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James V. Forrestal. [left to right]James V. Forrestal and Captain Joy Bright Hancock. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Forrestal, James Vincent (15 February 1892–22 May 1949), secretary of the navy and first U.S. secretary of defense, was born in Matteawan, New York, the son of James Forrestal, a construction contractor, and Mary Ann Toohey, a schoolteacher. Raised in a small-town Irish-Catholic community, Forrestal attended Dartmouth College in 1911. In 1912 he transferred to Princeton University, where he developed social and business connections with the Protestant establishment. He withdrew before graduating with his class, possibly over a dispute with a professor. He held a number of sales jobs before a Princeton alumnus arranged for him to join the Wall Street investment firm of William A. Read and Company. The First World War interrupted Forrestal’s rising career as a bond salesman. During the war he served as a lieutenant junior grade in the Aviation Division of the newly created Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. In 1926 he married Josephine Ogden, a ...

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Matthews, Francis Patrick (15 March 1887–18 October 1952), secretary of the navy, was born in Albion, Nebraska, the son of Patrick Henry Matthews, a merchant, and Mary Ann Sullivan. Although his father died when Matthews was eleven, he was able to complete his secondary schooling in Albion and then work his way through Creighton University in Omaha by waiting on tables and doing janitorial chores. He graduated in 1910 and completed his legal studies at Creighton three years later. Matthews was admitted to the bar in 1913 and practiced law in Omaha, where he became a partner in the firm of Frandenburg and Matthews. He was also active in several business ventures. In 1914 he married Mary Claire Hughes; they had six children....

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Smith, Robert (03 November 1757–26 November 1842), U.S. secretary of state and secretary of the navy, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the son of John Smith, a merchant, and Mary Buchanan. When he was two, he moved with his family to Baltimore. During the Revolution he served briefly in the Continental army as a private, seeing action at Brandywine, but he graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) with the class of 1781. After the war he studied law in Baltimore and was admitted to the bar. Baltimore emerged in these years as an important American port, and Smith took up the practice of admiralty law, aided by good family connections. In 1790 he married Margaret Smith. The couple had eight children....

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Stoddert, Benjamin (1751–17 December 1813), first secretary of the Naval Department, was born in Charles County, Maryland, the son of Thomas Stoddert, a tobacco planter, and Sarah Marshall, daughter of a prominent family in the same colony. Nothing is known of his early education, but as a young man he served an apprenticeship in the merchant community of Philadelphia, where his friends included the young ...