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Erastus Corning. Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 27 April 1872. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102401).

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Corning, Erastus (14 December 1794–09 April 1872), manufacturer and railroad executive, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Bliss Corning and Lucinda Smith. About 1805 the family moved to Chatham, New York, a few miles southeast of Albany. Erastus completed a common school education and, at about age thirteen, moved to nearby Troy to work in his uncle Benjamin Smith’s hardware business. Smith was particularly helpful to Erastus, perhaps because an injury in infancy had left the boy with a lifelong reliance on crutches....

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Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-18186).

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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....

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Wilkeson, Samuel (01 June 1781–07 July 1848), shipowner, iron founder, and manufacturer, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the son of John Wilkeson and Mary Robinson, farmers. Samuel Wilkeson’s early years, after only two weeks of formal education, were devoted solely to working on his father’s farm. In 1902 at age twenty-one he left the family farm and married Jane Oram, who subsequently bore all of Wilkeson’s six children....

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Yeatman, Thomas (25 December 1787–12 June 1833), merchant and banker, was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, the son of John Yeatman, a ship and boat builder on the Potomac and Monongahela rivers, and Lucy Patty. Very little is known of Yeatman’s early life. He arrived in Nashville about 1807 and probably soon became a river trader. W. W. Clayton, in ...