1985 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Put the fear of failure behind you and go for it."
The son of an Irish immigrant, John Crean was born in North Dakota, but when the Depression began, the Crean family packed all they owned into two trucks and moved to California. Crean enjoyed his childhood in Southern California. He collected bottles to sell and also picked and sold blackberries and cucumbers. He regularly crawled under the local grocery store to pick up the change that had fallen through the cracks in the floor.
In school, he enjoyed shop class because he could work with his hands. But the academic side of school was a struggle, and Crean dropped out during his senior year to join the Navy shortly after World War II started. At the time, any young man who entered service was automatically awarded a high school diploma. After seven months with the Navy, Crean was given a medical discharge. He worked in war plants, shipyards, and aircraft factories before joining the Merchant Marines, where he was assigned to a tanker delivering oil to the fleet in the Pacific.
Following the war, Crean worked as an office boy and went back to school at Los Angeles City College. After two semesters, however, he dropped out. Crean began looking for something that would challenge his entrepreneurial spirit and found it in the fledgling trailer industry. Shortly after taking a job on the assembly line of a trailer factory, he was put in charge of the production shop.
Anxious to learn all he could about the design, production, and outfitting of trailers, Crean became a salesman for a company that made Venetian blinds for the industry. Dissatisfied with the product he was selling, Crean designed and built a better Venetian blind, obtained a patent, and went into business with his wife, Donna. The small business prospered, and Crean used the profits to found Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc., which builds trailers and mobile homes.
Demand for his products waned in the 1950s, and Crean faced bankruptcy. But with President Eisenhower's interstate highway system, the demand for recreational vehicles soared. Today, Fleetwood Enterprises is one of the nation's largest producers of recreational vehicles and is a leader in the building, retailing, and financing of manufactured homes.
Crean retired from Fleetwood and, in 1992, became the co-host of a televised cooking show called At Home on the Range, which aired for 10 years. In 2000, he published his autobiography, The Wheel and I. He also completed a housing development in Hemet, California, called Crean Acres. Crean once said, "It is vital to let today's young people know that they can start with nothing and still make it."