#3. An Earthquake Gives Birth to an Electronics Empire
In the Beginning:
In 1912, Tokuji Hayakawa had a metal workshop in Tokyo. At just 21-years of age, he invented a mechanical pencil he named the Ever-Ready Sharp. This is not to be confused with the Eversharp pencil, which was invented in America. Apparently, this mix-up is a big deal to people in the penciling world, while the rest of us have forgotten what pencils even are.
"No sorry, I don't have any of these 'pencils' that you speak of. Can I get back to my show now?" Source.
While sales of the pencil were low at first, things picked up for Kayakawa when he landed a large order for them from a trading company in Yokohama. He was on his way!
The order--and Kayakawa's impending fame as "the pencil guy"--was never fulfilled. In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake slammed Tokyo. Among the devastation and rubble was Kayakawa's workshop and his pencils.
The carnage was indescribable.
With no orders, product or income, mounting debt forced the young inventor to sell his patent.
Kayakawa, realizing the gods were clearly angry at Tokyo and/or mechanical pencils, fled to Osaka. He considered restarting his effort to build Sharp pencils into a famous brand (what customer can walk away from the prospect of a really sharp pencil, after all) but then he heard that there was this new invention called the "radio" that some people were claiming to be the Next Big Thing.
Well, hell, if people wanted radios, then by gum he'd take what he knew about making sharp pencils and give Japan the sharpest damned radios they'd ever seen! This is how a clearly confused Kayakawa turned the Sharp Corporation into an electronics company. Today, probably at least one piece of electronics equipment in your home bears their logo. So, no it's not because it was owned by a guy named Sharp. It's still named after those freaking pencils.
#2. Fascism and War Gives Us Kickass Sports Cars
In the Beginning:
Enzo Ferrari was enthusiastic about selling cars in the same way that steak-lovers are enthusiastic about raising cattle. That is to say, he could not have given two shits about selling cars.
"Enough with this car business. How can I get my pants even higher?"
No, in addition to being maybe the most unfortunate-looking Italian of his era, Ferrari was a racecar driver. It's all he ever wanted to do.
Did we mention that he was unfortunate looking?
In 1929, Ferrari became a big enough deal in the racing world that he ran his own stable of drivers, calling his team Scuderia Ferrari. They raced Alfa Romeos, and eventually that company hired Ferrari to head up their motor racing division.
The future looked bright. Cars and racing were both getting more popular by the day. What could possibly happen in Europe that would blow all of that to hell? Well, let's see... it was 1938...
World War II broke out. Fascism had already come to Italy, with Benito Mussolini having been in charge since the early 20s. When the war started, the Italian government took control of Alfa Romeo, because that's what Fascism does. Ferrari's team wound up making tools and airplane parts for the war effort.
Prohibited from racing and having absolutely nothing else to do, Ferrari's team built a car so he could race it. And the rest is history! Oh, wait, no. The allies bombed the shit out of the factory in 1944, utterly destroying everything.
Waiting for the bombs to stop dropping, Ferrari would open a business a few years later so he could get back to doing what he had wanted to do since he was a kid. He started building cars specifically so he could race them, but quickly found that you can't actually pay the rent that way (there's a reason NASCAR cars are covered with ads, after all) so, reluctantly, he started selling cars to the public purely as a way to pay for his racing career.
That's right: The most beautiful automobiles ever made were manufactured for the same reason a struggling actor takes a job at Starbucks. It was nothing more than a necessary evil to pay the bills, and rumors persist that he thought of his customers as a bunch of rich, privileged douchebags buying them as status symbols.
YOU OWE MAGNUM, P.I. AN APOLOGY, MR. FERRARI.
#1. An Oil Crisis Creates A Titty Magazine
Larry Flynt Publications
In the Beginning:
Larry Flynt was newly discharged Naval radio operator, fresh off the USS Enterprise (the one that picked up John Glenn, not the one that picked up green space-babes). In 1965, taking what money he had saved up, Flynt purchased his mother's bar, renovated it and was soon making a sizable amount of cash. So sizable, in fact, that he was able to open two more bars.
Just as the Sharp guy saw a future in radio and Mr. Nintendo saw electronic gaming on the horizon, Larry Flynt had a revelation about the Next Big Thing:
He opened his first topless bar and named it the Hustler Club--which would soon become a chain. With the help of a newsletter to advertise them and the allure of boobies in the face, Flynt's clubs were making anywhere between $260,000 to $520,000 annually, back when that kind of money meant something.
As with Nintendo and the cultural shift away from playing cards, Flynt saw himself blindsided by an event far outside his control: the 1973 Oil Crisis.
You'll never win, Oil.
When people find themselves in hard financial times, it's the frivolous stuff that gets cut first. And it's harder to hide $40 spent at a strip club from the wife when the household is counting every penny. Even with his ingenious marketing via the newsletters, business dropped and bankruptcy loomed.
Wait a second... maybe the Hustler Newsletter itself was hurting his business. If money was tight, why would his customers spend an expensive night at a strip club when they could just masturbate to the ads in his newsletter?
Then again, it may have been the mascot.
Instead of running from the problem, Flynt embraced it. The newsletter expanded from four pages to 16 to 32--something that people would pay money for. Still, he could have been one more drop in the titty magazine ocean had some paparazzi photos of a naked Jackie Kennedy not surfaced.
Unfortunately, there is no actual titty magazine ocean.
Flynt bought the photos and published them in an issue that would sell one million copies.
Not only was a porn empire born, but the whole "catch the starlet's nipple slip with a telephoto lens and sell it for huge cash" trend was born along with it.
Be sure to check out Fitzgerald's friend Thad over at CallMeThad.
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