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Nelson W. Aldrich. Drawing by Arthur Dove, published in Success, 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54138).

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Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth (06 November 1841–16 April 1915), U.S. senator, congressman, and businessman, was born in Foster, Rhode Island, the son of Anan Aldrich and Abby Burgess, farmers. Having received a modest education in East Killingly, Connecticut, and at the East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island, Aldrich was by age seventeen working in Providence. Eventually a large wholesale grocery firm, Waldron, Wightman & Co., hired him as a clerk and bookkeeper. His career there was briefly interrupted in 1862 by service with the Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers garrisoning Washington, D.C. After contracting typhoid that same year he returned to Providence and, by 1866, had been elevated to junior partner at Waldron, Wightman. He married Abby Chapman that year; the couple would have eleven children. His wife was of independent means, but Aldrich insisted on accumulating a fortune on his own account and gradually did so. He worked his way up to full partner at Waldron, Wightman, was a director of the Roger Williams Bank by 1872, and by 1877 was president of Providence’s First National Bank. He also headed the city’s Board of Trade in these years....

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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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Boteler, Alexander Robinson (16 May 1815–08 May 1892), congressman and businessman, was born in Shepherdstown, Virginia (now W.Va.), the son of Henry Boteler, a physician, and Priscilla Robinson. His mother died when he was only four, so Boteler was raised by his grandmother in Baltimore. He graduated from Princeton College in 1835 and married Helen Macomb Stockton the next year; they had at least one child. After his father’s death in 1836, Boteler moved to the family farm, where he earned recognition for agricultural experimentation, including the development of farm machinery. He also operated a flour and cement mill. He soon became a man of some wealth and was reported as owning an estate worth $41,000 in the 1860 census, including fifteen slaves....

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Brice, Calvin Stewart (17 September 1845–15 December 1898), U.S. senator, railroad builder, and financier, was born in Denmark, Ohio, the son of William Kilpatrick Brice, a Presbyterian minister, and Elizabeth Stewart. He received his earliest education at home and in the public schools of Columbus Grove, Putnam County, where his family moved after his third birthday. When Brice turned thirteen years old, his parents placed him in the preparatory program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where because of his father’s limited means he had to work his way through school. He required only one year of preparatory work before being granted admission as a freshman....

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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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Crocker, Alvah (14 October 1801–26 December 1874), manufacturer, railroad promoter, and congressman, was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Crocker and Comfort Jones. His parents were among the founders of the Baptist church in Leominster, and they imparted a strong work ethic to their seven sons, of whom Alvah was the eldest. He went to work at the age of eight in a Leominster paper mill, where he earned twenty-five cents for each twelve-hour day. He received little formal education (one year at Groton Academy at age sixteen), but he read widely on his own, and his letters displayed a bent toward literature and rhetoric. He subsequently worked in other paper mills in Franklin, New Hampshire, and Fitchburg, Massachusetts, before he started his first industrial concern, a paper manufactory in Fitchburg in 1826....

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Chauncey Mitchell Depew. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90755).

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Depew, Chauncey Mitchell (23 April 1834–05 April 1928), public speaker, railroad president, and U.S. senator, was born in Peekskill, New York, the son of Isaac Depew, a shipowner, merchant, and farmer, and Martha Mitchell. After graduating from Peekskill Academy in 1852, Chauncey entered Yale where he forsook the Democratic faith of his father and sided with the antislavery forces of the newly created Republican party. After receiving his diploma in 1856, young Depew began the study of law in the office of a Peekskill attorney and was admitted to the bar in 1858. That same year he was a delegate to the Republican State Convention, and in 1862 and 1863 he served in the New York state legislature, becoming a leader of the GOP caucus during his second session. In 1863 he was elected New York’s secretary of state, a post he held for two years. Throughout this period he developed a reputation as a campaign speaker who could sway a crowd in support of the Republican cause. In an age when oratorical skill was a prerequisite to political success, his gift for speaking proved an invaluable asset....

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Donald D. Engen. Photograph by Carolyn Russo. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (#99-15320).

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Engen, Donald Davenport (28 May 1924–13 July 1999), naval officer, test pilot, public servant, was born in Pomona, California, the son of Sydney M. Engen, a stockbroker and later an Internal Revenue Service employee, and Dorothy Davenport Engen. Engen spent his childhood years in southern California, principally in Pasadena. When he was in fourth grade, he decided that he wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and become a naval officer....

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Fuller, Alvan Tufts (27 February 1878–30 April 1958), automobile dealer, congressman, and governor of Massachusetts, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Alvan Bond Fuller, a Civil War veteran who worked in the composing room of the Boston Globe, and Flora Arabella Tufts. He grew up in an old New England family of modest means in the Boston suburb of Malden, where he attended public schools. A champion bicycle racer, he went to work in the shipping department of the Boston Rubber Shoe Company factory and sold rubber boots evenings and weekends to earn money to build his own bike shop. After Fuller opened the shop in Malden in 1895 his ebullient personality and flair for salesmanship made it an immediate success. A notable Fuller innovation was his Washington’s Birthday open house, which gave customers an opportunity to view new models on a winter holiday and to plan their spring purchases. He moved his business to Boston in 1898....

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Guthrie, James (05 December 1792–13 March 1869), secretary of the treasury, U.S. senator, and businessman, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Adam Guthrie, a planter and politician, and Hannah Polk. Educated at the McAllister Academy in Bardstown, he subsequently worked on Mississippi River flatboats. After reading law with ...

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W. Averell Harriman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105320 ).

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Harriman, W. Averell (15 November 1891–26 July 1986), businessman and government official, was born William Averell Harriman in New York City, the son of the railroad organizer Edward H. Harriman and Mary Averell (Mary Williamson Averell Harriman). He spent his early years in New York and on the family estate of Arden in the nearby Ramapo Mountains. He was educated at Groton and Yale. Harriman did poorly in preparatory studies, which brought admonishment from his father, and it is possible that his stammer, which he carried throughout his long life, resulted from this experience. At Yale he did better academically, and excelled socially....

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Hayne, Robert Young (10 November 1791–24 September 1839), U.S. senator, governor of South Carolina, and railroad president, was born on the Pon Pon rice plantation in the Colleton District of South Carolina, the fifth of fourteen children born to William Hayne, a planter and one of the youngest members of South Carolina’s 1790 constitutional convention, and Elizabeth Peronneau. Owing to the large number of children in the Hayne family, a formal education for Robert was not feasible. After his initial years of educational preparation under Mr. William Mason and Dr. John Smith in Charleston, Hayne studied law in the office of State Senator ...

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Hoffman, Paul Gray (26 April 1891–08 October 1974), automotive executive, government official, and international administrator, was born in Chicago, Illinois, and spent his childhood in a nearby suburb. His parents—George Hoffman, a successful inventor, corporate executive, and entrepreneur, and Eleanor Lott—provided a comfortable family environment oriented toward modern business and civic responsibility. He ended his formal schooling in 1909 after a year at the University of Chicago....

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Lacock, Abner (09 July 1770–12 April 1837), state and national leader and canal builder, was born on Cub Run, near Alexandria, Virginia, the son of William Lacock and Lovey (maiden name unknown), farmers. Around 1780 his family settled in Washington County in western Pennsylvania; there they bought a 120-acre farm in Amwell Township, and Abner helped his parents in planting and in harvesting crops. Between 1782 and 1786 Lacock attended Thaddeus Dodd’s Academy in Amity, Pennsylvania, and studied mathematics, surveying, and the classics. In 1788 he married Hannah Eddy, and the couple had three sons and four daughters....