American Originals

American Originals
American Originals will trace the stories of those who charted their own paths, overcame barriers and achieved a better life for themselves and those around them by embracing personal responsibility, hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit.

The American Dream has been caricatured as wealth accumulation and material success like owning a house or buying a car. This has done a great disservice to the American ethos and American culture. The essence of the dream is earned success, achievement, recognizing opportunity and includes an appreciation for the role of entrepreneurship and the contributions that entrepreneurs have made to society.

By highlighting these success stories, we hope to demonstrate the value that these leaders have created and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. The American Dream and being an American Original is all about ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. As Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Leonard Hershiser once said: “Great things can happen to ordinary people who are willing to work hard and never give up.”

One of the myths about great entrepreneurs is that they love risk and are big gamblers. In fact, they usually do everything they can to reduce risk and are rarely true gamblers. But there is always an exception to the rule. This is the story of one of those exceptions, Kirk Kerkorian, perhaps America’s greatest gambler. Starting from the fields of Southern California and fighting his way out of poverty in Los Angeles, this proud son of Armenian immigrants went on to reshape Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Armenia.
The grandson of slaves, Arthur George Gaston was born in 1892 in Demopolis, Alabama, to Rosie Gaston. There is no record of his father’s name, who died shortly afterward. A. G. Gaston started with nothing but the encouragement of his mother and grandparents. Over the next seventy years, he became the wealthiest black man in Birmingham, with a fortune of $30-40 million. Gaston’s path was never easy—his home was fire-bombed and at the age of eighty-three, he was kidnapped. He was at or near the center of the racial strife of the 1960s, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He stirred great controversy during his life, but also provided employment and services to thousands of blacks in Alabama. This is the remarkable story of his 103-year-long life.
Before there was Amazon, there was Sears, Roebuck, using the mail-order catalog where the Internet is used today. Before Walmart was the world’s largest retailer (and company of any type), there was Sears, Roebuck, in its glory days by far the largest retailer on earth. Few know the real story behind the two visionaries who made Sears great—neither of whom was named Sears or Roebuck. This is the story of the greatest of them, General Robert Elkington Wood, who shaped so many things about America and the world.
At thirty-one, Henry “HJ” Heinz is bedridden with depression. Struggling to pay the bills, he has borrowed every cent available. The “Panic” (depression) of 1873 has reached Pittsburgh. His home, furnishings, and his father’s longstanding brickyard are mortgaged to the hilt. Falsely accused of moving inventory out of the reach of creditors, Heinz is arrested, making news in the local papers. But by the spring of 1876, he is back in business. Here is the story of HJ Heinz, the brand man.
On August 28, 1907, nineteen-year-old James Emmett “Jim” Casey and his friend Claude Ryan borrowed $100 and founded the American Messenger Company in a six-foot by seven-foot basement office below a Seattle saloon. They hired six boys to deliver telegraph and other messages throughout Seattle and run errands for people. From those humble beginnings sprang United Parcel Service, known today as just “UPS,” the world’s largest and most valuable transportation company. Yet few know the name of Jim Casey, the shy but curious man who made the United Parcel Service what it is today. Advisory Board member Gary Hoover shares the remarkable story of his obsession and his legacy.
Olive Ann Beech took the helm of Beech Aircraft in 1950 when it had a $6.5 million market value. She ran the company for 30 years until she sold it to the electronics and defense giant Raytheon for $800 million ($2.4 billion in today’s dollars). American Originals presents the life story of Olive Ann Beech, from growing up in Kansas to becoming the queen of the aircraft industry.

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