Elon Musk is the creative engineer who gave the world PayPal and made electric cars popular. You may know some things about him. Perhaps you know that he was born in South Africa and founded the companies Tesla and SpaceX. Also that, according to Forbes, he is one of the richest people on the planet. You may even know that sometimes his tweets get him in trouble. But unless you are his hardcore fan, you probably will not know these 17 facts about Elon Musk.
1. Elon Musk sold his first invention when he was 12
Elon has always liked computers, business, and money.
As a child, he taught himself to code and created a game called Blastar. When he was 12 years old, he sold it to PC and Office Technology Magazine for $500.
Two years later, he came up with another business venture. Along with his younger brother and cousins, Elon sold overpriced Easter chocolates to his neighbors. Their sales pitch? That the buyers were helping young capitalists.
Another of his teenage ventures was to open an arcade next to his school. Once again, he recruited his brother and cousins. The kids did all the paperwork, but they needed an adult to sign off the lease. So, eventually, they told their parents about it. However, the adults were not happy to have been kept in the dark and shut down the idea.
2. Elon Musk had a lonely childhood
Elon grew up in a big, comfortable house in Pretoria, South Africa. But, according to him, the house was always empty. Even the housekeeper was too busy doing her chores to look after him.
So young Elon spent his days reading or doing unsupervised experiments in the backyard, like making explosives. Elon considers it a miracle that he still has all his fingers.
His younger brother, Kimbal, has also said they spent a lot of time alone. And that even when their parents were present, they did not really “connect” with the kids.
But Elon was not only lonely. He has taken it a step further and stated his childhood was “terrible.”
3. Elon Musk was seriously bullied in high school
Elon first attended a private school, where the kids bullied him and sometimes threw rocks at him.
So his parents switched him to a public school, Bryanston High. But things only got worse. The small, shy, and bookish boy now became the target of a gang of bullies.
Of that time, Elon has said: “For a number of years, there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school, who tried to beat the sh** out of me. And then I’d come home, and it would just be awful there as well.”
One day, the aggressors pushed him down a set of stairs, and then beat him up when he landed. Elon was in hospital for several days. He was so badly beaten that when his father saw him, he did not recognize him.
Unable to get the police to do something about the vicious attack, Errol Musk transferred his son again, this time to Pretoria Boys High School.
Things got a bit better. At Pretoria, the bullying was less severe. Plus Elon, after leaving the hospital, put down his books and started taking karate lessons.
By the time he was 16, he was fighting back. He was still losing the fights, but eventually, the bullies realized he was not easy prey and stopped bothering him.
It probably did not hurt that his growth spurt had finally kicked in too. The once small boy is now 1,87 m (6’2″) and weighs more than 200 lbs (91 kg).
4. Elon Musk’s mom is a Covergirl model
Maye started modeling when she was 15. And when she was 20, she entered the Miss South Africa beauty competition and made it to the finals.
Nowadays, Maye poses for the likes of Revlon, Clinique, and CoverGirl.
5. Elon’s family always saw him as a leader
Elon is the oldest of three kids. His brother Kimbal is one year younger, and his sister Tosca is three years younger than Elon.
Fulfilling the big brother stereotype, Elon is the one who called the shots in the family. His siblings and younger cousins followed his lead. He chose the games and led their early business ventures, like the idea of the arcade.
His mom, too, fell under the spell. Elon is the one that decided the family should move to North America. At 17, he left towards the New World. His mom, siblings, and cousins followed Elon shortly afterwards.
6. Elon Musk is very close to his siblings and mom
Since the Musk siblings grew up without much adult supervision, they bonded.
Brother Kimbal was part of Elon’s early business ventures. Together they sold the Easter eggs and tried to open the arcade. Later on, they launched their first company, Zip2, and co-founded X.Com, which became PayPal.
Kimbal is on the board of two of Elon’s companies, Tesla and SpaceX. And Elon was the best man at Kimbal’s 2018 wedding.
Tosca and Elon are close too. Her brothers lived in San Francisco when they were in their twenties. They were working on a start-up called Zip2. And Tosca flew in from Canada and stayed with them to help them out.
To this day, if she needs advice or support, she rings big brother Elon.
For example, when Tosca decided to become a single mom, the first person she told was Elon. According to her, he was incredibly supportive and told her she would be a great mother. She even got emotional during an interview remembering how kind he had been at the time.
Tosca has said: “I have the most amazing brothers.”
The siblings are close to their mother too. They all live in California and get together for family dinners.
7. Elon left South Africa so he would not have to serve in the army
Elon partly left South Africa at 17 so he would not have to join the army, which was compulsory for white boys.
Back then, South Africa was still under the apartheid system, which segregated people. Whites had access to one set of schools, shops, beaches, neighborhoods, etc., while non-whites had access to another set (which was not as good).
And it was the army’s job to enforce segregation.
Elon did not want to be a part of that. He has said: “I do not have an issue with serving in the military per se, but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just did not seem like a really good way to spend my time.”
Elon’s siblings were also against apartheid. Teenage Kimbal and his mother even participated in rallies against the apartheid government.
8. Elon Musk dropped out of Stanford before attending any classes
Once in North America, Elon graduated with a double major in Business and Physics. Then he was accepted to Stanford, where he meant to get his Ph.D. in Energy Physics.
But this was in the ’90s, and the World Wide Web had just been invented. Elon, always the visionary, realized that it was going to be big, and he wanted in.
So even before he got the chance to enroll in any classes, the 24-year-old asked Stanford if they would hold his place so he could start an internet business. He said it would probably fail and that he would be back in six months. The counselor agreed to hold his place but said it was unlikely he was ever going to see Musk again.
He was right. Musk immediately founded a successful internet company called Zip2. Then he founded PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla.
9. Elon Musk had about $110,000 in college debt
Elon worked his way through college. He had a string of odd jobs. One of them involved manual work at a farm. But he was not making enough in any of them, so he changed strategy and looked for the highest paying job available.
The winner was a job in a boiler room. They needed a janitor to clean it, but it was a dangerous job. That is why they paid $18 an hour. Elon took the job.
Despite his efforts, Elon was $110,000 in debt after graduating.
10. Elon Musk has three citizenships
Elon was born in South Africa. His father is a proud South African. And his mother was raised in South Africa and is a national of the country.
But growing up, Elon liked computers and everything technological. So he dreamed of living where the computer experts gather and build tech companies: in Silicon Valley, California, U.S.
He was serious about migrating and figured it would be easier to get to the U.S. if he was a national of Canada. So Elon convinced his Canadian-born mother to reclaim her citizenship.
He did all her paperwork. And once Maye became a Canadian, Elon did the paperwork for himself.
Three weeks after receiving his citizenship, he was living in Canada. Soon, he enrolled in college.
He then went for the check-mate. He transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, in the U.S., and has been living in Uncle Sam’s country ever since.
In 2002, he finally got his sought-after American citizenship.
So the entrepreneur is now a national of three countries: South Africa, Canada, and the U.S.
11. Elon Musk has been married three times. Twice to the same woman
While his business ventures have, from a panoramic point of view, gone from strength to strength, Musk’s love life has been a little rocky. Can’t win them all, right?
Elon does not like to be alone -he has declared so himself- so he is a serial monogamist.
He met his first wife, Justine, while they were both attending college in Canada. They were happily married in 2000 when Elon was 29. The couple went on to have six children.
But Justine and Elon divorced in 2008.
Unfortunately for Elon, Justine is a writer. So after the marriage collapsed, she penned a hit piece for Marie Claire magazine, where she vented her marital woes.
Elon mostly opted for a dignified silence.
Justine’s vengeful article may or may not have been partly fueled by the fact that within six weeks of their marriage crumbling and Elon filing for divorce, he had met and gotten engaged to someone else.
An emotional roller coaster
A few days after his marriage broke down, Elon met British actress Talulah Riley at a bar in London. The new couple got engaged right away. And two years later (2010), they got married.
But the bliss was not long-lived. In January 2012, Elon announced they had been separated for months. He told Forbes magazine that he had fallen out of love. The couple divorced.
Then a twist. Talulah and Elon gave it another shot and remarried the following year (2013). But after two bumpy years, they divorced once more in 2015.
They remain friends. Talulah has even called him her best friend.
Elon said he never meant to have a short marriage and that next time he marries, he wants to be “super sure” that it will work.
Nowadays, Elon is dating Canadian musician Grimes. The couple had a baby boy in early 2020, his seventh child.
12. Elon’s Tesla is the most valuable car company in the world
Now to Elon’s strengths. In 2017 Tesla, who is owned and led by Musk, became the most valuable U.S. carmaker.
And in June 2020, Tesla became the most valuable carmaker in the world. It dethroned Toyota, the Japanese giant that had been comfortably sitting in the #1 spot for years.
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13. Musk is the chief engineer at both Tesla and SpaceX
Many think that Elon Musk is “only” the CEO and public face of Tesla and SpaceX. But, actually, his role is quite hands-on. Aside from his administrative duties, Elon acts as the Chief Engineer and Designer in both companies.
So Elon designs SpaceX shuttles to look pretty, but he is also the engineer that gets them to fly. He co-designed the spacesuits that the astronauts wore to space in June 2020. Elon engineered and designed Tesla’s cars -and won several design awards for the Roadster and the Model 3. And he is also behind the aesthetic and technical aspects of Tesla’s solar products, like its solar roofs.
Elon oversees the development of all the products.
After all, he is an engineer with a degree in Physics who voraciously reads technical books.
14. Elon Musk’s inventions are open source
Elon is not afraid of competition. Now that his financial situation is in check, he wants to speed up the world’s transition to renewable energy.
So when he comes up with a new invention that will help with that, he makes the patent open source.
For example, the system of his electric cars is open source. So anyone can use his designs to make similar or better cars without worrying about the copyright.
In 2012, Elon came up with a mass-transportation system called Hyperloop. It is green, 3 times faster than other high-speed trains, and even faster than airplanes.
He open-sourced it and invited others to develop it. Some companies have taken on the challenge, like Richard Branson’s Virgin.
If all goes as hoped for, the major European cities will be joined by this ultra-fast system.
15. Elon has a good sense of humour
Elon Musk’s sense of humour shows up during interviews and talks but also in the name of his products.
His company SpaceX, which produces space rockets, has landing pads named: “Just read the instructions,” and “Of course I still love you.” Which must be interesting messages to read when you are a pilot trying to land an expensive rocket.
Another of his companies, The Boring Company, has a name that spikes curiosity, as it makes the company sound uncool. But the name is a clever wordplay. The Boring Company is in the boring business: it excavates tunnels.
And Elon, who is building rockets that will travel to Mars, says he wants to die on Mars… “just not on impact.”
16. Iron Man was modeled after Elon. Talk about an ego boost
Seen the movie Iron Man? Well, the main character, Tony Stark, is modeled after Musk.
Robert Downey Jr. was to play Stark, a genial inventor. But the actor was finding his character elusive. Then he heard about Elon Musk, a creative billionaire who built futuristic companies and lived nearby. So Robert decided to talk to him.
He showed up at Elon’s company SpaceX. Musk graciously received him and gave him a tour of the factory while they talked.
Robert appreciated that Elon was a cool guy who he could become friends with, and not, as Robert puts it, a fidgety coder.
So he decided to mold Tony Stark after Musk. He used Elon’s “accessible eccentricities,” his focus, and drive.
Iron Man’s director, Jon Favreau, also met Elon. And he, too, agreed that he was the perfect model for the character because “Elon is a paragon of enthusiasm, good humour, and curiosity.”
17. Yet, Elon Musk is cash-poor
Well, cash-poor for a billionaire. The entrepreneur has almost everything invested in his companies Tesla and SpaceX.
During his first divorce, he had to borrow money from friends. Elon was hit with $4 million in legal fees from his wife’s lawyers, which he had to pay every month at a rate of about $170,000. That, plus the money for their kids and Justine’s house, left Elon with a cash flow problem.
But before we start feeling sorry for poor Elon, he is currently selling his houses in California. He is not for money problems, but because he wants to have a simpler lifestyle. That should earn him at least $70 million.
And in the unlikely case he chose to sell his shares of Tesla, he would have almost 190 billion dollars at his disposal. In cash.
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