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Joel Barlow. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Barlow.

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Barlow, Joel (24 March 1754–26 December 1812), businessman, diplomat, and poet, was born in Redding, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Barlow and Esther Hull, fairly well-to-do farmers. Barlow was born the second-to-last child in a large family. Given the size of the family and their farm, Barlow could receive formal education only from the local minister, an education probably interspersed with farm chores. When Barlow was eighteen, his father arranged for his schooling at Moor’s Indian School (now Dartmouth) in Hanover, New Hampshire. Barlow began his studies there in 1772, yet his father’s death shortly thereafter made it necessary for Barlow to return home. He entered Yale College with the class of 1778. At Yale Barlow began to give evidence of an interest in poetry, in moral and political philosophy, and in science as a key to the improvement of the human condition. His first published poem, a broadside publication, was a satire in pseudobiblical verse about the bad food served in Yale commons. Although he wrote poems throughout his college days, Barlow’s best-known college verses were verse orations delivered at two Yale commencements, ...

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Julius H. Barnes. Right, with Thomas Lamont, left, and Silas Strawn. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92371).

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Barnes, Julius Howland (02 February 1873–17 April 1959), industrialist and government official, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of Lucien Jerome Barnes, a banker, and Julia Hill. Moving with his family, he attended public schools in Washington, D.C., and Duluth, Minnesota. Following his father’s death in 1886, Barnes left school to take a job as office boy with the Duluth grain brokerage firm of Wardell Ames. There he rose rapidly, becoming president of the company in 1910 and subsequently reorganizing it as the Barnes-Ames Company. By 1915 Barnes-Ames was the world’s largest grain exporter, and Barnes acquired other business interests, principally in shipbuilding and Great Lakes shipping. In 1896 he married Harriet Carey, with whom he had two children....

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Bixby, Horace Ezra (08 May 1826–01 August 1912), steamboat pilot, was born in Geneseo, New York, the son of Sylvanus Bixby and Hannah Barnes, farmers. After running away from home when he was thirteen, Bixby made his way to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he first worked in a tailor shop. Like many river-town youths, he was attracted to steamboating, which was rapidly expanding in the 1840s. He started as a second, or mud, clerk on the ...

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Burns, Otway, Jr. (1775–25 October 1850), privateer, shipbuilder, and state legislator, was born on Queen’s Creek, Onslow County, North Carolina, the son of Otway Burns and Lisanah (maiden name unknown), farmers. Little is known of Burns’s education or youth. Apparently he went to sea at an early age and became a skilled seaman. In 1806 the Onslow County Court apprenticed an orphan lad to Burns to learn navigation. Prior to the War of 1812, Burns was master of a merchantman engaged in the coastwise trade between North Carolina and New England....

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Bushnell, David (30 August 1740–1826), inventor, was born in Saybrook, Connecticut, the son of Nehemiah Bushnell and Sarah Ingham, farmers. By the time Bushnell entered Yale, he had developed concepts for both a submarine and an underwater explosive. At college, he experimented with gunpowder and proved that it could explode underwater. During the summer of 1775, the year he graduated, the thirteen colonies were in the throes of revolt against Great Britain, and Bushnell felt that an offensive weapon would be a useful tool against the Royal Navy in the ensuing conflict. With that in mind, he constructed his submarine in Saybrook during the spring and summer of 1775. Although he was secretive about his work, several colonial notables knew of it, including ...

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Butterfield, John (18 November 1801–14 November 1869), western pioneer, express company operator, and investor, was born in Berne, near Albany, New York, the son of Daniel Butterfield (his mother’s name is unknown). His formal education consisted of intermittent attendance at local public schools. As a young man he became a stagecoach driver in New York State and later an investor in barges plying the Erie Canal....

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Casey, James E. (29 March 1888–06 June 1983), corporation executive, was born in Candelaria, Nevada, a small mining town where his father worked as a part-time prospector and part-time innkeeper. While Casey was still an infant, his father moved the family to Seattle, Washington. With his father in poor health, Casey had to leave school at age eleven to support the family. After working in Seattle as a delivery boy for a department store and as a messenger for the American District Telegraph Company, Casey went to Nevada and prospected for gold. He returned to Seattle where, in August 1907, he and fellow teenager Claude Ryan began a messenger service, which they called the American Messenger Company. Ryan’s uncle allowed the boys to establish an office in a space 6 feet by 17 feet beneath a tavern that he operated at Main Street and Second Avenue in Seattle....

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Cheney, Benjamin Pierce (12 August 1815–23 July 1895), transportation executive, was born in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the son of Jesse Cheney, a blacksmith, and Alice Steele. Born into an impoverished family, he attended local common schools until the age of ten and then went to work in his father’s shop. After nearly two years working with his father, he relocated to Francistown, New Hampshire, where he took a job in a tavern and later worked in a local store....