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Alger, Russell Alexander (27 February 1836–24 January 1907), businessman and politician, was born in Lafayette Township, Medina County, Ohio, the son of Russell Alger and Caroline Moulton, farmers. Orphaned at eleven years of age, he worked as a laborer and taught school before reading law in Akron, Ohio, where he was admitted to the bar in 1859. Moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan, he involved himself in the lumber industry. In 1861 he married Annette Henry; they had nine children....

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Avery, Sewell Lee (04 November 1874–31 October 1960), business executive, was born in Saginaw, Michigan, the son of Waldo Allard Avery, a prosperous lumberman, and Ellen Lee. He attended Michigan Military Academy and the University of Michigan Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1894. After graduation he worked as manager of the Western Plaster Works plant in Alabaster, Michigan, a position he secured through his father, who was part owner of the plant. In 1899 he married Hortense Lenore Wisner, with whom he had four children....

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Jacob Coxey. "'Coxey's Army' approaching Washington, April 30th. 'General' Coxey, accompanied by reporters with bicycles … From sketches by T. Dart Walker." Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 12 May 1894. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105022).

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Coxey, Jacob Sechler (16 April 1854–18 May 1951), businessman, politician, and head of "Coxey's Army" of the unemployed, businessman, politician, and head of “Coxey’s Army” of the unemployed, was born in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Coxey, a stationary engineer, and Mary Sechler. Six years later his family moved twenty miles farther north to Danville, in Montour County, where his father worked in an iron-rolling mill. Young Jake attended public school for eight years and, at age sixteen, took a summer job as a water boy in the mill with his father. He quickly advanced to machine oiler and then boiler tender. By the time he left the mill at the age of twenty-four he had become a stationary engineer like his father....

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Crown, Henry (13 June 1896–14 August 1990), entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born Henry Krinsky in Chicago, the son of Arie Krinsky, a Lithuanian immigrant garment worker, and his wife Ida Gordon. At some point they changed their name to Crown. To help his poor family, Crown took a job at age fourteen as clerk at the Chicago Firebrick Company. In 1912 he began work at the Union Drop Forge Company, while taking night courses in accounting. In 1915 he and his two older brothers, Sol and Irving, formed a small steel-brokerage company, S. A. Crown and Company, and Crown quickly established a local reputation as an aggressive and reliable deal maker with a discerning eye for opportunity, a striking power of recall, and an acute sense of timing....

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Joseph W. Fordney [left to right] Gilbert M. Hitchcock, Henry Cabot Lodge, Joseph W. Fordney , Frank W. Mondell, and George B. Christian, c. 1921. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97866).

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Fordney, Joseph Warren (05 November 1853–08 January 1932), lumberman and congressman, was born on a farm near Hartford City, in Blackford County, Indiana, the son of John Fordney, a farmer and mill owner, and Achsah Cotton. The youngest of ten children, Joseph Warren Fordney spent his childhood caring for his chronically ill mother and felling trees for his father’s sawmill. At age thirteen he hired out as a farmhand, receiving ninety dollars a year and three months of schooling in return for his labor. Although Fordney had an affinity for mathematics, his formal education ended after a single summer. In 1867 he left the farm to serve as the water boy on a railroad construction crew....

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Gates, John Warne (08 May 1855–09 August 1911), businessman, was born in Turner Junction, Illinois, the son of Asel Avery Gates and Mary Warne. His parents’ occupations are unknown. Gates was educated in local public schools and at North-Western College in Naperville and received a degree from a six-month commercial course in 1873. He then worked a number of odd jobs and saved his money. In 1876 he married Dellora Baker of St. Charles, Illinois; they had one child. A few years later Gates invested in a local hardware store, where he noticed that barbed wire for fencing had attained a sudden popularity. As wire fencing, it did not demand much wood, which was scarce on the range. The wire was perfect for containing western-range cattle, and it was inexpensive enough so that farmers could purchase it in large lots for the more sizable western ranches....

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Glidden, Joseph Farwell (18 January 1813–09 October 1906), farmer, inventor, and capitalist, was born in Charlestown, Sullivan County, New Hampshire, the son of David Glidden and Polly Hurd, farmers. His family moved west to Orleans County, New York, when he was an infant. After attending local district schools, he studied at Middlebury Academy in Genesee County and at the seminary in Lima, New York. He taught school in the area for several years, but farming was always his first love. In 1837 he married Clarissa Foster in Clarendon, New York. Lacking funds to buy land in New York, he headed west in about 1840 with two crude threshing machines, doing custom threshing and general farm work. In 1842 he settled in De Kalb County, Illinois, where he purchased 600 acres of prairie land on the edge of De Kalb village. The death of the Gliddens’ three young children, followed by the death of his wife in 1843, left Glidden alone until 1851, when he married Lucinda Warne of De Kalb. They had one daughter....

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Haish, Jacob (09 March 1826–19 February 1916), inventor and businessman, was born in Consul Baden, Bavaria, Germany, the son of Christian Haish and Christina Layman, farmers. In 1836 the Haish family immigrated to the United States and took up farming, first in Pennsylvania and then in Crawford County, Ohio. In 1846 the young Jacob Haish moved to Kane County, Illinois, where he worked as an agricultural laborer. In 1847 he married Sophia Ann Brown, the daughter of the farmer for whom he worked. In 1848 Haish bought a farm in DeKalb County, Illinois, and tried farming on his own. In 1851 he sold the farm and worked as a carpenter. In 1853 Haish moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where he lived the rest of his life. Four years later, in 1857, Haish opened a successful building contractor and lumber business....

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Kelly, John Brendan, Jr. (24 May 1927–02 March 1985), businessman and athlete, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John B. Kelly, Sr., a businessman, and Margaret Majer. The brother of actress Grace Kelly, he was the only son of parents who had distinguished themselves in sports prior to their marriage. His mother had been a competitive swimmer and had earned her college degree in physical education, while his father had won three gold medals in rowing at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium....

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Lerner, Gerda (30 Apr. 1920–2 Jan. 2013), historian, playwright, and political activist, was born Gerda Hedwig Kronstein in Vienna, Austria, the oldest of two daughters in the well-off Jewish family of Robert Kronstein, a pharmacist, and Ilona Neumann Kronstein, an artist. Her bohemian mother did not get along well with her more conventional father, and the two went their own ways, without securing a divorce. Gerda, and her younger sister, Nora, fell under the influence of her paternal grandmother and a succession of nannies and were educated in the primary schools of Vienna....

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Long, George S. (03 December 1853–02 August 1930), lumberman and business executive, was born in Claremont (near Indianapolis), Indiana, the son of Isaac Long, a merchant, and Sarah V. Smith. He attended local public schools before his father purchased a small lumbermill and relocated the family to Tipton County in northern Indiana about 1863. After gaining experience at the mill for about a year and a half, George Long and his family were sent back to Indianapolis by his father on account of an outbreak of malaria. There Long completed two years of high school and also continued to work for his father, who had remained in northern Indiana, as a local sales agent. His father, after working in the northern part of the state for an additional three years or so, relocated his mill to Indianapolis. Around 1872 his father’s business collapsed, and Long was forced to leave high school. He then worked at a local real estate firm and enjoyed the fruits of a wartime boom period until the market collapsed in 1876. With the resulting real estate bust, Long lost both his job and his desire to remain in that line of work....

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MacNider, Hanford (02 October 1889–17 February 1968), businessman and army officer, was born Hanford McNider in Mason City, Iowa, the son of Charles Henry McNider, a banker, and May Cordelia Hanford. As a teenager, MacNider resumed the old family spelling, inserting the a...

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Meyer, Henry Coddington (14 April 1844–27 March 1935), manufacturer, editor, and public health reformer, was born in Hamburg, Germany, the son of American citizens Meyer Henry Meyer, a merchant, and Anne Maria Price. He attended private schools in Montclair, New Jersey, and Tarrytown and Yonkers, New York. Meyer’s parents refused to allow the seventeen-year-old Henry to enlist at the start of the Civil War, but in the summer of 1862 Meyer, then age eighteen, joined the Second New York Cavalry (the Harris Light) as a private. In 1863, at Brandy Station, he received a saber wound but returned to duty. In February 1864 he joined the Twenty-fourth New York Cavalry as a second lieutenant. He fought through Pope’s Campaign and in the battles at the Wilderness, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Spottsylvania, North Anna River, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, Virginia. At Petersburg, on 17 June 1864, following an assault on Confederate forces, Meyer, by then a captain, received his second wound. He had returned to the battlefield to assist a fellow officer who had been wounded, but Meyer, suffering from malaria, was unable to carry the officer to safety. After turning the officer over and clearing his mouth to let him breathe, Meyer headed back to find help, only to be shot in the back. After spending eleven months in the hospital recovering from his wounds, Meyer received a brevet Major commission and was discharged for his disability. For his “distinguished gallantry in action,” which saved his fellow officer’s life, Meyer was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1899....

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Pope, Generoso (01 April 1891–28 April 1950), businessman, newspaper publisher, and political power broker, was born in Pasquarielli (province of Benevento), Italy, the son of Fortunato Papa and Fortuna Covino, farmers. He completed his elementary education in local schools in Italy. After his mother’s death and father’s remarriage, Pope emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City in May 1906. He worked a number of unskilled construction jobs and in 1907 found employment in the Long Island sand pits. In 1911, after having been a driver and then foreman for the Manhattan Sand Company, he joined the newly formed Colonial Sand and Stone Company, rising to superintendent by 1914. He became an American citizen on 20 September 1915, and in June 1916 he married Catherine Richichi. They had three sons. He anglicized his last name at about this time....

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Sage, Henry Williams (31 January 1814–18 September 1897), merchant, lumberman, and college benefactor, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Charles Sage, a merchant, and Sally Williams. When he was two years old Sage’s family moved to Bristol, Connecticut, where he attended the local academy. In 1827, following the lead of several relatives, his father moved the family again, this time to Ithaca, New York, where he struggled to establish himself in the dry-goods business. Eager to rise above the poverty into which the family was slipping, young Sage sought a professional career. In June 1830 he began the study of medicine with Austin Church in Ithaca. Forced to abandon his studies after a few months because of poor eyesight, in 1832 he entered into business with his maternal uncles as a clerk with the firm of Williams & Brothers. Sage remained with his uncles for five years, becoming experienced in every aspect of their shipping business....

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Sawyer, Philetus (22 September 1816–29 March 1900), lumber merchant and U.S. senator, was born in Whiting, Vermont, the son of Ephraim Sawyer, a farmer and blacksmith, and Mary Parks. When Philetus was an infant, his family migrated across Lake Champlain to Crown Point, New York. The fifth of ten children in a struggling family, Sawyer acquired such cursory schooling that political opponents later gibed him unmercifully for his awkward writing and speaking. As a teenager, he worked in a Crown Point sawmill, which he then rented and operated on his own before he turned twenty-one. In 1841 Sawyer married Melvina Hadley, a neighbor. Three of the couple’s five children survived to adulthood....

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Stearns, George Luther (08 January 1809–09 April 1867), manufacturer and abolitionist, was born in Medford, outside of Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Luther Stearns, a physician, and Mary Hall. Stearns’s formal education ended after his father’s death in 1820. At the age of fifteen he moved to Brattleboro, Vermont, and worked for more than three years as a clerk in a relative’s store. In 1827 he returned to Boston and found employment as a clerk in a ship chandlery firm. In this business Stearns learned the importance of reliable sources of supply, and in 1835, with financial support from his mother and his future father-in-law, he acted on his knowledge to establish himself in Medford as a manufacturer of linseed oil. Six years later Stearns entered into a partnership to purchase a patent for an improved method of manufacturing lead pipe. The pipe business produced a sizable fortune for Stearns, and he would draw from it liberally to support his reform interests....

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Washburn, William Drew (14 January 1831–29 July 1912), U.S. congressman and businessman, was born in Androscoggin County, Maine, the son of Israel Washburn and Martha Benjamin, farmers. He worked on the family farm and attended public schools in Gorham, Paris, and Farmington before entering Bowdoin College at age nineteen. After graduation in 1854, he read law with his brother ...