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Akeley, Carl Ethan (19 May 1864–17 November 1926), taxidermist, naturalist, and inventor, was born near Clarendon, New York, the son of Daniel Webster Akeley and Julia Glidden, farmers. In his early teens he taught himself taxidermy. After two years at the State Normal School in Brockport, New York, he began work at the age of nineteen for Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, a company that prepared laboratory and museum specimens. One of Akeley’s jobs was to skin and mount for exhibition ...

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Borden, Gail (09 November 1801–11 January 1874), surveyor and inventor, was born in Norwich, New York, the son of Gail Borden, a pioneer and landowner, and Philadelphia Wheeler. The Bordens moved at least twice in the early 1800s, first to Kennedy’s Ferry, Kentucky, which became Covington soon after their arrival, and then to New London, Indiana, in 1816, where Borden learned surveying. Borden attended school in Indiana during 1816 and 1817....

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Terry S. Reynolds and Barry C. James

Burt, William Austin (13 June 1792–18 August 1858), surveyor and inventor, was born in Petersham, Massachusetts, the son of Alvin Burt and Wealthy Austin, farmers. In 1802 Burt’s father, in financial difficulties, moved his family to Freehold, New York, and a year later to Broadalbin, New York. In 1810 the family moved again, this time to Wales Center, near Buffalo, New York. Because his labor was needed on the family’s farm, Burt’s formal education effectively ended at the age of nine, save for three-week stints at the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Burt, however, avidly pursued self-education, largely teaching himself the principles of astronomy, mathematics, and navigation and inventing a shorthand system for his own use. He also developed an aptitude for mechanics. By the age of twenty he was surveying lands in western New York and erecting flour and saw mills....

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Harold E. Edgerton Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103829).

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Edgerton, Harold Eugene (06 April 1903–04 January 1990), electrical engineer and photographer, was born in Fremont, Nebraska, the son of Frank E. Edgerton, a lawyer, and Mary Coe. Edgerton received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska in 1925 and a doctorate of science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1931. He married Esther May Garrett in 1928; they had three children. Most of Edgerton’s career centered on his invention, development, and application of the stroboscopic flash....

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Fitch, John (21 January 1743–June or July 1798), inventor and craftsman, was born in Windsor, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Fitch and Sarah Shaler, farmers. His father came from neighboring Hartford and his mother from Bolton. His mother died before he was five; his father married Abigail Church of Hartford two years later. Most of what is known about Fitch comes from an autobiographical sketch written between 1790 and 1792, when he was alone and embittered, convinced that he had been cheated by life. Although he had by then put aside the Calvinistic Presbyterianism of his upbringing and replaced it with a rationalistic deism, he still tended to pass judgment on those he felt had failed him. His memories of childhood were few and unhappy. He described his father as uncaring, even tyrannical. Unjust treatment by an older brother “forbode” his “future rewards,” he reminisced—with the irony intended ( ...

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R. Buckminster Fuller. Oil on canvas, c. 1981, by Ruth Munson. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Fuller, R. Buckminster (12 July 1895–01 July 1983), inventor, designer, and environmentalist, often referred to as “Bucky,” was born Richard Buckminster Fuller, Jr., in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Richard Buckminster Fuller, an importer of leather and tea, who died in 1910, and Caroline Wolcott Andrews. He was the grandnephew of author and literary critic ...

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Robert Fulton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102509).

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Fulton, Robert (14 November 1765–23 February 1815), artist, engineer, and entrepreneur, was born on a farm in Little Britain (later Fulton) Township, south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Fulton, a Scotch-Irish tailor and tradesman, and Mary Smith. Fulton’s father had left the prosperous market town of Lancaster to establish his family on the land, but like so many others with the same goal, he failed. The farm and the dwelling were sold at sheriff’s sale in 1772, and he took his family back to Lancaster. He died two years later....

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Lloyd, Marshall Burns (10 March 1858–10 August 1927), inventor and manufacturer, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of John Lloyd and Margaret Commee. Lloyd’s parents were English immigrants who initially had settled in Canada and moved back to a farm in Meaford, Ontario, shortly after their son’s birth. As a youth, Lloyd had a limited formal education but exhibited an inventive bent and keen ambition. At age fourteen he worked in a country store. Then he invented a fish spear, caught fish, and sold them door-to-door, devised a clothes hamper and a spring bed, worked in a grocery store in Toronto, peddled soap, delivered mail by dogsled, and finally joined a land rush in Winnipeg. Speculating in land using his savings from waiting tables, he accumulated several thousand dollars. He was eighteen years old....

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Samuel F. B. Morse. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92300).

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Morse, Samuel Finley Breese (27 April 1791–02 April 1872), artist and telegraph inventor, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the eldest child of Rev. Jedidiah Morse and Elizabeth Ann Breese. Some biographers have emphasized the influence of his father’s evangelical Calvinism on Morse, but much of his early life was spent away from home; he was enrolled as a boarder at Phillips Academy in Andover at age eight. He entered Yale in 1805 and graduated in 1810, obtaining some knowledge of electricity (but not of electromagnetism, which had yet to be discovered) from courses with ...

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Muybridge, Eadweard (09 April 1830–08 May 1904), photographer of animal locomotion and inventor of the first theatrical motion picture projector, was born Edward James Muggeridge in Kingston-on-Thames, England, the son of John Muggeridge, a corn chandler, and Susannah (maiden name uncertain). Little is recorded about Muybridge’s childhood and his education in Kingston, but there are numerous, partially conflicting accounts of his activities and accomplishments later in life. As a young man, he changed his name to what he thought represented its original Anglo-Saxon form. In the afterglow of the 1849 Gold Rush, Muybridge emigrated to California in 1852....

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Tupper, Earl Silas (28 July 1907–03 October 1983), inventor, was born in Berlin, New Hampshire, the son of farmers. Soon after his birth the family moved to a farm in Massachusetts where young Tupper enjoyed buying and selling vegetables. After graduating from high school in 1926, Tupper turned his hobby into a small mail-order business for household items such as combs and toothbrushes. During this time the self-described “ham inventor and Yankee trader” found another area in which to tinker—chemical engineering. Tupper’s self-taught skills led him to Du Pont, where he worked as an engineer during the 1930s. While at Du Pont, Tupper became fascinated by plastic, an interest that continued through the remainder of his life....

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Willard, Solomon (26 June 1783–27 February 1861), sculptor, architect, inventor, and educator, was born in Petersham, Massachusetts, the son of William Willard, a carpenter and joiner, and Katherine Wilder. After completing an apprenticeship with his father, Willard left for Boston in 1804 to find work as a carpenter. There he may have studied architectural drawing with ...