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Buick, David Dunbar (17 September 1854–06 March 1929), inventor and businessman, was born in Arbroath, Scotland, the son of Alexander Buick and Jane Roger. The family emigrated from Scotland to Detroit, Michigan, two years after Buick was born; his father died three years later. Buick attended elementary school, but the poverty of his single-parent family forced him to find full-time employment when he was just eleven years old. By the time he was fifteen, he had delivered newspapers, worked on a farm, and served as a machinist’s apprentice at the James Flower & Brothers Machine Shop (the same firm where ...

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Bushnell, David (30 August 1740–1826), inventor, was born in Saybrook, Connecticut, the son of Nehemiah Bushnell and Sarah Ingham, farmers. By the time Bushnell entered Yale, he had developed concepts for both a submarine and an underwater explosive. At college, he experimented with gunpowder and proved that it could explode underwater. During the summer of 1775, the year he graduated, the thirteen colonies were in the throes of revolt against Great Britain, and Bushnell felt that an offensive weapon would be a useful tool against the Royal Navy in the ensuing conflict. With that in mind, he constructed his submarine in Saybrook during the spring and summer of 1775. Although he was secretive about his work, several colonial notables knew of it, including ...

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Champion, Albert (02 April 1878–27 October 1927), inventor and businessman, was born in Paris, France, the son of Alexander Champion. Available sources reveal no other information about his family or his early life. No doubt he received an early education in Paris. When he was about twelve years old, he obtained employment as an errand boy for a bicycle manufacturer....

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Colley, Russell (22 July 1897–04 February 1996), inventor, designer, and aeronautical engineer, was born Russell Sidney Colley in Stoneham, Mass., the son of Frank S. Colley, a druggist, and Florence Vesta Hopkins Colley. Russell spent several summers in high school serving as an apprentice electrician. After he revealed his desire to become a women's fashion designer, his art teacher directed him out of her freehand drawing class into what she considered more appropriate, a mechanical drawing class. He was accepted into Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1918 completed the two-year machine construction and tool design course....

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Glenn H. Curtiss. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106325).

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Curtiss, Glenn Hammond (21 May 1878–23 July 1930), aeronautical inventor and manufacturer, was born in Hammondsport, New York, the son of Frank R. Curtiss, the owner of a harness shop, and Lua Andrews. After the death of his father in 1883, Curtiss was raised by his mother and his strong-willed grandmother Ruth Curtiss in the bucolic Finger Lake region of western New York. After graduating from the eighth grade in 1892, Curtiss secured a job stenciling numbers on the backing of photographic film for the Eastman Dry Plant and Film Company (later Eastman Kodak Company) of Rochester. The next year he purchased a bicycle and found employment as a messenger for Western Union....

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Duryea, Charles Edgar (15 December 1861–28 September 1938), inventor and manufacturer of bicycles and automobiles, was born near Canton, Fulton County, Illinois, the son of George Washington Duryea and Louisa Melvina Turner, farmers. From Canton the family moved successively to farms in Woodford and Stark counties, Illinois, where Duryea grew up with a bent toward mechanics. At the age of eighteen his first inventive effort was a bicycle....

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Duryea, Frank (08 October 1869–15 February 1967), inventor and manufacturer of automobiles, was born James Frank Duryea near Washburn, Illinois, the son of George Washington Duryea and Louisa Melvina Turner, farmers. From Washburn the family moved to a farm near Wyoming, Illinois, where Frank grew up and graduated from Wyoming High School. Frank Duryea’s career was linked closely with that of his brother ...

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Ericsson, John (31 July 1803–08 March 1889), inventor and engineer, was born in Langbanshyttan, province of Wermland, Sweden, the son of Olof Ericsson, a mine proprietor and inspector, and Brita Sophia Yngstrom. His earliest education was instruction by his parents and private tutors. John often spent his days drawing and building models of the machinery in his father’s mine. His father was well educated, but John’s strong character traits were attributed to the influence of his mother. Sweden’s war with Russia ruined John’s father financially, but he was able to secure a position as an inspector on a canal project and to obtain appointments for his two sons as cadets in the Corps of Mechanical Engineers. Thus at age thirteen John began his first formal education, and his natural aptitudes for mechanical drawing and solving engineering problems were encouraged and developed....

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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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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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Hall, Thomas Seavey (01 April 1827–01 December 1880), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Upper Bartlett, New Hampshire, the son of Elias Hall, a clergyman, and Hannah Seavey. Hall attended Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. He then established a textile company in Stamford, Connecticut, specializing in woolen products. Being very successful in this enterprise, Hall retired in 1866. That year Hall was traveling on a train that wrecked because a switch was misplaced. Although he was not injured, the event impelled him to find a better method for warning trains of other trains on the same track. His interest expanded from signaling devices to prevent accidents caused by misplaced switches and came to include prevention of mishaps at open drawbridges and highway crossings....

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Haupt, Herman (26 March 1817–14 December 1905), railway engineer, inventor, author, and administrator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jacob Haupt, a businessman of modest attainments, and Anna Margaretta Wiall, the proprietor of a small dry goods store. Herman attended several private schools in Philadelphia, but in 1827 his father, suffering from poor health, gave up the grocery store he then owned and moved to Woodville, New Jersey. Jacob Haupt died the next year, leaving his widow in straitened circumstances; Herman, the eldest of six children, was only eleven years of age. Two years later Herman Haupt’s congressman, John B. Sterigere, offered to help the boy gain admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He received a presidential appointment in 1830, but his entry was deferred for a year because of his youth. Unhappy with the strict upbringing he had received from his father, he was very uncertain about subjecting himself to the hard discipline of the academy, but his mother prevailed....

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Haynes, Elwood (14 October 1857–13 April 1925), inventor, metallurgist, and automobile manufacturer, was born in Portland, Indiana, the son of Jacob March Haynes, a judge and banker, and Hilinda Sophia Haines. Haynes graduated from the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science (now Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1881 with a B.S. in chemistry. He returned to Portland and taught in the local public schools. To further his knowledge of chemistry, he began in 1884 a year of study at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. His efforts to secure a fellowship that would enable him to complete a graduate degree were unsuccessful, forcing him to resume teaching in the Portland schools in 1885. In 1887 he married Bertha Lanterman; they had two children....

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John P. Holland. Photomechanical print, 1897. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100656).

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Holland, John Philip (24 February 1841–12 August 1914), inventor, was born in Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland, the son of John Holland, a coast guard officer, and Mary Scanlon. The Hollands lived in a small coast guard cottage, and though they had greater economic security than many residents of the village, the poverty, famine, and disease that surrounded them and that led to the death of John’s younger brother Robert and two of his uncles had a profound impact on him, initiating a strong anti-British sentiment that influenced much of his life. In 1853 Holland’s father died and the family moved to Limerick, where Holland entered the monastery school. He was very committed to his studies and rapidly excelled in the physical sciences. The hardship caused by his father’s death, along with Holland’s strong interest in education, prompted his entrance into the teaching order of the Irish Christian Brothers in 1858. He was sent to the North Monastery School in Cork for further training and apprentice teaching. Over the next fifteen years Holland moved to various teaching posts throughout Ireland and taught a variety of subjects ranging from the physical sciences to music. However, his poor health forced him to take periodic breaks from his teaching duties and, along with his interest in designing submarines, influenced his decision to move to the United States in 1873 to join his mother and two brothers, who had moved to Boston several years earlier....

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Charles Franklin Kettering. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; this acquisition was made possible by a generous contribution from the James Smithson Society.

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Kettering, Charles Franklin (29 August 1876–25 November 1958), inventor and automotive engineer, was born in Loudonville, Ohio, the son of Jacob Kettering and Martha Hunter, farmers. He attended public schools and graduated at the top of his high school class. He spent two years teaching and then enrolled in the engineering program at the Ohio State University. Forced by chronic eye inflammation to withdraw at the beginning of his sophomore year, he took a job with a local telephone company line crew. Two years later he returned to Ohio State and graduated in 1904....

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Lake, Simon (04 September 1866–23 June 1945), inventor and submarine pioneer, was born in Pleasantville, New Jersey, the son of John Christopher Lake and Miriam Adams. Inventiveness ran in the Lake family; Simon’s father was the inventor and manufacturer of a window shade roller in Toms River, New Jersey, and later the proprietor of an iron foundry in Ocean City....