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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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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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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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Baruch, Bernard Mannes (19 August 1870–20 June 1965), financier and statesman, was born in Camden, South Carolina, the son of Dr. Simon Baruch and Belle Wolfe. Place played a large role in his life. In 1881 the family moved to New York City, where his father became a prominent physician and leader in public health. Baruch graduated from the City College of New York and made his career in Wall Street, but he shrewdly maintained an identification with South Carolina through ownership of a plantation, “Hobcaw,” where he entertained people with political connections that enhanced his influence in the national Democratic party. By transcending local politics, Baruch became one of the most powerful Democrats in the first half of the twentieth century....

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Belmont, August (08 December 1813–24 November 1890), financier, politician, and sportsman, was born in Alzey, a German Rhineland village, the son of Simon Belmont, a moneylender and landowner, and Frederika Elsass. He attended a Jewish school, the Philanthropin, in Frankfurt and in 1828 began work as an office boy for the local branch of the Rothschild banking family, to which he was distantly related through marriage. He was soon promoted to confidential clerk and in 1837 was sent to Cuba to investigate that Spanish colony’s stability. A stopover in New York changed the course of his life. The panic of 1837 had just struck, and the Rothschilds’ New York agent had declared bankruptcy. Belmont decided to stay and established August Belmont and Company, a private banking firm that would maintain a close, long-term working relationship with the Rothschilds. Belmont’s rise on Wall Street was rapid. He profited from foreign exchange transactions; commercial and private loans; corporate, real estate, and railroad investments; and as a U.S. government fiscal agent during the Mexican War. In 1849 he married Caroline Slidell Perry, with whom he had six children....

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Bingham, William (08 April 1752–07 February 1804), businessman and public official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Bingham, a saddler and merchant, and Mary “Molly” Stamper. Bingham graduated cum laude from the College of Philadelphia in 1768. Sometime after the death of his father in 1769, he served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia merchant ...

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Brice, Calvin Stewart (17 September 1845–15 December 1898), U.S. senator, railroad builder, and financier, was born in Denmark, Ohio, the son of William Kilpatrick Brice, a Presbyterian minister, and Elizabeth Stewart. He received his earliest education at home and in the public schools of Columbus Grove, Putnam County, where his family moved after his third birthday. When Brice turned thirteen years old, his parents placed him in the preparatory program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where because of his father’s limited means he had to work his way through school. He required only one year of preparatory work before being granted admission as a freshman....

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Cheves, Langdon (17 September 1776–26 June 1857), lawyer, congressman, and financier, was born in Bull Town Fort, South Carolina, the son of Alexander Chivas (or Chivis) of Buchan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and Mary Langdon. It is not known when or why he changed the spelling of his last name. Alexander Chivas had migrated to America in 1762 and established himself as a frontier trader. A Loyalist supporter, he lost his livelihood during the Revolution and moved to the low country. Cheves’s mother, daughter of supporters of the colonial rebellion, died in 1779, and Langdon’s aunt, Mrs. Thomas Cheves, cared for young Langdon. He attended Andrew Weed’s school, and in 1785 his father took him to Charleston. He continued his formal schooling briefly but then pursued vigorous independent study. He apprenticed in a shipping merchant’s office, gaining experience in business and finance by keeping the firm’s accounts. He read for the law with Judge William Marshall and was admitted to the bar in 1797. Successful as a Charleston lawyer, he moved into the political arena. His first elected office was as warden of his city ward in 1802; he then served from 1802 to 1809 in the state legislature and became attorney general in 1809. He won national office in 1810 when he ran for Congress on the Republican ticket. In 1806 he married Mary Elizabeth Dulles; they had fourteen children. In addition to the law and politics, Cheves enjoyed success in designing and building houses and in farming....

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Coolidge, Thomas Jefferson (26 August 1831–17 November 1920), businessman and diplomat, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Coolidge, Jr., a businessman, and Eleanora Wayles Randolph. On his father’s side Coolidge was descended from John Coolidge, one of the first settlers of Watertown; on his mother’s side he was descended from Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. His parents were members of the Boston elite, and throughout his life Coolidge moved in the same circles....

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Corbett, Henry Winslow (18 February 1827–31 March 1903), banker, capitalist, and politician, was born in Westboro, Massachusetts, the son of Elijah Corbett, a mechanic and businessman, and Melinda Forbush. Reared in a large family in Washington County, New York, Corbett attended Cambridge Academy and later clerked. In 1843 he moved to New York City and took employment with Williams, Bradford & Company. Confident of his business acumen, the company sent him by sea to Oregon to sell merchandise, and in February 1851 Corbett arrived in Portland, a village hacked out of the timber. While awaiting the arrival of his goods, the ambitious young merchant rode up the Willamette Valley to discover what pioneer farmers wanted to buy, and he found a strong demand for shoes, nails, sugar, coffee, tobacco, cloth, and brooms. Thus Corbett began a lifetime practice of seeking market opportunities. He opened a Portland store near the Willamette River, slept in the store’s loft, made a remarkable $20,000 profit in about fourteen months, and then rejoined his employers in New York....

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C. Douglas Dillon. Pencil and white chalk on paper, 1968, by Gardner Cox. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Phyllis B. Cox.

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Dillon, C. Douglas (21 August 1909–10 January 2003), financier, ambassador, and secretary of the Treasury, was born Clarence Douglass Dillon in Geneva, Switzerland, to Anne Douglass Dillon and Clarence Dillon, whose Polish Jewish father, Samuel Lapowski, was an immigrant who did fairly well in the men's retail business in Texas. The elder Clarence, who was sensitive about anti-Semitism, changed his last name to Dillon, his paternal grandmother's maiden name. At his firm Dillon, Read & Company during the 1920s and 1930s, he became an extremely successful investment banker and acquired a reputation for purveying corporate bonds. The young Douglas (he was known by his middle name, whose last letter was dropped at some point) was well educated. He first attended the Pine Lodge School in Lakehurst, New Jersey, where he became friendly with ...

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English, James Edward (13 March 1812–02 March 1890), businessman and politician, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of James English, a customs collector and shipowner, and Nancy Griswold. When he was eleven, English persuaded his parents to allow him to live with and work for a local farmer. After three years his father enrolled him in a private school. At sixteen he became an apprentice to a New Haven carpenter and joiner and grew adept at creating architectural designs and drawing up contracts. Subsequently, he worked as an independent contractor and master builder, planning and constructing several of New Haven’s more imposing houses. English had accumulated enough money by 1835 to form a lumber company in New Haven with a partner, Harmanus M. Welch. However, in the wake of the panic of 1837, he decided that it would be prudent to diversify his business. He purchased and constructed ships to serve the Philadelphia–New England trade and over the next two decades built a considerable fortune....

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Evans, John (09 March 1814–03 July 1897), physician, businessman, and politician, was born near Waynesville, Ohio, the son of David Evans and Rachel Burnet, farmers. His Quaker father left their modest farm and became a successful real estate investor. John completed his education at the Medical Department of the Cincinnati College in 1838. That year he married Hannah Canby. They moved to Attica, Indiana, where, after hearing the stirring sermons of Bishop ...

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Fair, James Graham (03 December 1831–28 December 1894), miner, financier, and U.S. senator, was born near Belfast, Ireland, the son of Scotch-Irish parents. His father’s name was James Fair; only his mother’s maiden name, Graham, is known. In 1843 Fair’s parents left Ireland with their son and emigrated to the United States. The family settled in Geneva, Illinois. After attending public schools, Fair continued his studies, primarily in business, chemistry, and mathematics in nearby Chicago....

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Grace, William Russell (10 May 1832–21 March 1904), founder of W. R. Grace & Co. and twice mayor of New York City, founder of W. R. Grace & Co. and twice mayor of New York City, was born in Riverstown, Ireland, the son of James Grace, a landowner and farmer, and Eleanor Mary Russell. Grace, like so many Irishmen of his generation, left his famine-ravaged homeland in the mid-nineteenth century seeking a new life in the Americas. Well educated in Jesuit schools and coming from the minor gentry of Ireland, young William arrived in Peru in 1854....

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Marcus Alonzo Hanna. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103995 ).

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Hanna, Marcus Alonzo (24 September 1837–15 February 1904), businessman, presidential campaign manager, and U.S. senator, known as Mark Hanna, was born above his family’s grocery store in New Lisbon, Ohio, the son of Samantha Converse, a schoolteacher, and Leonard Hanna, who practiced medicine before joining his father and brothers in the grocery business. A proposed canal to link New Lisbon to the Ohio River failed, wiping out Hanna’s grandfather’s investment and pushing the town into commercial decline. Hanna’s father established a new wholesale grocery and shipping business in Cleveland, where he moved his family in 1852. Mark Hanna attended public schools and Western Reserve College, leaving college after getting caught in a student prank. As a traveling salesman for the family business, the gregarious Hanna proved a resourceful competitor. Elected second lieutenant in a Cleveland-based infantry in 1861, he instead became managing partner of the business following his father’s illness and December 1862 death. Called to defend Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1864, he served briefly in uniform but saw no combat....