People Who Started as Freelancers and Changed the World

Explore the lives of iconic freelancers who reshaped industries. From Aaron Montgomery Ward's innovation to Sam Walton's drive, discover their remarkable stories.

In our previous post, we explored how remarkable individuals like Ray Kroc, Walt Disney, Alfred Nobel, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Dickens were not just talented in their respective fields, but were also freelancers who made a significant impact on society.

These individuals transcended their initial roles to become iconic figures who have influenced millions of lives through their innovative inventions, groundbreaking business models, and visionary approaches, all while freelancing.

This isn’t merely a tale of accumulating wealth or gaining prestige; it’s a narrative of adding substantial value to humanity. For instance, Andrew Carnegie leveraged his innate ability to connect with people to establish a timeless legacy through various enterprises, libraries, and charitable foundations.

Similarly, people like Bill Gates, Aaron Montgomery Ward, and Sam Walton have shown that freelancing can transcend the notion of self-employment. It involves developing self-discipline, responsibility, and a strong work ethic.

Once you have mastered these attributes, you can then use them to positively affect an ever-increasing number of lives.

And that’s how legacies are made. It’s the greatest gift you can offer both yourself and humanity.

Historic Freelancers Who Changed The World, Vol. 1

Historic Freelancers Who Changed The World, Vol. 1

Freelancing is just a word used to describe a state of mind, a state of independence and responsibility... Read more

Andrew Carnegie

Freelancer in Business Consulting and Networking

Portrait of Andrew Carnegie

The story of Andrew Carnegie is a textbook example of a “rags-to-riches” tale. Born in a single-room weaver’s cottage in Scotland, Carnegie went on to become one of the wealthiest individuals in history. His humble beginnings make his extraordinary achievements even more remarkable.

Birthplace of Andrew Carnegie in Dunfermline, Scotland

In 1848, Carnegie’s family migrated to America in search of better opportunities. At just 13 years old, Andrew found himself working as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill, working grueling 12-hour shifts six days a week.

As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.Andrew Carnegie

Though a freelancer, it was not by choice but out of necessity. He had only his time to sell. By age 15, he was working as a telegraph messenger.

Master of Networking

During his free hours, Andrew would frequent prominent businesses in Pittsburgh and make an effort to get to know the owners. He’d share information about other important business figures he knew, aiming to build valuable relationships.

His commitment and skills as a telegraph boy – being able to translate telegraph signals without writing them down – did not go unnoticed. He earned a promotion and eventually landed a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at 18 years old.

Carnegie quickly climbed the corporate ladder and formed a close relationship with Thomas Alexander Scott, the company president. This connection allowed him access to insider knowledge and investment opportunities, although some were ethically questionable.

The Gift of Influence

Andrew’s knack for influencing people helped him accumulate working capital by making smart investments and forming alliances with influential individuals. This ability also enabled him to orchestrate a significant business merger between Woodruff’s and Pullman’s companies when he was just 25.

Despite amassing unparalleled wealth and establishing the world’s largest company, the US Steel Corporation, Carnegie had a complex view on the subject of wealth. He was involved in the largest personal commercial transaction ever, worth $480 million, but his thoughts on wealth were far from celebratory:

Man must have no idol, and the accumulation of wealth is one of the worst forms of idolatry! No idol is more degrading than the worship of money. Whatever I engage in, I must push extraordinarily; therefore, I should be careful to choose a life that will be the most uplifting in its nature.”

Bill Gates

Freelance Programmer and Innovator

Young Bill Gates as a Freelancer

Bill Gates is synonymous with Microsoft, a name that has become a cornerstone in the world of computing. Although he has often been dubbed the richest man on Earth, Gates actually hails from a middle-class background in Seattle.

If you just want to say, ‘Steve Jobs invented the world, and then the rest of us came along,’ that’s fine… Let’s be realistic, who came up with ‘File/Edit/View/Help’?Bill Gates

At the young age of 13, Gates showed early signs of entrepreneurial spirit. He sold items at a school rummage sale to fund computer time on a General Electric system. There were no personal computers back then, but Gates was determined. He self-taught BASIC programming and began to master the machine.

Early Ethical Hacker

Gates was so proficient that he, along with three friends, managed to hack a PDP-10 system owned by the Computer Center Corporation (CCC). Upon discovery, they were banned from the system. However, Gates turned the situation around by offering his programming skills to identify other vulnerabilities in CCC’s system, in exchange for more computer time.

That’s when Bill Gates officially stepped into the world of freelance coding.

He continued his freelance programming work for Information Sciences, Inc., developing a payroll program in Cobol at the age of 16. The next year, he worked on software for class distribution among students.

Early Entrepreneurial Ventures

In the same year, Gates and his friend Paul Allen started Traf-O-Data, a tool for traffic analytics. The project didn’t succeed, but that didn’t discourage them. They approached MITS, a company that was developing a computer using the Intel 8080 CPU. Despite having no finished software, Gates and Allen convinced MITS President Ed Roberts to meet them by saying they were close to completing compatible software.

Microsoft's Origin at Harvard University

The duo then hastily wrote the code they had initially lied about, leading to a successful meeting and the birth of their company, which they named “Micro-Soft.”

Aaron Montgomery Ward

Freelancer in Copywriting and Direct Mail

Portrait of Aaron Montgomery Ward

Aaron Montgomery Ward would likely be hailed as the master of sales letters if he were around today. As the pioneer of the mail-order business, he revolutionized the way people bought products. His beginnings in the business world, however, were quite humble.

Even if the customer has to wait for delivery, they will make purchases via mail order if they can save money.Aaron Montgomery Ward

Ward entered the workforce at just 14, performing the unglamorous job of stacking bricks in a kiln. He eventually transitioned into sales, peddling various goods. By 1865, he had taken on a freelance role, working on commission to sell products for Case and Sobin, a lamp company.

Innovator of Direct Mail Sales

While working in dry goods sales for Field Palmer & Leiter, Ward conceived the groundbreaking idea of direct mail sales. He saw it as a way to reduce costs and simplify the role of salespeople.

Ward had a grand vision: to make manufactured goods accessible to everyone, even those living in rural areas. Despite skepticism from his peers, he took the plunge. In 1872, Ward launched the world’s first general merchandise mail-order catalog, featuring 163 items. He wrote all the product descriptions himself, effectively making him the world’s first freelance copywriter in this niche.

Sam Walton

Freelance Salesman Turned Entrepreneur

Portrait of Sam Walton

Walmart stands as the largest public corporation on a global scale. As of 2013, it surpassed giants like Shell and Exxon, employing a staggering 2.2 million people and generating nearly $500 billion in revenue. The man behind this retail behemoth is Sam Walton, who began his journey as a freelance salesman.

High expectations are the key to everything.Sam Walton

Sam Walton grew up on a farm in Oklahoma and started working at a young age to support his family. One of his earliest gigs was milking the family cow and delivering the milk to various customers, effectively becoming a freelance milkman in his youth.

The Hustle of a True Freelancer

During the tough times of the Great Depression, Walton took up various roles to make ends meet. He delivered newspapers, sold magazine subscriptions, and even worked various sales jobs, including waiting tables to pay for his meals. Walton epitomizes the hustle and determination characteristic of a true freelancer.

By the age of 26, Walton was ready to make his big move. With a loan of $20,000, he purchased his first retail store. This was the humble beginning that would later blossom into a retail empire. After expanding to multiple locations, he inaugurated the first Wal-Mart store in 1962 (now known as Walmart) and the rest is history.