Unless you are living off-the-grid and completely isolated from civilization, 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.

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.

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. 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)

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. 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. Image Source: BusinessWeekSecondLife

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 Lifein 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.

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.” (12)

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.



Image credit: ThepetrockthrowbackOzeFroze/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)

6. After being rejected by every publisher she went to, a penniless and broke woman named Amanda Hocking decided to publish the novels she had been writing on Kindle. Within six months, she sold 150,000 copies earning $20,000 and 1.5 million copies in 20 months earning $2.5 million.

Amanda Hocking. Image Source: Amanda Hocking/FacebookAmanda Hocking/Amazon

Hocking was a group home worker in Rochester, Minnesota who wrote 17 fantasy young-adult novels during her free time for nine years, all of which were rejected by both book agents and publishers. She is also a huge Muppets fan. In April 2010, she heard of an exhibition about Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets which was going to be held in Chicago in October. She desperately wanted to go. The problem was she couldn’t even afford the $300 needed to get to Chicago, let alone stay at a hotel for the night.

So, Hocking decided to publish her books herself on Amazon hoping at least her friends and family would buy them and she could raise the $300. But by October, things were way better than her expectations as she had already made $20,000, and she went to the exhibition. In early 2011, her books sold an average of 9,000 copies per day, and by March, she sold over a million copies, something completely new among self-publishing writers. She is now a multi-millionaire and one of the top, self-published authors on Kindle. (12)

7. During the time of the Great Depression, a banker convinced a small town of struggling families in Florida to buy Coca-Cola shares. The town became the single richest town per capita in the US and now has at least 67 millionaires.

Quincy, Florida. Image Source: Ebyabe/Wikimedia

In the 20s and 30s, the agriculture-based town of Quincy was struggling to stay afloat. But Pat Munroe noticed that the townspeople were buying bottles of Coca-Cola with what was left of their money. At the time the company’s shares were quite cheap at $19 each. So, he invested in multiple shares, and being a trusted banker, many took his advice and invested too even though the market was down.

Munroe’s instincts paid off and the shares pulled the town through the worst of the Great Depression. It is also reported that the dividends helped the people during further recessions and when crops failed as well. Many of them amassed huge fortunes giving them the name “Coca-Cola millionaires” and passed their wealth down to their grandchildren. (source)

8. In 2008, a North Dakota couple of modest means lived on their ranch for seven decades before finding crude oil right beneath their land. They were skeptical at first, but the oilmen soon found a large deposit of oil making the couple millionaires within a year.

Image credit: AP via nbcnews.com

Oscar and Loreen Stohler, 83 and 83 years old respectively at the time, were living in a sod house on their cattle ranch when the oilmen came to them saying they wanted to drill there. Though Oscar doubted there would be any oil, their home is near the Bakken shale formation, a rock unit of about 200,000 square miles (520,000 square kilometers) that formed over 300 million years ago with 3.65 billion barrels of recoverable oil according to the 2008 estimates by US Geological Survey.

After the success with the first well, drilling of a second and third was started aimed in the direction of the shale formation. The Stohlers soon became millionaires and bought their first, very own, home a few miles east of Beulah. Interestingly, apart from the thousand dollar ring Oscar bought his wife and a new sprinkler Loreen bought for her flowers, they haven’t bought much else and report being quite content with how they used to live. (source)

9. After finding out how sentimental the Irish-Americans are about the dirt from their country, a businessman named Alan Jenkins began selling bags of imported dirt to them. Now he and his partner own a multi-million dollar company.

Auld Sod’s Official Irish Dirt. Image Source: auldsod

While at a gathering in Florida of the Sons of Erin, a nonprofit promoting Irish heritage, Jenkins, an Irish immigrant in his 50s, realized that everyone there “would give their right arm for was a drop ‘of the auld sod’ to put on top of their casket.” Five years later in 2006, he met Irish-American agricultural scientist Pat Burke. Together, they managed to get permission from the US Customs Department and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service after patenting a method to sanitize the dirt to meet standards.

Jenkins and Burke founded Auld Sod Export Company and its product Official Irish Dirt. Within a year after their first shipment reached warehouse, their website crashed 15 minutes after launching as they began receiving calls from people interested in starting franchises. They also found out that people weren’t using the dirt just for burials, but that many florists were using it for planting flowers and shamrocks.

An 87-year-old lawyer bought $100,000 worth of Irish dirt to fill his grave in America, and another man from New England bought $148,000 worth of it to spread on land over which he built his home. Interestingly, even non-Irish Chinese began ordering the soil because of its association with luck. (source)

10. A man purchased an ugly painting for its gilded frame for $4 at a flea market to find one of the 26 known copies of the United States’ Declaration of Independence made by printer John Dunlap. He later sold it for $2.42 million.

Original Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. Image Source: journals.psu.edu

The unnamed collector bought the painting in Pennsylvania two summers before 1991. According to David N. Redden, the head of the book and manuscript department at Sotheby’s in Manhattan, upon finding the declaration, the collector decided to keep it as a curiosity as he believed it was probably printed in the early 19th century. A friend of his urged him to show it to an expert and so the collector brought it to Sotheby’s where it was examined.

The copy turned out to be one of the first printed copies by John Dunlap which are all worth a fortune. In addition to that, the collector’s copy was simply folded, was unbacked, and unframed making it one of the only seven unbacked copies. The auction for the Declaration was held on June 4, 1991, and it fetched him $2.42 million, the highest price fetched by a piece of historical Americana. It was bought by Donald J. Scheer of Atlanta, president of the fine arts investment firm Visual Equities Inc. (12)

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