5 Historical Figures Who Mastered the Art of the Hustle



What separates the heroes from the one hit wonders? Why do the names of some men and women echo throughout history while others fade into background? While some might call it luck, we’d like to think it’s something else: Hustle.

Whether you’re building an empire or embarking on your own small business, there is much to learn from the creative thinkers of yesteryear. From Grace Hopper to Henry Ford, we’ve compiled a list of five innovators who mastered the art of the hustle and never took “no” for an answer.

1) Grace Hopper, computer scientist, and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral


At the dawn of computer programming, Grace Hopper was rising through the ranks of two male-dominated fields—the Navy and computing. She was one of the first women to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics and served during World War II.

As one of the first female programmers, Hopper invented an improved computer compiler and was an advocate for machine-independent programming languages. Her early work would lead to Flow-matic, the first programming language that used English words. She also helped create UNIVAC I, the first commercial electronic computer, and COBOL, one of the first computer programming languages that, by the year 2000, accounted for 70% of all actively used code. Her most well-known contribution to technology, however, may be coining the term “debugging,” which refers to fixing glitches in computer code.

What we can learn from her:

“Dare and Do.” At a time when few women pursued advanced degrees, joined the military, or even understood what a computer did, Hopper paved the way for modern-day computing and retired as Rear Admiral in the Navy. Undaunted by social conventions and established rules, Hopper was originally denied from entering Vassar College, having failed a Latin exam. Rather than walk away, she became a boarding student and was admitted a year later. Initially discouraged from joining the Navy for being underweight and over-age at 38, she worked relentlessly to get a government waiver and was admitted a year later. Despite her work on the Mark I at Harvard University, she was denied professorship due to her gender, so instead joined a startup to continue her work in computer programming. 

2) Thomas Edison, inventor and founder of the Edison Illuminating Company

thomas edison

Thomas Edison needs no introduction. From an early age, he knew how to hustle to get ahead. Although he learned basic schooling from his mother, he taught himself much about science by reading on his own. Unafraid of failure, it took Edison several years of experiments before he invited electric light.

What we can learn from him:

Persistence. Famous for saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison would attempt over 1,000 times to perfect the original electric light bulb. Finally settling with carbon filament, he produced the first commercially practical incandescent light. At the end of his career, he obtained 1,093 patents for his inventions. His spirit of hard work and independence lives on in entrepreneurs and freelancers who hustle to build great products out of failures.

3) Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company

Henry Ford

At the turn of the century, Ford changed the fabric of American industries and culture forever. With a knack for mechanical work, his hustle elevated him from machine shop apprentice at the Detroit Edison company to the chief engineer between 1891 and 1896. A true entrepreneur, Ford had a side hustle: tinkering in the barn to create a “horseless carriage.” By 1903, he was able to convince business investors to help him start an automobile manufacturing company: the Ford Motor Company.

What we can learn from him:

Think Big. While most other automakers were building luxury-laden automobiles for the wealthy, Ford had a different vision. His dream was to create an automobile that the masses could afford, revamping standardized production and the assembly line to do so. Ford wasn’t afraid of innovation, and you shouldn’t be either. 

5) Estée Lauder, founder of Estée Lauder Companies

Estee Lauder

A natural born marketer, Estée Lauder (born Josephine Esther Mentzer) transformed a modest business selling creams to her friends and local salons to the largest beauty empire in the world and one of the most valuable publicly traded beauty companies. To make up for a limited advertising budget, Lauder would spend hours on Fifth Avenue offering wealthy women samples of her “jars of hope.” Lauder’s efforts paid off when Saks Fifth Avenue made their first wholesale order—the rest, as they say, is history.

What we can learn from her:

Work It. Being a solopreneur means you are on your own, and how much you put in, is what you’ll get out. “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it,” she said. Lauder’s relentless efforts to push her products established an awareness of her company that would seal her legacy as the first female magnate of beauty.

5) Walt Disney, founder of The Walt Disney Company

Walt Disney

An innovative cartoonist who hit the entertainment industry at just the right time, Walter Elias “Walt” Disney has become synonymous with American culture and business. Disney’s first commercial success, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was stolen from him by his distributor due to lack of a copyright. Disney would never make that mistake again, becoming nearly obsessed with maintaining control over his art and business creations. Moving past an easy mistake for a first-time entrepreneur, Disney and his team created what would become an undoubtedly more valuable character: Mickey Mouse and subsequently the entertainment empire that we all know today.

What we can learn from him:

Protect your brand. After his creation was stolen early on in his career, Disney would become a ferocious guardian of his brand. As a freelancer, solopreneur, or entrepreneur your work has value. Make sure you are guarding it carefully by filing copyrights, not undercharging, or doing free work.

Ready to master the art of the hustle?

It Starts with “yes.”