Necessity is the mother of invention, it’s been said – and nothing better proves this than the historic tales below. Frustrated with the technological or practical limitations of their ages, these pioneers stepped in where other people gave up.
They couldn’t wait another moment without an answer, cure or solution. In other words, they had a “fine, I’ll do it myself” moment. Some found opportunity in rejection, by seeking out their own funding for a new company or building a rival business. Others just weren’t satisfied with the system in place, and decided they could work better outside of it.
As narrated on Reddit, here are some of the greatest figures who decided, if you want a job done well, you’re better off just doing it yourself.
1. Bright idea
Nikola Tesla was tasked with lighting up the World’s Fair [World’s Columbia Exhibition] but Thomas Edison wouldn’t allow him to use any of his patents. So Tesla had to invent a new lightbulb that didn’t use any of Edison’s patents and could still have thousands made in time for the event.
2. Earliest elevator
[Elisha] Otis invented pretty much what we consider the modern elevator. Nobody was convinced it was safe so he hoisted himself up extremely high and had somebody cut the cable with an axe to prove how confident he was that the elevator was safe regardless of almost worst case scenarios.
Brian Acton interviewed at Facebook and got turned down. He said f*** it and built WhatsApp. Several years later, Facebook bought Whatsapp for $19B.
4. Vaccine pioneer
Maurice Hilleman invented over 40 vaccines during his career in the pharmaceutical industry. In 1963 his oldest daughter caught the mumps. He cultured a sample from her, developed a vaccine, and injected it into his younger daughter. That vaccine is still in use and has saved millions of lives. In total, it’s estimated that his work has saved 118 million lives globally.
5. Internet security
Cliff Stoll (The Cuckoos Egg) noticed weird traffic on his university servers. No one believed him that there was any risk occurring. He ended up uncovering a major hacking attempt to steal missile designs and basically created internet security.
6. Bitter rivalry
In 1888, Almon Brown Strowger, an undertaker, noticed he was losing a lot of business to the other undertaker in town. He found out that the other undertaker’s wife was a telephone operator and when she intercepted people asking to be connected to Strowger’s funeral home, the operator would route the call to her husband’s funeral home instead. Three years later, Strowger patented the automatic teller exchange, a system which allowed telephone users to make calls without the need for human operators, singlehandedly destroying an entire workforce.
7. Self-made spy
Juan Pujol García was a Spaniard who created his own counter-intelligence operation for the Allies during WW2. Initially, he approached British & American intelligence to offer them his services, but both countries rebuffed him. Undeterred, García created a fictional persona as a pro-fascist Spanish official & got himself recruited by the Nazis, who directed him to travel to Britain to recruit agents.
Instead, García created a network of fictitious agents & sub-agents using publicly available information like newspapers & travel brochures. It was at this point that he again contacted Allied intelligence, & he was finally recruited. García continued his work throughout the war, & for the same operation, he received both a knighthood from the British & the Iron Cross from Nazi Germany. The Nazis never realized that he was a double-agent.
8. Plane crash survivors
Probably the time Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa decided they couldn’t wait around any longer and legged it for 10 days across the Andes with no warm clothes, climbing gear, or food except some scraps of their dead friends stuffed into a sock. They finally found someone out in the middle of nowhere, Sergio Catalan, who rode horseback all night and then took a bus to get some help.
The mountain climbers had come from the wreckage of a crashed plane that everyone had been looking for for over 2 mos. They needed help for the other survivors who were injured and starving. They saved 14 of their friends.
9. Unnatural strength
It’s gotta be Aimo Koivunen – he was a Finnish soldier in the second world war when the Finns were trying to reclaim land from the soviets. he got separated from his unit mid-war in the middle of nowhere- he was the one tasked to carry the drugs they held in case of injury or tiredness, one of which was Pervitin (which was literal meth in a tablet form).
Instead of just taking one or two, he downed the whole bottle and went on a weeks-long methed-up rampage. He got hit by a landmine, evaded soviet soldiers, caught a bird and ate it raw, all while on skis. He finally made it back to Finnish lines where on arrival, he weighed only 90 pounds or so and had a heartrate of 200 beats per minute. he ended up living for another 45 years.
10. The shortcut
John Snow (not that one, the father of epidemiology). No one believed him that the Cholera outbreak in what is now Soho was because of a contaminated water pump. He broke it. They arrested him for vandalism and held him until the outbreak suddenly ended…
11. The tractor mechanic
A man who was a tractor mechanic company owner made a good chunk of money and bought a Ferrari. He felt that the car wasn’t as good as it could be, and it wasn’t very comfortable, so he brought his complaints all the way to Enzo Ferrari, the owner of the company. Enzo insulted the man, saying a mere tractor mechanic didn’t know how to make a sports car. That sparked a rivalry that lasts to this day. That man was Ferruccio Lamborghini.
12. Human guinea pig
Marie Curie, Polish/French chemist and physicist who, without going into great detail, died of constant exposure to radiation while seeking a cure for others, more or less sacrificed herself as a human guinea pig knowing full well the consequences of her actions. Here in Scotland we have many ‘Marie Curie’ charity shops who provide funds for hospices and the like, I’m pretty sure she’s responsible for saving my ass and many countless others for her pioneering works.
13. Wounded army
Desmond Doss. He single-handedly saved 50 to 100 men up on Hacksaw Ridge in Okinawa. His company was ordered to retreat when they were attacked by the Japanese but instead he said “nah,” stayed up on the ridge alone, unarmed, and dragged as many soldiers as he could to safety without any help. Even when he was shot by a sniper and riddled with shrapnel, he made sure they took another guy down the hillside before him.
14. Lucky gamble
The guy who started FedEx wrote a college paper about a nationwide overnight shipping company, and got a C…started the company anyways. Later after he started it and it was struggling, he couldn’t get a loan and the company was almost bankrupt, and he bet next week’s payroll at the casino on roulette and won.
15. General strike
Clara Lemlich took the stage at a union meeting in 1909 to declare a general strike after the (older, male) union leaders told the working girls that there really wasn’t a point in striking and it would be too hard, just be patient and deal with it. So 20 year old Clara interrupts them, climbs up on the stage, and shouts at the crowd that she’s tired of just talk, time to strike. And everyone went for it, instant agreement of the workers.
16. Taking his hero’s place
When guitarist Hillel Slovak died (1988), John Frusciante was a 19yr old kid and a huge fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He was heartbroken and didn’t want to see the end of his favourite band. So he went and auditioned to play lead guitar. He got the gig. Helped take them to the top of the charts. The rest is history, today he’s considered one of the greatest rock guitarists out there.
17. Finding a cure
Martine Rothblatt (founder of Sirius XM and unbelievable polymath), was told her daughter Jenesis had 3 months to live. She had been diagnosed with a type of pulmonary arterial hypertension which was fatal. The disease causes too much pressure in the blood vessels leading from the heart to the lungs, causing them to narrow and not carry enough oxygen. So Rothblatt quit all of her other work and went to the library to save her daughter. Even though she had zero background in the field, she figured out a cure and in the process founded United Therapeutics which is a billion dollar biotechnology company.
18. The Fighting Girlfriend
Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya, otherwise known as “The Fighting Girlfriend” sold all of her possessions to buy and donate a tank to the Soviet Union after the death of her husband in 1941. She requested and was allowed by the army to let her drive the T-34 she promptly named “The Fighting Girlfriend”. Oktyabrskaya proved her ability and bravery in battle, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Unfortunately, she later died in 1944 due to wounds she suffered from in battle. She was later given the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” – the highest honour any Soviet soldier could earn.
19. Radiation reading
General Vladimir Karpovich Pikalov was in charge of the Chemical Troops of the Soviet Union during the Chernobyl incident. When asked to get one of his men to get a reading of the radiation levels inside the reactor, he said he’ll just do it himself. Fun fact, not only he survived the radiation until 2003 where he died normally, he also survived three of the deadliest battles in the Russian front during WW2.
20. Purple Rain
Prince single-handedly wrote, produced, and played all the instruments and his own vocals of Purple Rain. He did it by playing each instrument all the way through while recording each layer of instrumentals over each other, then editing all of them in one track with his vocals as the final touch.
Tommy Wiseau couldn’t land an acting job in Hollywood, so he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in his own movie. [All] despite having no experience in any of those things. The rest is history.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes after an expedition, to the Arctic, had frostbitten digits on one hand. After becoming irritated and uncomfortable waiting for the docs to sort out treatment, he went to his garden shed and amputated them himself.
23. Nuclear crisis
Stanislav Petrov making the decision not to push the button to launch nuclear missiles, as would have been his direct orders when the Russian early warning system wrongly indicated the launch of American missiles in 1983. One man saved the entire wold from nuclear destruction. So this is undeniably the greatest of these moments in all human history. There should be a statue of him in every major city around the world.
24. The Mountain Man
Dashrath Manjhi, “The Mountain Man”. Dude carved a way through a mountain single handedly to pave a shorter way to a hospital because his wife died due to the lack of treatment after falling from the same mountain. It took him 22 years. The authorities did not react so he did. This happened in rural India and there’s a movie about him.
25. Star of the show
Lin Manuel Miranda kept getting denied roles so he decided to write his musical and made sure that he’d get the lead. He was Usnavi in In The Hights and Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton.
A doctor, Jerri Nielsen, had to perform a tissue extraction on herself after she discovered a lump in one of her breasts while stationed at the South Pole in 1998. Using material that was airdropped on the station (since planes can’t land during the winter) she started chemotherapy treatment on herself shortly after. Not only that, when a plane was scheduled to be sent weeks ahead of the opening of the station to rescue her (which is dangerous for the pilots) she completely opposed the plan, although the plane was sent anyway to rescue her.
She underwent treatment in the US and the cancer went into remission, but unfortunately it metastasized some years later and she died in 2009. A total badass from all accounts, and I hear anecdotes about the experience from time to time since I work on a project based at Pole. Since then, the station has two doctors at all times, so that if one gets sick the other can treat them.
Alfred Wegener, no one believe him that the continents were once together (Pangea) so he did his own research and died in a blizzard in Greenland. Only 30 years after he died, a new idea came to life: Plate Tectonics and continental drift.
Dr. Donald Unger, who, for 60 years, cracked the knuckles on only one hand, to test whether it contributed to arthritis. It didn’t. He won the [IgNobel] prize.
29. Waste of manpower
During the invasion of Germany, General Patton was told not to take Trier, as it would require four divisions and not be worth the time/manpower. He sent a message back saying “Have taken Trier with two divisions. What do you want me to do, give it back?”
30. The escapee celebrity
Hedy Lamarr, stuck in a marriage to an insane Austrian weapon manufacturer right before world war ll, fled her marriage, eventually escaping to the U.S. becoming one of the most famous actresses of the time. Oh, and she also patented frequency hopping, a real middle finger to her ex hubby that had frequently met with fascist leaders to discuss how they might jam western radio signals. The technology helped conquer Hitler’s regime and is also a precursor to wi-fi and Bluetooth of today.
31. Infecting and curing himself
Barry Marshall. Australian physician who discovered that most peptic ulcers are caused by an infection of Helicobacter pylori, but nobody believed him at the time… So he grew cultures of the bacteria, ingested it, gave himself a peptic ulcer, treated it with antibiotics, and won the Nobel prize.
32. The US soldier in the Red Army
[US soldier] Joe Beyrle. He parachuted into Normandy on D-Say, got captured, attempted to escape, accidentally went on a train to Berlin, got recaptured. He escaped and said “f*** it” and kept going East because what else are you going to do at that point, joined the Red Army, and liberated the concentration camp he had been kept at.
33. Fending off the press
The United States’ first female President, Edith Wilson. Oversaw Woodrow Wilson’s affairs and acted as President while Woodrow recovered from a stroke. Woodrow had 18 months left in his term and was basically useless. She did it all without anybody finding out. Even though one senator came to asses the true condition of the president after he hadn’t been seen in weeks, this woman propped him up in bed and was able to fake him looking okay after a stroke. All while helping her husband sign s***, make presidential decisions in his name, and fend off the press by staging a photo. If you look up that photo of her standing next to her husband as he reads something and she points to something, that was staged.
34. Alexander the Great
The Siege of Tyre was orchestrated by Alexander the Great in 332 BC during his campaigns against the Persians. The Macedonian army was unable to capture the city, which was a strategic coastal base on the Mediterranean Sea, through conventional means because it was on an island and had walls right up to the sea. Alexander responded to this problem by first blockading and besieging Tyre for seven months, and then by building a causeway that allowed him to breach the fortifications.
35. The king of Coral Castle
Edward Leedskalnin [was] the dude who single-handedly built Coral Castle allegedly using the technology they used to build the pyramids. There’s a pretty cool documentary about all the hints and symbols he left about how he did it.
36. Pug Upham
Sir Charles “Pug” Upham. A captain in the New Zealand Army, who won two Victorian Crosses (Commonwealth equivalent of the Medal of Honour) in WW2. The first time was because they were pinned down by the Germans, no way out, so he pretty much stormed the hill with nothing but his pistol, a couple grenades, and his knife. By himself.
37. Determined to rule
Coup of 18 Brumaire. After years of chaos during the French Revolution followed by an ineffective Directory ruling the now-French Republic, Napoleon decided that France needed a strong and decisive ruler to lead France out of a malaise. And with the support of dear brother Lucien Bonaparte, some troops, and a few others, Napoleon made sure that ruler was going to be him.
38. Determined kid
That 5yr old boy in Utah last week who stole his parents car, grabbed his wallet with $3, and started driving towards California on the interstate to go and ‘buy a Lamborghini’. I’m not sure if anyone can top this. I really think he is going to be going great places…..when he’s a little older.
39. Chasing pennies
In the early 1960s, Ross Perot was a successful salesman for IBM. He suggested that in addition to selling hardware, IBM should also start offering programming services, At the time software was only a small part of the computer market, and the IBM execs told him they didn’t bother “chasing pennies.” Perot quit IBM and started EDS. Within 10 – 12 years, the vast majority of money being spent on computers went into software.
40. Fighting for revenge
Hannibal. One of the greatest strategic minds and general that ever existed. Essentially started the Second Punic War by gathering people that hated Rome to wage a revenge war. His battle plans are still studied at West Point.
41. Cutting canals
DeWitt Clinton. He tried to interest the Federal government in building a canal from New York’s Hudson River to Lake Erie, in effect creating a continuous waterway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes (and the interior of North America), but without success. He was finally able to persuade New York State to build it, which resulted in a huge boost to the State’s (and the Nation’s) economy.
42. Queen commander
After the Rani of Jhansi’s husband’s death, the East India Company tried to make a deal for her to cede control of her territory. She was unable to negotiate with them and tensions rose between the British and Indian people. After escaping with her son strapped to her back out of her fortress, she went on to train and lead her own army, composed of both men and women, only to perish on the battlefield in 1858.
43. Unsinkable Molly Brown
The Unsinkable Molly Brown in one of Titanic’s lifeboats threatened to throw the quartermaster in charge of the boat overboard. [She did this because] he refused to allow them to go back for more people in the water for fear of being overwhelmed with frightened passengers or suction from the sinking ship and she took charge of the lifeboat. The movie doesn’t show that entire exchange though.
44. Stars and Stripes
Robert Heft created the 50-star flag as part of a school project. His teacher, Stanley Pratt, gave him a B- on it. Heft got Pratt to agree to change his grade if his design was chosen as the official flag, which it succeeded in doing, beating out over 1,500 other submitted designs. Pratt kept his word and gave Heft an A on the project.
45. The origin of Rocky
Sylvester Stallone was a struggling, out-of-work actor who couldn’t even get cast as an Italian party guest, [he goes] “f*** it, I’ll do it myself” and writes Rocky for himself. Offered $360,000 for it, refused to sell the screenplay unless he could star as Rocky. Held his ground… Went on to win an Oscar for best picture & gave birth to a franchise and made himself a movie star.
46. More maths needed
Isaac Newton realized mathematics at the time was not advanced enough to develop the equations needed for his theory of classical mechanics. He decided to invent/discover calculus on the side since no one else was moving quick enough.
47. No man left behind
Ernest Shackleton. He was a very popular polar explorer in the early 20th century and was involved in numerous attempts to reach the South Pole. One of his trips (after Amundsen reached the pole) saw his ship trapped and crushed in sea ice. He and his crew eventually ended up on Elephant Island near the Antarctic peninsula.
In order to rescue his crew, he and several others sailed a lifeboat 720 miles across the Southern Ocean in late autumn (not something even the most insane person would ever consider)… They landed on the opposite side of the island from the whaling stations and had to cross a 20-mile wide island made of mountains and glaciers to get to civilization. They reached the whaling station and set about rescuing the rest of his crew from Elephant Island. All members of the crew survived.
48. Hands-on approach
Satoru Iwata, former Nintendo president and genius programmer. In multiple occasions, whenever a team had issues with the development of a game, he’d leave his office and go work with them instead. He was a vital part of the making of many iconic Nintendo games like Earthbound, Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Gold and Silver, all of this AFTER being appointed as president. The guy just loved making games so much, that he’d work on that on the weekends, giving it his all to write the best code and ensure they’d make it to their deadlines without a problem.
49. Miracle loan
During the Revolutionary War, America was running out of funds to fend off the British and it was starting to look like surrender was the only option. Without telling anyone, John Adams hopped on a ship to the Netherlands and came back with a loan from the Dutch government that literally saved our asses. Most underrated Founder in my opinion. There’s so many great stories about him, and his wife, Abigail.
50. Adolphe Sax
The inventor of the saxophone (Adolphe Sax) wanted to have more variety in marching bands, and invented the saxophone to act as replacements for some instruments that wouldn’t work well in a marching band. He made 14 different versions of the saxophone, just so that marching bands could sound better, more like the typical orchestra.