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Alger, Cyrus (11 November 1781–04 February 1856), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the son of Abiezer Alger, an iron manufacturer, and Hepsibah Keith. After several years of schooling he went to work for his father, from whom he learned the principles of iron production. Within a few years he was placed in charge of his father’s Easton plant. In 1804 he married Lucy Willis, with whom he had seven children....

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Ames, Nathan Peabody (01 September 1803–03 April 1847), manufacturer and entrepreneur, was born in Dracut (now Lowell), Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Peabody Ames, a cutlery and edge toolmaker, and Phoebe Tyler. Nathan served an apprenticeship with his father and then joined the prosperous family business. In 1829 Ames met Edmund Dwight, who offered him four years of rent-free use of property in Cabotville, Massachusetts, if he would move himself and his business to that location (Cabotville was incorporated as Chicopee in 1848). Ames agreed to the condition and he, his father, and his younger brother, James Tyler Ames, moved to Cabotville the same year....

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Joseph R. Anderson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-2073).

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Anderson, Joseph Reid (16 February 1813–07 September 1892), industrialist and Confederate soldier, was born in Botetourt County in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the son of William Anderson and Anna Thomas, farmers. Anderson received his early education in the local schools. After having been rejected twice, he entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1832 at age nineteen. Graduating fourth of forty-nine in 1836, he preferred a post in the elite Corps of Engineers but was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Third Artillery. Soon he was assigned to Fort Monroe, where he met his first wife, Sally Archer, daughter of the post physician, Dr. Robert Archer. They were married in the spring of 1837 and eventually had five children....

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Bidermann, Jacques Antoine (1790–08 June 1865), businessman, was born in Paris, France, the son of Jacques Bidermann, a wealthy financier, and Gabrielle Aimée Odier. So that he might escape the tumult of the French Revolution, the younger Bidermann—who went by the name Antoine—was raised at his family’s home in Winterthur, Switzerland, and there trained for business. Back in Paris by 1804, he went to work for his father, who had invested in ...

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Blake, Eli Whitney (27 January 1795–18 August 1886), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Westboro, Massachusetts, the son of Elihu Blake, a farmer, and Elizabeth Whitney, sister of the cotton-gin inventor Eli Whitney. With the financing of his famous uncle, Blake graduated from Yale College in 1816. He then entered law school at Litchfield, Connecticut, but left when Whitney asked him to help run his arms factory near New Haven in the Whitneyville section of Hamden, Connecticut. As Whitney’s right-hand man, Blake gained much practical experience in civil and mechanical engineering. In 1822 he married Eliza Maria O’Brien of New Haven; they had twelve children and sent five of their six sons through Yale....

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Bomford, George (1780–25 March 1848), soldier, was born in New York City. Little information about his parents is known other than that his father was a military officer during the American Revolution, though it is not clear on which side. George officially became a cadet of the U.S. Military Academy on 24 October 1804, one of a class of three. He graduated only eight months later, on 1 July 1805, and was appointed second lieutenant of engineers. He received promotion to first lieutenant on 30 October 1806 and to captain 23 February 1808....

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Browning, John M. (23 January 1855–26 November 1926), gun inventor, was born John Moses Browning in Ogden, Utah, the son of Jonathan Browning, a blacksmith and gunsmith, and Elizabeth Caroline Clark Browning. Jonathan Browning, a disciple of Joseph Smith, had twenty-two children by three wives; Elizabeth Clark was his second wife. The inventor of two percussion cap repeating rifles, the elder Browning served as armorer to the Mormon column on its trek from Illinois to Utah in 1846–1847. John attended Ogden's public school until he was fifteen but mostly apprenticed himself to his father. At fourteen he built a clever slide rifle and was soon foreman in his father's blacksmith shed....

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Colt, Samuel (19 July 1814–10 January 1862), inventor and industrialist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Christopher Colt, a merchant and cotton and wool fabric manufacturer, and Sarah Caldwell. His mother died in 1821, after his father’s once-prosperous business failed. Christopher Colt remarried, indentured Samuel at age ten to a farmer, and a year later, sent him to work at a dyeing and bleaching factory in Ware, Massachusetts. Lack of parental supervision made it easy for Samuel to indulge his taste for firearms and explosives: he had acquired a pistol at the age of seven, and at twelve he detonated a spectacular explosion in Ware Pond....

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John A. Dahlgren. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1862).

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Dahlgren, John Adolphus Bernard (13 November 1809–12 July 1870), naval officer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Bernard Ulric Dahlgren, a merchant and diplomat, and Martha Rowan. Dahlgren received his early education at a Quaker school in Philadelphia. Because of his father’s position as Swedish consul, the Dahlgrens were a well recognized and respected family. When the elder Dahlgren died suddenly in 1824, the family was left in financial difficulty. Though initially denied entrance, thanks to family connections in February 1826 Dahlgren was granted an appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy. His first assignment was to the frigate ...

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Davison, Gregory Caldwell (12 August 1871–07 May 1935), naval officer and inventor, was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, the son of Alexander Caldwell Davison, a physician, and Sarah Pelot Eppes. In 1888 he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and graduated with the class of 1892....

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du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée (24 June 1771–31 October 1834), industrialist, was born in Paris, France, the son of Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, a political economist, and Nicole Charlotte Marie Louise Le Dée de Raucourt. The boy’s godfather, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, who became comptroller general of finances under Louis XVI, suggested the name in honor of peace and liberty. Du Pont was raised on his father’s estate, “Bois des Fossés,” near Egreville, where he responded with little enthusiasm to a series of tutors who attempted to educate him. The one subject that did interest him was explosives, and at age thirteen he prepared a report on gunpowder for his father. In the fall of 1785 he entered the Collège Royal in Paris, and two years later Antoine Lavoisier, a noted chemist and friend of Irénée’s father, accepted the youth as a student in the Régie des Poudres et Salpetres, the government agency for the manufacture of gunpowder. After a brief apprenticeship, du Pont took a position at the government powder works at Essonnes, but when Lavoisier left to become one of the commissioners of the national treasury, du Pont quit in 1791 to manage the large publishing house that his father had recently opened in Paris....

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Christopher D. Felker

du Pont, Henry (08 August 1812–08 August 1889), manufacturer, was born at Eleutherian Mills, near Wilmington, Delaware, the second son of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours, an industrialist, and Sophie Madelaine Dalmas. In 1823 he was sent to school at Constant’s Mount Airy Seminary in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He left there in 1829, upon his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, from which he graduated in 1833, becoming brevet second lieutenant of the Fourth U.S. Artillery. Joining his company at Fort Monroe, Virginia, du Pont was ordered with a battalion of his regiment to Fort Mitchell in the Creek Indian country of Alabama. On 15 July 1834 he resigned his commission in the army at the insistence of his father and returned to Delaware to assist him in the manufacture of gunpowder. His father died suddenly in October 1834 and du Pont helped run the business, first with his brother-in-law, ...

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Ford, Hannibal Choate (08 May 1877–12 March 1955), engineer and inventor, was born in Dryden, New York, the son of Abram Millard Ford, a newspaper publisher, and Susan Augusta Giles. Ford was fascinated by clocks and watches as a child. After graduating from high school, he worked in the shops of the Crandall Typewriter Company in Groton, New York, from 1894 to 1896, the experimental department of Daugherty Typewriter Company in Kittaning, Pennsylvania, from 1896 to 1898, and Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in 1898. He entered Cornell University in 1899, graduating in 1903 as a “mechanical engineer in electrical engineering.”...

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Garand, John C. (01 January 1883–16 February 1967), inventor, was born on a farm near St. Remi, Quebec, Canada, a village near Montreal. His father was a farmer. At age eight his mother died, and three years later the family moved to Connecticut. There Garand dropped out of school and worked as a floor sweeper and bobbin boy in a textile mill. He spent his free time in the machine repair shop, watching the mechanics at work. By age fourteen, Garand had filed for his first patent, on a new type of jack screw....

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Gatling, Richard Jordan (12 September 1818–26 February 1903), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Hertford County, North Carolina, the son of Jordan Gatling, a wealthy planter, and Mary Barnes. He attended the local public schools and as a young man was of some assistance to his father, who had devised machines for sowing cotton seeds and for thinning out young cotton plants. After a short time as a schoolteacher when he was nineteen years of age, Gatling owned and operated a country store for several years. He became a full-time inventor at age twenty, developing and testing a screw propeller for vessels, but in 1839 he was denied a patent because another inventor, ...

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Lewis, Isaac Newton (12 October 1858–09 November 1931), soldier and inventor, was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, the son of James H. Lewis and Anne Kendall. Little is known of his childhood because of his own reticence and the destruction of many of his personal papers in a fire. The family moved to Kansas, where Lewis was educated. Beyond that there is no information on family life, parental occupations, or even exact location. At twenty Lewis taught school, a task he found unpleasant. In 1880 he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1884 and was commissioned a second lieutenant into artillery. After several short postings, he attended the Torpedo School at Willet’s Point, New York, in 1885 and 1886. In 1886 he married Mary Wheatley; they had four children....

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Maxim, Hiram Percy (02 September 1869–17 February 1936), inventor and radio pioneer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Hiram Stevens Maxim, an inventor, and Louisa Jane Budden. In his memoir, A Genius in the Family (1937; movie adaptation, So Goes My Love...

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Maxim, Sir Hiram (05 February 1840–04 November 1916), engineer and inventor, was born Hiram Stevens Maxim near Sangersville, Maine, the son of Isaac Weston Maxim, a mill operator, and Harriet Boston Stevens. The boy learned woodworking and mechanics from his father and showed an early aptitude for invention by building a chronometer, a tricycle, and a better mousetrap, which exploited the mouse’s energy against itself. His family’s poverty, unhappy apprenticeships to carriage-makers, and a contentious disposition led Maxim at age twenty to break with his parents. Migrations around Maine, New York State, and Quebec as a carpenter, prizefighter, bartender, and painter provided colorful exploits later recounted in ...