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10 People Who Became Millionaires in Unexpected Ways

People Who Became Millionaires

Unless you are living off-the-grid and completely isolated from civilization like this Russian family, the utter necessity of money is a fact of life. Most of our younger days are dedicated to obtaining skills that will help us earn this essential item. While we spend at least five to six days a week working to make a living, there are people who either through lucky circumstances or by taking the risk at the right time hit jackpots. Here are some of those people who became millionaires in unexpected ways.

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1. In 2016, to prove to her husband that lottery tickets are a waste of money, a woman named Glenda Blackwell brought a $10 Carolina Millions scratch-off ticket. She ended up winning $1 million.

Carolina Millions
Image credit: NC Education Lottery/Twitter

After becoming exasperated at her husband Buddy when he asked her to buy him Powerball tickets, 57-year-old Blackwell from Leicester, North Carolina, decided to do something “ugly and buy a scratch-off to show him they didn’t hit.” She had to, however, eat her own words when she quite unexpectedly won. She decided to buy a house and some land and help out her daughter as well as put some money away for her two granddaughters’ college fees. (source)

2. There is a seven-year-old boy who has been reviewing toys on YouTube since he was a toddler. He earns $22 million per year from his videos and his product line at Walmart. He is ranked the highest-paid YouTuber in 2018.

After watching toy review channels on YouTube, Ryan asked his mother, “How come I’m not on YouTube when all the other kids are?” He began his vlogging career in March 2015, and his mother quit her job as a high school chemistry teacher to work full-time making review videos. In 2017, his parents signed up with a children’s media startup called Pocket.watch for marketing and merchandise. In 2018, Ryan’s channel also created an app called “Tag with Ryan” for iOS and Android devices. The same year, the channel released a new line of toys called “Ryan’s World” exclusively on Walmart and on Target and later on Amazon.com.

Ryan’s YouTube channel influenced the toy world just the way PewDiePie, a Swedish comedian and video game player-commentator, influenced video games. As of February 2019, one of Ryan’s videos titled “Huge Eggs Surprise Toys Challenge” exceeded 1.7 billion views. From being the eighth-highest-paid YouTuber in 2016-2017 with $11 million revenue, he became the highest paid with $22 million as of 2018. (source)

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3. In 1992, while searching for a lost hammer with a metal detector, a retiree found a huge cache of Roman treasure containing 15,234 coins. The British government paid him and the landowner £1.75 million for finding it. He also found his hammer later. 

Hoxne Hoard
Hoxne Hoard. Image Source: Mike Peel

When farmer Peter Whatling lost his hammer, he enlisted the help of his friend, Eric Lawes, who had received a metal detector as a retirement gift. On November 16, Lawes was searching in Whatling’s farmland in the village of Hoxne, Suffolk, England, when he found the hoard. It contained almost 60 pounds of gold and silver objects, 15,234 Roman coins, several silver spoons, and 200 gold objects. The archaeologists have determined that the objects were from 410 CE, the time when Britain was separating from the Roman Empire.

During this upheaval in which Saxons, Angles, Picts, Visigoths, and Hunnics invaded mainland Europe, the frightened wealthy of Romano-British citizens buried their most valuable belongings so that no one would find them. As many as 40 such hoards were found in Britain so far, and the Hoxne hoard is the largest find to date. Upon receiving the handsome reward from the British government, Lawes shared the money with Whatling. The hammer was also found later and was donated to the British Museum. (source)

4. There is a woman named Ailin Graef, aka Anshe Chung, who became an actual millionaire by selling virtual real estate in the online world Second Life. She’s also referred to as the “Rockefeller of Second Life.”

Anshe Chung and SecondLife
Anshe Chung and SecondLife. Image Source: BusinessWeek, SecondLife

Before Linden Lab’s Second Life, Graef amassed fortunes on other virtual worlds like Asheron’s Call and Shadowbane, though none of that was converted to real-life currency. She began creating and selling custom animations on Second Life in June 2004. She used the in-game currency (Linden Dollars or L$) she earned to buy and develop virtual land. She reinvested the money to buy more land and currently owns thousands of servers’ worth of virtual land, most of which is rented to users.

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Graef also founded her own real-world company known as Anshe Chung Studios, Ltd. which was legally incorporated in February 2006 in Hubei, China. She now employs more than 80 full-time programmers and artists. Her studio also expanded into creating virtual merchandise for various services such as the 3D chat website called IMVU whose userbase increased by 50% after her involvement with more than half the top 100 products being from her company. Graef is the first person to exceed one million in net worth from “profits entirely earned inside a virtual world.” (1, 2)

5. In 1975, a man named Gary Dahl became a millionaire by selling smooth rocks from Mexico’s Rosarito Beach as live pets to Americans for $4 each.

Gary Dahl with pet rock
Image credit: Thepetrockthrowback, OzeFroze/Photobucket

While living in Los Gatos, California, the advertising executive Dahl was sitting with his friends in a Bonny Doon bar listening to them complaining about their pets. He then joked that he had the perfect pet—a rock—which would not require bathing, walking, feeding, and grooming. In addition to that, it would not get sick or old, be disobedient, or die. He then drafted an “instruction manual” full of puns and gags for a pet rock.

Dahl bought the rocks for a penny each, and the straw cost next to nothing. His biggest expense was manufacturing the boxes. The “official training manual” was a 32-page booklet called The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock. It contained several commands that can be taught to the Pet Rock such as “sit” and “stay” which can be easily taught. The commands “roll over” and “attack” required a little bit of help from the owner. However, the commands “come,” “stand,” and “shake hands” were impossible to teach.

For six months that year, having a pet rock was a fad that lasted until Christmas season. Though by February 1976, the sales were low, Dahl had already sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks at $4 each which made him a millionaire. (source)

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