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Ames, Oakes (10 January 1804–08 May 1873), businessman and politician, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Ames, a manufacturer, and Susanna Angier. He was educated in local schools and, for a few months, at Dighton Academy. At the age of sixteen, he entered his father’s shovel factory as an apprentice, rising quickly to become the works superintendent and then his father’s assistant. In 1827 he married Evelina Orvile Gilmore, and for the next three decades lived with her and their four children in one wing of his father’s house opposite the factory....

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Ash, Mary Kay (12 May 1918–22 November 2001), founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, known as Mary Kay, was born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Hot Wells, Texas, north of Houston, the daughter of Edward Alexander Wagner, an invalid, and Lula Vember Hastings, a restaurant manager. Texas has no record of Mary Kathlyn Wagner's birth for 1918—the year she usually claimed—nor for 1916, the date cited second most often; she may have been born as early as 1915. By 1920, her family moved to Houston's bleak Sixth Ward....

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Astor, John Jacob, IV (13 July 1864–15 April 1912), businessman, was born at “Ferncliff,” his father’s estate at Rinebeck-on-Hudson, New York, the son of William Backhouse Astor, Jr., and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn ( Caroline Astor). As the great-grandson and namesake of fur trade magnate ...

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Astor, William Waldorf (31 March 1848–18 October 1919), businessman and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of John Jacob Astor, a businessman, and Charlotte Gibbes. Astor received his education at home under private tutors and studied law at Columbia University. He worked at law for a short while but found his first real calling in Republican politics. He served a term as a New York State assemblyman beginning in 1877, and two years later he was elected to the state senate. Twice he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but he was defeated each time. The press and his political enemies found Astor’s inherited wealth an easy target for excoriation, and the public humiliation he suffered at their hands was the first step on the path toward his alienation from everything American. By all accounts Astor was extremely sensitive and simply could not endure criticism. Nor did he find satisfaction in his 1878 marriage to Mary Dahlgren Paul, although the union produced four children. The marriage suffered as shy Mary Astor was forced into a contest with her husband’s Aunt Caroline for the position of most important society matron in New York’s upper crust—the famous “Four Hundred Families.” In addition, the Astors were concerned for the safety of their children, whom they feared might become victims of a kidnapping for ransom....

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Averell, William Woods (05 November 1832–03 February 1900), Union general and businessman, was born in Cameron (Steuben County), New York, the son of Hiram Averell and Huldah Hemenway, farmers. Averell attended the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1855, twenty-sixth in a class of thirty-four, only excelling in horsemanship. He then served with the cavalry in the Southwest and was seriously wounded during a fight against the Navajos at Canyon de Chelly, New Mexico Territory (1858). He was in New York on convalescent leave when the Civil War began....

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Avery, R. Stanton (13 January 1907–12 December 1997), inventor and entrepreneur, was born Ray Stanton Avery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the son of Oliver Perry Avery, a Congregationalist minister, and Emma Dickinson Avery. Avery's early life was largely shaped by his family's religious and humanitarian interests. (Avery's mother was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, and his brother became a minister.) Although “Stan” rebelled against the family profession, he continued to be drawn to its secular message. As a student at Pomona College from 1926 to 1932, he worked at a Los Angeles skid row mission. During a year-long trip to China (1929–1930), he spent several months at a missionary-run famine relief center. In 1932 he graduated from Pomona and took a job with the Los Angeles County Department of Charities. In later years he always insisted on the highest ethical standards in business relationships....

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Barnes, Albert Coombs (02 January 1872–24 July 1951), collector, educator, and entrepreneur, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Jesse Barnes, a butcher, and Lydia A. Schafer. Barnes’s father lost his right arm in the Civil War, and his ability to support his family proved sporadic. However, Albert’s mother, to whom he was devoted, was hardworking and resourceful. Among his most vivid childhood memories were the exuberant black religious revivals and camp meetings he attended with his devout Methodist parents. Accepted at the academically demanding Central High School, which awarded bachelor’s degrees, his early interest in art was stimulated by his friendship with the future artist ...

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Bedaux, Charles Eugene (10 October 1886–18 February 1944), scientific manager, entrepreneur, and fascist collaborator, was born in Charenton-le-Pont, France, a suburb of Paris, the son of Charles Emile Bedaux, a railroad engineer, and Marie Eulalie, a dressmaker. Bedaux spent his first twenty years on the streets of Paris, doing odd jobs and usually avoiding school. He attended the Lycée Louis LeGrand in Paris but did not receive a regular degree. In 1906 he left Paris to seek his fortune across the Atlantic. In the United States Bedaux worked as a dishwasher, an insurance salesman, and a sandhog with the crews building the Hudson River tunnels. He also had a stint at the New Jersey Worsted Mills in Hoboken. He became a naturalized citizen in 1908....

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Biddle, Nicholas (08 January 1786–27 February 1844), banker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Biddle, a successful merchant and the vice president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, and Hannah Shepard. A precocious young man, serious beyond his years, Biddle hardly had a boyhood at all, entering the University of Pennsylvania at ten. Although he was ready to graduate at thirteen, his family sent him for further study to the College of New Jersey at Princeton, from which he graduated in 1801, the valedictorian of his class. He returned to Philadelphia to study law with his elder brother William Biddle and the well-known jurist William Lewis....

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Bloom, Sol (c. 9 Mar. 1870–07 March 1949), music and entertainment entrepreneur and longtime congressman, was born in Pekin, Illinois, the son of Gershon (later anglicized to Garrison) Bloom and Sara Bloom, Jewish immigrants from Szyrpez, Prussian Poland, who emigrated to the United States before the Civil War. Although legal papers maintain that he was born on 9 March, Bloom acknowledged in his autobiography that his exact date of birth is unknown. Never well-off, the Blooms moved to San Francisco in 1873. According to Bloom his formal education lasted one day, but his mother—the family force—taught him to read and write....

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Brady, Mathew B. (1823?–15 January 1896), photographer and entrepreneur, was born near Lake George, New York, the son of Andrew Brady and Julia (maiden name unknown), poor, working-class parents of Irish heritage. His first name has often been misspelled Matthew; Brady himself did not know what his middle initial stood for. Little is known of his childhood and schooling, and there is some question as to how literate Brady was because others handled his correspondence and financial records. His signature is one of the few examples of his handwriting left behind....

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Bush, Prescott Sheldon (15 May 1895–08 October 1972), banker and U.S. senator, was born in Columbus, Ohio, the son of Samuel Prescott Bush, a manufacturer of railway equipment, and Flora Sheldon. Raised in comfortable circumstances, Bush attended Columbus public schools, St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island, and Yale College, where he earned a B.A. in 1917. At Yale, he was a three-sport athlete (baseball, football, golf), president of the glee club, and a member of the prestigious secret society, Skull and Bones. The quintessential “big man on campus,” he seemed headed for a career in law and politics....

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Butler, Ellis Parker (05 December 1869–13 September 1937), author and humorist, was born in Muscatine, Iowa, the eldest of eight children of Audley Gazzam Butler, a pork packer, and Adela Vesey. At the age of seventeen he left Muscatine High School after one year for a job as a billing clerk and salesman at Muscatine Spice Mill to help support his family. He later held similar jobs at an oatmeal mill, a crockery shop, and, for his last years in Muscatine, a wholesale grocery store where his father, whose pork business had failed, was a bookkeeper....

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Butterfield, Daniel (31 October 1831–17 July 1901), soldier and businessman, was born in Utica, New York, the son of John Butterfield, a businessman, and Malinda Harriet Baker. From his father, president of the Overland Mail and partner in the American Express Company, Butterfield acquired an interest in organizing and administering business corporations. He attended private academies before graduating at eighteen from Union College. Following a brief attempt to study law, he traveled extensively in the South, where he foresaw sectional conflict. In 1857 he married Elizabeth (full name unknown); they had no children. She died in 1877....

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Calvert, George (1580?–15 April 1632), first Lord Baltimore and colonial entrepreneur, was born in Kiplin, Yorkshire, the son of Leonard Calvert, a gentleman of modest means, and a woman named Crossland, perhaps Alicia or Alice, or Grace. Calvert received a broad education through formal study and extensive travel. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Oxford, in 1597 and in 1605 an honorary master’s degree from that university. He gained fluency in Spanish, French, and Italian in his sojourns on the European continent. By his mid-twenties this preparation and his obvious talents in administration and diplomacy brought appointment as private secretary to Sir Robert Cecil, a privy councilor and secretary of state, through whom Calvert acquired still other patronage and the attention of the king. Marriage by 1605 to Anne Mynne of Hertfordshire probably also assisted Calvert’s career; she was related to several prominent families active in government circles and in early trading and colonizing ventures....

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Carroll of Carrollton, Charles (19 September 1737–14 November 1832), planter, businessman, investor, and the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the last of the signers to die, was born in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of Charles Carroll of Annapolis, a planter, and his common-law wife, Elizabeth Brooke. An only child, Carroll was sent at the age of ten to the Jesuit college of St. Omers, in French Flanders, where Maryland’s Catholic gentry sent their sons because the colony’s laws, which denied “papists” the right to vote, hold office, practice law, and worship publicly, also forbade them to maintain religious schools. Young Carroll studied abroad for sixteen years, ending with a thesis in philosophy at the college of Louis le Grand in Paris in 1757. After reading civil law in Bourges and Paris, he moved to London in September 1759 to pursue the common law at the Inns of Court. However, his antipathy for the discipline, which he regarded as “founded upon and still subsisting by villainy,” became so intense that he ultimately defied his father’s intention that he formally enter the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court. Finding the paternal insistence on his acquiring the social graces more to his liking, he became adept at dancing, drawing, and fencing and mastered Italian, bookkeeping, and surveying, practical skills the elder Carroll deemed essential for success as a landowner and man of business....

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Clark, Georgia Neese (27 January 1898–26 October 1995), U.S. treasurer, was born Georgia Neese in Richland, Kansas, the daughter of Albert Neese, a farmer and businessman, and Ellen O'Sullivan Neese. Her father, a self-made man, had prospered in the years before her birth and become the town's leading citizen, owning much of its property as well as the bank and general store. Although a Presbyterian, Georgia Neese briefly attended a small Catholic college in nearby Topeka after graduating from high school in 1917, then transferred to Washburn University in that city. She majored in economics at Washburn and was also active on campus, serving as president of several student organizations, including the drama club. Determined to become an actress, she moved to New York City following graduation in 1921 and enrolled at Sargent's Dramatic School....

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Corcoran, William Wilson (27 December 1798–24 February 1888), banker, investor, and philanthropist, was born in Georgetown, District of Columbia, the son of Thomas Corcoran, an Irish-born merchant, real estate seller, and local politician, and Hannah Lemmon. Corcoran, who is usually referred to as “W. W.” rather than William, was educated in local Georgetown schools and spent one year at Georgetown College (now Georgetown University). In 1815 he left college to go into the business of operating a dry goods store with his two older brothers, James and Thomas, Jr. In 1817 Corcoran opened a branch store, and by 1820, the three brothers expanded their interests to include an auction and commission house. After the company went bankrupt in a financial panic in 1823, Corcoran worked until 1847 to pay off all their creditors in full, an act that demonstrated his views regarding honor....

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Davison, Henry Pomeroy (13 June 1867–06 May 1922), banker and chairman of the American National Red Cross War Council, was born in Troy, Pennsylvania, the son of George Bennett Davison, a merchant of farm implements, and Henrietta Bliss Pomeroy. Davison attended public school in Troy until 1882, when his grandmother provided money for him to attend Greylock Institute in Massachusetts. In the summers he worked as a schoolteacher, but once he completed his education he became a clerk in the Troy bank owned by his Pomeroy uncles....

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Dawes, Charles Gates (27 August 1865–23 April 1951), banker and vice president of the United States, was born in Marietta, Ohio, the son of General Rufus R. Dawes and Mary Beman Gates. His father served gallantly in the Civil War and later went into the lumber business and served one term in Congress. Dawes earned his B.A. (1884) and M.A. (1887) from Marietta College and his LL.B. (1886) from the Cincinnati Law School. In 1887 he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, to practice law. He was an earnest opponent of the entrenched railroad powers, spending hours in court fighting discriminatory rail rates. His initial investments in real estate paid off, however, and he gradually became more sympathetic to conservative business views. For the rest of his life he would promote and defend the contribution of business and businessmen to the increasing wealth of the United States. He married Caro Blymyer of Cincinnati in 1889, and they had two children. After their son drowned in 1912, the couple adopted two more children. Although conservative, Dawes was always willing to hear opposing viewpoints. In Lincoln, Dawes became lifelong friends with ...