Musk’s Early Life and Education
Elon Reeve Musk (b. 1971) was born in Pretoria, South Africa.
Musk’s father was an engineer and real estate developer born in South Africa. His mother was a model who was born in Canada of American parents but was raised in South Africa from an early age.
Musk’s parents divorced in 1980, when he was nine. Afterwards, the boy chose to live with his father—a decision he has said he later regretted.
Musk acquired a Commodore personal computer at the age of 10. He taught himself computer programming (in BASIC language) with the help of a manual.
Two years later, when he was just 12 years old, Musk wrote the software for a video game he called “Blastar.” He sold the code to his game to PC and Office Technology magazine for some $500.
While Musk was extremely precocious intellectually, he was emotionally withdrawn and socially awkward. He attended a private elementary school and a public high school, before transferring to a private, college preparatory school in Pretoria.
After graduating from the prep school, Musk applied for a Canadian passport on the basis of his mother’s birth in that country. While waiting for his passport to come through, he briefly attended the University of Pretoria.
Musk arrived in Canada in the summer of 1989. He went first to the province of Saskatchewan, where he lived with the family of a cousin of his mother’s. During the 1989–1990 academic year, he worked at manual labor on a farm and a lumber mill.
In the fall of 1990, Musk enrolled in King’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where he studied for two years.
In 1992, Musk transferred to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics from the College of Arts and Sciences and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School, both in 1995.
The year he graduated from college, Musk co-founded his first company with two partners and financing from his father. The company was called Zip2.
Zip2 was an Internet-based directory similar to a “Yellow Pages” with maps and directions, which was intended as a feature for the websites of big-city newspapers. Musk and his partners were able to sell the Zip2 directory to such major newspapers as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.
In 1999, the Compaq Computer Corporation bought Zip2 for over $300 million, of which Musk’s share was about $22 million.
Musk immediately invested his earnings in another startup venture called X.com, which offered online financial and e-mail payment services. For the next year, he was involved in internal turmoil at the company, being appointed CEO by the board of directors, fired, then re-hired in the same position.
In 2000, X.com was purchased by a company called Confinity. As as result of this merger, Musk found himself in head-to-head competition with Confinity’s co-founder, Peter Thiel. Thiel prevailed, remaining as CEO of Confinity and forcing Musk out.
in 2001, Thiel changed the company’s name to PayPal.
The next year, in 2002, eBay bought PayPal for some $1.5 billion. The shares that Musk held in the company translated into a payday of more than $175 million.
For some time, Musk had been interested in the human colonization of other planets. With proceeds from the sale of PayPal, Musk decided to put his now-substantial financial means at the service of his futuristic vision. In 2002, he founded SpaceX, assuming the roles of CEO and Lead Designer.
After several initial, highly publicized failures, SpaceX was able to demonstrate its ability to successfully send payloads into earth orbit. Later, in 2015, it developed full round-trip capability to deliver a capsule to earth orbit and bring it safely back.
In 2008, SpaceX received a contract from NASA to service the International Space Station.
In 2019, the company undertook a major initiative involving a large network of small, low-earth-orbit, communications satellites collectively known as Starlink. Currently, Starlink provides telecommunications services for more than 35 countries. Musk’s goal for Starlink is eventually to provide worldwide coverage.
In 2020, SpaceX successfully launched a manned crew—a first for a private company.
Amazingly, Musk was pursuing a number of other large-scale and innovative projects at the same time as he was developing SpaceX.
In 2003, Musk had branched out into the design and production of an all-electric automobile—the Tesla. The company he co-founded was originally known as Tesla Motors, and is now called Tesla, Inc.
One of the factors that contributed to Tesla’s success was the company’s development of its own improved, long-lasting, lithium-ion battery.
While several partners were involved in the early phases of the development of the Tesla, by 2008, Musk had assumed full control, taking the title of CEO and Product Architect—or, as he later renamed the position, with tongue firmly in cheek, “Technoking.”
The Tesla has been wildly successful, becoming a pricey but must-have fashion statement at the sweet spot where hi-tech glamour, beautiful styling, and green virtue-signaling all meet.
Counting all of its models, some quarter million Teslas have been produced and delivered to date (2022). In 2021, the company achieved a market capitalization of $1 trillion, making it the number one American automaker by that metric.
A third project that Musk was pursuing simultaneously was the solar-panel company SolarCity, which he co-founded in 2006 and which he served as Chairman.
By 2013, SolarCity had become the second-largest manufacturer of solar-power systems in the US.
In 2016, Musk founded Neuralink, which he serves as CEO. The company’s purpose is to develop brain implants with the aid of which thoughts can directly causally influence events in the world.
The technology, if perfected, would allow some paralyzed persons with damaged spinal columns to control, for example, the cursor on a computer screen.
Early experiments using macaques have been very encouraging. Clinical trials on human beings are scheduled to begin later in 2022.
Finally, in 2017, Musk founded the Boring Company—an ironically named company aimed at boring underground tunnels as a means of high-speed intercity transportation.
Several early contracts the Boring Company obtained from Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere were later canceled, when the public was found to be reluctant to foot the bill for the tunnels.
However, the company did build a smaller local tunnel system in Las Vegas, Nevada, and another such system is currently scheduled for Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In the spring of 2022, Musk made headlines around the world for his effort to buy Twitter, with the stated purpose of dialing back the censorship exercised by the company over its subscribers’ speech.
During the disclosure process which are a part of the negotiations in such a buy-out, it came to light that a large proportion of Twitter’s “users” are in fact “bots.” For this reason, Musk eventually withdrew his offer.
Due to this apparent miscalculation by Musk, the price of Tesla’s shares was severely negatively impacted, at least for the short term, resulting in Musk’s personal fortune suffering a loss on the order of $30 billion.
However, Musk still retains a net worth in excess of $260 billion.
Musk Quotation Collections
Elon Musk: 199 Best Quotes from the Great Entrepreneur: Tesla, SpaceX, Exciting Future, Money, Failure and Success, edited by Olivia Longray (2017).
Elon Musk: In His Own Words, Taken from Interviews and Podcasts, edited by Raphael Afil (2021).
Selected Books About Musk
Belfiore, Michael, Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space(2007).
Berger, Eric, Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX (2021).
Davenport, Christian, The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos (2019).
Goldstein, Margaret J., Elon Musk: Tesla Founder and Titan of Tech (2021).
Hanson, Robert, Elon Musk: A Biography of Billionaire Entrepreneur Elon Musk (2020).
Higgins, Tim, Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century (2021).
Katsenelson, Vitaliy, Tesla, Elon Musk, and the EV Revolution: An In-Depth Analysis of What’s in Store for the Company, the Man, and the Industry by a Value Investor and Newly-Minted Tesla Owner (2020).
McKenzie, Hamish, Insane Mode: How Elon Musk’s Tesla Sparked an Electric Revolution to End the Age of Oil (2018).
Niedermeyer, Edward, Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors (2021).
Owens, J.T., Elon Musk: The Unauthorized Autobiography (2018).
Redding, Anna Crowley, Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World (2021).
Salisbury, Michael J., Elon Musk: The Man, the Myth, the Legend (2022).
Shaw, Robert Bruce, All In: How Obsessive Leaders Achieve the Extraordinary (2020).
Soni, Jimmy, The Founders: Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and the Company That Made the Modern Internet (2022).
Vance, Ashlee, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (2015).
Vlismas, Michael, Elon Musk: Risking It All (2022).
Whitman, Nate, Elon Musk: The Biography of a Modern Genius and Business Titan (2019).