Elon Musk is the creative engineer who gave the world PayPal, electric cars, and will introduce, in the near future, commercial flights to the Moon. You may know some things about him -that he was born in South Africa, that he founded Tesla and SpaceX, and that, according to Forbes, he is one of the richest people in 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 around his neighborhood. 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 recluted brother and cousins for the enterprise. 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 Elon, 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 is 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 the hospitalization, had put down the books and started taking karate lessons.
By the time he was 16 he was fighting back. He was still losing the fights, but when the bullies realized he was no longer an easy prey, they stop bothering him.
It probably also helped that by then the small boy had finally started to grow. Elon Musk is now 1,87m (6’2″) and weighs more than 200 lbs (91 kg).
4. Elon Musk’s mom is a Covergirl model
Elon’s parents divorced when he was eight.
Errol Musk, a businessman and engineer, had money, but his ex wife Maye did not. So for a while she worked five works to keep herself and her children: she modeled, taught classes at college, gave talks, was a researcher, and had a private practice as a nutritionist.
But those hard times are behind her. Maye -who started modeling when she was 15- nowadays 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 that 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 the North America. At 17 he left towards the New World. His mom, siblings, and cousins, fell in line and 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 all of Elon’s early business ventures. Together they sold the Easter eggs, tried to open the arcade, launched their first company Zip2 in their twenties, 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’s wedding.
Tosca and Elon are close too. When her older brothers were living in San Francisco and working on their start-up Zip2, Tosca flew in from Canada and stayed with them, helping them out.
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 his kindness.
Tosca has said: “I have the most amazing brothers.”
The trio 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 -a racist policy 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 the 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. As a teenager Kimbal and his mom even participated in rallies against the apartheid government.
8. Elon Musk dropped out of Stanford before going to 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 PhD in Energy Physics.
But this was in the 90’s 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.
Therefore, even before he had gotten 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 accepted 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 and had a string of odd jobs, including doing farm work and a dangerous job as a janitor of a boiler room -which he took because it payed the most: $18 an hour.
In spite of his efforts, Elon was $110,000 in debt after graduating.
10. Elon Musk has three citizenships
Elon was born in South Africa to a proud South African father and a South African-raised mother.
But growing up, Elon liked computers and everything technological so the South African dreamed of living in Silicon Valley, the technical haven in California, in the U.S.
He figured it would be easier to get to the U.S. if he had Canadian citizenship. So he 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, where he attended 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 dreamed 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, Elon Musk’s love life has been a little bit 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 in 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 filing for divorce, Elon had met and gotten engaged to Talulah Riley.
An emotional roller coaster
Elon and Talulah, a British actress, tied the know after a two-year engagement, in 2010.
But the bliss was not long-lived. In January 2012 Elon announced they were no longer together. He told Forbes magazine 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, and 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 lead by Musk, became the most valuable U.S. car maker.
And in June 2020 Tesla became the most valuable car maker in the world, dethroning 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 actually gets them to fly. He codesigned the spacesuits that the astronauts wore to space in June 2020, he 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.
He 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 he has his financial situation in check, he is interested in helping 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, which means anyone can use it freely.
For example, the system of his electric cars is open source. Anyone can take that design and make similar or better cars.
In 2012 Elon came up with a mass-transportation system called Hyperloop. It is green, faster than airplanes, and 3 times faster than other high-speed trains.
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 system, seriously reducing the time it takes to travel from one place to another.
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.”
The Boring Company, which he founded a few years back, has an unusual name that spikes curiosity, as it makes the company sound uncool. But the name is a clever word play. The Boring Company is actually in the boring business: it excavates tunnels.
And Elon, who is building rockets that will go to Mars, says that he wants to die in Mars… “just not on impact.”
16. Ironman was modeled after Elon. Talk about an ego boost
Seen the movie Ironman? Well the main character, Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., is modeled after Musk.
In 2007 Robert Downey was finding inspiration for his character, a genial inventor, elusive. Then he heard about Elon Musk, a creative billionaire who built forward-thinking companies and lived near by. So Robert decided to go talk to him.
He showed up at Elon’s company SpaceX where 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.
And he decided to mold Tony Stark after Musk. He used Elon’s “accessible eccentricities,” his focus, and drive.
Ironman’s director, Jon Favreau, also met Elon and agreed that he was the perfect model for the character because “Elon is a paragon of enthusiasm, good humour, and curiosity.”
17. And yet, Elon Musk is cash poor
Well, cash poor for a billionaire. The entrepreneur has almost everything invested in 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 -not for money trouble, but because he wants to have a simpler lifestyle- which should give him at least $70 million.
And in the unlikely case he chose to sell his shares of Tesla, he would have more than 70 billion dollars at his disposal. In cash.
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