I am a huge fan of Horatio Alger novels...in fact, I have about 30 in my collection. Horatio's boys are poor, proud and honest. In spite of hard situations and lots of abuse from snotty, sneaky rich boys, Our Heroes triumph. Too bad the girls are usually younger little sisters that need to be taken care of, or rich girls that are just perfect for marrying...but hey, I got plenty of inspiration from the boys.
My favorite Horatio character is that lippy opportunist, Ragged Dick. When one of his enemies whacks him and says, "Perhaps you've seen me before," Dick whirls around and says, "Now you've seen me behind." I'll comfort myself sometimes with what Dick calls "cheering reflections" -- really, they're snappy responses to insults from people.
Dick saves the money he earns as a bootblack (lesson #1, don't waste your pennies on cigars, oyster stews and going to the theater). He rescues a little girl when she falls in the water, earning a reward, a new suit and a job offer. He gives his best friend a place to live, and that friend teaches him how to read, write a fine hand, and do figures. (lesson #2, generosity pays off -- and so does educating yourself -- Dick eventually becomes a bookkeeper). All along, Dick defends himself from people who look down on his bootblacking equipment, especially that sneering Roscoe Crawford, whose only quality is that he's a "gentleman's son." (He's an idiot at everything else.) Needless to say, by the end of the novel, Roscoe gets his, Dick's friend gets promoted...and so does Dick. What a guy. (You'll want to read Fame and Fortune and Mark the Match Boy to get the full flavor of this rough-hewn Everyman, but start with Dick's first novel. It's online, thanks to Project Gutenberg.)
Here are a list of billionaires who started out poor or in situations against the odds. More "rags to riches" people are listed here; links to their stories from their name. Some surprised me!
Hope you had a very happy Memorial day.