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.
Ahmet Ertegun did as much as anyone to shape the popular music that serves as the soundtrack for our daily lives. As the founder and leader of Atlantic Records for almost sixty years, he brought us artists from Ray...
Adolph Zukor landed on the shores of America with just $40 and ultimately built the empire which we know today as Paramount Pictures. His legacy is one of anticipating the trends, taking innovative risks, and investing in the lives of other leaders — even his competitors.
First building roads in Washington State, he soon helped build the western infrastructure, including Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. He played a key role in America’s victory in World War II by building hundreds of warships at an unprecedented pace. He also created aluminum and steel industries on the West Coast, doing more to bring manufacturing to California than anyone else.
The third installment of American Originals highlights the amazing story of Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C. J. Walker. She would go from humble beginnings as the daughter of freed slaves to founder of one of the largest hair care and cosmetic companies of the era. Madam C. J. Walker was also a generous philanthropist and used her success to help others overcome adversity and achieve their American Dreams.

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