The 7 Greatest Early 20th Century U.S Entrepreneurs

During the long 20th century (1880-1990) the United States became the center point for a huge amount of entrepreneurs. This article goes over the top 7 American Entrepreneurs that came out of the United States and forever altered its history.

Each of the following entrepreneurs are remembered for their tenacity, business sense, impact, and influence. In order to have made this list an entrepreneur would have had to influence the world at large and continue to inspire us today.

Here are the top 7 greatest American entrepreneurs of the 20th century.

  • John Rockefeller
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • Henry Ford
  • Walt Disney
  • Madam C.J Walker
  • Thomas Edison
  • Nikola Tesla

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Without further ado, here are the 7 greatest early 20th century entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur 1: John Rockefeller

BornJuly 8th, 1839
DiedMay 23, 1937
Famous Quote“Don’t be afraid to give up the good and go for the great.”
Known ForAmerican Businessman, Philanthropy
Region of WorldThe United States
Further ReadingThe 1 Thing That Made Rockefeller Rich

At one point in the history of the United States one man had a net worth of 3% of the total GDP of the nation.

That man was called John Rockefeller. Rockefeller came to power with the creation of his monopoly Standard Oil. In the early 20th century John Rockefeller would become the richest person in the history of the United States.

What made Rockefeller so successful was his ability to utilize leveraged buyouts to force eliminate competition to his oil company. This leveraged buyout allowed Rockefeller to consume all other oil companies in the United States.

At its peak in the early 20th century Standard Oil produced over 90% of the U.S oil supply and around 85% of the total world’s supply.

Rockefeller did not start out this way however. He would work as a bookkeeper for a produce company in Cleveland. Here he would obtain much of his knowledge of finance and the ability for companies to leverage capital to achieve massive growth.

Armed with this knowledge Rockefeller decided to enter into the brand new industry of oil extraction and refining. Over the next 50 years Rockefeller would grow Standard Oil to become in many respects the most successful company in history.

Modern estimates of Rockefellers liquid net worth in today’s dollars is between $1.5-$2.1 trillion dollars. However if Standard Oil was not broken up in 1911 than today it would be worth a staggering $10 trillion.

As such, Rockefeller clearly lands on this list of the greatest early 20th century entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur 2: Andrew Carnegie

BornNovember 25, 1835
DiedAugust 11, 1919
Famous Quote“You cannot push anyone up a ladder unless he be willing to climb a little himself.”
Known ForRevolutionizing the U.S steel industry, massive donations for the public good.
Region of WordUnited States, 19th and early 20th century.
Further ReadingThe 3 Things That Made Carnegie A Business Hero

Another iconic name, Andrew Carnegie was one of the most successful early 20th century U.S entrepreneurs.

Carnegie himself would emigrate from Scotland at the age of 12 with his family. Working odd jobs he would never stop learning different business techniques wherever he went.

The big break for Carnegie came when he was employed as a telegraph operator in the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Here he would learn just how important supply line logistics were to business success.

In 1870 Carnegie would found his company Carnegie Steel and use this logistical knowledge to bring affordable steel to factories across the United States. The secret to Carnegie’s success was his ability to vertically integrate.

While Rockefeller would buy out his competition Carnegie would take the opposite approach. Carnegie would buy up mines, factories, and railroads so that he could control the entire overhead of the steel sector.

This was revolutionary and was a process he developed during his time as a telegraph operator. Using efficient supply lines Carnegie Steel would become the most efficient company in the history of the United States.

Using these immense profits Carnegie perfect the new Bessemer process of burning away excess iron during steel creation. This allowed for steel to be manufactured in record time.

Carnegie’s use of vertical integration to control supply lines and efficiency marks him as one of the greatest early 20th century entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur 3: Henry Ford

BornJuly 30th, 1863
DiedApril 7th, 1947
Famous Quote“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”
Known ForFirst mass produced car, creating the assembly line, Endowing the arts and humanities.
Region of WorldThe United States, early 19th century.
Further ReadingThe 3 Things That Made Henry Ford Famous

Of all the early 20th century U.S entrepreneurs, few are as famous as Henry Ford. Today his namesake is carried by the same company he found, Ford Motor Company.

However what makes him a great entrepreneur was the way he completely changed the manufacturing industry forever.

Before Henry Ford a factory employed hundreds of people all making one product at a time. Over time this would make people islands of talent who could manufacture an entire product by hand.

This was bad for two major reasons. First, it made training new talent a pain. When you hired a new factory worker you would have to train them to build a product from start to finish. This drastically cut down efficiency and onboarding time for new hires.

Second, scaling a product line and factory was near impossible. This was because as a company’s product grew you would have to hire an ever increasing amount of employees to scale with the demand. This prevented exponential growth of factories.

Henry Ford is remembered as one of the greatest early 20th century U.S entrepreneurs for one major thing. The creation of the assembly line factory progressed.

In a factory using an assembly line each worker would become an expert at building one part of the end product. This made hiring new talent easy as they only had to be trained on one product. This drastically improved efficiency and cut down on onboarding time.

Further, the assembly line also allowed for full scalability of U.S factories. Now companies could easily scale to meet demand without hiring a ton of new talent.

With all of this excess money Henry Ford would double the starting salary in his company. This meant that all the good machining talent in the automobile production sector came to work for him. This caused his competitors to go out of business.

As a result, Henry Ford’s Model-T car came to be the staple of the U.S transportation market during the early 20th century. This makes him one of the greatest 20th century U.S entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur 4: Walt Disney

BornDecember 5th, 1901
DiedDecember 15th, 1966
Famous Quote“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Known ForPioneering American animation, changing the entertainment world, inspiring billions of people worldwide.
Region of WorldUnited States, 19th century.
Further ReadingThe 3 Major Ways Walt Disney Changed The World

Once in a century a person is born that forever changes the world. For the early 20th century this was Walt Disney.

Walt Disney today is known for his lovable characters, movies, and theme parks. However, what really makes Walt Disney a legendary entrepreneur was his tenacity towards creating his business.

Just like Henry Ford, Walt Disney looked at his industry and saw it was inefficient and backwards. Walt Disney looked at the entertainment industry and noticed that it was centered around exploiting the customer out of money.

To Disney this was backwards. He envisioned the entertainment industry as having guests constantly coming back to experience his worlds and characters.

His first attempt at creating this world, his Laugh-O-Gram studio, went bankrupt. Next he would attempt a career as an actor in Hollywood, this failed as well. After this he faced over 300 rejections from investors and a mental breakdown for his cartoon animations.

At the center of all of these entrepreneurial attempts was a vision that reimagined the guest experience. Disney’s vision for the entertainment industry was one where guests willing came back to experience more.

In 1923 Walt Disney would found the Walt Disney Company with his brother Roy O. Disney. This time however Walt Disney would pair great cartoon animation with superb sound and color.

Over the next ten years Disney would create animated short stories that would go on to achieve international success. The same investors that refused to finance his dream now started investing, The Walt Disney Company was finally a success.

The most enduring legacy of Walt Disney is not his characters, theme parks, or movies. Rather, it is his enduring entrepreneurial spirit that refused to quit on his dream of making the entertainment industry centered around the guest experience.

All entertainment companies today copy this business model due to its massive success. Because of this Walt Disney is firmly placed on this list of the 7 greatest U.S entrepreneurs of the early 20th century.

Entrepreneur 5: Madam C.J Walker

BornDecember 23rd, 1867
DiedMay 25th, 1919
Famous Quote“Don’t sit and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”
Known ForFirst self-made female millionaire in the U.S, massive donations to the arts, inspiring millions of African Americans to open their own businesses.
Region of WorldUnited States, 19th century.
Further ReadingThe 3 Major Accomplishments of Madam C.J Walker

In 1867 A women would be born into a former slave family and over the course of her life rise to be the first self made female millionaire in the history of the U.S.

She was Madam C.J Walker, a businesswomen who with very little education decided to branch out and create her own hair care business. Today we remember her for her staggering ability to rise above all the hurdles thrown at her to build an international business.

Madam C.J Walker was born into a slave family shortly after the emancipation proclamation. At a young age she would be orphaned and have to start working to support herself.

Initially the young Walker found work as a house servant for wealthy people in Vicksburg, Mississippi. During the 1880’s she moved to St. Louis where she started working as a hair care sales consultant. It was during this time she learned the intricacies of the haircare business.

Eventually Madam C.J Walker would create her own hair care products and start a business. This company would train up consultants along with opening up salons, first in Harlem and then across North America.

However, it was not until 1913 when Walker opened up a salon in Harlem that her net worth exploded. This salon and Harlem became the center of African-American culture during the following three decades. Madam C.J Walker was there to provide haircare products for this massively growing population.

As a result of this Madam C.J Walker became the richest self made woman in the early 20th century of the United States. Today we remember her for the massive amount of adversity she faced in her life and how she managed to rise above it all.

Entrepreneur 6: Thomas Edison

BornFebruary 11th, 1847
DiedOctober 18th, 1931
Famous Quote“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Known ForInventing the light bulb, motion picture camera, and modernizing electric generation/distribution.
Region of WorldUnited States, 19th century.
Further Reading3 Ways Thomas Edison Changed The Worlds Economy

Thomas Edison remains one of the greatest early 20th century U.S entrepreneurs. This is because of his ability to recognize a problem, invent a solution, and then market it. This is a skill set shared by all entrepreneurs but Edison took it to another level.

Few men have had the impact upon the world economy as Thomas Edison. Early on Edison recognized that factories worldwide would have to stop work during the night because of lack of light.

Lanterns did not give off much light by themselves and were costly to run. Edison thought that he could invent an electric light that would remove the need for costly overhead of buying oil.

The problem was that electric lamps of his time only had a lifetime of around 12-30 hours at most and were costly to produce. This made it still more cost efficient to burn oil lamps.

As a result Edison had to invent an electric lamp that could last for hundreds of hours. After trying more than 1,000 different approaches Edison finally invented a bamboo carbon filament that would last in a bulb for around 1,200 hours.

This was revolutionary. Now companies could stay open nearly 24/7 which drastically increases worldwide economic growth.

Today we can feel the impact of Thomas Edison in every single building. From LED’s to headlights Edison helped to illuminate the world so that the economy could continue past the setting of the sun.

As a result we remember him as one of the greatest early 20th century U.S entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur 7: Nikola Tesla

BornJuly 10th, 1856
Died7th of January, 1943
Famous Quote“Be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
Known ForInventing the polyphase AC/DC current system.
Region of the WorldUnited States, 19th century.
Further ReadingThe 1 Invention of Nikola Tesla That Changed The World

While Nikola Tesla is remembered as an inventor it really is his entrepreneurial talent which cemented his legacy.

Nikola Tesla was an immigrant to the United States. In 1888 He invented the single most important invention in the history of the United States, the polyphase AC induction motor.

Tesla noticed a growing demand in the late 19th century for affordable electricity. However the problem was that Edison’s DC motors could only transmit electricity a short distance.

Nikola Tesla would need to invent a device that could allow for power plants to be built and send electricity long distances with ease. What he invented was a brand new type of electricity generator that could produce an alternating current.

With alternating current electricity could be transmitted across several hundred miles instead of feet. Further, it cost less to produce and was more efficient.

Tesla saw the demand for a product and innovated. He partnered with Westinghouse Electric in 1888 to distribute this motor across the United States.

Today we remember Nikola Tesla as one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the early 20th century because of his ability to build an in demand product and partner with the right people to distribute it.

This and his massive impact is the reason up to this day is the reason why he has been placed upon this list of the greatest U.S entrepreneurs of the early 20th century.


There you have it; an entire article that goes over the 7 greatest early 20th century U.S entrepreneurs.

Each of these entrepreneurs provides vital inspiration to the entrepreneurs of today. Whether or not you have created your own business or product or are thinking about it, each of these people should give you some ideas to think about.

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Until next time,


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