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Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth (06 November 1841–16 April 1915), U.S. senator, congressman, and businessman, was born in Foster, Rhode Island, the son of Anan Aldrich and Abby Burgess, farmers. Having received a modest education in East Killingly, Connecticut, and at the East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island, Aldrich was by age seventeen working in Providence. Eventually a large wholesale grocery firm, Waldron, Wightman & Co., hired him as a clerk and bookkeeper. His career there was briefly interrupted in 1862 by service with the Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers garrisoning Washington, D.C. After contracting typhoid that same year he returned to Providence and, by 1866, had been elevated to junior partner at Waldron, Wightman. He married Abby Chapman that year; the couple would have eleven children. His wife was of independent means, but Aldrich insisted on accumulating a fortune on his own account and gradually did so. He worked his way up to full partner at Waldron, Wightman, was a director of the Roger Williams Bank by 1872, and by 1877 was president of Providence’s First National Bank. He also headed the city’s Board of Trade in these years....

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Couzens, James (26 August 1872–22 October 1936), businessman, mayor of Detroit, and U.S. senator, was born in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, the son of James J. Couzens and Emma Clift, an immigrant couple from England. Raised in a stern Presbyterian household and a lower-income family that lived on the “muddiest” street in town, young Couzens’s education was capped by two years of bookkeeping study at Chatham’s Canada Business College. He worked as a newsboy and then stirring smelly, boiling vats for his father, who had parlayed his skills as a soapmaker and salesman into ownership of a small soap-making factory. Displaying an assertive independence, which contemporaries noted that he had inherited from his stern-willed father, young Couzens set off for Detroit to test his mettle in the larger world and in 1890 was taken on as a railroad car–checker for the Michigan Central. Five years later he became an assistant bookkeeper for Alex Malcomson’s coal business, which brought him into contact with a mechanical tinkerer and automobile pioneer named ...

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Depew, Chauncey Mitchell (23 April 1834–05 April 1928), public speaker, railroad president, and U.S. senator, was born in Peekskill, New York, the son of Isaac Depew, a shipowner, merchant, and farmer, and Martha Mitchell. After graduating from Peekskill Academy in 1852, Chauncey entered Yale where he forsook the Democratic faith of his father and sided with the antislavery forces of the newly created Republican party. After receiving his diploma in 1856, young Depew began the study of law in the office of a Peekskill attorney and was admitted to the bar in 1858. That same year he was a delegate to the Republican State Convention, and in 1862 and 1863 he served in the New York state legislature, becoming a leader of the GOP caucus during his second session. In 1863 he was elected New York’s secretary of state, a post he held for two years. Throughout this period he developed a reputation as a campaign speaker who could sway a crowd in support of the Republican cause. In an age when oratorical skill was a prerequisite to political success, his gift for speaking proved an invaluable asset....

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McAdoo, William Gibbs (31 October 1863–01 February 1941), railroad executive, secretary of the treasury, and U.S. senator, was born in Marietta, Georgia, the son of William Gibbs McAdoo, Sr., and Mary Faith Floyd. His father served in the Tennessee state government and as attorney general in Knoxville before the Civil War. In 1863 his parents moved to Georgia intending to reside on his mother’s family plantation, but bleak prospects forced them to stop in Marietta and then settle in Milledgeville, the old state capital and McAdoo’s childhood home. During the last years of the war, McAdoo’s father fought in Georgia as a Confederate officer. Like many southerners McAdoo’s parents never recovered financially after the war, but they tried to replace material advantage with intellectual pursuits. His mother published several romantic novels of the Old South, and both parents wrote essays and book reviews for the local press. McAdoo’s father struggled to find work in Milledgeville before securing a professorship at the University of Tennessee in 1877 and moving the family back to Knoxville....

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Stanford, Leland (09 March 1824–21 June 1893), corporation head, governor of California, and U.S. senator, was born Amasa Leland Stanford in Watervliet, New York, the son of prosperous gentry parents Josiah Stanford and Elizabeth Phillips. Josiah Stanford was an innkeeper, landowner, and bridge and road contractor; he was also a strong supporter of the Erie Canal. Leland (he rarely used his first name) Stanford attended local schools until adolescence and then was educated at home under the tutelage of his mother. Legend has it that young Stanford was a voracious reader; books do not seem to have been of much interest to him in later life. In his late teens, Stanford attended the nearby Clinton Liberal Institute and, later, the Cazenovia Seminary. He read law with the Albany firm of Wheaton, Doolittle and Hadley and was admitted to the bar in 1848. That same year Stanford traveled to Port Washington, Wisconsin, to begin his legal practice. Stanford married Jane Lathrop ( ...

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Yulee, David Levy (12 June 1810–10 October 1886), politician and businessman, was born David Levy on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the son of Moses Elias Levy, a timber dealer and merchant, and Hannah Abendanone. The young Levy studied at the Norfolk Academy in Virginia but was forced in 1827 to move to Florida, where his father had acquired large tracts of land in hopes of founding an agricultural colony for European Jews. The elder Levy had decided his children should support themselves, a condition apparently met by his son’s taking up residence on a plantation the father owned in Micanopy. David Levy subsequently read law in St. Augustine and, after being admitted to the bar in 1832, practiced there for several years....