10 Historical Figures Who Failed Before Becoming Successful

A surprising number of historical figure became successful only after repeated failures.

  1. 1

    Isaac Newton (1642 - 1726)

    Newton might have been a math genius, but he never did particularly well in school.He failed so badly at running the family farm, that his uncle had to take over, sending Isaac to Cambridge University, where he finally blossomed as a scholar.

  2. 2

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)

    Despite writing over 600 pieces of music from the age of five, Mozart was dismissed from a position as a court musician in Salzberg Austria.He struggled to maintain support from the aristocracy and died with little to his name.

  3. 3

    Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865)

    Lincoln started failing from his youth and never stopped.As a young man, we joined the military as the rank of Captain, but was demoted to Private—the lowest rank.He failed repeatedly at business and was defeated numerous times in running for public office.

  4. 4

    Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)

    Darwin was chastised by his father for being a lazy dreamer.He wrote of himself as a schoolboy: "I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect."Darwin failed in his early medical career and simply gave up pursuing it any further.

  5. 5

    Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890)

    Van Gogh's paintings today fetch hundreds of millions, yet of over 800 paintings during his lifetime, he only sold one—and that was to a friend for very little money.

  6. 6

    Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931)

    Edison's teachers told him that he was "too stupid to learn anything."He was fired from his first two jobs for not being "productive enough".Edison is widely believed to have made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb."I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."—Thomas Edison.

  7. 7

    Henry Ford (1863 - 1947)

    Henry Ford's early attempts at business all failed, leaving him broke five times."One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do."—Henry Ford.

  8. 8

    Orville and Wilbur Wright (1871 - 1948) (1867 - 1912)

    The Write brothers fought family illness and depression prior to starting a bicycle shop together.That's when they started experimenting with failure. Attempt after attempt at a prototype flying machine failed, but they didn't give up, finally building the world's first successful airplane that made the first heavier-than-air flight.

  9. 9

    Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

    Einstein's teachers thought he was mentally handicapped because he couldn't speak until he was four, or read until he was seven.He was expelled from school and rejected from Zurich Polytechnic.

  10. 10

    Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

    Winston Churchill struggled through school and failed the sixth grade.Before becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he suffered several political defeats.Despite being remembered for his famous wartime speeches, he had a lateral lisp that required special dentures.Finally, after giving so many prepared remarks, he said, "my impediment is no hindrance."

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