11 — Elizabeth Arden
Canadian, Elizabeth Arden, born Florence Nightingale Graham in 1878, was a business magnate who overcame failure to achieve tremendous success, creating an unprecedented beauty empire by 1929 that included 150 salons throughout the United States and Europe, and eventually selling over 1000 products across 22 separate countries. At the height of her success, during her lifetime, she was also considered to be one of the wealthiest women in the world.
However, in 1909, at the age of 31-years old, Arden failed in business after a 6-month stint when she formed a partnership with Elizabeth Hubbard. One year later, in 1910, at the age of 32-years old, she pieced together the name Elizabeth Arden with the name “Elizabeth” used in an effort to save money on a sign for her salon, and “Arden,” which stemmed from the name of a nearby farm, thus giving birth to that name, the same year that she opened up the Red Door Salon, in New York City.
In 1912, she traveled to France where she would learn beauty and facial techniques. Upon her return, she joined forces with a chemist to begin developing what would become a vast arsenal of beauty products, lending a hand in catapulting the makeup industry into a widely acceptable practice that moved beyond the upper classes.
Her company, Elizabeth Arden, Inc., has surpassed $1 billion in annual sales, making it one of the most successful beauty businesses ever started still to this day.
12 — Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley, born in 1935, is a famous American musician who’s sold over 1 billion records worldwide. Yet, while Presley’s fame is often celebrated, his failures are usually overlooked. The family lived in a shotgun house for several years until hard financial times forced them out due to an inability to maintain the payments.
In 1948, at the age of 13-years old, Presley’s family moved to Memphis, Tennessee from their home in Mississippi. They lived in boarding houses, which were temporary rooms that could be rented in a larger home where the common areas were usually maintained, before being able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in a public-housing complex.
In 1953, when he was 18-years old, he walked into Sun Records, where he recorded a demo disc. Nothing came of it. One year later, in 1954, he walked back into Sun Records to record another demo, which he also failed to make any traction with. The same year, he failed an audition to become part of a vocalist quartet called the Songfellows. When asked by his father what had happened, Presley stated, “They told me I couldn’t sing.”
He was so frustrated, that he decided to take up a job as a truck driver. Through a friend named Ronnie Smith, Presley met Eddie Bond, who led Smith’s professional band. Turned out they were looking for a vocalist. They arranged some more recordings, which nothing came of until months later when Presley randomly launched into “That’s All Right,” Arthur Crudup’s 1946 blues number. That got the attention of a professional DJ, and the rest, as they say, is history.
13 — Emily Dickinson
One of the most famed authors of modern times, Emily Dickinson largely considered herself a failure for much of her life. As a fiercely-devote introvert, she was reluctant to embrace many face-to-face relationships, opting instead for correspondence rather than in-person meetings.
She was born in 1830 in Amherst Massachusetts and led a rather reclusive life for much of her years, being called reclusive and eccentric by the locals who had come to know her. She never married. She spent much of her time writing poems about dystopian subjects such as death, but also wrote vehemently about immortality, things she would also often discuss with “friends” through correspondence.
While Dickinson became one of the most renowned poets in history, less than a dozen poems were actually published during her lifetime. And, when poems were published, they were usually altered significantly because their style departed so much from the norm of the day with their lack of titles and odd capitalization and punctuation throughout.
While Dickinson might have been categorized as a failure during her lifetime, it was likely due to her reluctance to meet or correspond with many people about her work. However, after her death, her sister discovered a significant cache of poems totaling upwards of 1,800 that were eventually published, helping her to ultimately gain international notoriety and fame.
14 — Fred Astaire
Born in 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska, Fred Astaire is one of the most famous failures to grace the entertainment business. In 1905, the family moved to New York City to allow Fred and his sister, Adele, to pursue a career in entertainment, and they focused their energies solely on the musical and dancing education of their children.
The two performed together in acts for some time, even touring the New York City Broadway circuit, and on to London as well. This helped to drastically improve their talent, but Fred shined during this time, with a set of charisma and charm that shone through even at the dimmest of times.
However, in 1932, the sister-and-brother act split, when Adele wed her husband. Fred continued his career despite that. And, according to legend, he was famously rejected during a Hollywood screen test when it was said that he “Can’t act. Slighty bald. Dances a little,” which came as a major disappointment at the time.
Yet, that didn’t stop him. Fred Astaire’s career in the entertainment industry lasted a mind-boggling 76 years, he appeared in 31 musicals, television shows and recordings. Gene Kelly once stated that “the history of dance on film begins with Astaire.” This was clearly a nod to the musical and dance genius that Astaire was.
15 — George Lucas
Born in 1944, George Lucas is an American-born filmmaker, producer and entrepreneur behind some of the most successful films made in history such as the Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark, amongst many others. Before Lucas ever got interested in filmmaking, however, he was obsessed with race car driving. But after a terrible car crash that nearly killed him, he abandoned that obsession.
After completing his graduate degree in film at the University of Southern California, Lucas set out to make movies. THX 1138, a story about a dystopian future where android police control the population, suppressing both their emotions and primal urges for things like sex, which has been outlawed, through the use of drugs, was, financially a failure for the studio, amounting to a loss of money.
Lucas was undeterred. His next project, American Graffiti, which he directed, was a huge success, giving him major clout and credibility in Hollywood. However, that wasn’t enough when he presented his next project, Star Wars, to two different studios. In fact, he was turned down for Star Wars by United Artists, and later by Universal, both rejecting the movie.
Still, that didn’t deter Lucas from continuing to pitch it. Eventually, 20th Century Fox picked up the script, later saying that “I don’t understand this, but I loved ‘American Graffiti,’ and whatever you do is okay with me.” Star Wars was the highest grossing film of all time, surpassing the then-highest-grossing film of E.T.
16 — Harrison Ford
While many people know Harrison Ford for his blockbuster roles in films that are now part of American culture and history, he was also considered a personal and professional failure at several times in his life. Clearly, he’s one of the most famous people to have ever worked in the movie business, commanding top-dollar for his performances. But his life wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Born in 1942 in Chicago, both of Ford’s parents had a connection to the entertainment industry. His father was a former actor and his mother a former radio actress. It seemed as though acting was in his blood. After graduating from college in Wisconsin, at the age of 22-years old, Ford headed to Los Angeles to try his hand in voice-overs. He failed to secure that job but ended up staying in the area.
It took Ford two years of working odd jobs and small-time bits before he landed his first uncredited role as a bellhop in the movie, Dead Heat on a Merry-Go Round, in 1964 at the age of 24-years old. However, studio execs were rough on young Ford, telling him that “he would never make it in this business.”
But Ford refused to give up. It took him until 1973, 9 years later, when he landed his breakthrough role in George Lucas’s film, American Graffiti. It was that role, and his relationship with Lucas, that would help catapult him into stardom. Lucas later cast Ford in Star Wars and the Indian Jones series.
17 — Henry Ford
Born in Greenfield Township, Michigan, in 1863, Henry Ford was the industrialist who started Ford Motor Company, which has been one of the most profitable automotive companies in the world over the years, making him into one of the most richest and famous individuals on the planet. However, while Ford celebrated many successes later on in life, he also failed often in his earlier years
In fact, it wasn’t until 1891, when Ford was 28-years old, that he decided to become an engineer, working for the Edison Illuminating Company and earning a promotion in 1893 at the age of 30, to Chief Engineer. It was around this time when he started experimenting with gasoline engines.
However, it wasn’t until 1898, when Ford was 35-years old, when he designed and built a self-propelled vehicle that he showed off to people, winning the backing of William H. Murphy, who, at the time, was a lumber baron in Detroit. Subsequently, Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company a year later in 1899.
In 1901, however, that company failed after an inability to pay back a loan to the Dodge brothers and due to inefficiencies in the design of the vehicle; the company ceased operations, dealing a stealthy blow to Ford. However, subsequently, Ford convinced one of this partners to give him another chance. With mounting pressure, it was agreed that he would try again. But after disagreements, this venture also flopped.
It wasn’t until 1903, when Ford would give it one final shot. At the age of 40-years old, after two separate failures, he tried again, incorporating the Ford Motor Company. Even after the failures, Ford found an unconventional backer who he made agree not to meddle in the business. He found this in Malcolmson, a Scottish immigrant who had made his fortune in the coal industry.
Afterwards, what transpired is one of the most famous stories of an individual who went from failure to success in the grandest way. The Ford name is synonymous with the automobile. In fact, while the assembly line existed prior to Ford’s arrival on the scene, so to speak, he created a car that was affordable by the everyday family, helping to develop what was to become the largest boon in the automotive industry with cars everywhere.
18 — Howard Schultz
Born in 1953, Howard Schultz is the famous American entrepreneur behind the wildly-successful coffee company, Starbucks. However, his early life, like many other famous people who failed at first, started off in extreme poverty, growing up in Canarsie Bay, part of the New York City Housing Projects. In 1975, he graduated with a Bachelor in Arts from the Northern Michigan University, which he attended on a sports scholarship.
After graduation, Schultz headed to Xerox Corporation and he was quickly promoted to become a full sales representative. After Xerox, in 1979, at the age of 24-years old, he headed to s Swedish coffeemaker called Hammerplast as the general manager in a small company comprising just 20 employees. However, it was the company’s client, Starbucks, that led him on the next leg of his journey in life.
In 1982, at the age of 29-years old, he joined Starbucks, after being so impressed with the company, as their Director of Marketing. The year later, in 1983, after a trip to Italy, Schultz, realizing the prevalence of the coffee culture there and the country’s 200,000 coffee bars, he convinced the owners of Starbucks to role out the concept across the company’s stores. Previously, they just sold coffee beans and not actual coffee drinks.
While the owners resisted at first, he was persistent and was allowed to open a coffee shop in one of the new stores in Seattle, which debuted in 1984. It was an instant success. But the owners didn’t want to continue with the concept. They didn’t want Starbucks to get too big. In 1985, Schultz left Starbucks to open his own coffee bar, naming it Il Giornale, Italian for ‘The Newspaper.’
However, the story clearly didn’t end there. After two years, Schultz had achieved great success with his coffee shop, but he was thinking even bigger. He proposed buying the Starbucks company, which at the time carried a hefty price tag, so he needed help with the transaction. Attempting to raise the capital to purchase the company, Schultz famously stated that he “was turned down by 217 of the 242 investors I initially talked to. You have to have a tremendous belief in what you’re doing and just persevere.”
19 — Jack Canfield
Born in 1944, in Fort Worth, Texas, Jack Canfield is the celebrated author and motivational speaker behind the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. As a Harvard-educated person, Canfield clearly possessed the intelligence for crafting such a book, however, it was his tenacity to see things through that helped him to catapult that book to success.
In fact, it wasn’t until the age of 48-years old, with the help of his co-author, Mark Victor Hansen, that he set out to write that book, a collection of stories to help inspire and motivate people to achieve their dreams. Yet, things didn’t exactly go according to plan once the book had been completed.
Canfield and his co-author suffered through 144 rejections from publishers over the course of a 14-month period. When one publisher claimed that it wouldn’t even sell 20,000 companies, Canfield replied that he had hoped it would sell 500,000 copies at the least. The publisher laughed at Canfield.
Eventually, they convinced one small-time publisher in Florida that they would at least have some nominal success with the book. Little did they know what was in store for them. Chicken Soup for the Soul is an internationally-acclaimed brand that’s sold over 500 million copies in over 20 languages. Canfield’s determination and unwillingness to give up speaks volumes about the characteristics that allow famous people who failed at first to keep pushing forward no matter what the situation.
20 — James Dyson
Born in 1947, James Dyson is an English inventor and entrepreneur who launched the wildly-popular Dyson brand of products. In the late 1970’s, Dyson had the idea of using cyclonic separation to create a vacuum cleaner that wouldn’t lose suction. At the time, he was supported by his wife, who had to start working as an art teacher to make ends meet.
Dyson states that, “There are countless times an inventor can give up on an idea. By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child was born. By 2,627, my wife and I were really counting our pennies. By 3,727, my wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. These were tough times, but each failure brought me closer to solving the problem.”
By 1991, he had a great product, but was unable to convince any of the major retailers to sell it since the vacuum bag replacement industry was so large and none of the retailers wanted to buck that trend. So, Dyson created a company after his namesake, Dyson, Inc., in 1993. He was 46-years old at the time.
However, through Dyson’s failures, he never lost hope. By 2005, Dyson had become the market leader in United States by volume sold, allowing him to launch a range of other products that are notoriously well-manufactured and work extremely efficiently, delivering a value-driven concept that the brand has become synonymous for.