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America’s Rich History of Entrepreneurship

We are a global culture obsessed with lists. Where would we be without our Top Ten lists, buckets lists, to-do lists or playlists, to name just a few? Society’s list of lists is endless.

Arguably, one of the most overlooked yet significant rankings in the U.S., however, is an American entrepreneur list. When it comes to tallying the people who have had the greatest impact on American social development and prosperity, the list might include the following:

  • Political leaders.
  • Celebrities.
  • Professional athletes.
  • Musicians.

However, isn’t it really American entrepreneurship that has played one of the most crucial roles in the country’s cultural, political and economic evolution?

The Influence of American Entrepreneurship

In Who Are the Greatest American Entrepreneurs Ever?, coauthor and Baylor professor Dr. Blaine McCormick writes “If U.S. presidents are studied, evaluated, and ranked, shouldn’t we do the same for our entrepreneurs and businesspeople? After all, they built the U.S. from the ground up into a great economic power. The state of business affects our quality of life as much, if not more, than whomever sits in the Oval Office. We need to know where to give the credit for American achievement and how to rank its value.”

To compile the list, McCormick and Burton Folsom, Jr. asked experts in history, economics and management to rank their top 10 American entrepreneurs. Henry Ford, whose famed automotive assembly line made car ownership a reality for many Americans, consistently claims first place on America’s entrepreneur list. Other icons of American entrepreneurship include the following:

  • Bill Gates.
  • John D. Rockefeller.
  • Andrew Carnegie.
  • Thomas Edison.

Money Isn’t Everything

The authors note that what is perhaps most significant about this compilation is that greatness does not necessarily correlate with wealth, as some of the richest people in America (such as Warren Buffett) are not in the top ten.

This absence underscores the worth assigned to entrepreneurs who actually made a difference in people’s lives: “Those entrepreneurs and businesspeople labeled great had very little to do with the federal government — whether wartime or peacetime, they received almost no federal aid, and sometimes had to overcome regulations and political intervention. Instead, these entrepreneurs tried to improve American lives by making a quality product at a competitive price.”

An Entrepreneurial Nation

An entrepreneur list recognizes people who enriched lives in the U.S. and abroad, so it’s important to take note of what made these individuals so successful, including the following:

  • A thirst for knowledge.
  • An indomitable spirit.
  • A vision for social and economic prosperity.

These are all qualities common to the country’s top business leaders, both past and present.

The prominence of American entrepreneurship should come as no surprise. Ingenuity and hard work have been at the core of the American spirit since the nation’s founding. What could possibly be more emblematic of a risky start-up than a brand-new country?

No Going Back

American entrepreneurship shows no signs of slowing down. A 2015 study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, found that “27 million working-age Americans (almost 14 percent) — are starting or running new businesses … and it’s an impressive showing for a developed economy, where finding work with an employer is easier and capturing market share harder than in less-developed nations.”

Anyone willing to work hard, innovate and take risks can contribute to this rich entrepreneurial history. Yet, of all the contributions American business leaders make, perhaps the most significant is motivation. Their success stories give people something to strive for in the hope that they, too, will see their name on an entrepreneur list someday.

Learn more about the Baylor University online MBA program.


The Economist: The United States of Entrepreneurs

Forbes: Who Are The Greatest American Entrepreneurs Ever?

Inc.: The U.S. Now Has 27 Million Entrepreneurs

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