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11 High School Dropouts Who Found Success Anyway

October 5, 2010
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Every year an alarming number of high school students decide to call it quits on their education. While many, if not most, live to regret the decision, quite a few dropouts have done pretty well for themselves. Here’s a look at 11 high school dropouts who went on to find great success. (Film and music are littered with precocious artists whose careers started to take off while they were still just teenagers, so we’ll save them for another day.)

1. Kemmons Wilson

You may not recognize Wilson’s name, but you may have spent a night under one of his roofs at the Holiday Inn chain he founded. Wilson was still a baby when his father died in 1913, and when his mother had financial trouble he left school to supplement her income. Wilson parlayed a movie popcorn concession into a pinball machine business that in turn became a Wurlitzer jukebox franchise until he jumped into the motel game. Wilson later quipped, “When you ain’t got not education, you just gotta use your brain.”

2. Dave Thomas

The affable Wendy’s founder dropped out of high school when he was 15 so he could work in a restaurant. Thomas regretted his decision and worried that he was setting a bad example by not having finished his education, so 45 years later he earned his GED from Coconut Creek High School in Florida. When he graduated in 1993, his classmates went way out on a limb and voted Thomas as Most Likely to Succeed.

3. Peter Jennings

The late anchorman dropped out of school after flunking the 10th grade. He later told Reader’s Digest, “I think it was pure boredom. I loved girls. I loved comic books. And for reasons I don't understand, I was pretty lazy.” He went to work as a bank teller and later jumped into broadcasting.

4. William Faulkner

Like Jennings, the great novelist dropped out of high school in his second year and went to work in a bank. Faulkner eventually resumed his schooling at the University of Mississippi, but he dropped out of college after just a year. He then spent two years as the university postmaster at Ole Miss, a job he lost. (Faulkner said of his canning, “I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son-of-a-b---- who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.”)

5. Richard Branson

The “rebel billionaire” behind Virgin wasn’t as successful in the classroom as he’s been in business. Branson’s dyslexia caused him a great deal of trouble as a student, so when he was 16 he left school to go into business for himself. Now he’s got a net worth in the neighborhood of $4 billion.

6. Leon Uris

The author of Exodus earned renown for the painstaking research and detail he put into each of his novels, but Uris wasn’t doing any of his research with the aid of a high school diploma. Although Uris clearly had a gift for writing, it didn’t translate so well into his high school English classes; he failed the subject three times, which later led him to declare, “English and writing have little to do with each other.” When Uris was 17 he gave up high school for good to enlist in the Marine Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

7. James Naismith

The Canadian inventor of basketball had a pretty rough early life. Both of his parents died when he was just nine years old, so he went to work in a lumber camp to help support his siblings and the uncle who was raising them. By the time he was 15, Naismith decided he didn’t need any more schooling to bring home a buck, so he dropped out. After a few years of hard living and hard work, Naismith went back to high school when he was 20 and graduated in two years. He later went on to earn a medical degree and create a certain game that used a peach basket.

8 & 9. The Wright Brothers

Neither of the famous flyboys received their high school diplomas, though Wilbur was close. Orville dropped out of school in 1889 to start a printing business; Wilbur helped him build his first makeshift printer out of odd parts like a discarded tombstone and pieces from broken-down buggies. One of the brothers’ earliest clients went on to earn great acclaim for himself; Orville’s high school buddy poet Paul Laurence Dunbar published his first poems in the Wright brothers’ newspaper. [NOTE: The original version of this story mistakenly identified Orville as the older brother. Wilbur was born in 1867; Orville was born in 1871.]

10. Walt Disney


The cartoonist dropped out of high school when he was 16 to enlist for World War I. The American armed forces rejected him, though, and after a plan to enlist in the Canadian military fell through, Disney spent a brief period of time working for the post office. Eventually he made it to the European fighting as a member of the Red Cross Ambulance Corps, though.

11. John D. Rockefeller

By some calculations, Rockefeller was the richest man in history. He didn’t get around to finishing high school, though. By the age of 16, he was working as an assistant bookkeeper for a produce commission firm, and he quickly began amassing his giant oil fortune. Even though he dropped out of high school, Rockefeller had a keen appreciation for the virtues of education; a large chunk of his legendary philanthropic donations went to schools and universities.

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This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Portable Chargers RAVPower 16750mAh External Battery Pack 4.5A Dual USB Output External Phone Charger Battery Bank Power Bank (iSmart 2.0 Technology) for Nintendo Switch, iPhone 7, Galaxy S8 - Black for $27.99 (list price $99.99)

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Portable Chargers Intocircuit 11200mAh Power Banks 4.8A Dual USB Output Battery Pack External Battery Bank for Smartphones Tablets - iPhone 7 Plus / 7 / 6s / iPad, Bluetooh Speakers and more, Gray for $15.99 (list price $22.99)

iClever BoostCube 4.8A 24W Dual USB Travel Wall Charger with SmartID Technology, Foldable Plug, White for $10.99 (list price $29.99)

SoundBot SB510 HD Water Proof Bluetooth 3.0 Speaker, Mini Water Resistant Wireless Shower Speaker, Handsfree Portable Speakerphone with Built-in Mic for $14.95 (list price $20.16)

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Anker PowerCore+ mini, 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger (3rd Generation, Premium Aluminum Power Bank), One of the Most Compact External Batteries for $13.99 (list price $39.99)

Bluetooth Headphones, Hussar Magicbuds Best Wireless Sports Earphones with Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Sound for $26.99 (list price $169.99)

iMuto 20000mAh Portable Charger Compact External Battery Power Pack Power Bank with Smart LED Digital Display and Smart Charge (Black) for $23.99 (list price $29.99)

Trianium Armband For iPhone 7/6/6S Plus, LG G6 G5, Galaxy s8 s7 s6 Edge, Note 5 (fits Otterbox Defender / Lifeproof case) ArmTrek Pro Sport Exercise Running Pouch Key Holder for $12.99 (list price $20.97)

SENSO Bluetooth Headphones Wireless Sports Earphones - w/ Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Stereo Sweatproof Earbuds, for Gym Running Workout, 8 Hour Battery, Noise Cancelling Headsets for $37.97 (list price $169.99)

Anker PowerCore 10400 Portable Charger with PowerIQ for iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy and More (Black) for $29.99 (list price $49.99)

Oliasports Fidget Cube Relieves Stress & Anxiety, Black for $2.50 (list price $29.00)

LEGO Classic Creative Supplement 10693 for $13.99 (list price $19.99)

CardNinja Ultra-slim Self Adhesive Credit Card Wallet for Smartphones, Black for $7.44 (list price $12.99)

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Sandwich Cutter Taidea Best Adorable Animals Pocket Bread Cutter, Hand Tools Sandwich Kit for $9.99 (list price $39.99)

Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill for $34.99 (list price $44.99)

Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $99.99 

Plater Fast Defrosting Tray - Defrost Meat or Frozen Food Quickly Without Electricity, Microwave, Hot Water or Any Other Tools for $18.90 (list price $32.90)

Lodge L9OG3 Cast Iron Round Griddle, Pre-Seasoned, 10.5-inch for $14.29 (list price $24.00)

Lifewit Height Adjustable Pan Pot Organizer Rack, 5-Tier Kitchenware Cookware Holder for $24.99 (list price $49.99)

Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid Food Storage Container, BPA-Free Plastic, 6-Piece Set for $6.18

BlenderBottle Classic Loop Top Shaker Bottle, Clear/Green, 28-Ounce Loop Top for $6.99 (list price $7.99)

Modern Innovations 16 Inch Stainless Steel Magnetic Knife Bar for $16.95 (list price $29.99)

Yummy Sam Lid and Spoon Rest, Utensils Lid Holder in Silver for $8.99 (list price $10.19)

6 Reusable K-Cups - Refillable Stainless Mesh Coffee Filter Pod for Keurig 2.0 and 1.0 Machines by STYDDI for $9.99 (list price $16.99)

Meat Tenderizer By Checkered Chef. Best Hammer/Mallet Tool/Pounder For Tenderizing Steak,Beef And Poultry. Solid Metal Construction With Rubber Comfort Grip Handle. 100% Dishwasher Safe. for $10.87 (list price $19.95)

Fat Ninja Extra Large Roll Up Dish Drying Rack (19.8 x 14in) Over the Sink Stainless Steel Tier Drainer including Set of 2 Microfiber Kitchen Towels for $16.77 (list price $28.99)

Rubbermaid 17.3 Cup FreshWorks Produce Saver Food Storage Container, Large, Green for $11.24 (list price $16.99)

ISSIKI JAPAN Professional 8 Inch Chef's Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Sharp Cutlery, Ergonomic Handlefor $29.99 (list price $125.00)

OXO Good Grips Nylon Potato Masher for Non-Stick Cookware for $6.99 (list price $9.59)

Norpro Honey/Syrup Dispenser for $15.99 (list price $34.35)

Corelle Livingware 12-1/4-Inch Serving Platter, Winter Frost White for $7.97 (list price $13.01)

Bellemain Stainless Steel Measuring Cup Set, 6 Piece for $18.95 (list price $24.95)

Cuisinart CIL22-30HR CastLite Non-Stick Cast Iron Fry Pan with Helper, 12-Inch, Red for $49.95 (list price $62.29)

Culina Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers, Silver, Set of 3 for $7.99 (list price $12.99)

Top Rated Bellemain Cooling Rack - Baking Rack , Chef Quality 12 inch x 17 inch - Tight-Grid Design, Oven Safe, Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan for $11.95 (list price $18.95)

Baker's Secret 1061483 10-by-16-Inch Nonstick Cooling Rack, Set of 2 for $6.00 (list price $19.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Berry Keeper for $7.99 (list price $9.49)

Prepworks by Progressive Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Keeper - 1.9 Quart for $9.96 (list price $11.99)

Oster TSSTTRJBG1 Jelly Bean 2-Slice Toaster, Grey for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Lettuce Keeper - 4.7 Quart for $11.99 (list price $12.99)

Norpro Stainless Steel Commercial Potato Ricer for $27.84 (list price $43.99)

Stainless Steel Kitchen Funnel with Removable Strainer/Filter for Essential/Cooking Oils, Flask Funnel for Transferring of Liquid, Fluid, Dry Ingredients & Powder, 5- Inch,Silver - HOXHA for $9.98 (list price $23.68)

POPCO Silicone Microwave Popcorn Popper with Handles for $9.99 (list price $34.99)

VonShef 7- Egg Electric Cooker Stainless Steel with Poacher & Steamer Attachment for $19.94 (list price $34.99)

ChefLand 3-Compartment Microwave Safe Food Container with Lid/Divided Plate/Bento Box/Lunch Tray with Cover, Black, 10-Pack for $6.78 (list price $19.95)

DRAGONN Zester Grater Sharp Stainless Steel Blade with Black Handle, Safety Cover and Rubber Footings for $9.95 (list price $19.95)

Accuweight Digital Multifunction Food Meat Scale with LCD Display Perfect for Baking Kitchen Cooking, 11lb Capacity by 0.1oz, Tempered Glass surface, Black for $9.49 (list price $49.99)

Best Ice Cube Trays - 2 Large Silicone Pack - 16 Giant 2 Inch Ice Cubes Molds for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

Banana Hook - Ripen Bananas Naturally with Under Cabinet Banana Hanger / Banana Holder. Self-stick and Adheres Under Cabinets. for $6.00 (list price $11.99)

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The Original Hayden Autosoap - Premium Automatic Touchless Soap Dispenser - Fingerprint Resistant Brushed Stainless Steel - Hand Sanitiser compatible - (NEW Waterproof Base!) for $29.00 (list price $69.95)

Organize It All 2-Tier Shelf with Towel Bars (1753W-1) for $14.25 (list price $30.02)

Pregnancy Pillow, Full Body Maternity Pillow w/ Contoured U-Shape by Lavish Home, Back Support for $33.49 (list price $99.99)

AmazonBasics Wood Suit Hangers - 30 Pack, Natural for $20.82 (list price $23.99)

InnoGear IG-100ml-OD Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser for $29.28 (list price $35.43)

VonShef 8 Piece Set 4 x Placemats, 4 x Coasters, Natural Slate for $17.95 (list price $49.99)

Adjustable Heavy Duty Bed Sheet Grippers Holders Cover Suspenders (Set of 4) for $8.99 (list price $11.99)

Mellanni Bed Sheet Set - Brushed Microfiber 1800 Bedding - Wrinkle, Fade, Stain Resistant - Hypoallergenic - 4 Piece (Cal King, White) for $32.70 (list price $59.99)

VonHaus 600W 2-in-1 Corded Upright Stick & Handheld Vacuum Cleaner with HEPA Filtration - Includes Crevice Tool & Brush Accessories for $44.95 (list price $79.99)

AmazonBasics Microfiber Sheet Set - Queen, Dark Grey for $16.98 (list price $19.99)

GORILLA GRIP Rectangle (35-Inch-by-16-Inch) Non-Slip Machine Washable Bath Mat, Blue for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

AcuRite 02081M Weather Station with Jumbo Display & Atomic Clock for $40.01 (list price $49.99)

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Equinox International Queen/Standard Size 17 X 25-Inches Shredded Memory Foam Pillow with Removable Bamboo Soft Pillow Case for $15.95 (list price $39.99)

Royal Classic Kitchen Towels, 15-Pack, 100% Natural Cotton, 14 x 25 inches (15 Pack) for $13.97 (list price $29.99)

HOPDAY Wash Bags, Delicates Mesh laundry Bags, Super Premium Quality Bra lingerie Protection Washing Drying Bag with Rust Proof Flow Zipper, Set of 6 (3 Medium & 3 Large)-Black & White for $9.89 (list price $19.99)

LiBa Mildew Resistant Anti-Bacterial PEVA 8G Shower Curtain Liner, 72x72 Clear - Non Toxic, Eco-Friendly, No Chemical Odor, Rust Proof Grommets for $10.99 (list price $29.99)

Habor Digital Hygrometer Thermometer Indoor Humidity Monitor with Temperature Gauge Humidity Meter for $10.99 (list price $17.99)

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Bvlgari By Bvlgari For Men Eau-de-toilette Spray, 3.4 Ounce for $38.77 (list price $88.00)

Colgate Wisp Portable Mini-Brush Max Fresh, Peppermint, 24 Count for $3.41 (list price $7.99)

NIVEA Smooth Daily Moisture Body Lotion 16.9 Fluid Ounce for $4.99 (list price $7.99)

Gardinesca Beard Oil for $12.99 (list price $31.99)

Foot Soak with Tea Tree Oil and Epsom Salt - 20 oz - Tea Tree Essential Oils Foot Bath for $14.95 (list price $21.95)

"Touch Me" Dry Skin Body Brush - Natural Bristle for $6.99 (list price $14.99)

ArtNaturals Aromatherapy Top 8 Essential Oils, 100% Pure of The Highest Quality, Therapeutic Grade for $16.95 (list price $20.00)

Daily Power Scrub Facial Cleanser For Men - 8 OZ - Face Wash + Energizing Toner + Exfoliating Scrub All-In-One - Natural & Certified Organic Ingredients for $24.95 (list price $39.00)

Arabica Coffee Scrub 15 oz, Anjou Body Scrub with Honey, Sea Salt, VB, VE for $8.99 (list price $35.99)

Gillette Fusion5 ProGlide Men’s Razor Blades 8 Refills - Packaging May Vary, Mens Razors / Blades for $29.97 (list price $35.71)

Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal Powder Natural for $24.99 (list price $29.99)

Bed Head Deep Waver for $19.90 (list price $27.99)

Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm, Cherry Me, 0.15 Ounce for $2.79 (list price $4.49)

Gillette Series 3X Action Shave Gel, Sensitive, 7 Ounce (Pack of 6) for $12.48 (list price $23.94)

Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrip Teeth Whitening Kit, Glamorous White, 14 Treatments - Packaging May Vary for $34.40 (list price $44.99)

Philips Norelco Bodygroom Series 7100, BG2040 for $59.95 (list price $69.99)

Tweezerman LTD Stainless Steel Mini Slant Tweezer (Colors May Vary) for $9.19 (list price $14.00)

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Scrub, 5 Oz for $4.78 (list price $7.69)

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge (2 sponges in each pack) for $8.24 (list price $10.99)

GNC Mega Men Energy & Metabolism Tablets, 90 Count for $9.99 (list price $22.99)

Dial Antibacterial Deodorant Bar Soap, White, 4 Ounce Bars, 10 Count (Pack of 3) for $14.64 (list price $18.93)

Nexcare Absolute Waterproof First Aid Tape, 1-Inch x 5-Yard Roll (Pack of 6) for $20.28 (list price $28.54)

BESTOPE Blackhead Remover Pimple Comedone Extractor Tool Best Acne Removal Kit for $9.99 (list price $19.99)

OFFICE, SCHOOL, AND CRAFTS

Honey-Can-Do TBL-03539 Portable Laptop Lap Desk with Handle, Blue, 23 L x 16 W x 2.5 H for $16.24 (list price $26.99)

MagniViz Magnifying Glass with Light and Stand - Handheld or Hands Free LED Lighted Magnifier (3x) - Bonus Cloth for $8.99 (list price $19.99)

Kate Spade New York "Let's Do Lunch" Business Card Holder for $19.00 (list price $20.00)

SUDEE STILE Colored Pencils 120 Unique Colors (No Duplicates) Art Drawing Colored Pencils Set with Case with Sharpener for $23.99 (list price $95.96)

ALEX Toys Little Hands Ready Set Paste for $6.49 (list price $12.00)

Officemate Designer Paper Clip Dispenser with Heavy Duty Magnet, Clear (93695) for $9.45 (list price $12.18)

ALEX Toys DIY Wear So Many Headbands, 10 headbands for $13.54 (list price $29.50)

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Warner Bros., IStock
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When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

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