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R. Stanton Avery. Courtesy of Avery Dennison Corporation.

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Avery, R. Stanton (13 January 1907–12 December 1997), inventor and entrepreneur, was born Ray Stanton Avery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the son of Oliver Perry Avery, a Congregationalist minister, and Emma Dickinson Avery. Avery's early life was largely shaped by his family's religious and humanitarian interests. (Avery's mother was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, and his brother became a minister.) Although “Stan” rebelled against the family profession, he continued to be drawn to its secular message. As a student at Pomona College from 1926 to 1932, he worked at a Los Angeles skid row mission. During a year-long trip to China (1929–1930), he spent several months at a missionary-run famine relief center. In 1932 he graduated from Pomona and took a job with the Los Angeles County Department of Charities. In later years he always insisted on the highest ethical standards in business relationships....

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Ayres, Leonard Porter (15 September 1879–29 October 1946), educator, statistician, and economist, was born in Niantic, Connecticut, the son of Milan Church Ayres and Georgiana Gall. His father, a clergyman, author, and journalist, was editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser. The family moved to Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, where Leonard received his early education in public schools. An avid bicycle racer, he participated in national matches as a young man. After receiving his Ph.B. degree from Boston University in 1902, he taught school in Puerto Rico, rising rapidly to become general superintendent of the island’s schools and chief of the Education Department’s Statistics Division in 1906. Returning to the states, he moved to New York City and joined the Russell Sage Foundation in 1908 to conduct investigations of the health and education of schoolchildren under the direction of ...

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Babson, Roger Ward (06 July 1875–05 March 1967), businessman, author, and philanthropist, was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Babson, a dry-goods merchant and wholesaler, and Ellen Stearns. As a child, Babson spent his summers in Gloucester on his paternal grandfather’s farm, an experience that later prompted him to write that he “owed more to that farm than any educational institution.” Off the farm, the young Babson, who was a rowdy albeit “nervous” boy, worried his mother by associating not with other middle-class Yankee children but with the “Gould Courters,” an Irish street gang....

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Binney, Amos (18 October 1803–18 February 1847), biologist and businessman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Amos Binney, a businessman, and Hannah Dolliver. Interested early in natural history, Binney accumulated rocks, shells, and birds’ eggs. He attended an academy at Hingham, Massachusetts, and at the age of fourteen entered Brown University, where he was especially interested in the natural sciences and expanded his collection of shells. After graduating in 1821, he studied medicine with a physician in Boston, then attended medical lectures at Dartmouth College....

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Birdseye, Clarence (09 December 1886–07 October 1956), inventor and entrepreneur, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Clarence Frank Birdseye, an attorney and legal scholar, and Ada Underwood. When Birdseye was in his teens, his family moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where he completed his high school education. Interested in both food and natural history from an early age, he signed up for a cooking course in high school and trained himself to be a more than competent taxidermist, attempting for a time to earn some income by training others in that skill. Birdseye attended Amherst College on a sporadic basis between 1908 and 1910, but he left before graduating because of financial problems. In an attempt to pay his college bills, he had collected frogs to sell to the Bronx Zoo for feeding their snake population and caught rats in a butcher shop for a Columbia University faculty member who was conducting breeding experiments. Following his departure from Amherst in 1910, he worked as an office boy for an insurance agency in New York, and then briefly as a snow checker for the city’s street cleaning department....

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Burden, Henry (22 April 1791–19 January 1871), inventor and ironmaster, was born in Dunblane, Stirlingshire, Scotland, the son of Peter Burden and Elizabeth Abercrombie, farmers. Burden discovered his talent for invention as a youth on his family’s modest farm, where with few tools and no models he constructed a threshing machine, several gristmills, and various farm implements. Encouraged by these successes he enrolled in a course of drawing, engineering, and mathematics at the University of Edinburgh (he received no degree)....

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Couch, Harvey Crowley (21 August 1877–30 July 1941), entrepreneur, was born in Calhoun, Arkansas, the son of Thomas Gratham Couch, a preacher and farmer, and Manie Heard. The Couches were of Welsh extraction. Harvey Couch grew up in rural poverty with little formal schooling until the illness of his father led the family to give up farming and move to Magnolia, Arkansas, where at age seventeen Couch completed his education at the Magnolia Academy. He credited his education to a teacher, Pat Neff, later a governor of Texas....

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Creighton, Edward (31 August 1820–05 November 1874), pioneer telegraph builder, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Belmont County, Ohio (near the present town of Barnesville), the son of James Creighton and Bridget Hughes, farmers. Creighton’s father had emigrated in 1805 from County Dungannon, Ireland, to the United States. In 1830 the Creighton family moved to a farm in Licking County, Ohio. Edward Creighton began full-time employment on the family farm and as a wagoner at the age of fourteen. In these early years he worked on the pike roads of Ohio with the young ...

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Cutler, Manasseh (13 May 1742–28 July 1823), preacher, botanist, and land promoter, was born in Killingly, Connecticut, the son of Hezekiah Cutler and Susanna Clark, prosperous farmers. After preparatory study with Killingly pastor Aaron Brown, Cutler matriculated at Yale College (A.B., 1765; A.M., 1768; LL.D., 1789). He married Mary Balch, daughter of Rev. Thomas Balch of Dedham, Massachusetts, in 1766; they had four children. During a brief residence on Martha’s Vineyard (1766–1768), he completed his training for the ministry under his father-in-law’s direction before being licensed to preach in 1770 and ordained at the Congregational church in Ipswich Hamlet (after 1793, Hamilton), where he remained until his death. In 1782 Cutler opened a boarding school that catered to the sons of leading Essex County families....

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Dreyfus, Camille Edouard (11 November 1878–27 September 1956), industrial chemist and entrepreneur, was born in Basel, Switzerland, the son of Abraham Dreyfus, a banker, and Henrietta Wahl. Camille and his younger brother, Henri (later Americanized to Henry), both received their education at the University of Basel, being awarded their Ph.D.s in chemistry in 1902 and 1905, respectively. Camille also pursued postgraduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris until 1906. After working several years in Basel to gain industrial experience, Camille and his brother established a chemical laboratory in their home town. Seeking a product that the public would readily buy, they developed a synthetic indigo. Although they made some money in this venture, it quickly became clear that synthetic indigo did not have a sufficient market. Consequently the Dreyfus brothers focused their attention on celluloid, which at that time was produced only in a flammable form. They recognized that a large potential market existed for nonflammable celluloid, if it could be developed. They focused on cellulose acetate and were shortly producing one to two tons per day. Half of their output went to the motion picture industry for film, with the other half going into the production of toilet articles....

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du Pont, Francis Irénée (03 December 1873–16 March 1942), chemist, inventor, and stockbroker, was born at Hagley House outside of Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Francis Gurney du Pont, manager of the Du Pont black powder mills, and Elise Wigfall Simons. He was a great-grandson of ...

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Eads, James Buchanan (23 May 1820–08 March 1887), civil engineer and entrepreneur, was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the son of Thomas Clark Eads, a businessman, and Ann Buchanan. Eads was named after his mother’s cousin, James Buchanan, a Pennsylvania congressman who later became the fifteenth president of the United States. Eads had little formal schooling. When his family moved to St. Louis in 1833, he went to work doing chores and running errands for a wealthy dry-goods merchant and spent his spare time reading in his employer’s private library. When Eads was nineteen, he joined his family in Iowa, where they had moved in 1837. There he took a job as a second clerk on the river steamer ...

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George Eastman. Courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Eastman, George (12 July 1854–14 March 1932), inventor, businessman, and philanthropist, was born in Waterville, New York, the son of George Washington Eastman, a nurseryman and educator, and Maria Kilbourn. His father’s pioneering work in establishing Eastman Mercantile (or Commercial) College in Rochester in 1842, a prototype for later business schools, perhaps inspired Eastman to be a trailblazer in another field. His father died when George was seven, two years after the family moved to Rochester, and his mother took in boarders. Eastman attended public and private schools until age thirteen, when he became an office boy in a real estate firm to help support his mother and two older sisters. A year later Eastman transferred to an insurance office and in 1874 he became a bookkeeper for the Rochester Savings Bank....

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Thomas Alva Edison Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98066).

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Edison, Thomas Alva (11 February 1847–18 October 1931), inventor and business entrepreneur, was born in Milan, Ohio, the son of Samuel Edison, a shingle maker, land speculator, and shopkeeper, and Nancy Elliott, a schoolteacher. Of Dutch and American heritage, his father escaped from Canada during the rebellion of 1837–1838 and, with his wife and children, settled in Milan, a burgeoning wheat port on a canal near Lake Erie, midway between Cleveland and Detroit. “Al,” as his family called him, received devoted attention from his oldest sister Marion and his mother. The arrival of the railroad in a nearby town sharply diminished the canal business in Milan and prompted the family to move to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854. Al attended both public and private schools for short periods but studied extensively with his mother at home, where he also read books from the library of his politically radical father....

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Cyrus W. Field. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110001).

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Field, Cyrus West (30 November 1819–12 July 1892), financier and promoter of the transatlantic cable, was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the son of David Dudley Field, a Congregationalist minister, and Submit Dickinson. Field’s abiding interest in grand projects such as the Atlantic telegraph owed much to his upbringing. Reared in a strict yet emotionally supportive household, he acquired from his parents a taste for hard work, a zeal for organization, and a restless curiosity. He “never saw Cyrus so uneasy,” one of his brothers once aptly remarked, “as when he was trying to keep still” (Judson, p. 58). It was also an upbringing conducive to high achievement as three of Field’s brothers also rose to national prominence: ...

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Fisher, Avery Robert (04 March 1906–26 February 1994), entrepreneur, graphic designer, and audio engineer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of six children of Charles Fisher and Mary Byrach Fisher, both Russian immigrants. Young Avery was captivated by his father's extensive record collection and this began his lifelong love of classical music. He entered New York University (NYU) in 1924, majoring in biology and English. After graduating in 1929 he joined an advertising agency and came into contact with several publishing companies who were his clients. He got a job as a graphic designer with G. P. Putnam's Sons and then joined Dodd, Mead & Company in 1933, where he worked for the next ten years. He recalled his work in graphic design with great pride and claimed that designing books was his first love. He said that a beautiful typographic design was as pleasing to the eye as listening to music was pleasing to the ear. In 1941 he married Janet Cane; the couple had three children....