People Who Became Rich With Junk

Here are some amazing people who became rich with $1!

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They say that money is what makes the world go round, but with rising rent prices, food prices, gas prices, and everything prices, getting rich today is easier said than done. But it’s not impossible to go from rags to riches!

From stories of crazy collectors, crafty entrepreneurs, and dumpster divers, some of whom had as little as $1 or less, let's take a look at a few millionaires who started from the very bottom!

From Paperclip to House

While growing up in Belcarra, Canada, Kyle Macdonald and his friends used to play ‘bigger and better’; a game that involved taking a worthless item and trading it for something more expensive.

The game usually involves swapping things like rubber bands for toys, but in 2005, a 27-year-old Kyle decided to take it to the next level, attempting to trade a single red paperclip for an entire house.

Kyle reached into his $1 box of paperclips, grabbed one, and uploaded a photo of it onto Craigslist, asking if anybody wanted to trade. Surprisingly, 2 women from Vancouver immediately responded, willing to trade it for a pen that looked like a fish. The pen was pretty awesome, but Kyle decided to trade again, posting a picture of the pen on his blog.

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From this point on, Kyle embarked on a long journey, making 13 further trades that sent him all over North America. He traded the pen up to a doorknob, then a camping stove, then a generator, followed by an ‘instant party’; or a keg and a neon Budweiser sign. At this point, Kyle’s story was covered by the national media, giving his trades more and more publicity.

Kyle traded up to a snowmobile, a two-person holiday, a box truck, a music recording contract, a year’s rent in Phoenix, Arizona, an afternoon with Alice Cooper, and finally, a KISS snow globe.

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That last trade may seem like a huge downgrade, but Kyle had a plan, one involving director and actor Corbin Bernsen. This guy owns one of the world’s largest snow globe collections, boasting over 9,000 globes. And to Corbin, the $20 KISS snow globe was priceless, and the actor offered to trade it for a role in an upcoming movie called ‘Donna on Demand.’

So, Kyle took the acting contract, expecting to receive further trade offers from aspiring actors. However, he received something totally unexpected; a trade from the entire town of Kipling, Saskatchewan, offering him a key to the city and a house on the town’s Main Street.

Kyle finally got his house, and a few weeks later, he moved in, with the town hosting a giant party in his honor!

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Kipling’s government hosted auditions to determine which Kipling resident got the movie role, and if you watch Donna on Demand, you can see Kipling local Nolan Hubbard making his silver-screen debut. Today, Kipling’s giant paperclip is the town’s largest tourism attraction, and Kyle got himself a new home! Sounds like a fair trade!

Loren Krytzer And The Navajo Blanket

Back in 2007, Loren Krytzer sadly had to have his leg amputated after a near-fatal car crash which wasn’t his fault. The injury forced him to quit his job and, now reliant on disability checks, move into a friend’s shack in Leona Valley, California.

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He was paying $700 in rent a month, leaving him with little under $200 to live on. That comes down to just $50 a week, and while it’s something, it definitely doesn’t get you far in California! So, for the most part, Loren was stuck at home.

When you’re stuck at home, daytime television can be a lifesaver, and one day in 2017, Loren found himself watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow. As the appraisers went through an endless list of old coins and furniture, they moved on to a first-phase Navajo blanket; a rare piece of Native American Art that was appraised at an amazing $500,000.

Loren leaned forward and squinted. This pattern looked very familiar. He reached to his side and grabbed the dusty blanket that he’d inherited from his great-grandmother. The heirloom was old and worn, but as Loren held it up to the TV, he suddenly realized it was an identical match.

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When Loren took the news to his family, they laughed at him, refusing to believe that the blanket was worth anything. However, undeterred, Loren took the blanket to a specialist.

The experts were ecstatic, informing Loren that the blanket was an original passed down by Loren’s great-great-grandfather who’d bought it at a trading post in the 1800s. They explained that the blanket was incredibly valuable, convincing Loren to place the heirloom up for auction.

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Loren obliged, and when the dusty blanket went up for sale, the bids flooded in. The hammer came down on a final offer of an astronomical $1.5 million, so, after fees, Loren walked away $1.3 million richer, allowing him to buy a house, a new car, and a motorcycle.

Chinese Ding Bowl

Yard sales are usually full of vandalized furniture, dusty DVDs, and chewed-up G.I. Joes. However, back in 2007, an anonymous New Yorker came across a pretty-but-plain-looking, 5-inch diameter bowl at a yard sale, going for a measly $3.

After buying the bowl, they displayed it on their mantlepiece for 6 years, until a friend of the owner encouraged them to have it checked out by a pottery professional. It turns out, the owner had unwittingly been displaying a ‘ding bowl,’ pottery from the Northern Song Dynasty in China.

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The bowl was made between the years 960 to 1127AD, and the experts immediately valued it at $300,000! This would’ve been a pretty good return on investment, but when the bowl was taken to auction at Sotheby’s, the item sold for far more.

Over the last decade, the economy has boomed in China, and several members of China’s newly wealthy middle class have started collecting Chinese artifacts, driving up prices as they try to recover their country’s lost and stolen treasures. This meant that the $300,000 bowl sold for a staggering $2.2 million! So, this $3 impulse buy turned the owner into a millionaire.

Bitcoin Billionaires

The value of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has skyrocketed over the last decade, with the price of a single one of these crypto tokens rising from 14 cents in 2010, to $68,000 in November 2021. That's a 48.5 million% increase.

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But back around the time when Bitcoins were worth around $5 a piece, a netizen known as KnightMB acquired 371,000 coins from his business partner for around $5,000. That seems suspiciously low, and it was, because KnightMB’s business partner assumed the coins were worthless and had no value whatsoever, so was thrilled with the $5000 offer!

Somehow, they didn’t have any idea that those coins at the time were actually worth $2 million, and KnightMB’s investment would have grown by an insane 500 million% to be worth over $25 billion at Bitcoin’s peak!

However, KnightMB’s profit didn’t last that long. Instead, he used the value of the coins to get out of debt and then donated the rest to various causes, leaving him with nothing by 2012.

But he’s not the only investor who failed to keep hold of their coins until that pivotal peak! In 2010 a man called Laszlo Hanyecz ordered 2 pizzas for 10,000 bitcoins. At Bitcoin’s peak, the crypto used to buy those pizzas was worth over $680 million.

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Back when Bitcoin was starting out, lots of competitions actually gave the cryptocurrency away as a consolation prize. In 2011, the e-sports StarCraft Brood War clan announced that their iCCup Star League tournament would give 5th-8th Place holders 25 BitCoins as a prize.

At the time, those 25 bitcoins were worth a little over $40. Just 10 years later, this 8th place prize was worth a whopping $1.7 Million, 3400 times more than first place’s 500 bucks. In March 2010, an amateur Crypto Poker Tournament was held with a prize pool of 1,500 Bitcoins, splitting the crypto between 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place.

This amateur prize pool ended up being worth $102,000,000. In comparison, the most expensive professional poker event of all time had a prize pool of just $82 million, meaning that these amateur players were unwittingly playing in the highest-stakes poker game of all time.

Collectibles

Toys aren’t always child’s play, and there are cases of people finding a small fortune inside their old toy boxes! Back in 1983, an anonymous collector from England bought some 93 Star Wars figurines from a grocery store bargain pile, before taking them home and storing them. The figures cost less than a dollar each.

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However, when the collector eventually sold them in 2022, the franchise had already gained worldwide popularity, and these original nostalgic pieces fetched over $60,000 at auction! 60 grand for some action figures may seem like a lot to some people, but the money in collecting gets even crazier!

In 2010, an anonymous couple were kicked out of their home, after the bank foreclosed on their property due to unpaid debts. The couple was in dire need of a superhero, and as they started to pack up their belongings, they actually found one.

They were rifling through the attic when they came across a box of old comic books. Most were torn and stained, but a few had survived in decent condition, including a comic called Action Comics No.1.

After doing some research online, the couple discovered that the comic marks the first appearance of Superman, and it’s widely considered to be the holy grail of comic books as it brought Superheroes into the mainstream!

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Back in 1938, the comic cost 10 cents but less than 100 copies of the book still exist, and these rare copies have sold for up to $3.2 million, making it the most expensive comic book of all time!

The couple were in shock; however, their version of the comic wasn’t quite as valuable as it initially seemed. The experts explained that their comic was slightly damaged, giving it a condition rating of 5 out of 10. In the comic-collecting world, the condition can have a drastic effect on a comic’s value.

However, this was still Action Comics Number 1, and despite the tears and stains, the comic sold for a mega $436,000 at auction. This was more than enough money to pay off the family’s debts! So, Superman had done what he does best: flown in and saved the day.

Million Dollar Homepage

For most people higher education doesn’t come cheap. Many of those who want to further their education are forced to take out a student loan to pay for college. But back in 2006, Alex Tew from England funded his education with something called the ‘Million Dollar Homepage.’

It was a website that started as a blank grid of 1 million pixels, an unbelievably simple webpage that Alex turned into a goldmine. The entrepreneur sold advertising space on the grid for $1 per pixel, selling them in 10 x 10 blocks.

Purchasers of these pixel blocks could display any image they wanted, and their pixels acted as a clickable link, leading customers to their website.

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The site went live on the 26th of August 2005, and by New Year’s Eve, it had gone viral, with companies and individuals buying 999,000 of the pixels on offer. There was one blank space left on the homepage, and Tew auctioned off the remaining pixels, receiving a further $38,000 from ‘MillionDollarWeightLoss dot com’.

Incredibly, Tew had made over $1 million in five months, and he used the cash to go to college and fund other ventures. This genius later moved to San Francisco and co-founded a little meditation app you might have heard of called ‘Calm’!

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At the time, the homepage was a modern, revolutionary way to advertise products. But today, visiting the million-dollar homepage is like traveling back in time to 2005!

Dumpster Diver

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but Matt Malone from Austin takes that phrase very literally. Matt is a professional ‘dumpster diver,’ spending his nights inside dumpsters, searching for overlooked and tossed-out gems.

Matt predominantly finds rotten food, however, his most valuable recoveries include vacuum cleaners, power tools, and electronics, all in perfect working condition. He also claims to have found original artwork painted by Muhammad Ali, and a rolodex containing Donald Trump’s cellphone number!

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He cleans and restores these items, before selling them on Amazon and Craigslist for a hefty profit. Matt might deal with junk, but his earnings definitely aren’t trash, with his hobby making him over $100,000 a year!

That’s a ton of cash, and Matt only dumpster dives part-time, working as a Security Consultant during the day. Matt reckons he could easily make $250,000 a year if he gave the hobby his full attention, however, he’d have to spend almost all his time rifling through the trash. That would stink.

He Turn a £2 Horse Racing Bet Into £1.5 Million

For those who don’t know, in the world of gambling an accumulator is a type of sports bet that involves multiple bets combined into one. For example, you can bet on the results of 4 football games at once, and to win, all of your bets have to be correct.

If just one of your bets is wrong though, you lose the entire thing. They’re the definition of high-risk, high-reward, and most of the biggest sports betting wins have come from accumulators.

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So, when risk-taker Steven Whiteley, a heating engineer from England, received free tickets to the horse races in a newspaper promotion, he decided to really push his luck. When he arrived, Steven created a £2 accumulator, about $2.50, betting on a random horse for each of the day’s 6 races.

Against all odds, the first five horses easily won their races, meaning that Steven’s bet came down to the final contest of the day. Unfortunately, Steven had accidentally bet on the worst performing horse at the entire event, a slow horse called Lupita that had lost all its previous competitions. As the race got underway, Lupita predictably started to fall behind until a miracle occurred.

Halfway through the race, the three best horses all fell at the same jump. This made room for Lupita to take the lead and storm over the finish line, making Steven £1.4 million richer, around $1.8 million at the time. Both Steven and Lupita had won their first horse races, and while I’m sure Lupita will go on to win many more, I hope Steven quit while he was ahead!

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Elmer Sherwin: 2 Time Winner Of The Megabucks Jackpot

Hollywood would have you believe that Vegas Casinos are full of James Bond-types, sipping shaken Martinis while smoldering at a poker table. In reality, the majority of Casinos look like all bright lights and slot machines.

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Slot machine odds are some of the worst, ranging from a one-in-5,000 to one-in-about-34-million chance of winning the top prize when using the maximum coin play. That said, it’s no surprise they account for up to 80% of a Vegas Casino’s annual revenue.

But while they say that the house always wins, sometimes lady luck falls on the gambler’s side, and no slot machine player has ever been luckier than Elmer Sherwin. In 1989, Sherwin and his ex-wife visited the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Vegas.

Sherwin borrowed 20 bucks from his ex, and after playing on the $3 slots for 90 minutes, he hit the jackpot, winning $4.6 million with a single yank. This million-dollar jackpot was a once-in-a-lifetime win, only for Sherwin, it didn’t only come once in a lifetime.

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In 2005, he headed to the slots in Cannery Casino, and after playing for a few hours, he won again, this time, it was a whopping $21 Million jackpot. The odds of winning the jackpot once are around 1 in 50 million, and the chances of winning it twice hold the same odds of getting struck by lightning 100 times in the same year!

Instead of singed eyebrows, Sherwin’s luck left him with a small fortune, and before passing away in 2007, he split most of the winnings between charity, his kids, and of course, slot machines all over Las Vegas.

Lottery Winners

Let’s move from slot machines to the lottery. At $2 a ticket, entering the USA’s Mega Millions Lottery seems pretty affordable. However, the odds of winning are actually around 1 in 302 million, so you’re probably better off saving your cash.

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Sometimes, a lucky person does walk away with the jackpot though, and in 2018, a woman from South Carolina became the biggest lottery winner of all time, winning $1.5 Billion. The anonymous South Carolinian might seem like the luckiest person in the world, but interestingly, lots of lottery winners say that their win was the worst thing that ever happened to them.

One of these unlucky millionaires is Michael Carrol from Norfolk, England. In October 2002, Michael was a garbage man, making ends meet while working 9 to 5. A month later, he won $11.7 Million in the lottery, becoming an overnight millionaire.

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This win allowed Carroll to buy jewelry, cars, and property, however, it also led to alcoholism, court cases, prison time, and eventual bankruptcy. Within 5 years of his win, Carroll was back to working in manual labor, though he partially blamed his misfortune on money-hungry friends and family, taking his cash without supporting him.

When the billionaire from South Carolina won, they chose to remain anonymous, and judging from Michael Carroll’s story, that seems like a pretty good call!

Ron Sturgeon, The Junkyard Entrepreneur

When Ron Sturgeon was 17, his father died, leaving the teenager with nothing but $2,000 and a beaten-up VW Beetle. Ron didn’t have anywhere to live, so he spent the 2 grand on a trailer in Fort Worth, Texas, and got a job repairing other people’s Volkswagens.

Ron would fix VWs with parts from abandoned cars at his local junkyard. As he earned money for repair jobs, he’d purchase junk cars, strip them of their parts and re-use them in his customer's vehicles.

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Before long, Ron had accumulated around 35 cars, and he soon realized that instead of using the parts to fix other people’s VW’s, he could just sell them. If he bought a good junkyard car for $100, he could sell the parts for at least 150, earning a profit every time. Every week, Ron would go to a junkyard and examine their cars, aiming to buy them and flip their parts.

Ron’s business plan was pretty foolproof, and within a few years, he’d bought his own salvage yard and warehouse. The beater businessman was able to move out of the trailer park, and the company was so successful, that Ford bought it for $15 Million in 1999.

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This could’ve been the end of Ron’s story, however, Ford started to run the business into the ground, and after a couple of years, they sold it back to Ron at a hugely discounted price. After reclaiming control of the company, Ron was able to use his expertise to turn it back into a profitable business, before selling it again for tens of millions of dollars.

Today, Ron is out of the junk game, and the Texan has managed to swap his trailer for several mansions, and junk cars for private jets. That’s what you call an upgrade!

Trash to Cash

Let’s keep it trashy and turn our attention to another company that’s made millions with pure junk. College Hunk’s Hauling Junk sounds a little dirty, and it is, a multi-million-dollar company dealing with private waste removal.

Today, Hunks is a successful company, but the venture had very humble beginnings. In the summer of 2003, Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman wanted to make some extra money for college, so the duo decided to take Omar’s mom’s van, and drive it door to door, offering to collect people’s trash.

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They earned over $9,000 that summer and the service was so successful that they continued to receive calls after they headed back to college. With graduation looming, the duo was expected to start applying for office jobs and begin adult life.

However, Omar still had faith in their business idea, so he decided to write up a business plan and enter the highly competitive Leigh Rothschild Entrepreneurship Competition. Against all odds, Omar’s plan won, earning the top prize of $10,000.

With this money, the duo decided to focus on the business, buying a truck and creating the Hunks brand. The company started by posting flyers and hiring college kids from the University of Maryland, paying them to haul trash.

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A year in, they had to buy four more trucks, and after 2 years of rapid growth, they decided to franchise the business, allowing other people to open their own Hunks stores across the country. Today, the business has over 50 franchises, 200 trucks, and they make $25 million in annual revenue, proving that for Nick and Omar, our trash really is their treasure!

Maasai Tire Sandals

You can’t reinvent the wheel; however, you can use wheels to invent something else, it turns out. Globally, 1.8 billion tires are discarded every year; an act that’s placing a terrible strain on the environment.

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As climate change gets worse, lots of people are trying to find ways to recycle this discarded rubber, and one of the most interesting ways where this is being done is in Kenya.

The Maasai are a group of people that live in East Africa, with distinctive customs, language and dress. The Maasai technique for making sandals has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, however recently, they’ve started switching up the materials they use, making the sandals out of discarded tires.

These cobblers use the smooth side of the tire to make the top of the shoe, before using the grippy tread to build the sole. The shoes won’t increase your horsepower, but they might give you more miles to the gallon.

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Tire rubber is incredibly durable and designed to carry heavy vehicles over asphalt. As a result, the shoes have been dubbed ‘ten-thousand milers,’ and the durable design has become incredibly popular.

Shoemakers like Munyao from Nairobi can reportedly make up to 7-8 pairs of shoes per tire and sell them for up to $5 per pair. Munyao collects the discarded tires himself, so he makes a decent living without spending any money on materials. He’s not reinventing the wheel, but he is saving the planet!

The Pursuit of Happyness

Today, Chris Gardner is a millionaire stockbroker, bestselling author, and motivational speaker. He’s the definition of success but it wasn’t always that way. Back in the 80s, Chris was a single father, making ends meet as a medical equipment salesman.

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One day, while walking to work, Chris happened upon a man in a suit, climbing out of a red Ferrari. Intrigued, he approached the man and asked what he did for a living. The man explained that he was a stockbroker, and after a long conversation, Chris managed to persuade him to get him an interview for an internship at a stock brokerage firm.

Incredibly, Chris impressed the firm and got the job, however, the internship was unpaid, forcing him and his son to become completely homeless. Gardner used what little savings he had to put his son in daycare while he worked, but at night, they were forced to eat in soup kitchens and sleep in a locked public restroom.

Despite this, Gardner suited up every morning and headed to work, wowing the company by arriving early and staying late. After a year of living rough, Gardner was hired as a full-time employee, finally able to use his salary to buy a house for himself and his son.

After working for a few years, he started his own brokerage firm and wrote an autobiography, a book that was adapted into the Oscar-winning film ‘The Pursuit of Happyness.’ Today, Gardner has a net worth of about $70 million, and the businessman even bought a Ferrari of his own.

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This story has inspired millions around the world, including Nick Mocuta, another homeless man turned millionaire! When Nick moved from Romania to LA at 21, he had no money, was forced to sleep on a bench, and survived on a single dollar-menu burger every day.

After a while, Nick managed to get a job as a valet, and he started saving immediately, pinching his pennies until he could afford a real estate broker's license. Once in real estate, Nick started saving serious money, and in 2013 he decided to use his savings to experiment with e-commerce: buying cheap electronics online and re-selling them on eBay.

Nick’s e-commerce business was soon earning $48,000 a year, and today, Nick owns multiple online stores with Amazon and Walmart! So instead of benches and burgers, now he’s dining on champagne dinners! He might not have a Ferrari like Gardner in his car collection, but he definitely had the drive to be a millionaire.

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I hope you were amazed by these stories of people who went from rags to riches! Thanks for reading!

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