The stories of self-made Americans are inspirational, Grownups—blogger Catherine Alford shares her favorite American historical figures to inspire your own financial wellness.
I studied history in college, and whenever I need an extra boost of motivation regarding my financial outlook, I look to the past, taking lessons from incredible self-made Americans whose stories show that anyone can become wealthy and succeed with enough grit, ingenuity, and spirit. Hit the books and get inspired with me!
Andrew Carnegie was born to an extremely poor family in Scotland and watched his father beg for work. After immigrating to the United States and securing work at a cotton factory, Carnegie used his own affable personality and skills to identify and connect with prominent business owners, impressing them with his work ethic and abilities. Through his own efforts and pursuits, he slowly built a strong network and made his way up from a cotton factory worker to become one of the wealthiest men of his generation, mostly due to his investments in the steel industry.
His life as a businessman was not without its trials and scandals; however, what set him apart was his incredible generosity. In fact, by the time he died, he gave away hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which helped to establish libraries across the country.
Carnegie inspires me because his philanthropic work reminds me of the power of giving to others. Carnegie was especially interested in helping people help themselves; I love that he used his wealth to establish and support places where knowledge and creativity could be housed—and any person could go to learn more about the world. I personally find it challenging to give away money (especially while I’m in the midst of an extreme debt payment), but Carnegie reminds me that even small gestures can make a difference.
Lydia Estes Pinkham
Although she isn’t quite a household name, Lydia Estes Pinkham definitely should be.
In the late 1870s, the United States underwent a severe depression, and the Pinkham family experienced major financial strife. Rather than accept her circumstances (or hide in her room as her husband did), Pinkham started her own business out of her home selling herbal remedies. She had experimented with these remedies for years, and her friends found the remedies very effective in combatting numerous health problems. The national economic depression was the catalyst to expand her business and grow her family’s income.
Despite her earlier financial troubles, Pinkham had a knack for knowing when to invest in her business. Her decision to put her own picture on her bottles and advertise in the newspaper (instead of going door to door) helped make her famous and relatable.
Pinkham was a pioneer of her time and is one of the first well-documented American female entrepreneurs. I find it interesting that her husband was so embarrassed about their financial situation, but she was instead completely motivated and inspired to better her own life. During that period of American history, there were many jobs she could have done that would have been more predictable or common for a woman, but starting a business concocting herbal remedies in her kitchen was certainly not one of them. Her children carried on her legacy after she died—growing her company into a million-dollar business.
Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson
This list wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have an American president on it, but it’s actually the marriage of Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson that makes their financial story so interesting.
Lyndon Johnson was from a farming family in Texas, but his father was unable to make a living off the land and the Johnson family experienced financial turmoil. This affected young Johnson and made him want to pursue higher callings. He worked tirelessly and eventually made his way to Washington, D.C., where his political career took off.
But his marriage to Lady Bird really set the stage for his eventual millions.
Lady Bird Johnson had the advantage of being from a wealthy family, but she was well educated and aggressive in her business choices, which helped catapult her own family to financial success. She bought a radio station, then a television station (something Lyndon was initially against) which helped fund LBJ’s campaigns. Family attorney L.H. Marks said of Lady Bird, “She could read a balance sheet the way a truck driver reads a road map.”
In many ways, it was the combination of their personalities that made the Johnsons such professional and financial successes. Lyndon, witnessing his family’s financial troubles when he was a teenager, had an intense drive that made him work hard to succeed. Lady Bird’s innate ability to identify business opportunities, combined with her charming personality, helped the family create incredible wealth.
Catherine Alford is the go-to personal finance blogger for educated,
aspirational moms who want to recapture their life passions and take on
a more active financial role in their families. Named the Best Contributor/Freelancer
for Personal Finance in 2014, she is also the founder
of CatherineAlford.com, an award-winning personal finance blog.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.