The History of American Entrepreneurship

The United States has entrepreneurialism deeply rooted in its history as the country was founded and settled by risk takers and innovators looking for new opportunity. Americans are raised learning about inventors such as Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin while entrepreneurs such as Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie are also celebrated. In the late 1970s, the United States was the first country to embrace entrepreneurial endeavors while ditching managerial capitalism.

The start of American entrepreneurship dates back to settlers engaging in trade and barter with Native Americans which resulted in mutual benefit for both parties. Following the entrepreneurial endeavors of early settlers, entrepreneurship flourished in the period following the American Civil War. Rapid growth of the communication and transportation industries due to the expansion of mining and agriculture allowed entrepreneurs to easily find success.

By the later part of the 19th century, entrepreneurs were considered among the elite. Westerward expansion and the creation of the railroad led farmers to move west, prompted by governmental incentives and subsidies for industries such as railroad, banking, and land acquisition. This led to tremendous opportunities for profit, again allowing entrepreneurship to flourish. During the late 19th century, entrepreneurship can be underscored for creating capitalists, innovators, prospectors, financiers that could provide funding, and business men who were not only creating startups but expanding pre-existing businesses.

In more recent times, the industry probably most well known for creating successful entrepreneurs is the tech industry. Apple and Microsoft helped to lead the way for entrepreneurs in the tech industry. The late Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple, as well as Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, embody the creative energy that is so important to entrepreneurship in the United States. Industry heavyweights such as Gates and Jobs represent the hard work and tenacity that often makes a successful entrepreneur.

Throughout the history of the United States, immigrants have also played a significant role in entrepreneurship. A high number of immigrants go on to start their own businesses upon settling in America. Some studies have even suggested that immigrants to the United States are more likely to become self-employed.

Entrepreneurs have always been and continue to be an integral part of the American economy. Entrepreneurs spur a large number of new jobs and according to research are less responsive to downturns in the economy.

Famous Entrepreneurs Throughout History
  • Thomas Alva Edison- Edison is considered by many to be the greatest inventor of all time. He is credited with more than one thousand U.S. Patents for various inventions including the phonograph and the lightbulb. Edison’s work on electricity also led to the world’s first power plant.
  • Henry Kaiser - Kaiser began his entrepreneurial career in 1914 with a pavement company. In the years following, he built a series of hugely successful companies in the steel, construction, ship building, car manufacturing, and healthcare industries. Kaiser is perhaps most well known for creating the Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization.
  • Oprah Winfrey - Oprah Winfrey is widely known as a daytime talkshow host. She went on to parlay her fame into a global brand and has launched a television network, magazine, radio show, website, and has published multiple books. Winfrey has also taken an active role in a variety of theater and movie productions through her company, Harpo productions.
  • Benjamin Franklin - Franklin was one of the founding fathers as well as being one of the first entrepreneurs. He invented many products including the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, and the Franklin stove. Franklin is also credited with creating America’s first free library.
  • Henry Ford - Henry Ford is known for creating the first car, a Model T, that helped to drastically expand people’s range of movement. Ford is also credited with creating the first moving assembly line, which signaled the breakthrough of the Industrial Age in America.
  • Steve Jobs - The late Steve Jobs was one of the founders of Apple. He and partner Steve Wozniak created an operating system and went on to create multiple products including computers, cell phones, tablets, music players, and more. Apple continues to be an innovator in the tech field and consistently releases new products.
  • Andrew Carnegie - After Andrew Carnegie’s family business collapsed at the time of the Industrial Revolution, he began working as a railroad assistant and invested his money. He went on to create Carnegie Steel which grew into a huge company. Carnegie spent the later part of his life donating to various charitable causes.
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