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Carnegie, Andrew (25 November 1835–11 August 1919), industrialist and philanthropist, was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, the son of William Carnegie, a handloom weaver, and Margaret Morrison. William Carnegie was sufficiently prosperous to have four looms in his shop and to employ three apprentices. Although shunning political activism, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the political views of his wife’s father, Thomas Morrison, Sr., an early leader of the Chartist movement and a friend of William Cobbett to whose journal, ...

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Chávez, César Estrada (31 March 1927–23 April 1993), labor leader and social activist, was born in North Gila Valley, near Yuma, Arizona, the son of Librado Chávez and Juana Estrada. In 1888 two-year-old Librado, his siblings, and his mother immigrated to the Arizona territory to join his father, who had fled the harshness of life at Hacienda del Carmen in Porfirian, Mexico. Juana Estrada, also a native of Chihuahua, married Librado in 1924, and soon after the couple purchased a small grocery/garage/pool hall not far from his parents’ 160-acre ranch and raised six children. After losing their property during the depression, the family soon joined the migrant harvest circuit....

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Cooper, Peter (12 February 1791–04 April 1883), inventor, manufacturer, and civic benefactor, was born in New York City, the son of John Cooper and Margaret Campbell. His father was a struggling merchant who moved the family successively to Peekskill, Catskill, and finally Newburgh, New York, in search of financial success. Assisting his father in a series of occupations (hatter, brewer, shopkeeper, and brickmaker), Cooper obtained valuable practical work experience. Given his family’s relative poverty and constant movement, Cooper was only able to obtain a year’s worth of formal schooling; this deficiency in his formal education haunted him throughout his life....

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Douglass, Frederick ( February 1818–20 February 1895), abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unidentified white man. Although a slave, he spent the first six years of his life in the cabin of his maternal grandparents, with only a few stolen nighttime visits by his mother. His real introduction to bondage came in 1824, when he was brought to the nearby wheat plantation of Colonel ...

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Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley (07 August 1890–05 September 1964), labor organizer and activist, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas Flynn, a quarry worker and civil engineer, and Annie Gurley, a tailor. Both parents were descended from a long line of Irish rebels. During Elizabeth’s childhood, the family was poor due to the hard times and her father’s preference for political argumentation over earning a living. In 1900 the Flynns moved to a cold-water flat in the Bronx, which became a gathering place for Irish freedom fighters and prominent socialists. Impressed by Elizabeth’s intelligence and militancy, they encouraged her activism....

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Grinnell, Henry (13 February 1799–30 June 1874), merchant and patron of exploration, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Cornelius Grinnell, a sea captain, and Sylvia Howland. The seaport of New Bedford was a center of the New England whaling industry, and young Henry took an early interest in the sea. After graduating from New Bedford Academy, Grinnell became a clerk at a shipping company, H. D. and E. B. Sewell, in New York City, and over the next seven years learned the shipping business. In 1814 his older brother, Joseph, had become a partner in another New York shipping firm, Fish & Grinnell. In 1825, after the retirement of Joseph Grinnell’s partner, Preserved Fish, the three Grinnell brothers—Henry, Joseph, and Moses Hicks—joined together to continue the firm under the name Fish, Grinnell & Company....

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Guggenheim, Daniel (09 July 1856–28 September 1930), industrialist and philanthropist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Meyer Guggenheim, a merchant, and Barbara Meyer. At age seventeen Daniel Guggenheim ended his formal education and joined the family lace business. For the next eleven years he worked as a lace buyer in Switzerland, the nation from which his father and grandfather had emigrated a quarter-century earlier. By the time Guggenheim returned to the United States, his father had begun to invest in lead and silver mines in Leadville, Colorado. Although initially leery of shifting the focus of their business to mining, the younger Guggenheim soon committed himself fully to the new venture and eventually assumed a leadership role among his brothers. The family firm, M. Guggenheim’s Sons, expanded its interests beyond mining, building the largest smelter in the world in Pueblo, Colorado. The shift in emphasis from extraction to the more technologically advanced smelting industry typified Daniel Guggenheim’s increasing commitment to technological innovation as a fundamental corporate strategy. International diversification became a second part of that plan, as the family interests spread beyond the borders of the United States....

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Hammer, Armand (21 May 1898–10 December 1990), entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of Russian-born Julius Hammer, a pharmacist and physician, and Rose Robinson. Hammer’s childhood economic circumstances were better than those of many of his immigrant contemporaries. When he was still a child, his family moved to the Bronx, where his father balanced a quest for a medical degree with the demands of his drugstores. Hammer attended Morris High School and in 1917 registered at Columbia Heights Premedical School. Two years later he enrolled at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated in June 1921....

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Hoover, Herbert Clark (10 August 1874–20 October 1964), engineer, philanthropist, and thirty-first president of the United States, was born in West Branch, Iowa, the son of Jesse Clark Hoover and Hulda[h] Minthorn, farmers. Orphaned at the age of nine, he lived with a variety of relatives in Iowa and finally spent his teenage years in Newberg and Salem, Oregon. Although his parents belonged to a “progressive” branch of Quakers who permitted some organ music and gospel hymns at their meeting house, Hoover’s religious training was quite rigorous under the tutelage of his mother, an ordained Quaker minister....

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Kellor, Frances Alice (20 October 1873–04 January 1952), social reformer and arbitration specialist, was born in Columbus, Ohio, the daughter of Daniel Kellor and Mary Sprau. The family relocated to Coldwater, Michigan, in 1875. Engaging in the same housekeeping work as her mother, Frances Kellor paid for high school. However, after two years, she left school to become a reporter for the ...

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Mesta, Perle (12 Oct. 1889 or 1891–16 March 1975), political activist, businesswoman, diplomat, and hostess, was born Pearl Skirvin in Sturgis, Michigan, the daughter of William Balser Skirvin, a salesman, and Harriet Reid. The actual year of her birth was one of her best-kept secrets. Early in the twentieth century her father left Michigan for the oil fields of South Texas, where he made a fortune in the famed Spindletop field. The feisty “Billy” Skirvin moved to Oklahoma City, where he founded the American Oil and Refinery Company and built the luxurious fourteen-floor Skirvin Hotel. Pearl was educated in private schools in Galveston and studied voice and piano at the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago. In 1917 she married 54-year-old George Mesta, founder and president of the Mesta Machine Company located in Pittsburgh. During her years living in the nation’s steel capital she changed her name to the distinctive “Perle.”...

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Mott, James (29 June 1788–26 January 1868), merchant and reformer, was born at Cowneck (later North Hempstead), New York, the son of Adam Mott, a farmer and miller, and Anne Mott (Mott was both her maiden and her married name). Both parents were descended from a seventeenth-century Quaker emigrant from England, and Mott was brought up in a close-knit community of Long Island Friends. He received his education at a Friends’ boarding school at Nine Partners in New York’s Dutchess County. He excelled at Nine Partners and, after ten years, was appointed an assistant teacher and then a teacher. At the school he met Lucretia Coffin ( ...

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Peabody, George (18 February 1795–04 November 1869), merchant, investment banker, and philanthropist, was born in South Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Peabody, a leather worker and a farmer, and Judith Dodge. His parents, though not wealthy, managed to provide their son with a basic education. As a boy George came to know the value of work. At age eleven he worked in Sylvester Proctor’s grocery in Danvers, and for a short time in 1811 he served as a clerk in the dry-goods store of his brother David....

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Phillips, Wendell (29 November 1811–02 February 1884), orator, abolitionist, and women's rights and labor advocate, orator, abolitionist, and women’s rights and labor advocate, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Phillips, a well-to-do politician and philanthropist, and Sarah Walley. The youngest of eleven children, Wendell received strict and loving attention from both of his parents. From the first he was trained to see himself as a great leader, committed to addressing the great moral and political questions of his age. This drive for leadership was compounded by his early discovery that he possessed extraordinary gifts as an orator. Athletic, handsome, and intelligent, he impressed teachers and classmates alike with his unusual capacity to express himself and to influence others with eloquent speaking. After attending the Boston Latin School, he graduated from Harvard in 1831 and obtained a Harvard law degree in 1833. For the next three years Phillips resided in and around Boston as he attempted, halfheartedly, to establish a legal practice, a career for which he felt no great enthusiasm. Instead he yearned to pursue a vocation worthy of his august legacy. That vocation, finally, was the cause of abolitionism, which he discovered through the process of courtship and marriage....

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Randolph, Asa Philip (15 April 1889–16 May 1979), founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and civil rights leader, was born in Crescent City, Florida, the son of James William Randolph, an itinerant African Methodist Episcopal preacher, and Elizabeth Robinson. The family placed great stress on education. Thus Randolph, an honor student, was sent to Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida (later Bethune-Cookman College). Although greatly influenced by his father’s political and racial attitudes, Randolph resisted pressure to enter the ministry and later became an atheist. Upon graduation from Cookman, in 1907, he found himself barred by racial prejudice from all but manual labor jobs in the South, and so in 1911 he moved to New York City, where he worked at odd jobs during the day and took social science courses at City College at night....

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Robins, Margaret Dreier (06 September 1868–21 February 1945), social reformer and labor leader, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Theodor Dreier, a prosperous businessman, and Dorothea Adelheid. As a teenager Margaret suffered from various physical ailments that left her weak and depressed. Rather than retire to a life of semi-invalidism, however, she threw herself into volunteer work, starting at the age of nineteen when she became treasurer of the women’s auxiliary at Brooklyn Hospital, where her father was a trustee. She did not attend college but sought out private tutoring in philosophy, history, and public speaking. In 1902 Margaret Dreier joined the State Charities Aid Association and the recently established Women’s Municipal League (WML). Soon afterward she and social worker ...

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Rockefeller, John D. (08 July 1839–23 May 1937), industrialist and philanthropist, was born John Davison Rockefeller in Richford, New York, the son of William Avery Rockefeller and Eliza Davison. The family moved several times during his youth: to Moravia in 1843, to Owego in 1850, and to Ohio in 1853, settling in Strongsville, then in Parma in 1855, and finally in Cleveland. His father, an itinerant businessman, dealt in horses, lumber, salt, patent medicines, and herbal remedies and often lent money at profitable rates of interest. He gave his son practical training in business, but the father’s frequent, long absences burdened young Rockefeller with larger responsibilities within the family and helped foster a close relationship with his mother, a devout Baptist whose emphasis on proper moral conduct, discipline, thrift, and hard work would remain with her son....

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Schmitt, Arthur J. (14 June 1893–29 March 1971), inventor, CEO, and philanthropist, was born Arthur John Schmitt in Austin, Illinois (later annexed by Chicago), the son of Henry W. Schmitt and Barbara Elizabeth Schneider Schmitt, owners of a leather-tanning business. Schmitt read Popular Mechanics...

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Simmons, William James (26 June 1849–30 October 1890), Baptist leader, educator, and race advocate, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of enslaved parents, Edward Simmons and Esther (maiden name unknown). During his youth, Simmons’s mother escaped slavery with him and two of his siblings, relocating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Simmons’s uncle, Alexander Tardieu (or Tardiff), a shoemaker, became a father for the children and a protector and provider for the fugitive slave family. He moved them among the cities of Philadelphia, Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Chester, Pennsylvania, constantly eluding persistent “slave catchers,” before permanently taking residence in Bordentown, New Jersey. While Simmons never received formal elementary or secondary school education, his uncle made a point of teaching the children to read and write. As a youth Simmons served as an assistant to a white dentist in Bordentown. At the age of fifteen he joined the Union army, participating in a number of major battles in Virginia and finding himself at Appomattox in 1865. After the war, Simmons once again worked briefly as a dental assistant. He converted and affiliated with the white Baptist church in Bordentown in 1867, announced his call to the ministry, and ventured to college with the financial support of church friends....

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Sloan, Alfred Pritchard, Jr. (23 May 1875–17 February 1966), industrialist and philanthropist, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Alfred Pritchard Sloan, a coffee and tea importer, and Katherine Mead. The oldest of five children, Sloan grew up in a comfortable upper-middle-class home in which he was encouraged to develop his considerable intelligence. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York, when he was ten years old. He began studying mechanics and engineering at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute a year later. Sloan subsequently matriculated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A self-confessed “grind,” he completed an electrical engineering program in just three years and was the youngest graduate in the class of 1895....