After volunteering as an ambulance driver during World War I, Ray Kroc spent most of his career as a paper cup and milkshake machine salesman. During a 1954 trip to visit clients in San Bernardino, California, he became taken with the smooth production methods employed by a local burger joint owned by the brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald. Convinced their operation could be a nationwide success, the 53-year-old Kroc joined forces with the McDonalds and later bought their business outright in 1961. Over the next two decades, he transformed McDonalds into the United States’ most successful fast food restaurant. By the time of his death in 1984, the business Kroc had purchased for only $2.7 million was worth a cool $8 billion and boasted thousands of locations. “I was an overnight success,” Kroc once quipped, “but 30 years is a long, long night.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series has long captured the imaginations of American schoolchildren, but the books were written when their author was in her golden years. Born in 1867 into a pioneer family, Wilder spent her youth living in log cabins and homesteads in the wilds of Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Following a brief career as a schoolteacher in the 1880s, she married and spent the next few decades farming and raising a family. Wilder took up writing in the 1910s at the urging of her daughter, and later penned “Pioneer Girl,” a memoir recounting her youth on the frontier. When the book failed to entice publishers, she reworked it into “Little House in the Big Woods,” the first entry in the children’s series that would make her famous. Wilder was 65 years old when the book came out, but she continued writing and eventually produced several more “Little House” tales, the last of which hit shelves when she was 76 years old.