Over the past few years, the gig economy has skyrocketed at an incredible rate. It’s predicted that over 50% of the US workforce will join the gig economy by 2027, while the number of global gig workers will rise to 78 million by 2023.
We have a tendency to think that the freelance economy is something specific to our times. But the desire for an independent lifestyle of greater freedom and ownership in our work has always been present. In fact, many great minds of their times chose this model of lifestyle.
This article looks closely at famous freelancers who made the world a better place throughout history. Read on to discover who these world-changing freelancers are and how they changed the lives around them.
What does the traditional term “freelancer” mean?
The word “freelancer” has steadily changed since its original form in the early 1800s, although the meaning of a freelancer remains the same. During that time, the terms “free” and “lance” referred to an independent worker and the weapon they used, such as a knight searching for mercenary work after the Crusades ended. Through the years, Google’s Ngram Viewer traces how “free lance” evolved into “free-lance,” and in the 1970s, the term “freelance” grew popular.
Today, a freelancer is a “person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer,” as defined by Merriam-Webster. Anyone who wants to use their skills can hire them, basically like any other self-employed person or entrepreneur.
This can include writing articles, photography, designing web pages, and even being a graphic designer or a freelance tutor. The following section will show you great freelancers worldwide working in many different areas.
With the introduction of the internet, most freelancer jobs these days can be done online from the comfort of your home. There are many different types of modern freelancer jobs, and these are just the tip of the iceberg of potential ways to make a living as a freelancer.
Freelancers who changed the world
Now that we know what a freelancer is, we can look at the freelancers that made a difference in the lives of millions of people. These world-famous people have come from different professions and social circles in the last few hundred years.
Leonardo da Vinci: A science and art freelancer
We mention this freelancer first because of the wide field of interest he had in his life. While Da Vinci was first and foremost an artist, he was also an engineer, architect, sculptor, and even a craftsman.
He might have even been the first freelancer, and, as a jack-of-all-trades, symbolized the true meaning of one. Because Leanardo da Vinci never had any training in science, his work was often overlooked by other scientists of his time.
With daily inscriptions in his journal, Da Vinci accumulated a lot of interesting thoughts and inventions in his lifetime. Unfortunately, much of his work was lost after his death, and most of what was published was done only 165 years after he died.
Da Vinci's early life
Even though he did not receive any formal education, his father apprenticed him to a famous sculptor and painter, Andrea del Verrochio. He completed his first commissioned work in the arts for the Scopeto monastery in Florence at around the age of 30.
Shortly after that, he moved to Milan to work as an engineer, architect, sculptor, and, what made him most famous, a painter.
His most famous art
The Last Supper, which he painted during his stay in Milan, was an oil mural on plaster that took him three years to complete. Another of his famous paintings is the Mona Lisa, which was painted after he fled from Milan.
When the French invaded Milan, Leonardo da Vinci barely escaped to Venice before moving to Florence, where he finished the Mona Lisa painting.
Inventions that changed the world
There are many inventions from Leonardo da Vinci that changed the world, and some are still in use today:
- The Vertical Flight Machine: He invented a helical aerial screw that compresses air to induce flight and is used in modern helicopters.
- Winged Flying Machine: The designs from his notes show drawings of the principle of modern-day aircraft, which made him the first man-powered aircraft engineer.
- Diving Equipment: He designed a diving suit made from cane and leather tubes with steel rings to resist high pressure
- Anemometer: One of his most useful inventions was a device that measured the speed of the wind and is still in use.
- Barreled Cannon: A multi-barreled cannon was designed to overcome the time it takes to reload cannons; this is a primitive design used in machine guns today.
These are only a few inventions that changed the world and made life easier for modern people. Leonardo da Vinci also contributed to medical science through up to 30 years of studying and dissecting corpses with a medical doctor.
Alfred Nobel: An engineering and physics freelancer
Many of us know about the Nobel Prize and the many people through the ages who received it for different achievements. The Nobel Prize was established when Alfred Nobel died and left most of his estate to fund these awards.
Alfred Nobel was also a very active scientist. Even though he was most famous for his invention of dynamite, he was also an inventor, entrepreneur, and writer, among other things.
Ironically, the person who established the Nobel Peace Prize is also the inventor of destructive dynamite. Although, when he saw how people misused his creation to kill other people, he regretted that he had invented it in the first place.
When Alfred Nobel's brother Ludvig Nobel died, the newspapers mistook his death for Alfred, reporting that “The merchant of death is dead,” which made him worry. This report led Alfred Nobel to invent the Nobel Peace Prize to encourage people to live in peace rather than kill each other with his invention.
At his death, his last wish was that his wealth would be used to reward those who did the best for humanity. Hence, the Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded to humanitarian acts and other achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, and literature.
Many different patents
In his life, Alfred Nobel had more than 350 patents in different fields such as biology and electrochemistry. A couple of his discoveries include artificial silk and leather, which are still used in manufacturing many items today.
He also opened many European factories for the purpose of manufacturing dynamite and producing newer versions of explosives. On top of that, he also held a patent that described different ways to prepare gunpowder and used his factories to create a variety of ammunition.
While preparing nitroglycerin at his family’s factory in Stockholm, an explosion killed five people, including a younger brother, causing him to seek safer explosives. This was when he invented and patented a mixture of nitroglycerin and an absorbent substance which he named “dynamite.”
Although most of his patents were for the ingredients used in explosives or explosive materials, he also held patents for molds used to manufacture nozzles for firearms, gas meters, and methods on how to prepare sulfuric acid, which is now used in car batteries.
Despite the fact that some of Alfred Nobel’s inventions have been used for destruction, many others are used to make life better for millions of people. Synthetic rubber, for example, is now used in tires, conveyor belts, and industrial goods.
Nikola Tesla: An electrical engineer and physics freelancer
Nikola Tesla's mother had a talent for making mechanical appliances and home craft tools, which he believed he inherited from her. Tesla was highly intelligent and could perform integral calculus in his head, which made his school teachers believe he was cheating.
Nikola Tesla studied physics and engineering, but he never completed his studies and received no academic degree in his area of expertise. In his lifetime, this freelancer worked as an engineer, a physicist, an inventor, a philosopher, and a draftsman.
Sadly, Tesla never received much recognition for his early inventions and died having very little wealth.
Nikola Tesla had a lifelong feud with another well-known inventor, Thomas Edison, who did not agree with his more advanced inventions. While Edison received financial gain for his inventions, Nikol Tesla did not, even though his inventions were better than those of Edison.
While he did not receive wealth and recognition for many of his inventions, he continued his research in many different areas. Many of his inventions are still used to help make the world a better place, and a lot of modern technologies were built on his creations.
As a freelancer in engineering and science, he created many things in his life that improved our world.
Things Nikola Tesla invented that changed the world
After digging ditches for $2 per day, and many attempts at starting his own company, he eventually convinced a few people to back his designs. At this stage, he was granted more than 30 patents for various inventions and was invited to address the American Electric Engineering Institute.
One of his most famous inventions is the AC system, which now powers the whole world. This invention generates alternate currents and transfers electricity across long distances to remote places.
Nikola Tesla also nearly discovered the X-ray with the help of Mark Twain, which might have been weeks before it was officially founded by Wilhelm Roentgen. He also invented a remote-controlled boat that could be controlled with basic radio signals, which he claimed could end the war.
Tesla even invented the special ray machine at an advanced age, named the “Death Beam” by newspapers. This was supposed to be a weapon that could shoot down aircrafts from long distances to prevent attacks on civilians.
He offered it to many governments, but the only ones really interested were the USSR which ran some tests with it.
We have Tesla to thank for all inventions based on the electrical signal and the AC motor. Without the AC, it would not have been possible to have electricity at a reasonable price in our homes.
Walt Disney: A photo, art, and design freelancer
Walt Disney pioneered the art of animation, making millions of people worldwide, especially children, happy. At age 4, Walt was selling pictures to neighbors and was a cartoonist for the school paper at 15.
Before fame, Walt was a freelance film producer and animator and worked for many companies in many different capacities, including ambulance drivers. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of jobs available for a designer back when he started, but he found jobs here and there.
When he worked as a designer at Peswin Rubin Art Studios, he met Ubbe Iwerks. They started Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists together, but this business failed, so he moved on to the next project.
The next project, Laugh-O-Gram, a company that sells cartoons at local theaters, also failed and left him with nothing else. He then started freelancing his drawings from his garage, which he turned into a studio, and became a freelance photographer to earn money.
With this, he wanted to make enough money to move to Hollywood to try and find something better. With the help of his brother, on his third attempt at a business, he started the Disney Brothers Studio, and the rest is history.
How he made the world better
With the creation of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and many other characters, he improved the lives of many children and adults. Walt Disney also invented the multiplane that helped to produce the state-of-the-art animation movies made by his company over the years.
Many full-length animated movies were made from a long list of fairy tales and children's books worldwide. The first one was that of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which led to the golden age of animation.
After the end of WWII, the theme parks created by Walt Disney distracted the people from bad memories of the war. That, and the animated movies that followed, made him a household name and have been loved by millions of children around the world.
Bill Gates: A software developer freelancer
The impact this freelancer has on the world of computers and the internet makes him one of the most influential freelancers in the modern world. There aren’t many computers in the world that are not using some piece of software developed by his company.
While many people know Bill Gates as one of the richest men in the world, he came from humble beginnings. There were no PCs back then, so if you wanted to work on a computer, you needed to buy time on a large computer system.
He taught himself the basic programming language and became a programmer. With this knowledge, he became a hacker. Bill Gates and three of his friends hacked into another computer system via the same terminal to get themselves some free computer time.
When they found him and his friends, they were banned from the system. However, Bill Gates offered his coding expertise. He also offered to find bugs in the system they hacked and was rewarded more free computer time in the deal.
This was when he became the first coding freelancer, working for Information Sciences, Inc. He created a payroll program in Cobol at age 16, and at 17, he developed a range of computer programs for his school.
How Bill Gates changed the world
At 17, he and a friend started a company that failed. But instead letting that failure deter him, Bill Gates contacted a company that was creating a computer based on the 8080 CPU and told them they had software that would run on their machine.
This was a lie, of course, but the company agreed to meet with them, and they started coding the program they lied about. When the meeting was a success, they created their company, Microsoft, the company we now know as the creator of the Windows operating system.
This is where they made the biggest impact in the world, having created an operating system that powers millions of computers today. They also created the web browser Internet Explorer, which provides millions of users easy access to the internet.
Job creation and better working conditions are a few of the better things that came from this company created by Bill Gates. Easy access to free information on the web improves millions of lives while giving opportunities to less fortunate children worldwide.
This coding freelancer is the reason why even children in remote areas can have access to the rest of the world.
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You can see that these freelancers contributed to many things that made life easier for millions of people. Even though some of these inventions were used to kill people, such as dynamite, it was also used to extract critical resources from the earth.
Those resources were why many new things could be invented to make our world better. You see, the world needs freelancers. And though the life of a freelancer isn’t always easy, they continue to revolutionize the way we live and work. In our current world, freelancers are making a living worldwide by contributing their skills to every industry.
Maybe you’re freelancing while reading this? If so, we hope you feel inspired to keep pushing forward in growing your business. And if you feel like you have to juggle multiple tasks every day to get things done, we have the productivity tools to help you stay organized. Indy helps you create and send proposals, contracts, and invoices, manage tasks, store files, and even helps you keep track of time.