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James Couzens. [left to right] C. C. Dill, Owen Young, and James Couzens, before the Senate Interstate Commerce Commission. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98142).

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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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Fargo, William George (20 May 1818–03 August 1881), business leader and mayor of Buffalo, New York, was born in Pompey, New York, the son of William C. Fargo, a farmer and mail contractor, and Tacy Strong, a farmer. The eldest of twelve children, Fargo grew accustomed to steady work at an early age. He had little formal education and at the age of thirteen secured a job carrying the mail on horseback twice a week over a thirty-mile route. Since Fargo’s father was also a mail carrier, Fargo may well have owed this opportunity to his father’s influence. He supplemented his income as a mail carrier by running a variety of errands for his neighbors, for which he was paid a small commission. These errands included carrying parcels and messages and purchasing goods at local stores. It is likely that this experience helped to shape Fargo’s later determination to establish a business that would perform these tasks on a regular basis and on a greatly extended geographical scale....

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Swann, Thomas (03 February 1809–24 July 1883), governor of Maryland, mayor of Baltimore, and railroad executive, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, the son of Thomas Swann, a wealthy Washington lawyer, and Jane Byrd Page, a member of a prestigious Virginia family. Swann attended preparatory school at Columbian College in Washington and studied law at the University of Virginia in 1826–1827, continuing his studies in his father’s office. Talented and energetic, he caught the eye of ...