Don Lee: Elon Musk overcame tough childhood to be a success

Published 11:59 pm Saturday, February 6, 2021

Elon Musk is a remarkable person.

He holds citizenship in South Africa, Canada and the United States.

It seems almost every day, there is some news item published about him.

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Locally in the Tri-State, an idea of his was mentioned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. There is a company preparing to build a Hyper Loop testing facility in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

The concept is to transport people, at speeds up to 670 miles per hour, in capsules traveling in a tube where the pressure is near zero. The advantage is that there would be no wind resistance in the evacuated tube. It would be levitated above rails by powerful magnets and propelled by an induction-type propulsion.

I decided to tell you some things about Elon that you probably did not know.

He was born in Pretoria, South Africa, on June 28, 1971. He lived with his father after his parents divorced.

He had commented in words to the effect that his father was one of the worst human beings ever born.

Elon graduated from Pretoria Boys High School and was an introverted kid who did not get along with others his age. One time, they threw him down a flight of stairs and injured him so severely that he ended up in the hospital. He had an early interest in computers and at age 12, he developed a video game using the Basic Programming language. He sold it to a technology magazine for $500.

He wanted to migrate to the United States, but found it was easier to migrate to Canada, especially since his mother was Canadian-born. Musk knew it was easier to get into United States from Canada rather than South Africa.

He was planning to stay with a great uncle in Montreal, but couldn’t find him. He ended up in Saskatchewan, where he lived for a year with a second cousin. He worked there as a farmhand and in a lumber mill.

In 1990, he attended Queen’s University in Ontario, but didn’t graduate.

He emigrated to Pennsylvania, where he attended Pennsylvania University and earned a BS degree in economics and then continued to earn a BA degree in physics.

He moved to California in 1995, and in the same year, he was accepted in a PhD program at Stanford University.

He didn’t last long at this endeavor, as he dropped out after two days. He hoped he could find a more lucrative career in the Internet boom. With the help of angel investors, Musk and his brother, Kimbal, and Greg Kouri founded Zip2, which was a city guide for newspapers.

At that point, he was living a very meager existence of sleeping on the office couch and showering at the YMCA.
Zip2 had one computer and a contract with the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times, yet they were able to sell the company to Compaq for $307 million, of which Elon received $22 million.

Elon had his hand in financial services, too.

If you have bought things on eBay, you know the name PayPal.

He cofounded, which later merged with Confinity which evolved into PayPal, which was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion, with $165 million of that goint to the largest stockholder, Elon Musk.

This week’s column barely scratches the surface of all the things he has accomplished.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at