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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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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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Wade, Jeptha Homer (11 August 1811–09 August 1890), financier and telegraph industry executive, was born in Romulus, Seneca County, New York, the son of Jeptha Wade, a surveyor and civil engineer, and Sarah Allen. After suffering the loss of his father at the age of two, Wade relocated with his family to Seneca Falls, New York. While details regarding his education remain sketchy, his family’s relative poverty sent him into the workplace at an early age. After working in a brickyard, he learned carpentry and then ran a sash and blind factory. In October 1832 he married Rebecca Loueza Facer, who died in November 1836. In September of the following year he married Susan M. Fleming and also developed what would become a lifelong interest in painting. After studying portrait painting with local artist Randall Palmer, he traveled westward in 1837 and for several years made his living as an itinerant painter. He traveled from New York as far south as Louisiana and as far west as Michigan, where he learned of a new device, the daguerreotype, which he soon used in conjunction with his painting....

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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, ...