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Bell, Alexander Graham (03 March 1847–02 August 1922), inventor and educator, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds. Family tradition and childhood environment set him on the path to his greatest invention, the telephone. His grandfather had turned from acting to speech teaching, and his father had become eminent in the latter vocation. His mother, despite her seriously impaired hearing, was an accomplished pianist and engaged her son’s interest in that form of sound communication. Edinburgh, second only to London as an intellectual center of the British Empire, excelled in science and technology, which probably stirred the boy’s interest and ambition in such matters. He made a hobby of botany and zoology. Playing about a local grist mill, he took up the miller’s challenge to make himself useful and devised a hand-cranked machine that took the husks off the grain—“my first invention,” he later called it....

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Alexander Graham Bell Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104276).

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Fuller, R. Buckminster (12 July 1895–01 July 1983), inventor, designer, and environmentalist, often referred to as “Bucky,” was born Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jr., in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster Fuller, an importer of leather and tea, who died in 1910, and Caroline Wolcott Andrews. He was the grandnephew of author and literary critic ...

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R. Buckminster Fuller. Oil on canvas, c. 1981, by Ruth Munson. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Laws, Samuel Spahr (23 March 1824–09 January 1921), educator, businessman, and inventor, was born in Ohio County, Virginia, the son of James and Rachel Laws. Laws worked in a tool shop in rural Virginia as a young man before matriculating at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1844. He was valedictorian of the class of 1848. He graduated from Princeton University's seminary in 1851 and accepted an offer to serve as leader of a St. Louis, Missouri, Presbyterian congregation. In 1854 the rectors of Westminster College, a newly formed Presbyterian school in Fulton, Missouri, hired him as a math instructor; he was appointed president of the college a year later. In 1860 he married Ann Marie Broadwell, the daughter of William Broadwell, who later became chief of the Cotton Bureau for the Confederate States of America's trans-Mississippi department....

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Treadwell, Daniel (10 October 1791–27 February 1872), inventor and professor, was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts, the son of Jabez Treadwell and Elizabeth Dodge, farmers. Orphaned at age eleven, he attended schools in Ipswich and Newburyport and in 1805 entered an apprenticeship with his oldest brother, a jeweler and silversmith. When that business failed, at the age of seventeen he became apprenticed to Jesse Churchill, gold- and silversmith, in Boston and later, until 1817, a partner in the same trade....

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Willard, Solomon (26 June 1783–27 February 1861), sculptor, architect, inventor, and educator, was born in Petersham, Massachusetts, the son of William Willard, a carpenter and joiner, and Katherine Wilder. After completing an apprenticeship with his father, Willard left for Boston in 1804 to find work as a carpenter. There he may have studied architectural drawing with ...