12 Awesome Self-Made Men

We’ve got no problem with the fellow who’s born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but there’s just something uniquely badass about the guy who pulls himself out of humble beginnings and keeps grinding until he’s got life by the balls. You know, like the gentlemen in this list of 12 awesome self-made men.

1. Yvon Chouinard Why he’s awesome: A world-class climber, Chouinard taught himself blacksmithing and began peddling rock climbing tools out of the trunk of his car. This ultimately led to the game-changing outdoor equipment company Patagonia, which donates one percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. Fun fact: In his youth he founded the Southern California Falconry Club.

2. Preston Tucker Why he’s awesome: Tucker created the Tucker ’48, the most stylish car of its day. Though production of the Tucker ’48 was shut down amid scandal, he did inspire a pretty good movie role for Jeff Bridges. Fun fact: He was born on a peppermint farm.

3. Steve Jobs Why he’s awesome: Jobs cofounded both Apple and Pixar. At Apple, he pioneered the personal computer revolution and oversaw the development of the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad. Can you imagine life without them? Fun fact: He was adopted.

4. Frederick Douglass Why he’s awesome: After escaping slavery, Douglass became a leader of the abolitionist movement, dazzling audiences with his speeches and antislavery writing. He also penned three autobiographies and actively supported women’s suffrage. Fun fact: He was the first African American nominated for Vice President.

5. Daniel E. Williams Why he’s awesome: Williams (at right in above photo) started working in the Tullamore whiskey distillery when he was 14, sleeping in a hayloft above the horses’ stable at night. By 19, he was a distiller. By 25, he was general manager. By his 50s, he owned the company that serves up great whiskey to this day. Fun fact: The “Dew” in Tullamore Dew represents his initials.

6. John D. Rockefeller Why he’s awesome: Born poor, Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil company in 1870 and ran it aggressively until 1897, becoming the richest man of his day and arguably the richest person in history. Best of all: he spent the last 40 years of his life in retirement. Fun fact: He never drank or smoked. Or so he claimed.

7. Walt Disney Why he’s awesome: Disney started on a farm in Marceline, Missouri, created and voiced Mickey Mouse and ended up becoming one of the world’s greatest motion picture producers. He also built one hell of a theme park. Fun fact: Disney holds the record for both most Academy Award nominations (59) and wins (22).

8. Ralph Lauren Why he’s awesome: Born to a house painter in the Bronx, Lauren dropped out of college, started working at Brooks Brothers and eventually opened a necktie shop. That led to the Polo Ralph Lauren clothing brand—and a personal net worth of about $7.5 billion dollars. Fun fact: His birth name was Ralph Lifschitz.

9. Jay-Z Why he’s awesome: Shawn Carter started in the housing projects of Brooklyn and became one of the greatest rappers of all time. He also created the clothing line Rocawear and is a part owner of the Brooklyn Nets. Oh, and he married Beyonce. Nuff said. Fun fact: Jay-Z has sold 50 million albums worldwide, winning 14 Grammies in the process.

10. Andrew Carnegie Why he’s awesome: Born in a tiny cottage in Scotland, Carnegie moved with his family to Pennsylvania, rose through the ranks of a telegraph firm and built the company that eventually became U.S. Steel. He also erected Carnegie Hall and founded Carnegie Mellon University. Fun fact: His last name is actually pronounced “car-NAY-ghee.”

11. Ray Kroc Why he’s awesome: Kroc (at right in above photo) bought the McDonald’s franchise in his late 50s for $2.7 million and built it into the most successful fast-food operation in the world. At last count, Mickey D’s is approaching 300 billion served. Fun fact: Before hitting it big with burgers, Kroc tried his hand as a paper cup salesman, jazz musician, pianist, band member and radio DJ.

12. Mark Cuban Why he’s awesome: The son of an automobile upholsterer, Cuban started a web audio company with a college friend and sold it to Yahoo! for $5.9 billion in stock. He used the money to buy the Dallas Mavericks, which won the 2010-11 NBA title. No comment on his Skechers ads. Fun fact: Cuban paid for business school at Indiana University by collecting and selling stamps.