Ten Great Moments in the Annals of Grit

Posted on 03/01/09

June 23, 1312: A despondent Robert the Bruce, defeated and considering flight, watches a spider build its web – it takes seven tries. Inspired, Bruce adopts the motto “Try, try, and try again.” He wins the Battle of Bannockburn.

Winter, 1609–1610: The straggling band of Jamestown settlers is ravaged by hunger and disease during “The Starving Time.” Many are ready to give up, but when a supply ship arrives they are persuaded to try again.

About 1865: Irish immigrant Nellie Cashman crosses the Isthmus of Panama on a donkey, heading to a life as a miner, boarding house proprietor, doer of good deeds, and frontier legend.

December 1879: After more than 10,000 failed experiments, Thomas Edison gives a demonstration of his new incandescent bulb.

April 5, 1887: Thanks to the persistence of teacher Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller finally spells out “w-a-t-e-r” at the watering pump.

1927: Babe Ruth hits an astonishing 60 home runs in one season. The Babe struck out more than any baseball player of his day — but he also hit more homers.

November 27, 1931: Concert pianist Paul Wittgenstein impresses a Vienna audience with his performance of Maurice Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand. The pianist refused to give up his career after losing his right arm in World War I.

1981: John Kennedy Toole is posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for A Confederacy of Dunces. His gritty mom, Thelma Ducoing Toole, had enlisted the initially skeptical Walker Percy to help get the book published after Toole’s suicide.

1993: Andrew Wiles announces that after many years of work he has solved the seemingly unsolvable Fermat’s Last Theorem. Mathematicians discover a small error, but Wiles resolves it within another year.

October 2008: After a decade spent lobbying, high school dropout Alvin Sykes sees the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act — named for the black teenager brutally murdered in 1955 for reportedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi — signed into law, largely because of his relentless efforts.