rabid skunk from his lunchbox into the classroom.
At times, he debated dropping out and selling life insurance as a means to get by. Though he completed his education, it was still served with heartbreak. His unsupportive father could not recognize Einstein’s future ability, and would passed away believing he would forever be a failure.
Shortly after, Albert Einstein took work at as a patent clerk. There he would review patents, mathematical equations and the rest of history would begin. His work would eventually change how the world thinks, but it would involve countless errors in the process.
From 1905 to 1946 Einstein had made mistakes in: Clock synchronization based on special relativity, transverse mass of high-speed particles, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th proofs of E = mc2, his interpretation of Mac’s principle, attempts to modify general relativity, formulating a unified theory, among other experiments, discussions and calculations.
4. Benjamin Franklin
“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”
Benjamin Franklin is more than just the man you see on a crisp $100 bill. He was a remarkably brilliant author, politician, scientist, statesman, and inventor, among other things that made him one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As an American genius, he invited the Franklin stove, carriage odometer, the lightning rod, bifocals and shed new light upon electricity thanks to his discoveries and theories.
At the age of 12, Benjamin Franklin began working under his older brother James, who was the creator of The New-England Courant. Eager to write for the publication Benjamin sent in a request though it would be later denied. Determined to be published, he tried again a second time, only this time under the pseudonym of “Mrs. Silence Dogood”. His sly attempt had worked, but it would eventually come to an end. While he continued to fool readers, his brother James had discovered his secret.
However, when it comes to personal failures Benjamin Franklin had quite a lot of them. For instance, he started a magazine that failed to gain any traction. Devised a new format for the alphabet that included removing the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y. Dealt with opposition from his son on the unification of the colonies. Leaked the Hutchinson Affair letters which had a negative effect on his political career, and lost American support from a poor Pennsylvania stamp distribution decision.
5. Charles Darwin
“I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”
eet the man famous for establishing that all specifics of life stem from descendants of common ancestry. He was the creator of the scientific theory where the branching pattern of evolution was the result of natural selection. Yet in 1818 while enrolled at Dr. Butler’s Shewsbury School, he was considered a failure.
Darwin lacked an interest in formal education and became unable to complete his study in medicine. He would be terminated from the program to hear his father respond, “You care for nothing but shooting dogs and catching rat and you will be nothing but a disgrace to yourself and all of your family.”
In an attempt to mend his mistakes, he attended Christ’s College in 1827 to study theology. Four years later he would return home, unable to finish. Though unsuccessful he would catch a big break in 1831 by traveling on a scientific expedition. There he would voyage around the globe collecting bones of existent animals. As his observations grew so did his curiosity to discover the relationship, and within time his legendary ideas on evolution would come to light.
However, while in the spotlight, his books drew quite the controversial thanks to religious beliefs with conflicting views. Within time, it would be embraced by all biologists.
6. Charles Schultz
At his peak, Charles Schultz had captured the attention of 355 million people around the world. His adventures of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the Peanuts Gang could be found in any newspaper for the past 50 years, including today. However, Charles Schultz once described his life as “one of rejection”.
He failed every subject while in the 8th grade and struggled with sports, friends and women. At the age of 22 his mother would pass away and he would be drafted to fight in World War II. During the war, Schultz would draw to pass time and keep alive his passion. His desire to draw newspaper comics would eventually pay off.
7. Don Fisher
Founder of The Gap clothing stores, Don Fisher had amassed over 134,000 employees, 3,100 outlets and $15 billion in business sales around the world before his death. An impressive feat, considering he was once called the rather humorous, “Horney Fish” back in his college days. Plus at one time almost expelled from school after being caught cheating by a professional.
He certainly had his share of bad ideas, yet his most famous idea of them all, involved putting together different styles, colors and sizes into one clothing store. In 1969, Don Fisher ran with this idea and opened his first store on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco. Aimed towards younger Americans, and the generation gap, Don decided to name the store, “The Gap”. And as business continued to grow, it would eventually lead Don Fisher to start his own clothing line.
However, along with growth came new business decisions, some of which resulted in expensive failures. Take of instance Ralph Lauren Western Wear, a brand you’ve probably never even heard of it. The failed idea cost Don Fisher a cool $14 million. Even Pottery Barn, the popular home store, became too difficult and time-consuming to manage compared to clothing. It generated a second $14 million dollar loss for Don Fisher.
8. Elvis Presley
From lowly paid truck driver to $4.3 billion dollar songwriter and performer. His story began in 1953 after graduating high school and becoming a truck driver to fund recording studio sessions. Within a year, he recorded and sold “That’s All Right Mama” to Sun Records, selling 20,000 copies.
However, his first on-stage performance wasn’t as gleaming. His manager Jimmy Denny once told him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” But it didn’t sway Elvis.
With fame and cash now rolling in, the poor mismanagement by his new manager Tom Parker caused quite a few hiccups. The known gambler didn’t make a financial responsibility impression on Elvis, leading to multiple future legal battles. His marriage with Priscilla and eventual divorce would add public criticism and outrage to an already demanding life.
9. Evan Williams
An online mogul, Evan Williams started Blogger, Twitter, Medium and a handful of other successful websites you probably use today. Though, back in 1999 when working on Blogger he would be challenged with the famous dot-com bubble.
Around the time, Williams started peaking online interest for Blogger and began attracting capital to expand the company. A year later the market would crash in 2000, forcing Williams to lay off every single employee except one. The bubble near destroyed his companies’ traction, but Evan Williams continued to work past the failure. He rose back up three years later and eventually sold the company to Google for millions of dollars.
10. Frank Winfield Woolworth
As the founder of the F. W. Woolworth Company, Frank Winfield Woolworth was well known for his 5 and 10 cent stores, “Five-and-Dimes”. He also built the world’s tallest building in the world back in 1913 and was incorporated with 586 stores.
His story begins back in 1852 in Rodman, New York. After giving up on a life of farming at the age of 15, he took employment at Augsbury & Moore’s Drygoods in Watertown. His boss, William Moore viewed Woolworth as a lousy shop assistant and salesman. He would eventually be put in charge of washing the windows, but later tasked with arranging the store’s front display. It was a simple position, yet it helped Woolworth form the concept that goods should sell themselves.
In 1878, he would be given permission by Moore & Smith to organize a large surplus of goods for their Great Bend store’s grand opening. Sales that day were terrible, but Woolworths troubles had just begun. Five days later his mother passed away, but before doing so, she said to him, ” “Don’t worry son, I just know one day you’ll be a rich man.” A short bit later the Great Bend store has failed and closed its doors.
After six years, Woolworth felt confident in his observations of a leftover clearance merchandising strategy. He would borrow $300 and open his first “Great Five Cent Store” in 1879 with all products priced at 5 cents. This Utica, New York store would fail within the first few weeks.
Determined, Woolworth opened a second store, only this time with the addition of 10 cent products. His business was a profitable success, however, the next two stores he opened would fail. Woolworth still eager to grow his chain, decided to open another store in Scranton and purchase this round of products of in bulk quantities.
By 1911, he had amassed more than 586 stores, built the tallest building in the world and had married. Upon his death in 1919, Woolworth would pass away leaving behind over 1,000 stores through the country. The company eventually dwindled, but it did give way for a lot of the 99 cent stores you see today.
11. Fred Smith
Fred Smith leads the way for express delivery service, shipping 10.2 million packages per day to over 220 countries around the globe. But his route to success and $2.3 billion was far from anything express or overnight.
As a child, Fred Smith suffered from a bone disease which forced him to sit on the sidelines. It would take him ten years before playing football on the field. During the time, his father would pass away while the young Smith was only 4. Years later he would enroll in Yale and find himself in disagreement with a professor over his delivery business model. After graduating Smith would join the Marines and survive a Vietcong ambush with no gun, grenades or helmet.
The close call would give Smith the courage to start Federal Express in 1971. He would raise $91 million ($525 million today) in venture capital and officially open doors two years later. But within 26 months the company had lost $29 million. As the business struggled the bills piled up, leaving Smith only $5,000 in the bank. With no other options, he traveled to Vegas winning $27,000 by gambling on blackjack. $24,000 was wired to FedEx to pay for a past due $24,000 fuel charge.
It would take five years for the company to bring in $75 million in revenue while still being in debt to investors. To solve, the company went public in 1978.
12. Gary Heavin
I had to lose everything I owned before I was capable of running a business the right way.”
Co-founder of Curves International, Gary Heavin went from a college drop out to famous billionaire gym owner. By the age of 20 he had opened doors to his first gym, Women’s World of Fitness. And within five years, at the age of 25, he would be worth millions.
However, his streak of success would soon run out while his overhead costs would eat the business alive. Luxury gym amenities such as pricey tanning beds and swimming pools had failed to attract new memberships. Just five years after becoming a millionaire, Gary Heavin would face bankruptcy at the age of 30. To make matters worse, he would be hit with a judgment for failure to pay child support and spend time in jail. Heavin would later make another earnest attempt to take over a gym in Houston, Texas only to see it fail fast.
After Heavin had married his second wife Diane in his 40’s, the two decided to open the first Curves gym in Harlingen, Texas. The women ‘s only gym would take off, and eventually be franchised with over 10,000 locations. From there Heavin would write a New York Times bestseller called the ” Permanent Results without Permanent Dieting: The Curves for Women Weight Loss Method”.
13. Harland Sanders
“There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery. You can’t do business from there.”
Sanders faced the hardships of life at the early age of 5 when his father passed away. His mother of 3 children, would go on to work in a tomato canning factory full time and eventually re-marry an abusive man. Sanders unable to cope with the abuse, left at the age 12, dropping out of school to live with his uncle.
At 28 Sanders married his first wife Josephine King and had three children. Two daughters, and one boy who would eventually pass away while still a child. As time went on Sanders went from job to job to support his family, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy Josephine. Sanders was ridiculed by her brother who mailed a letter reading, “She had no business marrying a no-good fellow like you who can’t hold a job.” She would leave him taking the kids and filing for divorce later on.
During this time, Sanders sold insurance and opened a steamboat ferry company on the Ohio River. His next occupation would be to serve as a secretary for the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. There he would discover an invention for operating natural gas lamps on carbide gas and buy the patent. It would be the start of his manufacturing company and another future failure.
Determined to succeed in life, Sanders took work at the Illinois Central Railroad while studying for a law degree. Once laid off from the railroad he started to take to practicing law full time. After an argument with a client in the courtroom, his progress forward came to a halt.
At the age of 40 the depression had hit the country, but Sanders wasn’t going to give up without a fight. With only a little money to his name, he bought a service station, motel and cafe in Corbin, Kentucky. In 1935, the governor, Ruby Laffon would award him the title of Kentucky Colonel. But rather than rest upon his laurels Sanders dreamed of something greater. Two years later he would open the Sander’s Court & Cafe, however, it would come bizarre challenge, such as his motel burning down.
Fast forward to 1956 and the new Interstate 75 construction would bypass the town of Corbin. Now out of sight from travelers, his customer count would shrink, literally driving his sales right into the ground. With $75,000 in debt Sanders was forced to sell the property at the age the age of 65. He would go on with life living off his meager $105 Social Security check and humble savings.
For the next two years, Sanders began to drive around the country with the goal of selling his recipe to restaurant owners. It’s been said he was rejected 1,009 times, before landing his first success. He was to be paid 5 cents per chicken using his licensed recipe. 9 years later (The 60’s) he had sold to over 600 restaurants and would receive $2 million for his Kentucky Fried Chicken from investors John Y Brown, Jr. He was also to be paid $250,000 per year to be the official face of the company.
Yet even with money in his pocket and a steady job Sanders regretted his decision. He was very vocal about his dislike for the silk-suited son of a b-tches, and big corporation boards who talked in terms over his head at meetings.
14. Harry S Truman
Born with no middle name, only the letter “S”, Truman’s story starts with a failure in the haberdashery business. By the time he was 36, his three failed attempts in business had forced him to move his family into his mother-in-law’s home. Yet it would eventually lead him to run for county judge in Jackson County, MO. In 1924, the loss would be marked as the only time Truman would ever lose an election.
Within time, he would become the vice president to Roosevelt, the 33rd President of the United States. Roosevelt’s unexpected death would grant Truman the opportunity to be sworn into office as president, but it came with many hurdles. The world leader was faced with dropping the atomic bomb to end World War II, rebuilding Japan and Europe, and tackling American’s foreign policy.
15. Henry John Heinz
When you hear the name Heinz, you probably think of ketchup. The truth is, a good part of Henry J Heinz’s successful $10.7 billion dollar business are due to it.
However back in 1869, Heinz started his first business venture selling horseradish. For awhile there he enjoyed a steady six-year success and eventually expanded to pickles, vinegar, and other canned goods. Though, in 1875 financial panic would set in, bankrupting the business and leaving him broke.
Unable to start his own business, Heinz sought work at his families, F&J Heinz company. Operated/owned by his cousin and brother, Heinz was given the opportunity produce and market ketchup within the first year. By 1888, he had been freed of his bankruptcy, by 1905 he had renamed the business the H.J. Heinz Company and took ownership. Within time, the corporation would grow to 25 factories and over 6,5000 employees around the world.
16. Isaac Newton
“If I am anything, which I highly doubt, I have made myself so by hard work.”
Three months after birth, Isaac Newton’s father would pass away, and three years later his mother would re-marry. She would end up living with her new husband and leave raising Isaac to his maternal grandmother. As he continued to age, it was apparent the young Isaac expressed disapproval with his mother and step-father. He had once threatened to burn their house down with them inside.
Yet his failures would begin at the ages of 12 to 17 where he would attend The King’s School. After his removal, he was pushed into farming by his mother. But unlike his father, Issac Newton hated farming and willingly returned to school upon his master’s approval and guidance.
During his middle years, he would write a book titled the Principia, only to never publish his calculus due to fear of controversy and criticism. He later partnered with Duillier and Newton on a new version, but their relationship would dwindle, leaving the book unfinished. Though truth is told, his relationships with women held true to the same story, consistently resulting in failure.
But when it came to his more notable projects, Issac Newton had made attempts to understand gravity and its cause, but to his best efforts, he could not understand what this force was. It wouldn’t be until Albert Einstein released his theory of General Relativity, that the problem would finally be solved.
Newton was also interested in alchemy and had hopes of turning base metals into gold. But much like the rest of the world, all attempts have resulted in failures. This work of his was never published.
17. Jack Canfield
Meet the co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Success Principles, Jack Canfield. He has sold over 250 book titles with 500 million printed copies in over 40 different languages.
The world has certainly accepted his creative vision, but at first publishing houses rejected it. His first manuscript submitted was rejected 33 times, stating “anthologies don’t sell”, “the book is too positive”. However, it didn’t stop Jack Canfield from moving forward. All in all, he would face 140 rejections before getting the president of Health Communications to invest in his stories, poems, and pieces of positive encouragement.
Shortly after, The Chicken Soup for the Soul had become a grand success, with 65-series selling more than 80 million copies. In his personal life, Jack Canfield would marry three times and be divorced twice.
18. Jack Ma
From rags-to-riches, Jack Ma has become the richest person in China, worth a mind-blowing $25 billion. His remarkable story of Alibaba, Alipay, and the world’s biggest IPO to date entails numerous failures and defeats along the way.
Born into poverty, Jack Ma believed his only way out was to acquire a higher education. He did so by completing high school and applying to college. Before being accepted he would fail entrance exam not once, but twice. On his third attempt, Ma was successful and admitted to the Hangzhou Teacher’s Institute.
With a degree in his hand by 1988, Ma began to look for work only to met with rejection. Even as a graduate he was denied a job at KFC in Hangzhou, but eventually caught a break as an English teach at a local university. The meager pay entitled him to $12 a month, and while a passionate line of work, he eventually became uninterested.
In 1995, Ma traveled to America and gained his first glimpse of the internet, needless to say, he was hooked. After starting two online businesses that resulted in failure, such as the China Yellow Pages, Ma came up with another solution. He would launch the online marketplace Alibaba with the help of 17 friends four years later.
By 1999, his company had received unprecedented success and peaked the interest of investors: $5 million from Goldman Sachs and $20 million from SoftBank.
19. James Dyson
Chances are you own one of the ingenious vacuum cleaners by the British inventor, Sir James Dyson in your own home. His popular Dual Cyclone bag less vacuum cleaner has revolutionized the industry and netted him over $3 billion. But before he could hit stores in 1993, Dyson spent 15 years experimenting with 5,126 failed vacuum cleaner versions.
Back in 1983, Dyson produced the “G-Force” vacuum cleaner, but UK manufacturers and distributors wouldn’t dare touch it. By doing so, they would potentially damage the expensive replacement dirt bag market. Japan, however, wasn’t as concerned, allowing the Dyson to sell his invention through catalogs. Once his product had hit the market it would lead to further success: The 1991 Japan International Design Fair Prize, and his first patent in 1986.
Once again Dyson tried to get the support of manufacturers behind his inventions and failed. In return, Dyson decided to go up against them, launching his first manufacturing business: Dyson Ltd. By 1993, he would also open the doors to a Malmesbury, Wiltshire research facility, and factory.
Ten years of forming his initial vacuum idea, Dyson would find success in TV advertising campaigns. He would begin reaching consumers on scale and become the face of the UK’s fastest-selling vacuum cleaner ever made. Within time, Dyson’s invention would be copied Hoover, but the patent infringement case would pay $5 million in damages.
During his successful years, Dyson continued to invent new products. Some successful like the Dyson Ball, and others failures like the ContraRotator, a washing machine back in 2000.
20. Jonathan Goldsmith
It took Jonathan Goldsmith 50 years to become the most interesting man in the world. But before his big break with the Dos Equis beer brand, he struggled to get his acting career into the spotlight.
To make ends meet when acting wasn’t covering the bills, Jonathan Goldsmith worked odds jobs such as construction and even driving garbage trucks around town. During this time, he had made in over 350 television appearances, including a small role in The Shootist alongside John Wayne.
Goldsmith had also managed to land a role on the popular TV show, Gunsmoke, yet it came with the requirement of being able to ride a horse. Of course, he had never ridden a horse but gave it his best failed attempt after claiming he could.
After years of playing the villain in most of his roles, Goldsmith dreamed of doing something else. Comedy. 50 years later he would have the opportunity with the Dos Equis commercials.
21. Mark Cuban
Meet Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks with an impressive $3 billion net worth. Starting out with a bartending position in Dallas Texas, Cuban would eventually change careers and become a computer salesman. However, his first sales job at Your Business Software would result in failure.
Cuban, wanting to close an early morning deal, promised a client he would meet them on the same day he was to open the store. In order to do so, he rang up a co-worker and had them open the store for him. Everything seemed to be going well, but when Cuban walked into work with a paycheck from the client in his hand, he was terminated.
Shortly after, he would start his first computer company called MicroSolutions, and sell it for $6 million. Following his first success in the business world, Cuban knew he couldn’t rest on his laurels. So he started another company, this time it was Broadcast.com and sold for a 1,000x higher price tag: $6 billion from Yahoo.
22. Mark Pincus
Before the founder of Zynga had you hooked on Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, he was quite the unsuccessful serial entrepreneur.
In the 1990’s Mark Pincus started two online companies, both of which failed miserably. In 2003, he would launch a social network called Tribe.net. This time Mark would fail fast, losing investors, resigning from the board, and walk away from the company. A later sale to Cisco would help pay back the accumulated debt.
23. Martin Goodman
From homeless New York City bum to $125 million comic book hero and character crater. Until his death in 1992, Martin Goodman had spent 40 years of his life following his true passion.
In the 1920’s Goodman was broke, without money, food or shelter, and found himself a part of “hobo camps”. While attempting to pursue a better life, he convinced a local publishing company to hire him on as a salesperson.
However, once the initial glow of success wore off, Goodman realized his talent was far better suited as a publisher, not a pen pusher. And so Goodman and two friends Louis Silberkleit and Maurice Coyne, formed the Columbia Publications Company. Still Goodman’s aspirations were far greater. In order to become his own boss, he started the Western Fiction Publishing company and released his first piece, “Western Supernovel Magazine” in 1933.
Once on the market, Goodman quickly came up with the idea to change the corporate and brand names of his publications. His theory was that it may attract more readers, but the idea would eventually fail. In 1939, he gave Marvel Comics a test, with the human torch and the Sub-Mariner on the cover.
80,000 copies would be sold. Realizing he was on to something, Goodman created another comic book, this time it would sell over 800,000 copies.
24. Milton Hershey
25. Momofuku Ando
He led the French artist group, the Impressionists, which included famous painters including Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Monet would also dedicate 60 years to his artwork.
Though oddly enough, his piece “Impression, Sunrise” was ridiculed by critics who claimed his work was unfinished, formless and unappealing.
During the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874, he would be mocked and rejected for his artwork. It wouldn’t be until the 1880s that the sales of paintings would be able to support him.
27. Nick Woodman
28. Ray Kroc
29. Richard Branson
30. Robert H Goddard
“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
Known as the man who ushered in the Space Age, Robert Goddard is credited with building the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. However, his initial theories of spaceflight came with much ridicule from the press and little attention from the public.
At the age of 16, he began construction of an aluminum balloon filled with hydrogen. Five weeks resulted in failure despite is consistent efforts, but it led him to understand a simple concept: Aluminum is too heavy for the balloon to go up.
Years later he wrote ideas to Popular Science News, titling his article, “The Navigation of Space”. It was rejected for having “no use in the future”. Though it didn’t stop him while attending Clark University in 1915 he began experimenting with gunpowder and launching his first rocket. Both attempts were failures, converting only 2% of the available energy into motion. To solve for the inefficiency, he turned to Swedish engineer, Gustav De Laval, who had invented a turbine for the steam engine.
By using Gustav’s nozzle, Goddard’s rocket was able to achieve an efficiency of 63%, a grand success. It would eventually lead the way for a $5,000 grant from the Smithsonian Institute and his research being published in 1919.
31. Robert Kiyosaki
32. Rowland Hussey Macy
In 10 years, Macy had failed at 4 retail ventures. He would move to California and later come back in 1851 to open his first Macy’s store in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Even with incentives for cash purchases and room for customer negation, the store would eventually close its doors. Rowland H. Macy, not ready to quit, would move to New York city in 1858. There he opened the R.H. Macy & Co. store on the corner of 6th Ave and 14th Street. His first day in business on October 28, 1958, would amount to $11.08 in sales, or $301.47 today.
Shortly afterward the country dove into a recession, but to his surprise, the store quickly grew to $90,000 in yearly sales. Eager to grow Macy purchased 11 nearby buildings to form the first “department store”, a new concept at the time. He took out newspaper ads using bold headlines and precise prices to beat his competitors out. If that wasn’t enough, he offered a money-back guarantee and continued to only allow cash payment until the 1950’s.
But that’s not all, even his famous Macy’s day parade was a failure at first. On July 4, 1854, in Haverhill, Massachusetts he expected his parade to be a grand success. Due to the extremely hot climate, only 100 spectators ventured out. Few of which would even shop his store before heading home.
“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”
In a time period where new ideas were not easily accepted, Socrates gained fame as “an immoral corrupter of youth”. He compared his military service to his woes in the courtroom; citing that the jury who thinks he ought to retreat from philosophy, thinks like a soldier who should retreat when there is great likelihood of being killed in battle.
Needless to say, he was summoned to be executed by the ruling representatives of the oligarch of the Thirty. Though, in Plato’s Phaedo it’s been said he declined an attempt to escape from prison and ended his life by drinking a body numbing poison. Up until his death, Socrates continued to teach refusing to accept forced failure by any means.
34. Soichiro Honda
“People see my success is only one percent. But, they do not see my 99% failure”
Meet the man behind the Japanese automotive manufacturing company, Honda. His road towards success involved quite a few speed bumps and windy roads. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s he could be found working in a small workshop tinkering with the piston ring. He dreamed of selling the idea to Toyota, sleeping overnight at the workshop, and pawning his wife’s jewelry to make the end result in a real reality.
Within time, the piston ring was finished and sent to Toyota for inspection. They concluded that it didn’t meet their standards. Even his fellow student engineers laughed at his design, but that didn’t hold him back from securing a contact with Toyota two years later in 1938. (He was to produce 50,000 piston rings, of which only 3 out of every 50 met inspection specifications.)
With the government preparing for war, he would have a slim chance to acquire a production factory, but nonetheless he managed to find one. As a result of the war, it would be later be bombed and burned down not once, but twice. And to make matters worse steel was a sparse commodity. So he came up with a plan to collect surplus gas cans from US fighters to use as raw materials. A great plan indeed, but foiled by an earthquake destroying the factory.
After the Second World War in 1947, Soichiro Honda took note of the dire gasoline shortage and destroyed roads. To problem solve, he built a small engine and attached it to his bicycle in 1948. After receiving positive remarks from others interested in purchasing one, he wrote to 18,000 bicycle shops asking for a financial advance. With little money in his pocket, he would produce the first model with engines too bulky in size. Within time, his “The Super Club” engine would be a hit, selling across Europe and America.
35. Stephen King
36. Theodor Seuss Geisel
He wrote the classics you read as a child: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears a Who, among many others. Even his own story of success had some interesting twists and turns along the way. In 1936, Theodor Seuss Geisel completed his first children’s book titling it, “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street”. However, all 27 publishers who read his manuscript rejected it.
Down on his luck Geisel was ready to burn his manuscript until got he caught a break. He ran into a man named Mike McClintock, an old college buddy who was the editor of Vanguard Press. Mike was fond of the story and agreed to publish it. Shortly after, Geisel’s success was literally in the books.
37. Thomas Edison
“I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”
Thomas Edison’s road to success was paved with numerous failed and rejected inventions along the way. His story begins with the automatic, electrographic vote recorder. A simple machine that could quickly tally vote counts and save officials several hours of time. When he brought his invention to Washington, political leaders bluntly responded, “Forget it”.
His next venture was to sell an electric pen across the Mid-Atlantic, charging agents $20 and their customers $30. The idea was brilliant, but the execution had failed. The electric pens were too noisy and weight too much. Even after meticulous improvements another drawback occurred: the batteries needed to remain in a jar of chemical solution. It was a messy product and project, but nonetheless Thomas Edison would eventually sell the rights to the Western Electric Manufacturing Co and receive royalties.
In 1888, Edison touted the tinfoil phonograph as one of his most promising inventions. The process took nearly a decade with the final result having a tinfoil sheet that was too delicate and easily damaged. The sheet could only be used once or twice and storage was near impossible. Not to mention, it’s operation required skill and patience which only catered to scientists and those wealthy enough to splurge on such a novelty. Edison refused to give up and revisited the project ten years later. This time he would use a wax cylinder and the product would become a grand success.
To fund his lab, Edison began to rapidly produce new inventions and send them off to factories for production and sale. One of these projects included a talking doll with a tiny phonograph inside. It took Edison two years to get his product to market, but once sold to consumers, complaints swarmed in. They were too easily broken by children and the voices coming out of them were quite bizarre and creepy in tone. A month later, the product was pulled from the market.
38. Wally Amos
“You can’t be profitable unless you have a team that’s working as a unit. I learned that lesson from losing Famous Amos.”
From high school dropout to famous cookie company founder. Wally Amos brought Famous Amos to the world with his salt-and-peppered beard, embroidered Indian shirt and classic Panama hat. Yet his taste of sweet success would literally crumble with plenty of failures along the way.
Within the first year, Wally had managed to turn his initial $25,000 investment from celebrity friends into $300,000 worth of cookie sales. By 1982, his business would peak at an impressive $12 million in revenue. Eventually, things would come to a halt for Wally in 1985. Revenue had declined to $10 million causing a reported $300,000 loss for the cookie company.
To make matters worse, he became 15 months behind on his Hawaii home’s mortgage, and would later discover it had been auctioned off while away on promotion in Salt Lake City. Eventually, Wally had gone broke, losing full control of Famous Amos. Not to mention, the rights to his own name and quirky famous style.
Determined to succeed, Wally began selling hazelnut cookies under a new name in 1992. He would call it “Wally Amos Presents”, yet lawyers for Famous Amos would call it trademark infringement. Face with no alternative, the company name was eventually changed to “Uncle Noname”. While a clever solution, the Uncle Noname would produce literally no profit and amount $1.3 million in debt. By 1997, Wally’s struggling venture had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
But not all hope was lost for Wally. The Keebler Company, who was now the fifth owner of Famous Amos, presented a two-year contract to Wally. They would give him back the rights to use his famous name while promoting their newly acquired brand.
Yet after all these years, Wally’s entrepreneurial spirit has never changed though his companies name has often. Going from Uncle Noname Cookie Company to Uncle’s Wally’s (muffins) to finally, Wamos Cookies.
39. Winston Churchill
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Even with plenty of famous failures under his belt, Winston Churchill would become one of the great 20th-century leaders. As the chief proponent of the Turkey invasion doing the first World War, the Gallipoli campaign would result in defeat. By linking England and France’s eastern ally, Russia, Churchill believed he could provide assistance. Yet his master plan was eventually foiled by his enemy.
When the Second World War rolled around, Nazi Germany challenged the invasion of Norway backed by Churchill. The result of air power versus naval power led to devastating results. As a supporter of the invasion of Italy, Churchill planned to take hold of Germany by going through “Europe’s soft underbelly”.
The truth is, it was one “tough old gut” with the German army taking advantage of the defensive terrain.
40. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Before turning 36, Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, 21 concertos for piano and orchestra, and 13 serenades, among many other works of music.
His first encounter with failure would begin in 1772 after failing to keep his position as a court musician. Years later he would go onto to perform The Marriage of Figaro at the Theatre An Per Wien. He was criticized by Archduke Ferdinand of Austria afterward who said, ” “Far too noisy, my dear Mozart. Far too many notes.”
Just before death, Mozart’s last three compositions were considered to be his worst and rejected.
41. Henry Ford
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
In the late 1890s, Ford secured $60,000 in capital from William H. Murphy to manufacture automobiles. He began diligently working on his prototype design with high hopes, but things would eventually take a turn for the worst. While sourcing parts from around the country, he came to quickly realize they were far too heavy and poor in quality. As time dragged on, the patience of William H. Murphy and the stockholders grew thin. It wouldn’t be until 1901 that the board of directors would lose faith in him and dissolve the Detroit Automobile Company.
The failure taught Ford a valuable a business lesson: Don’t serve too many customer needs at once. But it was Ford’s tenacity that would lead him to ask William H. Murphy for a second chance. This time he would make the vehicle lighter, smaller, and ready on time for production. William H. Murphy would agree to trust him, but not without a watchful eye. William brought in men to supervise Ford, which drove him to the brink and eventually forced him to leave the company within a year’s time.
With two failures under his belt, he was famous in the car business, but for all the wrong reasons. No one would back him now with a tarnished reputation, but that didn’t keep Ford from trying. Later on he would partner with a similar risk-taker, Alexander Malcomson from Scotland. With a fortune from the coal industry, Alexander would finance Ford’s venture, without so much as bothering him during the process.
With new hopes, Ford opened an assembly plant and begin work on the Model A. He would eventually produce 15 cars per day, which at the time, was a considerable rate of production speed. With a careful eye on every phase of the process and a willingness to work on the line with his workers, orders began to pour in. By the year 1904, the Ford Motor Company would become a mammoth player within the automobile industry.
And if you think that’s impressive… Ford also failed with the Quadricycle and astronomical problems with the Model A’s reliability. Even his refusal to modernize the Model T resulted in a massive drop in sales. Yet nothing seemed to ever stop him from moving forward. In fact, when pressed with manufacturing delay, the easiest route to failure would have been accepting it was not possible to change. Instead, he miraculously turned a 14-hour process into a 90 minute one by attempting the impossible.
His other famous failures include: A city built in the rain forest called Fordlanida, which was closed almost as soon as it opened the doors. A $20 million dollar mistake, ($200 million today).
42. Bill Gates
“I failed in some subjects in exam, but my friend passed in all. Now he is an engineer in Microsoft and I am the owner of Microsoft.”
The world’s youngest billionaire at the age of 31 with $72,700,000,000 in the bank by age 58. Bill Gates certainly made investors an astounding 30,207% return in Microsoft’s initial public offering, but it didn’t come without challenge. Gates was a Harvard University dropout and co-owner of the failed Traf-O-Data company first.
The idea behind Traf-O-Data was to read/process raw traffic data tapes and produce network reports. When accomplished, it could optimize traffic and eliminate congestion, or so he believed. After producing the Traf-O-Data 8008, the local county demo was tragic. The machine had failed to function.
Long after the success of Microsoft Gates would eventually face other failures along the way. While building a school lunch program in hopes the government would purchase it, the end result would be: no deal.
43. Walt Disney
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Walt Disney’s story begins with dropping out of school and enlisting in the army. He would be rejected for being underage, but accepted into the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. A year later Walt would explore his dream of the film industry but pay a price for his attempt to enter it.
At the young age of 22, Walt Disney filed for his first bankruptcy. It was the result of a failed animated cartoon series established in Kansas city called the Laugh-O-Gram. With only $40 in hand, an imitation-leather suitcase with a few personal items inside of it, and drawing material he moved to Los Angeles.
There he set up another company with his brother Roy and produced Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. With distribution through Universal Pictures, he would be unable to profit and receive a rejected offer letter. Shortly after Walt would continue creating characters, one being his most famous Mickey Mouse. His studio would grow, but progress would be halted in 1941 when the US army would take over his building as a facility to repair tanks and artillery. Postwar, his company would be $4 million in debt with money tied up overseas. To solve the problem, Walt began producing full feature films to supplement his income from animations.
With bigger dreams in mind, Walt struggled to find financing to build Disneyland. He saw television as a way to fund his venture, but major Hollywood studios pressured him not to do so, claiming it would hurt the movie industry. Walt boldly did it anyways and successfully captured an audience of millions. After building Disneyland thousands would attend, some of which walked through the doors with forged tickets.
Walts other famous failures include: Alice In Wonderland which lost around a half a million dollars. Sleeping Beauty which at first was a financial flop, forcing widespread layoffs and company losses. The Three Little Pigs which was rejected for not having enough characters in it. And MGM Studios’ rejection of Mickey Mouse which stated, “it will never work – a giant mouse on the screen will terrify women”.
44. Vincent Van Gogh
Famous for his emotional and profound paintings, Vincent Van Gogh led the way for a new style of art, “Expressionism”. As a child was “odd, aloof and acted like an old man”. To his entire family he was a disappointment; even his brother who financed his ten years of painting felt the same way.
Through his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh was plagued with what seemed like a failure: A lack of approval for his artistry, no wealth or fame, and crippling depression and madness. He would die with not a penny to his name in 1890.
Nearly a century later his work would finally gain recognition. His Portrait of Dr. Gachet would sell for $82.5 million, fetching the highest price ever paid for a painting in the 20th century.