Humble Beginnings

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Humble Beginnings




Think again! If you don’t think that you have enough to get started to make your dream come true, think again! If you have had a nudging in your mind and heart for a long while to follow a certain course of action, but have doubts about following it, think again! If you think that a certain unfortunate experience in your life has made it impossible for you to follow this dream in your heart, think again! If you think that the “famous ones” started out at the top and never had to do anything to get there, think again! Take a look at these situations. It doesn’t take much to get started. as this book will show you over and over again. (David J. Seibert)


His lord said to him,
Well done, good and reliable servant;
you have been faithful over a little,
I will appoint you over much;
enter into your master’s joy.
(St. Matthew 25:21)



The American Automobile Association has become a ubiquitous presence in modern America; motorists across the country take advantage of its discounts, roadside service and maps. The company has been around nearly as long as cars -- AAA published its first road map as early as 1905. For those who are curious, the map was of Staten Island, and it was hand-drawn on linen. (Samantha Weaver, in Tidbits)

They first starred in ads:
Haley Joel Osment -- Pizza Hut commercials, age 4;
Reese Witherspoon -- local commercials for flower shop, age 7;
Alyson Hannigan -- McDonald’s and Oreos commercials, age 4;
Chris O’Donnell -- McDonald’s counter boy, age 17 (served Michael Jordan). (World Features Syndicate)

Arguments continues over the whereabouts of the nation’s first air-conditioner office building. A New Yorker claims it was the old Larkin Building now gone, in Buffalo. Was built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1904 and had ducts to distribute air forced over ice blocks. (L. M. Boyd)

The nation’s first air-conditioner was built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1904 and had ducts to distribute air forced over ice blocks. (L. M. Boyd)


Many a great enterprise starts small. Take the Air Force. Established as part of the Army in 1907, it had three men -- an officer, a non-com and one enlisted. (L. M. Boyd)

Mathematician Charles Dodgson, 33 -- a.k.a. Lewis Carroll -- published Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in November, 1865. His story, first told to 10-year-old Alice Liddell in 1862, of a girl’s capers with such quirky fellows as a hookah-smoking caterpillar and a mock turtle -- “deliciously absurd conceptions,” said a critic -- was an unexpected success. Today, Alice is the world’s most quoted book after the Bible and Shakespeare’s works. (Alison McLean, in Smithsonian)

Woody Allen, Academy Award-winning writer/producer/director, flunked motion picture production at New York University and the City College of New York and failed English at N.Y.U. (The Best of Bits & Pieces, p. 60)

How did America come about? Remember, two hundred years ago it was a wilderness. Have you ever gone out in the woods and left the path for just a few moments and seen all those trees and underbrush, the thistles and the thorns, the creeks and the rivers, the mountains? Not to mention mosquitos, black flies and chiggers? And thunderstorms, tornados. Not to mention the wintertime; the ice and the cold and the sleet. How on earth did they do it. (Foster McClellan)

Richard DeVos and Jay van Andel of Amway fame started their company in their basements after running a drive-in restaurant.
(Paul Craig Roberts, in Reader’s Digest
)  
 

From humble beginnings: Benji (movie Benji) -- found in an animal shelter;  Murray (TV’s Mad About You) -- animal shelter;  Original Lassie -- a kennel;  Quincy (TV’s Coach) -- animal shelter;  Comet (TV’s Full House) -- animal shelter;  Mike (Down and Out in Beverly Hills) -- a sheep farm;  Toto (Wizard of Oz) -- a kennel. (Pauline Bartel, in Amazing Animal Actors)


Sizes of animals at birth:
Kangaroo -- size of a lima bean;
Koala - size of a grape;
Tasmanian devil - size of a raisin;
Platypus -- size of a jelly bean;
Opposum -- size of a bee. (World Features Syndicate)

Jennifer Aniston: Like her “Friends” character, Aniston worked as a waitress after graduation from school. The rail-thin Aniston actually used to be fat. When she realized that was keeping her from landing acting parts, she went on the Nutri/System diet and lost 30 pounds.
(2002 People Almanac, p. 332)

Who flunked first and fourth grades yet went on to become an astronaut? Ed Gibson. (Glenn Van Ekeren, in The Speaker’s Sourcebook, p. 355)

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis: Some 17 publishers rejected this novel about a free-spirited older woman before Vanguard accepted it. An immediate hit, the book was soon made into a popular film starring Rosalind Russell. Ten years later a musical version of the play, now called Mame, started a long Broadway run. The film Mame was released in 1974. Total book sales have been around 2 million copies. 
(Wallace/Wallechinsky, in The Book of Lists, #2)

It took Jane Austen seventeen years to find a publisher for “Pride and Prejudice.” (Bob Fenster, in They Did What!?, p. 14)

You know those convicts sent in the late 1700’s from England to the penal colony in Australia? Not a dangerous bunch, for the most part. Among the 700-plus in the first batch were petty thieves, mostly, plus some con artists, a perjurer and several forgers. (L. M. Boyd)


In the Irish uprising of 1848, the men were captured, tried and convicted of treason against Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. All were sentenced to death. Passionate protest from all over the world persuaded the Queen to commute the death sentences. The men were banished to Australia--as remote and full of prisoners as Russian Siberia. Years passed. In 1874 Queen Victoria learned that a Sir Charles Duffy who had been elected Prime Minister of Australia was the same Charles Duffy who had been banished 26 years earlier. She asked what had become of the other eight convicts.  She learned that: Patrick Donahue became a Brigadier General in the United States Army. Morris Lyene became Attorney General for Australia. Michael Ireland succeeded Lyene as Attorney General. Thomas McGee became Minister of. Agriculture for Canada. Terrence McManus became a Brigadier General in the United States Army. Thomas Meagher was elected Governor of Montana. John Mitchell became a prominent New York politician and his son, John Purroy Mitchell, a famous Mayor of New York City. Richard O’Gorman became Governor of Newfoundland. (Johnny Rocco, in Abundant Living magazine)

Students entering Harvard are brought to a special section of the library where the rough drafts of famous authors are kept. This exercise has quite an impact on young writers who previously thought that the work of geniuses arrived complete. In a single stroke of inspiration. Here, the freshman can examine how a successful artist often starts with an apparently random series of ideas later proved superfluous to the final design. But were essential to the process of developing a new concept. That is, the early drafts are not discarded like mistakes, but are viewed as the initial steps in unfolding the idea. (Dr. Neil A. Fiore, in Reader’s Digest)

What was the winner’s average speed in the first auto race? 7.5 mph. Over snowy roads from Chicago to Waukegan, on November 28, 1895. At the wheel was James Franklin Duryea in a car invented by his brother, Charles Edgar Duryea. Eighty cars entered. Six started. Two finished. (L. M. Boyd)


“Have any big men ever been born in this town?” “No, just little babies.” (Delia Sellers, in Abundant Living magazine)

When Burt Bacharach was trying to break into song-writing, he went through a solid year of rejections. “They’d stop you after eight bars,” he recalled. “Connie Francis lifted the needle off the demo.” (Bob Fenster, in They Did What!?, p. 12)



Why is a “bachelor’s degree” called that? Goes back to when apprentice knights were called “bachelors,” to mean beginners. (L. M. Boyd)

It is said that there is not a moment of the day when reruns of the madcap television series I Love Lucy are not playing somewhere in the world. Lucille Ball’s career didn’t start off so well, however. She was once dismissed from drama school for being too quiet and shy. (Paul Stirling Hagerman, in It’s a Weird World)

Teachers at John Murray Anderson’s Dramatic School in New York sent a young student home because she was “too shy” to make an actress out of her. The girl’s name? Lucille Ball. (Bob Fenster, in They Did What!?, p. 13)

Big companies that went bankrupt:
1.  Quaker Oats (3 times)
2.  Pepsi-Cola (3 times)
3.  Birds Eye Frozen Foods 
4.  Borden’s
5.  Aunt Jemima
6.  Wrigley’s (3 times). (Press-Telegram newspaper, Long Beach, CA)

Six movie stars who worked in a barbershop: Henry Armetta, Charlie Chaplin, Perry Como, Greta Garbo, Harry Langdon, and Yves Montand. (Wallace/Wallechinsky, in The Book of Lists #3, p. 304)


Baseball: Steve Carlton didn’t know it, but he passed the torch in 1988. Carlton, until last week the career strikeout leader for left-handed pitchers at 4,136, retired early in the 1988 season. In September of that year, Randy Johnson was called up by the Montreal Expos from Indianapolis. While Carlton was an immediate success, winning 57 games by age 26, Johnson was not on the same path. He won only 10 games by that age, which more rivaled the route taken by Warren Spahn, who didn’t win any games until he was 25 but won 363 games in his career, a record for a lefthander. (Rick Hummel, in St. Louis Poist-Dispatch, September 19, 2004)

Baseball: Memories came back for managers Rene Lachemann of Florida and Marcel Lachemann of California during last week’s owners meeting at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Their father was a chef there, and as youngsters they worked in the hotel kitchen. (Tracey Ringolsby, in Rocky Mountain News)

Several of these billion-dollar ideas were launched in basements or garages on shoestring budgets. Hewlett-Packard, the computer giant, came out of $538 worth of electronic parts in David Packard’s garage. Wal-Mart came out of a five-and-dime store in Newsport, Arkansas. Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel started Amway Corporation in their basements, from which distributed a biodegradable cleaner they bought from a Deetroit chemist. (Peter Lynch & John Rothchild, in Reader’s Digest)

Pat Summit, the coach of the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team, has become the winningest coach in NCAA history. This week, she racked up her 880th victory when Lady Vols beat Purdue 75-54, in the seconf round of the NCAA tournament. That broke the record held by legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith. Summitt took over the Tennessee team in 1974, when she was just 22. The basketball program back then was so small, she had to wash the uniforms and drive the team van herself. Summitt, now 52, said she did not want her personal milestone to interfere with her team’s run for for its seventh national title. “To think about all the people that were a part of these wins,” she said. “I never thought I’d live this long. (The Week, magazine, April 1, 2005)


In December 1891, a physical-education instructor at the Y.M.C.A. Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented a new game. He asked the school janitor to find two boxes and nail them at opposite ends of the gymnasium balcony. The janitor couldn’t find any boxes so he substituted two peach baskets. If the janitor had been able to find some boxes, the game probably would have become known as “box-ball”; instead it was named “basketball.” (Paul Stirling Hagerman,  in It’s a Weird World, p. 10)

Baseball catcher Mike Piazza remembers the days of being batboy when the Dodgers came into Philadelphia to play the Phillies, dreaming one day of playing at Veterans Stadium. Now Piazza will be heading to Philadelphia, just outside his hometown of Phoenixville, not only as the starting catcher in the baseball All-Star Game, but the most popular player in the entire National League. (Rick Hummel, in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1996)

The Alaskan brown bear is the largest meat-eating mammal that lives on land. However, the offspring of bears are smaller in proportion to the size of the parent than the offspring of any other mammal, except for pouched animals such as the opossum. Although a 120-pound woman is likely to give birth to a 6-8 pound baby, a 600-pound bear might have a cub that weighs a mere 8-10 ounces. (Paul Stirling Hagerman,  in It’s a Weird World, p. 91)


In 1962 the Decca Recording Company turned down the opportunity to work with the Beatles. Their rationale? “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.” Of course, the Beatles turned that imminent failure into prominent success. (Glenn Van Ekeren, in The Speaker’s Sourcebook)


Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, an invention without which the business world of today could not even begin to function, was hard pressed to find a major backer. In 1876, the year he patented the telephone, Bell approached Western Union, then the largest communications company in America, and offered it exclusive rights to the invention for $100,000. William Orton, Western Union’s president, turned down the offer, posing one of the most shortsighted questions in business history: “What use could this company make of an electrical toy?” (M. Hirsh Goldberg, in The Blunder Book, p. 151)

Irving Berlin, one of America’s great songwriters, taught himself to play the piano by practicing in a saloon where he worked as a singing waiter.
(Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, p. 385)

You cannot drill for oil in Beverly Hills. Why not? The developers did. And came up with 30 dry holes. In 1905. For awhile there, it looked as though they had blown the $670,000 they paid for that big bean patch. Then they put in streets and sold lots with the no-oil-drilling stipulation. How much of Beverly Hills would $670,000 buy you now. (L. M. Boyd)

“Have any big men ever been born in this town?” “No, just little babies.” (Delia Sellers, in Abundant Living magazine)

Lee Strasberg, head of the famed Actors Studio, once told Robert Blake he could never learn to act.  Blake went on to star in the popular American TV show Baretta  and was voted outstanding actor in a dramatic series in 1975 by the U. S. Academy of TV Arts and Sciences.


(Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Book of Chance)

In 1873, Charles M. Barnes opened a book shop in his Wheaton, Illinois home, then joined with Clifford Noble in 1917 to open the first Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York. (American Profile)


Best-selling books rejected by six or more publishersAnd  to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss); MASH, Richard Hooker; Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl; Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach; Auntie Mame, Patrick Dennis. 
(Wallace/Wallechinsky, in The Book of Lists, #2)

In 1971, they opened a college bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To manage the huge inventory, they developed one of the book industry’s first computer systems. It helped them develop a reputation as the store where people could find almost any book imaginable, and made expension possible. By 1996, the Borders Books chain had expanded to more than 115 stores around the country, with annual book (and music, added in the early 1990s) sales of more than $700 million. (Uncle John’s All-Purpose Bathroom Reader, p. 124)

Where they were born:
Rudolph Nureyev -- born on Trans-Siberian train;
Sylvester Stallone -- in charity hospital;
Red Skelton -- in two-room shack;
Calvin Coolidge -- in back room of country store;
Babe Ruth -- in second-floor row house;
Mario Cuomo -- above family grocery store;
Dolly Parton -- in one-room shack (doctor was paid with sack of cornmeal). (World Features Syndicate)

Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) the Austrian botanist who discovered the basic laws of heredity, never was able to pass the examination to become a full-fledged teacher of science. (Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Weird Inventions and Discoveries, p. 67)

In 1903, glass blower Michael Joseph Owens invented the first automatic machine to make glass bottles and founded the Owens Bottle Company in Toledo, Ohio. Owens’ machine nine uniform bottles a minute and revolutionized the glass industry. Today machines can produce 720 bottles a minute. (American Profile)


Founded in 1916 by 40 women, the Women’s International Bowling Congress, headquartered in Greendale, Wisconsin, is among the world’s oldest women’s sports membership organization and currently has 1.2 million members. (American Profile)

That the bridal veil started out as a sack over the bride’s head is widely known. But rarely mentioned. (L. M. Boyd)

Speaking of bridges -- and nearly everyone does these days--the first suspension bridge across the Niagara Gorge employed a very scientific system for getting the metal cables from one side to the other. They began by paying a small boy $10 to fly his kite across the gorge at the appropriate spot. The kite string was tied to a tree on the far side. Then these clever engineers used the kite string to carry across a stronger line, then the line carried a rope and finally the heavy metal cable was carried across by the rope. The boy’s name was Homer Walsh; can’t recall who the engineer was. (Donner & Eve Paige Spencer, in A Treasury of Trivia, p. 93)

What legendary tough guy wore his sister’s dresses to school because his family couldn’t afford new clothes for him? Charles Bronson. (Ed Lucaire, in Celebrity Setbacks, back cover)

All broomcorn grown in the United States is said to descend from three seeds found by Benjamin Franklin in a whisk broom. (L. M. Boyd)

Not everyone knows that George Burns once did the voice of the horse on the old “Mr. Ed” TV show. (L. M. Boyd)

Their business beginnings:
Pepperidge Farms -- started as mail-order business
Marriott -- began as nine-seat root beer stand
Newlett-Packard -- first four years in a garage
Walt Disney -- made first film in uncle’s garage

Penguin Books -- first housed in crypt of a church

Smith Brothers Cough Drops -- first made in home kitchen. (World Features Syndicate)

Business beginnings:
Gucci -- was a saddlery company
Hewlett-Packard -- two years before first employees hired
Harrods -- was a grocery store
Harley-Davidson -- made four motorcycles first year
Zagat restaurant guides -- first survey made for friends only
BMW -- 12 years before first car made (originally made aircraft engines and motorcycles). (World Features Syndicate)

How well-known businesses got started:
Pizza Hut -- two brothers got $600 from their mom
Stetson Hats -- started with $10 worth of fur
Kimberly-Clark -- four investors started with $30,000
Joy of Cooking author -- $3,000 from late husband’s estate
Cliff Notes -- borrowed $4,000
Lillian Vernon catalog -- started with $2,000 from wedding gift.
(World Features Syndicate)

In 1983, Martha Coolidge, director of a film called Valley Girl, was angry with the casting director, who kept auditioning “pretty boys” for the lead role. So Coolidge went to the reject pile, pulled the first photo off the top, held it up and said, “Bring me someone like this.” The picture was of Nicolas Cage, and he got the part. It was his first lead role. (Uncle John’s All-Purpose Bathroom Reader, p. 34)


James Cagney’s first professional stage job was as a chorus girl wearing a red wig and tutu in a female impersonation act. (Ed Lucaire, in Celebrity Setbacks, p. 84)


The French fry is my canvas.(Ray Kroc, Founder, McDonald’s)       BP619971

At the age of 12, Andrew Carnegie worked as a millhand for $1.20 a week. Half a century later, he sold his steel company for nearly $500 million. (Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, p. 58)

Jim Carrey: From Rags - He had to drop out of high school and take a job as a janitor in a factory. In fact, his entire family worked in that factory, living in a small cottage on the grounds. At his lowest low, Carrey wrote a $10 million check to himself . . . to be redeemed when he made the big time. To Riches - After working the comedy circuit for years, Carrey landed a role on In Living Color, which led to a movie deal. In 1996 he became the highest paid actor ever when he received $20 million to star in Cable Guy. When his father died, Carrey placed the check he had written to himself in his dad’s burial suit. (Uncle John’s Unstoppable Bathroom Reader)

America’s own home-grown version of Nostradamos is the well-known “Sleeping Prophet,” Edgar Cayce. This meek, unassuming farm boy, born in 1877 near Hopkinsville, Kentucky, dropped out of school in the seventh grade and grew up to become the most famous prophet and psychic of his time. Yet for all his mystic powers, he remained a simple country sort, fundamentalist who remained a simple country sort, a fundamentalist who read his Bible daily and taught Sunday school for most of his life. (James Finn Garner, in Apocalypse Wow!, p. 50)

Six who were cheerleaders in high school: George W. Bush, Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Steve Martin, Jimmy Stewart, and Trent Lott.

(World Features Syndicate)

Cheers debuted on NBC on September 30, 1982, to little acclaim. In fact, it was the lowest rated television show that week. And it didn’t improve much that first season -- finishing the year in 77th place. Cheers was almost canceled, but Grant Tinker, president of NBC, loved the show and gave it another chance. Over the next year, as America came to love the Cheers family and the bar “where everybody knows your name,” the show caught on and eventually became a huge hit with a devoted audience. It turrned that cast of unknowns into household names, and one of the best TV ensembles ever. (Joe Garner, in Stay Tuned, p. 46)

The founder of Chicago was Jean Baptiste Pointe Dusable, a free Black who built the first house and opened the first business on the banks of the Chicago River in the 1770s. The Potawatomi Indians used to smile and say, “The first White man to settle in Checagou was a Black man.
(Ebony magazine)

Engineer James Thompson laid out the first plat for the town of Chicago (population 100) in August, 1830, more than 150 years after the first Europeans set foot there in 1673. Developers hoped to sell the lots to settlers to finance a canal from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River. Sell they did, and by 2005, though much of the now outdated canal is buried under freeway, some 2,800,000 people call the nation’s third-largest city home. (Smithsonian)



You know that little dog called the chihuahua? It’s ancestors were mute.
(L. M. Boyd)

Famous cook Julia Child could barely cook until she was 34. After briefly attending a cooking school in Beverly Hills, California, she went to Paris where she learned the art of French cooking at the world-renowned Cordon Bleu cooking school. (Ed Lucaire, in Celebrity Setbacks)


Walter Chrysler, another giant in the automobile industry, started as a shop apprentice for a western railroad and became superintendent of locomotive power at 33. At 35 he changed to another firm, at a lower salary. At 37 he changed again, to the Buick Motor Company, this time for exactly half his previous salary. Why did Chrysler keep changing jobs, making less money each time? Not because he was incompetent -- it was for love of the new job. (Bits & Pieces)  4279521

Winston Churchill was born in a ladies’ cloakroom in the ancestral castle of Blenheim. His mother was attending a dance there when she prematurely delivered. (Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, p. 425)

As a teenager, British leader Winston Churchill failed the entrance exams to the Royal Military Academy -- twice. (He made it on the third try, and the rest is history. (Bob Fenster, in They Did What!?, p. 16)

Sir Winston Churchill took three years getting through eighth grade because he had trouble learning English. (Glenn Van Ekeren, in The Speaker’s Sourcebook)

Winston Churchill did not become prime minister of England until he was 62, and then only after a lifetime of defeats and setbacks.  His greatest contributions came when he was a senior citizen. (Joe Griffith, in Speaker’s Library of Business, p. 250)

Bill Belichick, the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, became one of the best strategists in football as defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. But back in 1975, Belichick was just another college graduate looking for work. When he heard that Baltimore Colts head coach Ted Marchibroda needed someone to analyze game film. Belichick offered to do the job for nothing. “I worked 16-hour days for bed and board -- and a lot of football,” Belichick recalls. “I didn’t mind. All I wanted was to be a coach, like my dad. His work ethic, was ingrained in me. He taught me not to squander opportunities. (Frank Litsky, in New York Times)


Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer had a humble beginning to his winning career. At the January 1975 Senior Bowl, he pestered NFL coaches for any entry into the league. There was no vacancy, so Schottenheimer offered to compile a scouting report of World Football League players for then Giants coach Bill Arnsparger. “I got all the film of the games and completed a report on nearly every player,” Schottenheimer remembers. “I thought Bill said they would pay me $1500.” When Arnsparger sent him $125, Schottenheimer didn’t call to complain. He would have done it for nothing, he said; he was building bridges. Then Arnsparger called with a job: linebacker coach, Giants. Three months later Schottenheimer asked Armsparger what had happened to the $1500 fee. “Bill kept copious notes,” Schottenheimer recalls. “He looked it up and said, ‘No, Marty, says right here I said $50 to $100.’” Schottenheimer had actually earned a $25 bonus for his hard work. (Thomas George, in New York Times)

During their first year of business, the Coca-Cola company sold only 400 Cokes. (Glenn Van Ekeren, in Speaker’s Sourcebook II, p. 279)

Harry “King” Cohn was a school dropout from New York who went west to plug songs. He eventually founded Columbia studios where his difficulties with the English language became famous. His own executives used to bet him he couldn’t spell the studio’s name and Cohn usually lost. (Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Book of Chance, p. 12)

Discussing her early career as a would-be stage actress at England’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, “Dynasty” star Joan Collins reveals that her first report card there contained a rather ironic assessment of her talents. It read: “Joan has a good personality and lots of stage presence. But she must try to improve her voice projection or she will wind up in films and TV, and that would be a pity.” (People Weekly)


Where five well-known companies started:
1. Reader’s Digest -- in Greenwich Village apartment 
2. Playboy -- at a card table in Hugh Hefner’s apartment 
3. J. D. Powers -- at founder’s kitchen table
4. PC World magazine -- in founder’s spare bedroom
5. Mars candy -- in room above kitchen. (World Features Syndicate)

In the 1830s, more than a hundred years before the first generation of modern computers, Charles Babbage, the English mathematician, designed an “analytical engine” that would perform the four major functions of human computing; carrying out arithmetic operations, having a memory, making a choice of computing sequence, and being capable of numerical input and output.  Steam-powered, the machine was designed to store a memory of 1,000 fifty-digit numbers; it was to work with punch-card entry; final results were to be printed automatically and set in type. When the machine required further values for calculations in progress, its operator would be summoned by a bell.  Lack of money prevented its development. (Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, p. 293)

Actor Sean Connery once worked as a coffin-polisher. (Paul Stirling Hagerman, in It’s a Weird World, p. 36)

What did Sean Connery do before he became an actor? Polished coffins in a woodshop. His medical discharge from the Royal Navy qualified him for money to learn a trade. That was it. Wood polishing.
(Boyd’s Curiosity Shop, p. 201)

Ray Conniff was a prolific composer and big-band leader who achieved global commercial success with innovative arrangements that millions loved, but which critics dismissed as “elevator music. The Grammy Award winner’s career spanned more than six decades, beginning with a small band in Boston. (Brian Macquarrie, in Boston Globe)


Turn On, a television series hosted by Tim Conway, proved to be a turn off.  It premiered on February 5, 1969, and was cancelled the same day.
(Jack Kreismer, in The Bathroom Trivia Book, p. 88)

Gary Cooper wore his best suit to a tryout for a western movie, but suspicious producers thought the big actor was a dude and made him prove he could ride--and fall off--a horse. He went on to a career that culminated in the classic High Noon, but before he made it big, Coop was fired and rehired by the movie bosses seven times. (Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Book of Chance, p. 8)



Comedian Lou Costello, the roly-poly member of the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, once worked as a prize-fighter. In his early days at MGM, he was a stunt man and once worked as Dolores del Rio’s double. (Paul Stirling Hagerman, in It’s a Weird World, p. 36)

It is not clear where cottage cheese got it’s name, which is made by straining the curds of slightly soured milk, was developed. Some sources say it was centuries ago in Europe; others say more recently in America. There are many variations, which could account for the confusion. There’s no consensus on the name, either, except that it originally was made in small batches at home, and the name captures that humble beginning. (Rocky Mountain News)

The old Romans counted by moving pebbles. Latin for pebble is “calculi.” That gave us our word “calculate.” (L. M. Boyd)

Ollie Qualls started making his peg game in a 10’ x 10’ room in Lebanon, Tennessee. Each game was drilled and ink-stamped by hand, then delivered to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in the family pick-up truck. As Cracker Barrel grew, so did Ollie’s business. Today, more than 400,000 Qualls and Sons Peg Games are sold every year. (Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Breakfast Menu)

Twenty dollars a week was all the salary Joan Crawford drew in her first job on the stage. She was a dancer in a road show which closed two weeks after it opened. (Sunshine magazine)


Ted Danson once appeared in a TV commercial as a package of lemon chiffon pie mix. (Uncle John’s Unstoppable Bathroom Reader)

Edson de Castro set up Data General Corporation on kitchen tables inside an empty beauty salon in Hudsson, Massachusetts. The company sold more than $650 million worth of computers in 1981. (Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Book of Chance, p. 90)

The plow with its single steel blade and crude wooden handles looks so humble, but it cut a mighty path across the vast Midwestern prairie and forever changed America. John Deere, the blacksmith who built the first successful steel plow in 1837, planted his company in Moline, Illinois, a decade later. Since then, Deere’s name has become an agricultural icon, and the company he started has grown into an industrial giant, which today employs 46,000 workers worldwide. (American Profile)



Early years of John Deere: First year (1837) -- made one steel plow; second year -- made two steel plows; third year -- made 10 plows; by 1852 -- made 4,000 steel plows a year. (World Features Syndicate & Ben Ikenson, in Ingenious Inventions)

Robert De Niro: First acting experience was playing the Cowardly Lion in a Public School 41 production of “The Wizard of Oz.” (2002 People Almanac, p. 366)

Edison knew 1800 ways not to build a light bulb. One of Madame Curie’s failures was radium. Columbus thought he had discovered the East Indies. Freud had several big failures before he devised psychoanalysis. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration bombed so badly that they didn’t get together again for years.  The whole history of thought is filled with people who arrived at the “wrong” destinations. (Bits & Pieces)


Where they were developed:
Photocopy machine -- in an apartment kitchen
Marconi’s wireless telegraph -- did early work in his attic
Ford’s first car -- in an investor’s garage
Watt’s steam engine -- in corner of dad’s workshop; Electric car starter -- in hayloft
Hewlett-Packard’s first products -- in rented garage (They glazed the instruments in a kitchen oven). (World Features Syndicate)

A little boy skipped rocks on the Orange River of Hopetown, South Africa, in 1866. One rock he pocketed and took home. It turned out to be the 21.75 carat diamond that four years later started history’s greatest diamond rush. But all he knew was it wouldn’t skip. (Boyd’s Curiosity Shop, p. 156)

Neil Diamond was on his way to becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college when he dropped out in his senior year to take a songwriting job with a music-publishing company. “It was a chance to step into my career,” he explains. The job lasted only four months. Eventually, he was fired by five other music publishers. “I loved writing music and lyrics,” he says, “and I thought, ‘There’s got to be a place for me somewhere.’” After eight years of knocking around and bringing songs to publishers and still being basically nowhere, I met two very successful producers and writers, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who liked the way I sang. They took me from being a guy with a guitar to a guy who could make real records,” he adds. (Claire Carter, in Parade magazine)

Leonardo Dicaprio was rejected by a talent agent when he was 10 years old for having a bad haircut. First memory is of wearing red-and-yellow tap shoes and being lifted onto a stage by his father to entertain people waiting for a concert. First acting experience was in a Matchbox car commercial. (2002 People Almanac, p. 367)


As a recluse and an unknown writer, Emily Dickinson showed some of her poetry to the literary lion Thomas Wentworth Highinson, who advised her not to try to publish her poems because they were “strange” and “peculiar.” Dickinson, after her death, was recognized as one of the world’s great poets. Higginson is no longer recognizable. (Bob Fenster, in They Did What!?, p. 13)

A 30-foot dinosaur was only 13 inches long when it first stepped out of its eggshell. (L. M. Boyd)

Microbiologist Curt Jones invented Dippin” Dots Ice Cream in his garage in Grand Chain, Illinois (population 890), in 1987. The beads of flash-frozen ice cream are sold by franchises worldwide. (American Profile)

My only hope is that we never lose sight of one thing -- that it all started with a mouse. (Walt Disney, 1954)

Famous people who sold door-to-door: Abraham Lincoln, Billy Graham, Gary Cooper, Neil Armstrong, and Lyndon Johnson.  Lyndon Johnson sold silk stockings. (Direct Selling Association)

Kirk Douglas played a conch ukulele and sang “Mermaid Millie” in Disney’s “20,000 Leagues under the Sea.” (Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Book of Chance, p. 9)

In 1955, more than 200 drag racers revved up at an abandoned airstrip in Great Bend, Kansas (population 15,345), for the National Hot Rod Association’s first national event. (American Profile)

In 1867, Charles Knapp of Waterloo, Wisconsin, patented the first machine for making a wooden drawer joint. Resembling a peg in a half circle, the Knapp joint saved labor involved in cutting dovetail joints and was used by many furniture makers until 1900, when a machine was invented to simulate handmade dovetails. (American Profile)


The first Drive-In movie theater was opened on June 6, 1933, by salesman Richard M. Hollingshead in Camden, N. J. On the bill was a twilight showing of the British comedy Wife Beware. Hollingshead had worked out the technology with a 1928 Kodak projector that he mounted on the hood of his car and aimed at a sheet. The film was a little-known second-run feature, and the neighbors complained about the noise. From those decidedly humble beginnings, a U.S. institution was born, one that exploded in the post-World War II automobile culture. The drive-in peaked in 1958, with nearly 5,000 theaters across the U.S. (Lisa McLaughlin, in Time)

The richest American, Bill Gates, dropped out of Harvard to co-found Microsoft Corporation with Washington State University dropout Paul G. Allen. (Paul Craig Roberts, in Reader’s Digest)  

A surprising number of dropouts have made it into the top 400 of Forbes magazine. Bill Gates, the Microsoft whiz, left Harvard to tinker with software and developed the operating brain that is installed in nearly every personal computer. Kirk Kerkorian, a junior-high dropout and son of an American immigrant fruit farmer, made millions from Hollywood deals and Las Vegas properties and is now a major Chrysler stockholder. Ted Turner of Turner Broadcasting was booted from Brown University, although he later went back to graduate. (Peter Lynch and John Rothchild, in Reader’s Digest)



After the Civil War, Washington Duke came home to Durham with only fifty cents and two blind mules. He went to work growing tobacco and became a millionaire, then left $40 million to start Duke University.
(Bob Fenster, in They Did What!?, p. 21)

When 24-year-old Arthur Spangler purchased the Gold Leaf Baking Powder Company in 1906 with money saved from his paper route, he couldn’t have imagined that the company would become one of the nation’s largest producers of hard candies. But thanks to the tremendous popularity of Dum Dums lollipops, Saf-T-Pops and cand canes, the delightful aroma wafting through the Spangler Candy Company, in Bryan, Ohio, is the sweet smell of success for a third generation of the Spangler family. (American Profile magazine)

Dune by Frank Herbert: Herbert’s massive science-fiction tale was rejected by 13 publishers with comments like “too slow,” “confusing and irritating,” “too long,” and “issues too clear-cut and old fashioned.” But the persistence of Herbert and his agent, Lurton Blassingame, finally paid off. Dune won the two highest awards in the science-fiction writing and has sold over 10 million copies. (Wallace/Wallechinsky, in The Book of Lists, #2)



Amelia Earhart, the famed pilot, drove into Bloomington, Illinois, for a 1936 appearance because she was too broke to fly. (Bill Flick, 1997)

Earnings report:



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