A Brief History of Smart Bargains and Big Payoffs
1899: For $450, Orator Woodward buys the rights to a jiggly dessert his neighbor invented. Three years later, he's sold $250,000 worth of Jell-O mix.
1911: The U.S. Supreme Court orders the dissolution of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil for violating antitrust law. But as the main shareholder in each of the 38 resulting companies, Rockefeller watches his net worth triple.
1913: A colt named Donerail—a 91-to-1 long shot—smashes the Kentucky Derby record. His fans win the largest payout in Derby history: $184.90 for a $2 wager.
1961: Ray Kroc, a former milk-shake- machine salesman, convinces the McDonald brothers to sell him their fledgling restaurant chain for $2.7 million. He makes a McFortune.
1963: After quitting her job at a direct sales firm, Mary Kay Ash invests $5,000 in her own line of beauty products. Five years later, she's driving a Cadillac painted pink to match the blush in her purse.
1969: The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joe Cocker: All live at Woodstock for less than $10 a day.
1975: W.W. Johnson pays $2 to get into Arkansas' Crater of Diamonds State Park and digs up a 16.37-kt souvenir worth an estimated $75,000.
1982: To rescue Elvis's dwindling estate, Priscilla Presley spends $560,000 to turn his Memphis home, Graceland, into a museum. She earns the money back in just 38 days. Today Graceland hosts more than 600,000 visitors every year.
1985: Michael Jackson buys the rights to the ATV music catalog—including some 250 tunes by the Beatles—for $47.5 million. He sells half the rights in 1995, but current estimates of the remaining stake range from $390 million to $1 billion.