Lee Kum Sheung invented oyster sauce, a salty brown condiment that is now a staple in millions of homes, in 1888, when he was a 26-year-old street-food vendor in Hong Kong. He’d left a pot of oysters to simmer for too long, then tasted the brown sticky mess and found, to his surprise, that it was delicious. He began making the burned oyster sauce deliberately and selling it in ceramic jars under the Lee Kum Kee brand.
His brilliant mistake would make his family richer than he ever could have imagined: In July, when Lee’s grandson (Lee Man Tat) died at age 91, the family’s wealth was valued at more than $17 billion. And although the Lee Kum Kee brand now sells numerous other sauces, from soy sauce to chili bean paste, oyster sauce remains its most famous product.