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Abbott, Horace (29 July 1806–08 August 1887), manufacturer, was born in Sudbury, Massachusetts, the son of Alpheus Abbott and Lydia Fay, farmers. His father died when Abbott was quite young, leaving the family in poverty. With little opportunity for formal education, Abbott was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Westborough, Massachusetts, in 1822. After completing his five-year term, he spent the following two years as a journeyman blacksmith. Abbott then returned to Westborough and set up his own blacksmith shop. In 1830 he married Charlotte Hapgood; they would have seven children. He remained in Westborough until 1836....

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Abernethy, George (07 October 1807–02 May 1877), businessman and provisional governor of Oregon, was born in New York City, the son of William Abernethy, a shoemaker; the name of his mother is unknown. He attended school in New York. In 1830 he married Anne Cope, with whom he would have two children. As a young man, he entered a mercantile business and continued in it until his firm failed in the panic of 1837, an event that ruined him financially. He sold his property in Brooklyn, New York, and repaid his debts....

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Adams, Charles Francis (02 August 1866–11 June 1954), financier and secretary of the navy, was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the son of John Quincy Adams II, a prominent lawyer and civic leader, and Fanny Crowninshield. His paternal grandfather, the diplomat Charles Francis Adams...

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Adams, Edward Dean (09 April 1846–20 May 1931), banker, engineer, and financier, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Adoniram Judson Adams, a businessman, and Harriet Lincoln Norton. He graduated with a B.S. degree from Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont, in 1864. After spending a year in Europe, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1865–1866. In 1867 he joined the Boston firm of T. J. Lee & Hill, stockbrokers, where he served as bookkeeper and cashier. In 1871 he was a founding partner of Richardson, Hill & Company of Boston, private bankers. The following year he married Frances Amelia Gutterson; the couple had three children....

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Addicks, John Edward O’Sullivan (21 November 1841–07 August 1919), promoter and aspiring politician, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Edward Addicks, a politician and civil servant, and Margaretta McLeod. Addicks’s father achieved local political prominence and arranged for his son to take a job at age fifteen as a runner for a local dry goods business. Four years later Addicks took a job with a flour company and, upon reaching his twenty-first birthday, became a full partner in the business. Like many Quaker City merchants, Addicks speculated in local real estate in the booming port town, avoided service in the Civil War, and achieved a modicum of prosperity in the postwar period. He became overextended, as he would be most of his career, however, and went broke in the 1873 depression....

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Aldrich, Winthrop (02 November 1885–25 February 1974), lawyer, banker, and legal and political adviser, was born Winthrop Williams Aldrich in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, a U.S. senator, and Abby Chapman. Aldrich graduated from Harvard College in 1907 and Harvard Law School in 1910. Upon graduation from law school Aldrich joined the New York City law firm of Byrne, Cutcheon & Taylor, specializing in finance and commercial law. In 1916 Aldrich was named a junior partner in the firm, and in December of that year he married Harriet Alexander, the granddaughter of California railroad and banking magnate ...

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Allerton, Samuel Waters (26 May 1828–22 February 1914), meat packer, was born in Amenia, New York, the son of Samuel Waters Allerton, Sr., a tailor and woolen mill operator, and Hannah Hurd. The youngest of nine children, he attended school for several years but received little formal education beyond that. The family experienced financial difficulties as a result of the 1837 panic and was forced to move several times, once as far west as Dubuque, Iowa, before settling on a farm in upstate New York in 1842. Eight years later Samuel and his older brother Henry rented a farm in Yates County and began raising and trading cattle and hogs. Shortly thereafter they bought a farm in Wayne County....

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Oakes Ames. Photograph from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-B-1245).

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Ames, Oakes (10 January 1804–08 May 1873), businessman and politician, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Ames, a manufacturer, and Susanna Angier. He was educated in local schools and, for a few months, at Dighton Academy. At the age of sixteen, he entered his father’s shovel factory as an apprentice, rising quickly to become the works superintendent and then his father’s assistant. In 1827 he married Evelina Orvile Gilmore, and for the next three decades lived with her and their four children in one wing of his father’s house opposite the factory....

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Ames, Oliver (04 February 1831–22 October 1895), industrialist and governor of Massachusetts, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oakes Ames (1804–1873), a manufacturer and congressman, and Evelyn Gilmore. Ames came from a long line of Massachusetts capitalists. The family gained notoriety in 1872, when the House of Representatives censured Oliver’s father because of his part in the Credit Mobilier scandal. Oliver was to fight throughout his life to clear his father’s besmirched image....

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John Jacob Astor. Oil on canvas, c. 1825, by John Wesley Jarvis. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Susan Mary Alsop.

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Astor, John Jacob (17 July 1763–29 March 1848), fur trader and financier, was born in Waldorf, duchy of Baden, Germany, the son of Jacob Astor, a butcher, and Maria Magdalena Vorfelder, who died when John was about three. His family was of the artisan class, and few records survive from his youth. Due in large part to a fine town schoolmaster, Astor’s education seems to have been better than average. It ended at age thirteen with his confirmation in the Lutheran church. At an age when many contemporaries became apprentices, Astor spent two years as an assistant in his father’s butcher shop but had little interest in learning the business....

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Astor, John Jacob, III (10 June 1822–22 February 1890), capitalist and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of William Backhouse Astor and Margaret Rebecca Armstrong. The family was noted for great wealth and public charity. Astor graduated from Columbia College in 1839, and after studying at the University of Göttingen for a short time and traveling through Europe he earned a law degree at Harvard in 1842. He practiced briefly as an attorney specializing in commercial transactions and then entered his father’s burgeoning real estate office. In 1846 Astor married the socially prominent Charlotte Augusta Gibbes of South Carolina. They had one child, ...

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William Waldorf Astor. Second from right, with Lady Astor, far right, and Henry Ford and Clara Ford. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98997).

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Astor, William Waldorf (31 March 1848–18 October 1919), businessman and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of John Jacob Astor, a businessman, and Charlotte Gibbes. Astor received his education at home under private tutors and studied law at Columbia University. He worked at law for a short while but found his first real calling in Republican politics. He served a term as a New York State assemblyman beginning in 1877, and two years later he was elected to the state senate. Twice he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but he was defeated each time. The press and his political enemies found Astor’s inherited wealth an easy target for excoriation, and the public humiliation he suffered at their hands was the first step on the path toward his alienation from everything American. By all accounts Astor was extremely sensitive and simply could not endure criticism. Nor did he find satisfaction in his 1878 marriage to Mary Dahlgren Paul, although the union produced four children. The marriage suffered as shy Mary Astor was forced into a contest with her husband’s Aunt Caroline for the position of most important society matron in New York’s upper crust—the famous “Four Hundred Families.” In addition, the Astors were concerned for the safety of their children, whom they feared might become victims of a kidnapping for ransom....

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Austell, Alfred (14 January 1814–07 December 1881), businessman and financier, was born in Dandridge, Tennessee, the son of William Austell and Jane Wilkins, farmers. Austell was reared in the East Tennessee foothills and received little formal education. At the age of seventeen he left Tennessee to join his older brother William’s cotton business in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The business was heavily encumbered by debts, but Austell and his brother were able to turn it into a success and pay off their $20,000 liability in just three years....

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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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Bache, Jules Semon (09 November 1861–24 March 1944), financier and art collector, was born in New York City, the son of Semon Bache, a merchant of glass and mirrors, and Elizabeth van Praag. Bache attended the Charlier Institute in New York City and supplemented his studies in Frankfurt, Germany. He worked for a few years in his father’s firm before beginning a financial career in the employ of his uncle Leopold Cahn. At the brokerage of Leopold Cahn & Company, Bache worked his way from cashier (1880) to treasurer (1881) to partner (1886). In 1892 he took over the firm, renaming it J. S. Bache & Company. Also in 1892 Bache married Florence Rosalee Scheftel, the daughter of a well-known New York City merchant; they had two children. Bache and his wife were divorced in Paris in 1925....

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Bacon, Robert (05 July 1860–29 May 1919), banker, diplomat, and soldier, was born in Jamaica Plain near Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Benjamin Bacon and Emily Crosby Low. Raised in an old Massachusetts family long prominent in business, he was educated at Hopkinson’s School and at Harvard, graduating in 1880. Although his intellectual abilities were considerable, he won attention for his athletic ability, personality, and good looks, as he would throughout life. After graduation he traveled around the world, then joined the banking firm of Lee, Higginson, and Company. In 1883 he became a member of E. Rollins Morse and Brother. That year he married Martha Waldron Cowdin; they were the parents of three sons and a daughter....

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Baker, George Fisher (27 March 1840–02 May 1931), banker, was born in Troy, New York, the son of George Ellis Baker, a clerk, and Eveline Stevens. The family’s roots were in Massachusetts, and Baker spent much time with his grandmother in Dedham. He attended school there until 1854, when he enrolled in the Seward Institute in Florida, New York. In 1856 he became a clerk in the New York Banking Department in Albany. In 1861 he served briefly as secretary to Governor ...