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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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Curtice, Harlow Herbert (15 August 1893–03 November 1962), automotive executive, was born in Petrieville, Michigan, the son of Marion Joel Curtice, a fruit commission merchant, and Mary Ellen Eckhart. His early schooling was in the Eaton Rapids public schools, where he was remembered as a serious, freckle-faced boy nicknamed “Red,” who “blushed easily and often.” While working as a clerk at the Horner Woolen Mills in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, he completed a two-year business course at Ferris Institute in Big Rapids....

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Ford, Edsel Bryant (06 November 1893–26 May 1943), automobile manufacturer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the only child of Henry Ford, then an employee of the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company, and Clara Bryant, a farmer’s daughter. He inherited his father’s sharp features and slight build and his mother’s dark complexion....

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Ford, Henry (30 July 1863–07 April 1947), automobile manufacturer, was born on a farm in Springwells (now Greenfield) Township, Wayne County, Michigan, the son of William Ford and Mary Litogot. After attending one-room public schools during the winter months from 1871 to 1879, Ford was barely proficient in reading and writing from the McGuffey readers, but he excelled in arithmetic. He was fascinated by machinery....

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Knudsen, William Signius (25 March 1879–27 April 1948), automobile executive, was born Signius Wilhelm Poul Knudsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, the son of Knud Peter Knudsen, a customs inspector, and Augusta Zollner. Knud Peter had four children by a previous marriage, and with the six children by his second wife the large family struggled to survive on his meager salary. At age six Signius Wilhelm was put to work afternoons pushing a cart of window glass for a glazier. He received an above-average education for his time—nine years of public school followed by two years of night school at the Danish Government Technical School, from which he graduated with honors and a silver watch for his high grades in mathematics....

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McNamara, Robert S. (09 June 1916–06 July 2009), business executive, president of Ford Motor Company, U.S. secretary of defense, and president of the World Bank, was born Robert Strange McNamara in San Francisco, California, the older of two children of Robert James McNamara and Claranell (Strange) McNamara. His sister, Peggy, was born three years later. His father, of Irish descent, was a shoe salesman who rose to become sales manager of a wholesale shoe company in San Francisco. Bob, as he was called, attended public schools in Piedmont, an East Bay town bordering on Oakland. A diligent boy, he became an Eagle Scout. After graduating from Piedmont High School in 1933, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he compiled a splendid academic record. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a sophomore, he graduated in 1937 with a B.A. degree in economics. He then entered Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business Administration. Attracted especially to the field of accounting—and to the statistical analysis of business strategies—he received his M.B.A. in 1939 and returned to California to work for ten months at Price, Waterhouse and Company, an accounting firm, in San Francisco....

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Olds, Ransom Eli (03 June 1864–26 August 1950), pioneer automobile manufacturer, was born in Geneva, Ohio, the son of Pliny Fisk Olds, a blacksmith and machinist, and Sarah Whipple. Olds’s father was involved in several businesses and farmed for a few years before moving in 1880 to Lansing, Michigan, where he and another son, Wallace, opened a machine shop....

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Stettinius, Edward Reilly, Jr. (22 October 1900–31 October 1949), business executive, U.S. secretary of state, and U.S. delegate to the United Nations, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Edward Reilly Stettinius, Sr., a J. P. Morgan and Company partner and assistant secretary of war during World War I, and Judith Carrington. Some members of his family used the spelling Rilley or Riley. Stettinius grew up in Chicago and New York City. He graduated from the Pomfret School in Connecticut and attended the University of Virginia for four years. However, he left in 1924 with only six of the sixty credits necessary for graduation. He spent much of his college time ministering to poor Appalachian hill families and working with employment agencies trying to assist poor students at the university. He missed many classes and was frequently away from campus. Because he avoided alcohol and fraternity parties, his classmates called him “Abstemious Stettinius.” He considered becoming an Episcopal minister upon leaving school, but a trip to Europe as a traveling companion to philosophy instructor William S. A. Pott changed his mind. Upon his return, feeling he could best help society through industry, he took a position as a stockroom attendant in the Hyatt Roller Bearing Company offered to him by General Motors vice president and family acquaintance John Lee Pratt. Pratt was a University of Virginia alumnus who had learned of Stettinius’s social work by reading his alma mater’s publications. By 1926 Stettinius became Pratt’s assistant and implemented innovative employee benefit programs. In 1924 he married Virginia Gordon Wallace; they had three sons....