Home Money Inventor Erno Rubik thought his cube was so difficult that no one would buy it: now he has sold 500 million

Inventor Erno Rubik thought his cube was so difficult that no one would buy it: now he has sold 500 million

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Game director: Erno Rubik with one of his classic cube puzzles.

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik, 79, was born in Budapest in 1944 to a flight engineer father and a poet mother, writes Dan Moore.

After primary school, he aspired to be a sculptor, before becoming a professor of architecture at the Budapest Academy of Applied Arts and Design.

In 1974, he invented a wooden puzzle with moving parts to help his students understand space, problems, and geometric shapes, which became known as the Rubik’s Cube.

It was a huge success, first among its students, then among Hungarians, before becoming a global phenomenon.

Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, 500 million Rubik’s cubes have been sold worldwide, making Professor Rubik a billionaire.

Game director: Erno Rubik with one of his classic cube puzzles.

Currently retired, Professor Rubik lives between Budapest and Spain with his wife Agnes Hegely. The couple has three daughters and one son.

What did your parents teach you about money?

Money was not a common topic of conversation, partly because we barely had it. My childhood was spent behind the Iron Curtain in 1950s Hungary, so we learned to make do with what we had. I think that stuck with me because even now I don’t think about money unless I have to go to the bank.

What was your first job?

I was about 15 years old and taught math to girls at my old primary school. Salaries were controlled by the State, but the equivalent salary of a teacher today would have been around £800 a year. From there I went to university and then to postgraduate studies in 1962, where I also taught and was paid about £1,200 in today’s money.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

Not in a way that I care about, because I don’t admire money. For me, money is a practical way to exchange goods, but I have never chased cash or thought about whether I am short of it. If you have something to eat, something to wear and time to do what you want, that’s enough.

I have never been interested in hoarding money, which is a popular hobby for many people. I’ve seen how hard it is for those billionaires to lose $20 billion in a year, which for you would be like losing a dollar. It’s very tragic, I’m sure.

How did the Cube come about?

As an engineer, I found the technical challenge of the structure very interesting and initially it took me a month to solve the problem. I didn’t dream of hitting the jackpot by inventing a puzzle. I just found it interesting and other people (my students and other people in my circle) also found it fascinating.

At first I thought the Cube wouldn’t sell because it was too difficult. But I realized that nothing is too difficult for a teacher to teach and for young people to learn.

The Cube is a cheap thing, but it intrigues and inspires young people in a good way, which is important.

How did you get it in the market?

I had some ideas from my father, who worked as a flight engineer in an aircraft factory, so I applied for some patents. He was also looking for a company to manufacture it, which at that time in Hungary was not an easy task. Three years later, around 1978, it was already on the market. It started to be sold in Hungary and the first order, I think, was for 5,000.

By 1980, one million had been sold in Hungary. To be clear, I was making a bit, nothing spectacular, but a small profit.

Was it difficult to expand?

It was not an easy task to break through the Iron Curtain, but I finally did it and the Cube was introduced in the United States. But going to the US was difficult because they only allowed me to purchase up to $250 in cash, which wasn’t much to deal with when I was trying to promote the Cube.

Was there a limit on how much I could earn?

Yes, Hungarian authorities limited the amount of hard currency that could be brought into the country.

This wasn’t really a problem as I was able to sell my nice little Fiat 500 and buy a Volkswagen Golf for hard cash, which was very exciting.

Have you ever been paid silly money?

I never knew for sure how many Cubes were made and sold in the United States, but I understand it was about three million units in two and a half years. There was a lot of hype and it became a fad in the United States and much of the developed world. This made a lot of money, but I’m not a billionaire.

Phenomenon: 500 million Rubik's cubes have been sold worldwide

Phenomenon: 500 million Rubik’s cubes have been sold worldwide

It still sells well, as that old saying goes: “Every joke is news to the newborn.”

What was the best year of your financial life?

Financial success is always relative to one’s circumstances, material desires and direct environment. Receiving a significant amount of dollars in state socialist Hungary was truly exceptional. However, this changed very little throughout my life because my personal needs have always been quite modest and I have never liked to waste; In fact, quite the opposite.

What is the most expensive thing you have bought for fun?

A few years ago we decided that we wanted to spend more time in the Mediterranean, so I bought a house in Spain. I enjoy the weather and clear skies there in winter.

What was the best money decision you ever made?

Ask my wife Agnes to be in charge. She stops me from making bad decisions.

Do you have a pension?

Like most countries in Europe, Hungary offers a state pension, so I have been receiving a small pension for over a decade.

Do you have any property?

We live in a four-bedroom, five-story family home on a hillside in Budapest, in addition to our house in Spain.

What is your number one financial priority?

The top financial priority for me, as it should be for the world’s governments, is educating young people. I believe that half of a government’s budget should be allocated to education.

Erno Rubik’s puzzles are available at rubiks.com

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