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Barnard, Chester Irving (07 November 1886–07 June 1961), telephone executive, foundation president, and management theorist, was born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Charles H. Barnard, a machinist, and Mary E. Putnam. His mother died when Chester was five. Apprenticed as a piano tuner, he worked his way through preparatory school at Mount Hermon Academy in Northfield, Massachusetts, and won a scholarship to Harvard, where he supplemented his income by tuning pianos and running a small dance band. He studied economics and languages but failed to receive a degree because he lacked a laboratory science course, which he felt he could not complete and yet “do all the work I had to do to eat.” In 1909 he was employed by American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (AT&T) in the statistical department, studying the rate-setting practices of European telephone companies. He married Grace Frances Noera in 1911. They had one child....

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Behn, Sosthenes (30 January 1884–06 June 1957), corporation executive, was born Louis Richard Sosthenes Behn in St. Thomas in what was then the Danish West Indies, the son of Ricardo Augusto Guillermo Behn, a businessman, and Louise Monsanto. Behn was educated in the Virgin Islands, Corsica, and at Collège Ste. Barbée in Paris. During the course of his education and travels, he became fluent in English, French, and Spanish. In 1898 Behn’s family moved to New York City, where he found jobs as a messenger and later as a clerk. When Morton Trust Company, a Wall Street concern, rejected Behn for employment because he was too young, he grew a beard, changed his official birth date to 1882, and reapplied a few months later. This time he was hired and was eventually promoted to head clerk at the firm....

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Alexander Graham Bell Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104276).

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Bell, Alexander Graham (03 March 1847–02 August 1922), inventor and educator, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds. Family tradition and childhood environment set him on the path to his greatest invention, the telephone. His grandfather had turned from acting to speech teaching, and his father had become eminent in the latter vocation. His mother, despite her seriously impaired hearing, was an accomplished pianist and engaged her son’s interest in that form of sound communication. Edinburgh, second only to London as an intellectual center of the British Empire, excelled in science and technology, which probably stirred the boy’s interest and ambition in such matters. He made a hobby of botany and zoology. Playing about a local grist mill, he took up the miller’s challenge to make himself useful and devised a hand-cranked machine that took the husks off the grain—“my first invention,” he later called it....

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Blake, Francis (25 December 1850–19 January 1913), scientist, inventor, and astronomer, was born in Needham, Massachusetts, the son of Francis Blake, a businessman and U.S. appraiser of Boston, and Caroline (maiden name unknown). Blake attended Brookline High School but left at age sixteen to take up a position as a draftsman in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Blake remained with the survey team for thirteen years. The Coast Survey at that time hired young people out of high school or college in order to nurture the character values of morality, discipline, and loyalty in their employees. On-the-job training by knowledgeable instructors provided young men such as Blake with the skills to conduct research projects using the latest modern scientific techniques....

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deButts, John Dulany (10 April 1915–17 December 1986), corporation executive, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, the son of Sydnor deButts, a manager for the Atlantic & Yadkin railroad line, and Mary Ellen Cutchin. DeButts worked on a railroad during his youth and after finishing high school entered the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. In 1936 he graduated as a captain with a B.S. in electrical engineering and served as valedictorian of his class....

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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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Gifford, Walter Sherman (10 January 1885–07 May 1966), telephone company executive, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Poole Gifford, a lumber merchant, and Harriet Maria Spinney, a schoolteacher. Gifford entered Harvard University in 1901 and completed his course work in three years, but he chose to take his degree with the class of 1905. Gifford started work in 1904 as a clerk at the Western Electric Company, the manufacturing subsidiary of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T). In 1905 he transferred to Western Electric’s New York headquarters and became its assistant secretary and assistant treasurer. Gifford’s statistical reports attracted the attention of AT&T president ...

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Gardiner Greene Hubbard Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105888).

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Hubbard, Gardiner Greene (25 August 1822–11 December 1897), businessman and civic leader, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Hubbard, a justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and Mary Anne Greene. Hubbard was named for his mother’s father, who had come, modestly wealthy, from Ireland and had become one of the richest men in Boston. After Hubbard’s graduation from Dartmouth in 1841, he studied law for a year at Harvard before entering a prominent Boston firm. He married Gertrude McCurdy in 1846 and moved with her to Cambridge. Of their six children, two died in infancy....

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McGowan, William (10 December 1927–08 June 1992), telephone company executive, was born in Ashley, Pennsylvania, the son of Andrew McGowan, a railroad engineer and labor union organizer, and Catherine Mary Evans, a schoolteacher. William McGowan worked as a clerk for the Central Railroad of New Jersey while attending the University of Scranton, until he was drafted in 1945. He served as a medic with the U.S. Army, working with the relocation of concentration camp survivors and the Berlin Airlift; he also attended courses at the University of Munich. After his discharge in 1948 he studied chemical engineering at Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, graduated in 1950, and went on to Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker scholar....

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Vail, Theodore Newton (16 July 1845–16 April 1920), business leader, was born near Minerva, in Carroll County, Ohio, the son of Davis Vail, a farmer and iron manufacturer, and Phebe Quinby. Vail grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, where his father oversaw the Speedwell Ironworks, a family concern. Vail obtained a high school education at the Morristown Academy and, after working briefly as a drugstore clerk, moved to New York City, where he secured a job through a friend as a telegraph operator for Western Union. Telegraphy was something of a family tradition, since Vail’s cousin Alfred had worked closely with ...

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Thomas Augustus Watson Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99523).

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Watson, Thomas Augustus (18 January 1854–13 December 1934), technician and entrepreneur, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas R. Watson, a livery stable foreman, and Mary Phipps. A bright, quick boy, he left public school at fourteen from restless ambition rather than incapacity. After drifting from job to job for four years he settled down at the Boston shop of Charles Williams, who made a variety of electrical devices in small quantities. Watson took to his new job from the first. He later recalled his exultation as “I made stubborn metal do my will and take the shape necessary to . . . its allotted work.” He lay awake at night devising special tools to speed and improve his work. By 1874 he was recognized as one of the shop’s best men and accordingly was set to doing custom work for inventors. In January 1875 Watson was assigned to make apparatus for a young inventor, ...