Few things say Americana like a well-trimmed lawn. Yet the modern lawn is a modern invention. Throughout most of history, trimmed yards were a luxury for the wealthy, who could hire people to cut and trim by hand. Most regular people only cleared land for farming or other agricultural purposes. Sometimes, grazing animals, like goats, were used to keep nature in check. By and large, however, people didn’t cut the grass in the modern sense.
In 1830, Edwin Beard Budding introduced the lawnmower to the world, taking inspiration from local clothing mills. This early lawnmower looks comical by today’s standards and was too heavy to easily use. However, Budding’s ideas cut the way for human-powered reel-type mowers, which while less common, are still used today.
In 1859, Thomas Green created a chain-driven mower. Squint really, really hard, and this mower looks vaguely similar to the motorized push mowers found in many garages and sheds today. A steam power motor appeared in the 1890s, and a large commercial combustion mower hit the turf in 1902. The first gas power mower started cutting in 1915.
These days, many folks opt for riding lawnmowers. Why push when you can rest? The first self-propelled riding lawnmower, the so-called “Triplex,” was introduced in 1922. Still, while mower technology advanced, many folks skipped cutting lawns. In 1952, as modern lawn care sensibilities were emerging, Briggs and Stratton developed a lightweight aluminum engine, which, in turn, allowed for light and easy-to-handle mowers.
The next several decades saw modern push and riding lawnmowers become more effective, cheaper, and easier to handle. Thus, more and more people started cutting their lawns. Now, you can purchase automated lawnmowers guided by AI to trim your grass. And rather than pushing or driving, you can enjoy a glass of lemonade on your porch while the mower does the work.
Leaders: Peter Thiel looks to future
When you think of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO may come to mind first. But venture capitalist Peter Thiel also played a major role in Facebook, and he’s also had a big part in other tech companies. These days, Thiel is perhaps as well known for his political and social activism as he is for investing.
Born in Germany, Thiel’s family immigrated to the United States while Peter was still an infant. A strict upbringing helped shape Thiel’s philosophical outlook, which to this day leans libertarian.
Thiel eventually received a law degree from Stanford and even clerked for a judge in Atlanta. But as computers and the Internet boomed in the early 1990s, Thiel eschewed a law career and raised money to fund tech investments instead.
A few years later, Thiel co-founded PayPal, which grew into one of the largest online payment platforms in the world. Thiel was Facebook’s first outside investor, and without his resources, the social media platform might not have become the tech giant it is today. Since then, Thiel has raked in many millions more with investments in Lyft, Asana, Airbnb, and other hot tech platforms.
As an investor, Thiel has a good eye for spotting tech companies that could revolutionize society and industries. Part of this likely comes down to his business philosophy, which focuses on disruptive innovation. In his best-selling business book, “Zero to One,” Thiel argues that:
“Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”
Savings interest rates may rise slowly
When you open a savings account, you are, in effect, lending money to your bank, and in return, you get a very safe investment and a little interest.
For the past several years, the Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. This meant cheaper mortgages, but also microscopic earnings on savings deposits. In fact, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reports that the national savings interest rate was a tiny .07 as of May 2022, up from .06 percent in December 2021. Go back to 2010 and rates averaged .2 percent. Peek further back in time, however, and you can find rates in excess of 7 percent.
So with Fed interest rates on the rise, will you see interest paid on savings accounts increase? Probably, but only marginally. As the Fed rates tick up, so too will savings account rates. But even optimistic experts are predicting that rates will rise to 2 percent or thereabouts in late 2022. Rates will rise as banks compete for deposits, but the increase will probably be slow and incremental.
Large, historically-established banks have been slow to increase rates. Less well-known online banks, however, are courting customers more aggressively and even offering rates in excess of 1 percent.
From farming to mapping the world: Meet Gladys West
Catch a road trip movie from the 70s or 80s and you might see folks juggling with maps or else asking for directions. These days? There’s an app for that. Cars, planes, and even trains all rely on GPS.
Ever wondered where it came from? In part, it came from Gladys West, one of the chief architects of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
West was born in 1930 in Virginia. Coming into the world amid the Great Depression, and as an African-American in a segregated nation, you might not think her work would change the world. But it did.
During her childhood, West spent summers helping on the family farm. When school was in session, it was a three-mile walk, both ways, each day.
West quickly saw her education as her ticket to prosperity. After years of studying, she earned a scholarship to Virginia State College, where she majored in mathematics. Eventually, this led to a job as a programmer at a Virginia naval base, where she was one of four Black employees.
Toiling long hours, West contributed to space exploration and later programmed the IBM 7030 Stretch computer to build an accurate geodetic Earth model. This work laid the foundation for the Global Positioning System that helps the modern world go round.
In 2018, she was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame.
Today, she is 91. She and her husband, Ira, have three children and seven grandchildren. While she pioneered GPS, she still prefers paper maps.
The history of Independent Retailer Month
July is Independent Retailer Month, an event that encourages people to visit their local shops and markets and support their community’s business sector. After all, small businesses are the backbone of the economy.
How it started
Independent Retailer Week was created in 2003 by Tom Shay, the founder of Profits Plus, a web-based company providing support to small businesses. With this event, he sought to educate small business owners on the importance of engaging with their communities and customers.
Six years later, Kerry Bannigan, a co-founder of Nolcha, launched her own version of Independent Retailer Week. This time, the campaign targeted New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. The event focused on independent fashion retailers and was a tremendous success.
In 2011, Shay and Bannigan discussed creating a new, more inclusive event that celebrated and raised awareness of the importance of independent retailers of all kinds. Independent Retailer Month was born in July 2011 and quickly spread around the globe to places like the UK and Canada.
How it’s celebrated today
Today, Independent Retailer Month is an annual event that brings together independent retail associations, small business groups, and thought leaders to highlight independent retailers’ positive social and economic impacts on towns and cities.
Although July is Independent Retailer Month, local merchants need your support all year long.
Brick-by-brick: How LEGO solved financial struggles
Luke Skywalker ignites his lightsaber, a faint blue against a dark, alien Cloud City. But look closer and it’s not silver screen Luke but instead, a LEGO mock-up. This past spring, “LEGO STAR WARS: The Skywalker Saga” leaped into hyperspace, topping video game charts.
Once known simply for plastic bricks, LEGO has sold over 200 million video games and pulled in more than $1 billion at the movie box office. Meanwhile, LEGOLAND theme parks bring in more than 15 million visitors annually.
Yet in 2003, LEGO was about $850 million in debt and racked up $240 million in losses in 2004 alone. At the time, LEGO pulled in less than a billion dollars per year and simple plastic bricks no longer seemed good enough. Now? Lego’s revenues have topped $7.5 billion.
How did LEGO turn things around? First, LEGO brought in Vig Knudstorp as CEO, who sold LEGOLAND to the Merlin Group for about $260 million. Increased mold and production costs had smothered LEGO’s finances, so Knudstorp streamlined a bloated portfolio of LEGO parts to 6,000, leading to substantial cost savings.
Knudstorp also shut down LEGO’s computer game division. However, the company partnered with external developer TT Games to develop new games. Now, LEGO video games sell millions of copies. Julia Goldin, LEGO’s CMO, notes that video games move bricks, with some kids video gaming before they even get into physical LEGO sets.
Building partnerships with major franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter, also drove sales with some collector’s sets targeted for adults, retailing for hundreds of dollars. And in 2019, the Kristiansens, LEGO’s founding family and controlling owners, bought Merlin Group, bringing LEGOLAND back into the fold.
Thus, brick by brick, LEGO has emerged as a leading amusement park operator, film franchise, toy company, and video game franchise.
How Disney built Marvel into a multibillion-dollar culture
Summer is here and blockbusters are back on the silver screen. Many of the biggest movies so far have been Marvel flicks. You can bet that they’ll continue to rack in many millions in the weeks ahead. Marvel is so now ingrained in pop culture that it’s easy to forget that the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe movie and show collection has only been around for about 15 years. And in many ways, the MCU is unprecedented.
In total, MCU films have brought in more than $25 billion in box office receipts, making the franchise now the most successful in history, blazing past the second-ranked Star Wars and its $10 billion.
Many credit Kevin Feige, the current president of Marvel Studios, for building the franchise into the behemoth it is today.
Perhaps the most important superpower Feige and Marvel have brought to battle is tying together the numerous characters, storylines, worlds, and plots into a vastly interconnected web of assets.
Traditionally, movie studios limited overarching plots to only a few key characters and a couple of films. MCU movies, however, function as a TV miniseries of mega proportions, tying together nearly 30 movies (plus shows) over about 15 years. The movies alone run more than 50 hours combined.
Extensive run times and high-quality movies may help strengthen bonds between characters and audiences. Experts note that the MCU’s core characters, like Thor and Captain American, are beloved by viewers. Further, the MCU is careful to select top-notch directors and to continually challenge and reformulate their formulae. Rom-coms, space operas, period dramas, heist flicks — diverse genres reign supreme.
The result? Marvel can reel people with diverse tastes in, and if hooked, there’s a good chance they’ll check out other films and shows as well.