Entrepreneurs mostly set out to make money, but whatever their intentions, some end up changing the world. They usher in the future by bringing us new goods, services and ideas, inevitably sweeping away some aspect of what has come before.

Some of these risk-takers are so successful that they become famous. How much do you know about these iconic figures? Test your knowledge by taking a chance on this quiz.

1. Madam C.J. Walker was one of America’s first female Black millionaires. In what business did she amass her wealth?

A. Bakeries

B. Restaurants

C. Mortuaries

D. Hair-care products

ANSWER: D. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove (1867-1919) on a cotton plantation, married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906. She was motivated to experiment with scalp treatments by her own hair loss. With experience gained working for pioneering Black entrepreneur Annie Turnbo, she launched the line of hair-care products that made her fortune. She also became known as a philanthropist and activist on behalf of the rights of Black Americans. In 2020 she was the subject of a

2. Which entrepreneur, at one point perhaps the richest American ever, made his fortune by founding and running Standard Oil?

A. John D. Rockefeller

B. Henry Clay Frick

C. J.P. Morgan

D. Leland Stanford


Which entrepreneur’s life story do you find most compelling? Join the conversation below.

ANSWER: A. Rockefeller (1839-1937), a brilliant and ruthless competitor, built his first refinery near Cleveland in 1863, and his Standard Oil venture eventually came to monopolize the U.S. petroleum market. That ended in 1911, when the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and should be broken up.

3. Which of these wasn’t one of the entrepreneurial giants of the American cosmetics business?

A. Elizabeth Arden

B. Helena Rubinstein

C. Estée Lauder

D. Sara Blakely

ANSWER: D. Blakely, born in 1971, is a self-made billionaire thanks to her creation of Spanx, a clothing line that started with body-shaping pantyhose. Arden (1884-1966), Rubinstein (1870-1965) and Lauder (circa 1908-2004), all overachievers from humble backgrounds, were probably America’s best-known 20th-century beauty entrepreneurs.

4. It is hard to imagine an entrepreneur having a greater impact than Henry Ford, who pioneered mass production and developed cars that millions of people could afford. His Ford Motor lives on to this day, but his earlier Henry Ford Co. evolved into something else. What?

A. Cadillac Motor Car

B. Hudson Motor Car

C. Studebaker-Packard

D. Chrysler

ANSWER: A. Ford (1863-1947) was only involved briefly with

Henry FordCo.
, which grew out of his earlier Detroit Automobile Co. But his third try at a startup—
Ford Motor
—would be the charm, producing the legendry Model T. During its 19-year run it accounted for half of global car production. 

Henry Ford changed the world with his Model T automobile.

Photo: Getty Images

5. Elon Musk is probably America’s highest-profile entrepreneur. What business is he in?

A. Brain implants

B. Satellite-based internet service

C. Electric cars

D. All of the above

ANSWER: D. Actually, it is all of the above and then some. Musk, born in 1971, founded, co-founded or played a key early role in Zip2,
SpaceX, Neuralink, the Boring Co. and x.AI. He also controls
and Twitter.

6. Cornelius Vanderbilt achieved fabulous wealth, as reflected in the estates that survive him. What was his nickname?

A. The Colonel

B. The Professor

C. The Commodore

D. The Tennessean

ANSWER: C. Vanderbilt (1794-1877) was known as “the Commodore” because of his important role in the early steamship business. But he is perhaps even better known for his entrepreneurial career in railroads, during which he consolidated lines in New York state and the Midwest into an efficient network. He also built New York’s famous Grand Central Station, which has Vanderbilt Avenue running along one side.

7. Before Samuel Moore Walton launched Walmart and Sam’s Club, he operated variety stores under another name. What was it?

A. Kresge

B. Woolworth’s

C. Ben Franklin

D. Sam Adams

ANSWER: C. Sam Walton (1918-1992), a former J.C. Penney trainee, became a Ben Franklin franchisee and did well with those so-called five-and-dime outlets in small-town Arkansas. In 1962 he opened his first
—it was located in Rogers, Ark.—and went on to build the company into America’s biggest retailer.

Sam Walton built Walmart into a retail colossus.

Photo: Danny Johnston/Associated Press

8. Immigrants rank prominently among renowned American entrepreneurs. Which of the following wasn’t born overseas? 

A. Andrew Carnegie


Mitch Kapor

C. Levi Strauss

D. Arianna Huffington

ANSWER: B. Kapor, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1950, was the entrepreneur behind Lotus 1-2-3, an early spreadsheet and “killer app” that helped drive the adoption of personal computers in business. Born in Scotland, Carnegie was America’s greatest steel magnate. Straus, who came from Bavaria, later part of Germany, founded the bluejeans company. Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, was born in Greece. Other immigrant entrepreneurs include Musk (South Africa) and Google co-founder

Sergey Brin

9. Which successful American entrepreneur was born to teenage parents in Albuquerque, N.M.?

A. Larry Page

Jeff Bezos

C. Oprah Winfrey

D. Martha Stewart

ANSWER: B. Bezos was born in 1964. After graduating from Princeton and working in investment banking, he moved to Seattle and started
—selling books at first, then everything else, thereby writing a remarkable entrepreneurial success story.

10. Which of these Chinese companies was founded by Jack Ma?


B. Tencent

C. Baidu

D. Huawei

ANSWER: A. Born Ma Yun in 1964, former English teacher Ma founded Alibaba in 1999 and presided over its growth into a huge e-commerce, cloud-computing and logistics concern. He also founded Ant Group, whose Alipay unit has become China’s primary online-payment system.

Daniel Akst is a writer in New York’s Hudson Valley. Email him at reports@wsj.com.