Buffett was born in 1930 in Omaha, Nebraska, of distant French Huguenot descent. He was the second of three children and the only son of Leila (née Stahl) and Congressman Howard Buffett, Buffett began his education at Rose Hill Elementary School. In 1942, his father was elected to the first of four terms in the United States Congress, and after moving with his family to Washington, D.C., Warren finished elementary school, attended Alice Deal Junior High School and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1947, where his senior yearbook picture reads: “likes math; a future stockbroker.”
Buffett displayed an interest in business and investing at a young age. One of his first business ventures, Buffett sold chewing gum, Coca-Cola bottles, or weekly magazines door to door. He worked in his grandfather’s grocery store. While still in high school, he made money delivering newspapers, selling golf balls and stamps, and detailing cars, among other means. On his first income tax return in 1944, Buffett took a $35 deduction for the use of his bicycle and watch on his paper route. In 1945, as a high school sophomore, Buffett and a friend spent $25 to purchase a used pinball machine, which they placed in the local barber shop. Within months, they owned several machines in 3 different barber shops across Omaha. The business was sold later in the year for $1,200 to a war veteran.
Buffett’s interest in the stock market and investing dated to schoolboy days he spent in the customers’ lounge of a regional stock brokerage near his father’s own brokerage office. On a trip to New York City at age ten, he made a point to visit the New York Stock Exchange. At 11, he bought three shares of Cities Service Preferred for himself, and three for his sister Doris Buffett (founder of The Sunshine Lady Foundation). At the age of 15, Warren made more than $175 monthly delivering Washington Post newspapers. In high school, he invested in a business owned by his father and bought a 40-acre farm worked by a tenant farmer. He bought the land when he was 14 years old with $1,200 of his savings. By the time he finished college, Buffett had accumulated a princely sum of more than $90,000 in savings measured in 2009 dollars.
In 1947, Buffett entered the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He would have preferred to focus on his business ventures; however, he enrolled due to pressure from his father. Warren studied there for two years and joined the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where at nineteen, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. After being rejected by Harvard Business School, Buffett enrolled at Columbia Business School upon learning that Benjamin Graham taught there. He earned a Master of Science in Economics from Columbia in 1951. Buffett also attended the New York Institute of Finance.
The basic ideas of investing are to look at stocks as business, use the market’s fluctuations to your advantage, and seek a margin of safety. That’s what Ben Graham taught us.
By 1950, at 20, Buffett had made and saved $9,800 (over $96,000 inflation adjusted for the 2014 USD). In April 1952, Buffett discovered that Graham was on the board of GEICO insurance. Taking a train to Washington, D.C. on a Saturday, he knocked on the door of GEICO’s headquarters until a janitor admitted him. There he met Lorer Davidson, Geico’s Vice President, and the two discussed the insurance business for hours. Davidson would eventually become Buffett’s lifelong friend and a lasting influence, and would later recall that he found Buffett to be an “extraordinary man” after only fifteen minutes. Buffett wanted to work on Wall Street; however, both his father and Ben Graham urged him not to. He offered to work for Graham for free, but Graham refused.
Buffett returned to Omaha and worked as a stockbroker while taking a Dale Carnegie public speaking course. Using what he learned, he felt confident enough to teach an “Investment Principles” night class at University of Nebraska-Omaha. The average age of his students was more than twice his own. During this time he also purchased a Sinclair Texaco gas station as a side investment. However, this was not successful.
In 1952, Buffett married Susan Thompson at Dundee Presbyterian Church. The next year they had their first child, Susan Alice. In 1954, Buffett accepted a job at Benjamin Graham‘s partnership. His starting salary was $12,000 a year (approximately $105,000 inflation adjusted for the 2012 USD). There he worked closely with Walter Schloss. Graham was a tough boss. He was adamant that stocks provide a wide margin of safety after weighting the trade-off between their price and their intrinsic value. The argument made sense to Buffett but he questioned whether the criteria were too stringent and caused the company to miss out on big winners that had other appealing features. That same year the Buffetts had their second child, Howard Graham. In 1956, Benjamin Graham retired and closed his partnership. At this time Buffett’s personal savings were over $174,000 ($1.47 million 2012 USD) and he started Buffett Partnership Ltd..
In 1957, Buffett operated three partnerships. He purchased a five-bedroom stucco house in Omaha, where he still lives, for $31,500.
— Warren Buffett