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Ainslie, Hew (05 April 1792–11 March 1878), poet and construction consultant, was born at Bargeny Mains, Ayrshire, Scotland, the son of George Ainslie, an employee of some consequence on the estate of Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton. Ainslie paid warm homage to his mother, whose name is not known, in his writings. Originally educated by a hired “dominie” at home, wirehaired Ainslie eventually moved on to the Ballantrae parish school and finally to Ayr Academy, where he completed his formal schooling at the age of fourteen. Certainly as important as his organized education was his home background colored by his father’s pride in the family’s past (the model of Sir Walter Scott’s “Bride of Lammermoor” was one of several notable ancestors) and his mother’s “teeming repertory” of Scottish songs and lore. Another influence was his father’s small personal library containing the writings of Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, Robert Burns, and other Scottish classics....

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Bogardus, James (14 March 1800–13 April 1874), inventor and builder, was born near Catskill, New York, the son of John Bogardus and Sara Stockens, farmers. Apprenticed when he was fourteen years old to the local watchmaker, he became skilled in work with precision instruments, die sinking, and engraving. In 1820, “desiring to see something of the world,” he went to Savannah, Georgia, where he worked at engraving. By 1823 he was back in Catskill, with his own clock and engraving business. He emerged as an inventor in 1828, exhibiting a new type of three-wheeled, eight-day clock that won the highest premium at the first fair (1828) of the American Institute of New York....

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Brundage, Avery (28 September 1887–08 May 1975), athlete, businessman, and sports administrator, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Charles Brundage, a stonecutter, and Amelia “Minnie” Lloyd. After a move to Chicago, Charles Brundage deserted his family, leaving the five-year-old Avery and his brother Chester to be reared by their mother. Thanks to some fairly affluent uncles, the Brundages endured genteel rather than desperate poverty. Brundage worked his way through the University of Illinois, earning a B.A. in engineering in 1909. In college and after, he was a dedicated and successful track-and-field athlete. His participation in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, in the decathlon and pentathlon, was a defining experience. In an unpublished autobiography he wrote that his “conversion, along with many others, to [founder Pierre de] Coubertin’s religion, the Olympic Movement, was complete.” The choice of the word “religion” was deliberate. For Brundage, the Olympic Games were a utopian contrast to the sordid worlds of business and politics....

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Cook, Abner Hugh (15 March 1814–22 February 1884), architect and master builder, was born in Rowan County, North Carolina, the son of William Cook and Susanna Hill, farmers. Cook learned the building trades in rural North Carolina, then worked in Macon, Georgia, and Nashville, Tennessee. During his apprenticeship he was exposed to the vernacular version of the Federal style and to high style Greek Revival structures, including ...

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Fox, Harry (29 September 1826–04 September 1883), contractor, was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, the son of Hiram Fox, a mechanic (mother unknown). Little is known of his early life. Fox demonstrated his mechanical ability as a youth and, following his eighteenth birthday, was apprenticed to a machinist in Westfield. In 1846 he was sent to work dredging on the Northern New Hampshire Railroad, taking with him one of the first steam excavators. Fox’s facility with the machine caused the railroad to use him as excavator operator rather than for shop work; his reputation grew. Over the next ten years, he performed similar work for several railroads, the last being the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. He married Emeline Buxton Chamberlain, a daughter of Colonel M. Chamberlain of Newberry, Vermont, in 1852. The couple had two children....

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Greene, Francis Vinton (27 June 1850–15 May 1921), army officer and business executive, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of General George Sears Greene (1801–1899) and Martha Dana. Entering the U.S. Military Academy in 1866, he graduated first in his class in 1870. He married Belle Eugénie Chevallié in 1879; they had six children....

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Ernest Franklin Hodgson. Hodgson family collection.

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Hodgson, Ernest Franklin (20 May 1871–03 October 1948), a pioneer manufacturer of portable prefabricated factory-built housing, was born in Medford, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Hodgson, a master watchmaker, and Caroline Bentley, both born in Staffordshire, England. In the 1880s the family moved to Dover, Massachusetts, an agricultural community some fifteen miles southwest of Boston. Ernest was educated in the local schools and worked on his father's farm, where he devised a new type of chicken brooder. In 1891 Ernest sold several of his new brooders to A. F. Hunter, of neighboring South Natick. Hunter, the editor of ...

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Kelly, John Brendan (04 October 1889–20 June 1960), athlete and businessman, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Henry Kelly, a woolen mill worker, and Mary Ann Costello. Both parents were Irish immigrants, and “Jack” Kelly was the youngest boy in a family of ten children. From modest beginnings, the Kellys of Philadelphia’s East Falls, a working-class neighborhood near the Schuylkill River, went on to enjoy unusual success in business, entertainment, and sports. Among Kelly’s brothers were ...

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Samuel LeFrak. New York City, 1968. Courtesy of AP Images.

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LeFrak, Samuel J. (12 February 1918–16 April 2003), urban planner, builder, and architect, was born Samuel Jayson LeFrak in New York City, the son of Harry, a builder, and Sarah Schwartz LeFrak, a homemaker. LeFrak graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in 1936, and from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1940. As a college student, he worked for his father, supervising the completion of his first building, a sixty‐family, sixteen‐story building in Brooklyn. Following his graduation from the university LeFrak married Ethel Stone; they had four children. LeFrak also took classes at Columbia University and Harvard Business School and during his lifetime received numerous honorary degrees....

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Levitt, Abraham (01 July 1880–20 August 1962), lawyer and housing contractor, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Rabbi Louis Levitt and Nellie (maiden name unknown), immigrants from Russia. Little is known about his parents. Levitt grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Because his family was very poor, he was forced to drop out of school at the age of ten to become a newsboy on Park Row. Later he worked as a dishwasher and held other menial positions, such as dock worker and waiter. Nevertheless, he educated himself by avidly reading books, newspapers, and magazines. He later said that by the time he was sixteen years old, he read some part of some book every day; his favorite subjects were history, economics, and philosophy. He also frequently attended lectures at Cooper Union and joined and regularly attended the meetings of various literary and scientific societies. When he was twenty years old, he took and passed a New York’s regents examination to gain entrance to the New York University Law School. Specializing in real estate law, he wrote an outstanding student manual on his specialty when he was a sophomore, the profits from which helped him finish his LL.B. Admitted to the New York bar in 1903, he established a private practice that soon flourished. Three years later he married Pauline A. Biederman; the couple had two sons, ...

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Levitt, William Jaird (11 February 1907–28 January 1994), real estate developer and building contractor, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Abraham Levitt, a lawyer and building contractor, and Pauline A. Biederman. After attending Brooklyn’s public schools, Levitt studied at New York University for three years but, eager to make money, did not graduate. Although he once aspired to a career in commercial aviation, when he was twenty-two he joined with his father and brother Alfred to create Levitt and Sons, a construction company that specialized in single-family housing. That same year he married Rhoda Kirsher; they had two children....

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Morrison, Harry Winford (23 February 1885–19 July 1971), businessman, was born in Tunbridge Township, Illinois, the son of George William Morrison, a millwright, and Amy Maria Hawkins. Only four when his mother died, young Morrison’s grandparents—who owned a nearby gristmill, blacksmith shop, and general store—helped rear him. When not “farmed out” to help neighbors, Morrison attended local public and private schools. He dropped out before completing high school to take a job with a Chicago construction company, Bates and Rogers, for whom he had worked summers as a water boy. With an aversion to farming and believing that success would come with more education, he enrolled in a business college but left after little more than a year to take another job with Bates and Rogers. In 1904 the company sent him to Idaho as a timekeeper. Bates and Rogers had landed a U.S. Reclamation Service contract to build Minidoka Dam on the Snake River in southern Idaho. A hard worker, industrious and opportunistic, the transplanted midwesterner soon joined the Reclamation Service as a construction supervisor. In 1909, while supervising the cement work on a diversion dam project on the Boise River, Morrison met Morris Hans Knudsen, the owner of a small construction company that was digging the diversion canal. With nothing more than “just guts” to contribute, Morrison persuaded Knudsen to take him on as a partner. In 1912, in a one-room office in Boise, Idaho, the two men founded the construction giant known around the world as Morrison-Knudsen Corporation (M-K). Morrison married Ann Daly in 1914 and she became like a partner, helping out in the construction camps and traveling with him to job sites. They had no children....

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O’Sullivan, James Edward (26 June 1876–15 February 1949), builder, was born in Port Huron, Michigan, the son of James O’Sullivan, a building contractor and local political leader, and Anna Waller. His parents were Irish immigrants who had come to the United States by way of Canada, first settling in Detroit and finally Port Huron. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. degree in 1902, attended law school there, and was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1903. He also worked at the same time in his father’s contracting firm. In 1905 he married Pearl Twiss, with whom he had three children....

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Starrett, Paul (25 November 1866–05 July 1957), building contractor, was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the son of William A. Starrett, a Presbyterian minister, farmer, and lawyer, and Helen Ekin, a Quaker teacher, journalist, and editor. Starrett attended Lake Forest University outside of Chicago in 1884–1885, but he quit when his father’s health failed....

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Starrett, William Aiken (14 June 1877–25 March 1932), engineer, building contractor, and real-estate financier, was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the son of William A. Starrett, a Presbyterian minister, farmer, and lawyer, and Helen Martha Ekin, a Quaker teacher, journalist, and editor. He attended the University of Michigan for two years, then returned to graduate with a degree in civil engineering in 1917. In 1900 Starrett married Eloise Gedney of East Orange, New Jersey; they had two children....

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Stubbs, Walter Roscoe (07 November 1858–25 March 1929), contractor and governor of Kansas, was born near Richmond, Indiana, the son of John T. Stubbs and Esther Bailey, farmers. He moved with his family to Lee County, Iowa, in 1861, and then, because of his mother’s Quaker background, to the Quaker community of Hesper in Douglas County, Kansas, in 1869. In Kansas he attended local rural schools and enrolled in the preparatory department of the University of Kansas, but he did not graduate from the university. In 1881 Stubbs began contracting to build railroad grades. Next he developed a commissary system to supply railroad construction crews. In 1887 he married Stella Hostettler; they had four children. By the late 1890s, his success in building and railroad construction in Kansas and the surrounding region resulted in his becoming a millionaire contractor and sometimes supervising as many as 5,000 workers....

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Wolfson, Erwin Service (27 March 1902–26 June 1962), investment builder and general contractor, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Bernard Wolfson, a successful textile manufacturer, and Rose Service. As a youngster he was fascinated by the workings of early radios, cars, and other mechanical contrivances. He enrolled in the University of Cincinnati, intending to study engineering, but he soon switched to philosophy....