The woman who became a folk hero for resisting decades-long efforts by big-name developers like Trump to displace her Atlantic City boardinghouse is now 86 and, at last, has sold. The 29-room property Vera Coking and her husband bought for $20,000 in 1961 and fought to hold onto went at auction Thursday afternoon for $530,000 plus 10 percent commission, said Joshua Olshin of AuctionAdvisors, which handled the sale. Bidding started at $199,000, priced to sell in Atlantic City’s depressed real estate market.
Coking has moved to California to be near her family amid a long-running saga that has paralleled the rise and fall of Atlantic City’s real estate fortunes. The now-vacant property had been listed for $995,000 since September, and the decision to auction was made by Coking’s family after they could not find a buyer, said Oren Klein of AuctionAdvisors.
The winning bidder is a local real estate person who wishes to remain anonymous, Olshin said. The famously stubborn Trump laughed off a question this week as to whether he would bid on Coking’s home — just to have the last word. A message left for him inquiring whether he was behind the anonymous bid was not immediately returned.
The road to the auction block has been circuitous. Coking first took on Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione in the 1970s, who was reportedly so angered by her refusal to sell that he started building his casino above and around her property.
Trump, who bought Guccione’s unfinished project, also tried to buy Coking’s building to tear it down and use the land for his Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Coking battled with Trump and prevailed in a 1998 state Supreme Court case that blocked attempts by the state to use eminent domain to condemn the property.
Coking’s one-woman battle was closely followed in the press and by the people of Atlantic City, where she and her property, sitting defiantly in the shadow of Trump’s casino, have been a familiar sight for decades.
The modest, three-story clapboard structure is a block from the famous Atlantic City boardwalk and adjacent to the casinos, that like Trump’s, have sought to expand their parking facilities or outdoor footprint.
AuctionAdvisors had stressed the boardinghouse’s location just steps from a planned Bass Pro shop and adjacent to an outlet mall that the city advertises as a main attraction. Klein and his associates say that they are confident that Atlantic City will bounce back and that the Coking property is a great buy in one of the last affordable beachfront towns in New Jersey.
Atlantic City’s real estate market and casino businesses have faltered amid increased competition in nearby states. Trump Plaza may close in September, although Trump himself is largely divested. The portrait of Coking as a principled holdout is wrong, Trump said, asserting that she had been willing to sell but that they could never agree on a price.
“She could have lived happily ever after in Palm Beach, Florida; instead, she was an impossible person to deal with,” Trump told The Associated Press this week. In addition to millions of dollars, he said, he had offered Coking housing for the rest of her life in one of his properties.
Coking’s grandson, Ed Casey, previously told the Press of Atlantic City that it wasn’t true his grandmother had once been offered millions. He said she wasn’t opposed to selling but was proud to live in and fight for her longtime home.
Messages left at a California listing for Casey were not returned, and Klein said the family had told him they no longer wished to speak publicly about the matter. Information about Coking’s health wasn’t available.
But back in the day, Coking wasn’t afraid to throw a zinger. At the height of their battle in 1998, the 70-year-old Coking said of Trump to the New York Daily News: “A maggot, a cockroach and a crumb, that’s what he is.”
“If Trump’s thinking I’m gonna die tomorrow, he’s having himself a pipe dream,” she said then. “I’m gonna be here for a long, long time. I’ll stay just to see he’s not getting my house. We’ll be going to his funeral, you can count on that.”
October 15 is Ada Lovelace Day, named for the world’s first computer programmer and dedicated to promoting women in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. A Victorian-era mathematical genius, Lovelace was the first to describe how computing machines could solve math problems, write new forms of music, and much more, if you gave them instructions in a language they could understand. Of course, over the ensuing 100-plus years, dudes have been lining up to push her out of the picture (more on that below).
Lovelace is hardly the only woman to be erased from the history of her own work. Here’s a quick look at eight women whose breakthroughs were marginalized by their peers.
Ada Lovelace, computer programming: The daughter of Lord Byron, Lovelace was steered toward math by her mother, who feared her daughter would follow in her father’s “mad, bad, and dangerous” literary footsteps. Luckily, she loved the subject, and remained devoted throughout her brief life—she died in 1852 at age 36, soon after an ambitious, proto-Moneyball attempt to beat the odds at horse racing by developing mathematical models to help place her bets.
When she was barely 20, she started collaborating with the inventor Charles Babbage at the University of London on his “Analytical Engine,” an early model of a computer. In 1843, she added extensive notes of her own to a paper on Babbage’s machine, detailing how the Engine could be fed step-by-step instructions to do complicated math, and trained to work not only with numbers but also words and symbols “to compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”
The notes are considered the first descriptions of what we now call algorithms and computer programming, and for decades, historians have argued over whether Lovelace came up with them herself, or Babbage was somehow the real author. “Ada was as mad as a hatter, and contributed little more to the ‘Notes’ than trouble,” writes one historian, and a “manic depressive with the most amazing delusions about her own talents.” But Babbage’s own memoir suggests she deserved credit for the “the algebraic working out of the different problems,” and more recently she’s been honored with, among other things, a British medal of honor, a Google Doodle, a tunnel boring machine in London, and her own annual celebration. In 2011, the Ada Initiative was founded to help promote women in computer science and open-source technology.
Rosalind Franklin, discovery of the DNA double helix: Watson and Crick’s famed article in Nature on the discovery of the DNA double-helix structure, which would win them a Nobel Prize, buries a mention of Rosalind Franklin’s role in the footnotes. But Franklin, a British biophysicist who had honed a technique to closely observe molecules using X-ray diffraction, was the first to capture a photographic image of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, known as Photo 51. An estranged male colleague of Franklin’s at King’s College showed her photograph to competitors Watson and Crick, without her permission. Photo 51 became crucial in shaping their thesis, but it would take Watson 40 years to admit this publicly. Franklin, known as the “dark lady of DNA,” shifted her focus to the study of RNA, and made important strides before her death from cancer in 1958, four years before Watson and Crick received the Nobel.
The paper bag machine, which is exactly what it sounds like, doesn’t get as much love as the nuclear fission or the computer, and it probably shouldn’t—it’s a convenient but hardly breathtaking way to carry sandwiches. But Knight’s invention, in 1868, is notable for the fight she went through to get credit. Her patent designs were quickly stolen by a man, who sought to have the patent issued in his name by arguing that a woman was incapable of such a breakthrough. It took three years, but Knight eventually won the case in court.
Charles Darrow, an unemployed heating salesman, traditionally gets credit for America’s favorite homage to extortionist landlords. But as PBS discovered in 2004, the board game actually had its start nearly three decades earlier when Magie, an acolyte of the economist Henry George, secured to the patent to The Landlord’s Game. For her efforts in creating the country’s most popular board game she received just $500 from Parker Brothers.
A self-taught computer programmer, conceptual artist, and single mom working at a tech company in the early days of Silicon Valley, Malloy self-published a short story called Uncle Roger in 1986. It’s a wry take on California tech culture through the eyes of an eccentric computer chip salesman, and at the time, the experience of reading Uncle Roger was totally new. It lived online (and still does), and the reader clicked through fragments of the story in whatever order they chose, twisting and reshaping the narrative along the way. Malloy created an elaborate new database system to tell her story, with 32 UNIX shells and a sophisticated search engine for its time. But in 1992, a New York Times book critic crowned the young novelist Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story as the “granddaddy of full-length hypertext fictions,” though Uncle Roger came first and Malloy’s piece was acclaimed by the emerging digital art community as the earliest notable example of the form.
A student of Max Plank and the first German woman to hold a professorship at a German university, Meitner was forced to flee the country because of her Jewish ancestry. But she continued corresponding with her research partner, Otto Hahn, from Scandinavia, and in 1938 they first articulated the idea of nuclear fission, which five years later would give rise to the atomic bomb. But Hahn left her name off his landmark paper, and when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences recognized the breakthrough in 1944, they gave the prize in chemistry to Hahn. Meitner eventually earned a more exclusive honor, though; in 1994 she was honored with an element—meitnerium, or Mt on the Periodic Table.
When Pert, then a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, protested that her professor, Dr. Solomon Snyder, had received an award for her discovery of the receptor allows opiates to lock into the brain, Snyder’s response was curt: “That’s how the game is played.” Pert protested in a formal letter to the award committee (“As a graduate student who played a key role in initiating the research and following it up”) and then, having thoroughly revolutionized neuroscience, got back to work. She was working toward a more effective treatment of Alzheimer’s when she died in September.
Coston was officially listed as “administratix” on the 1961 patent that revolutionized communication between US Navy vessels. Official credit for the invention went to her husband, Benjamin Franklin Coston—never mind that he had been dead for the 10 years she had worked with pyrotechnic engineers to turn his idea into a reality. (She received a patent in her own name, 12 years later, for a modified system.)
Are they harder workers? Do they have brains that can bend spoons? Do they exhibit Bond Villain levels of cunning? For their books The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind the authors surveyed over 700 millionaires to find out. 80% were self-made, accruing all their wealth in one generation. And they were doing a number of things you and I probably aren’t. Here are a few patterns the researchers saw:
1) Most Millionaires Are Self-Employed
Got a great idea for a business? Make sure the profits are going in your pocket, not your boss’s. Via The Millionaire Next Door:
Twenty percent of the affluent households in America are headed by retirees. Of the remaining 80 percent, more than two-thirds are headed by self-employed owners of businesses. In America, fewer than one in five households, or about 18 percent, is headed by a self-employed business owner or professional. But these self-employed people are four times more likely to be millionaires than those who work for others.
Sound risky? It is. Less than a third of new companies survive 10 years. Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:
…no matter how you measure new firms, and no matter which developed country you look at, it appears that only half of new firms started remain in business for five years, and less than one-third last ten years.
But millionaires have a different perspective. They think it’s risky to work for someone else. You could get laid off. Your boss could make a bad decision. They want to be in control of their own destiny and yes — they’re quite confident. And research shows confidence boosts your income. But not only is entrepreneurship risky, it’s also hard work. In only two countries out of all the ones surveyed did the self-employed not work harder than salaried employees
Why do something so risky and difficult? Research shows one of the main things that makes us love our work is autonomy. And this is definitely true here. You’d need to earn 2.5 times as much money to be as happy as someone who is self-employed. Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:
These studies have found that people are more satisfied with their jobs when they are working for themselves than when they are working for others. In fact, the studies show that to be as satisfied when he is working for others as he is when he is working for himself, the average person needs to earn two-and-a-half times as much money!
2) Millionaires Choose Their Careers Strategically
They don’t start a business they’re necessarily passionate about. They don’t even do something they necessarily understand or have experience in. They start a business that they think is going to make money. They look for areas of big demand and small supply. Some of you are saying, “Duh. Of course that’s how you should pick a business.” Yeah, but that’s not what the vast majority of people do. Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:
…there is no evidence that entrepreneurs select industries in which profits, profit margins, or revenues are higher. 63% of new business owners admit their venture doesn’t have a competitive advantage. Only a third say they really did a search for good business ideas.
And the industry you start a business in is very important: some industries are over 600 times more likely to be successful than others. Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:
…between 1982 and 2002, start-ups in the software industry were 608 times more likely than start-ups in the restaurant industry to become one of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the United States—608 times more likely!
One of the authors of The Millionaire Mind is a business school professor. Every year he asks his students what the most profitable businesses are. And every year the students can’t even name one correct answer. If smart, educated business students don’t know, why would the average person? But millionaires pride themselves on thinking differently and looking for underserved markets and hidden opportunities. And, frankly, the companies they start usually aren’t sexy. They fall into the category of “dull-normal.” But they make bank. Via The Millionaire Next Door:
Many of the types of businesses we are in could be classified as dull-normal. We are welding contractors, auctioneers, rice farmers, owners of mobile-home parks, pest controllers, coin and stamp dealers, and paving contractors.
Despite thinking differently and doing things their own way, they’re not jerks. 94% of millionaires said “getting along with people” was key.
So they run their own shop and choose wisely what type of business to be in. But to make it a success don’t they have to be brilliant? Nope.
3) They’re Not Geniuses But They Have A Strong Work Ethic
We’ve all heard the old saying, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” What was the average college GPA of an American millionaire?
2.9 out of 4.0. (Not a lot of Phi Beta Kappa keys jangling around here, folks.) Few were ever called intellectually gifted and many were explicitly told they didn’t have what it takes for medical school, law school or MBA school. But what most people don’t know is that GPA is a very poor predictor of success. Via The Millionaire Mind:
I find no substantial statistical correlation between the economic-productivity factors (net worth and income) and SATs, class rank in college, and grade performance in college…
And this may be part of the reason they’re so successful as entrepreneurs: “smarter” people are less likely to take such risks. Via The Millionaire Mind:
Overall, there is an inverse relationship between taking financial risk and various measures of analytical intelligence such as SAT scores.
And maybe this is why former drug dealers are more likely to start businesses. Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:
…people who dealt drugs as teenagers are between 11 and 21 percent more likely than other people to start their own businesses in adulthood. And their higher rate of self-employment isn’t the result of wealth accumulated dealing drugs, greater likelihood of having a criminal record, or lower wages.
In entrepreneurship, you’re the boss. So it requires leadership. And some research shows being super-smart actually makes you worse at being a leader. Via Mind in Context: Interactionist Perspectives on Human Intelligence:
Cognitive ability tests have been notoriously poor predictors of leadership performance…. Leader intelligence under certain conditions correlates negatively with performance.
(Though research shows if you want to be successful terrorist, definitely study hard in school.) But future millionaires do work hard. When asked what their teachers did compliment them on, what was the most common response? “Most dependable.”
When asked what they did learn in college, 94% replied “a strong work ethic.” And research shows self-discipline trumps IQ when it comes to success. So we know how they bring their money in. Is there another part to the equation? Yeah. Don’t let that money out.
4) They’re Cheap
When the authors of The Millionaire Mind interviewed the wealthy, they didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable. So they rented a penthouse in Manhattan, loaded it with four types of pâté, three kinds of caviar and plenty of fine wine. The millionaires arrived… and felt completely out of place. All they ate were the gourmet crackers.When offered the fancy wine one interviewee said he only drank two types of beer: free and Budweiser.The researchers were stunned. They quickly realized the media images we see of millionaires aren’t representative. Expect a millionaire to be a fancy dresser? 50% have never paid over $399 for a suit. (10% had never paid $195.)
In fact, if you do see someone wearing a $1000 suit, it’s more likely they’re not a millionaire. Via The Millionaire Next Door:
For every millionaire who owns a $1,000 suit, there are at least six owners who have annual incomes in the $50,000 to $200,000 range but who are not millionaires.
Fancy car? More than half have never paid over $30,000 for a car. See someone in a Mercedes? They are probably not a millionaire. Via The Millionaire Next Door:
…approximately 70,000 Mercedes were sold in this country last year. This translates into about one-half of 1 percent of the more than fourteen million motor vehicles sold. At the same time, there were nearly 3.5 million millionaire households. What does this tell us? It suggests that the members of most wealthy households don’t drive luxury imports. The fact is that two out of three purchasers or leasers of foreign luxury motor vehicles in this country are not millionaires.
Most millionaires live a lot more like you and me than Jay Z, Elon Musk or Donald Trump. They’re thrifty, not very materialistic, and they think a great deal about how much they spend. Via The Millionaire Next Door:
There is an inverse relationship between the time spent purchasing luxury items such as cars and clothes and the time spent planning one’s financial future.
And the more materialistic people are, the less satisfied they are with their lives. Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:
Among participants in one study, those whose values were the most materialistic rated their lives as the least satisfying. – Ryan and Dziurawiec 2001
Research shows people are better with their money when they think long term. Experts say you should have a system. Are you as money-conscious as a millionaire? Most millionaires answer “yes” to these four questions. Can you? Via The Millionaire Next Door:
Does your household operate on an annual budget?
Do you know how much your family spends each year on food, clothing and shelter?
Do you have a clearly defined set of daily, weekly, monthly, annual and lifetime goals?
Do you spend a lot of time planning your financial future?