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Adler, Polly (16 April 1900?–09 June 1962), prostitution madam and author, was born Pearl Adler in Yanow, Russia, the daughter of Morris Adler, a tailor, and Gertrude Koval (called “Isidore” and “Sarah” in her autobiography). Later in life Adler also used several aliases, including Joan Martin and Pearl Davis. When Adler was twelve, her family arranged for her to be tutored by the local rabbi in the hope that she would receive a scholarship to study at a Gymnasium in Pinsk. A year later, before learning the results of the scholarship competition, Adler’s father sent his daughter to live in the United States. Traveling alone, thirteen-year-old Adler arrived in New York in December 1913....

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Ames, Nathaniel (22 July 1708–11 July 1764), almanac maker, physician, and innkeeper, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the son of Captain Nathaniel Ames, an astronomer and mathematician, and Susannah Howard. Probably after an apprenticeship with a country doctor, Ames became a doctor. With the likely assistance of his father, in 1725 Ames produced the first almanac to carry his name, though he was a youth of only seventeen. The almanac soon became well known and remained a staple product in New England, appearing annually for a half century....

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John Jacob Astor IV. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116052).

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Astor, John Jacob, IV (13 July 1864–15 April 1912), businessman, was born at “Ferncliff,” his father’s estate at Rinebeck-on-Hudson, New York, the son of William Backhouse Astor, Jr., and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn ( Caroline Astor). As the great-grandson and namesake of fur trade magnate ...

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Billingsley, Sherman (10 March 1900–04 October 1966), nightclub owner and real estate developer, was born John Sherman Billingsley in Enid, Oklahoma Territory, the son of Robert Billingsley and Emily Collingsworth. Sherman Billingsley’s parents were so poverty stricken that the youngster was forced to quit school after he finished the fourth grade. His first job was collecting discarded whiskey bottles for resale to bootleggers in the new “dry” state of Oklahoma. In 1912 the youth moved to Anadarko, Oklahoma, to join his two older brothers who had developed a chain of cigar shops and drugstores, establishments that also illegally sold whiskey. Later going into business for himself, he owned and managed a confectionery in Houston, Texas, before moving to Charleston, West Virginia, to take over a cigar store. After going into the drug business, he owned drugstores in Seattle and Omaha, successively. While still just a teenager, he moved to Detroit and opened a grocery store; soon, he had three. In 1923, after saving about $5,000 in capital, he moved to the Bronx, New York City, where he opened a drugstore....

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Bricktop (14 August 1894–31 January 1984), entertainer and nightclub operator, was born in Alderson, West Virginia, the daughter of Thomas Smith, a barber, and Hattie E. (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker. Christened Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia, because her parents did not wish to disappoint the various neighbors and friends who offered suggestions for naming her, Bricktop received her nickname because of her red hair when she was in her late twenties from Barron Wilkins, owner of a nightclub called Barron’s Exclusive Club in Prohibition Harlem....

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Chen, Joyce (14 September 1917–23 August 1994), restaurateur, author, and chef, was born Liao Jia-ai in Beijing, China, the daughter of Liao Xin-shi, a railroad administrator and city executive; her mother’s family name was Wu. As a high-ranking Chinese official, Chen’s father was able to employ several servants, but both parents encouraged Chen to learn to do things for herself. She often recalled her mother warning, “You had better learn how to cook … so you don’t [ever] have to eat raw rice” ( ...

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Eddie Condon © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB13-0165 DLC).

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Condon, Eddie (16 November 1905–04 August 1973), jazz personality and organizer of Chicago-style jazz bands, recording sessions, and concerts, was born Albert Edwin Condon in Goodland, Indiana, the son of John Condon, a small-town saloonkeeper, and Margaret McGrath. As a teenager, Condon played rhythmic dance band accompaniment on the tenor banjo and, once established in jazz, favored the four-string tenor guitar....

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Crosby, James Morris (12 May 1927–10 April 1986), businessman and entertainment entrepreneur, was born in Great Neck, Long Island, New York, the son of John F. Crosby, an attorney, and Emily M. (maiden name unknown). After attending preparatory school in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, he went to Franklin and Marshall College in 1945. From that year to 1946, he served in the U.S. Navy, but 1946 found him back stateside, attending Bucknell College. He enrolled in Georgetown University later that year, graduating in 1948 with a degree in economics. He attended Georgetown Law School from 1948 to 1949. From 1949 to 1951 he was a shipping representative for the International Paint Company of New York City....

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Dalitz, Morris B. “Moe” (24 December 1899–31 August 1989), developer, casino operator, and rumored organized crime associate, was born Morris Barney Dalitz in Boston, the son of Barney Dalitz, who ran a laundry business, and Anna Dalitz (maiden name unknown). The family moved to Detroit when Dalitz was a child, and his father owned several laundries there....

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Delmonico, Lorenzo (13 March 1813–03 September 1881), restaurateur, was born in Marengo, Ticino Canton, Switzerland, the son of Francesco Delmonico and Rosa Longhi, farmers. He attended a parochial school for a short time but was largely self-educated. A bright, hardworking, ambitious person, Delmonico emigrated in 1831 to New York City, where his two uncles, Pietro and Giovanni, ran a small wine, confectionary, and catering concern. Delmonico was a quick learner with keen business instincts; his uncles eventually made him a junior partner....

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Downey, Morton (14 November 1901–25 October 1985), singer, composer, and businessman, was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, the son of James Andrew Downey, the fire chief of Wallingford and a tavern keeper, and Elizabeth Cox. When Downey was eight, he received $5 for singing at a church social. Engagements at picnics, political rallies, and Elks Club meetings followed. He developed an act with Philip Boudini, both playing accordions. For Downey, the accordion was mostly a prop. By the time he was fourteen people were paying $15 to hear him sing....

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Downing, George Thomas (30 December 1819–21 July 1903), abolitionist, businessman, and civil rights advocate, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father’s Oyster House was a gathering place for New York’s aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith’s school on Orange Street and, with future black abolitionists ...

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Durante, Jimmy (10 February 1893–29 January 1980), comedian, was born James Francis Durante on New York City’s East Side, the son of Barthelmeo Durante and Roséa Millino. His French-Italian father operated a barber shop. His mother endowed him with the enormous nose that was to become his trademark. After dropping out of school in the seventh grade, Jimmy tried a variety of odd jobs, but he spent most of his time at a piano his father had bought for him, complete with lessons. Although his father hoped that his son would pursue a classical career, by age seventeen Durante was playing in Diamond Tony’s saloon (“Twenty-five bucks a week; hours from eight in the evening until unconscious”) on Coney Island. Later he played ragtime piano at various clubs and organized a five-man jazz band for a club in Harlem. There he met a singer, Jeanne Olson, whom he hired and, in 1921, married. They had no children. Another new acquaintance was Eddie Jackson, a singer....

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Robert Lewis "Bob" Evans. In front of his restaurant in Rio Grande, Ohio, 6 May 2003. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Evans, Bob (30 May 1918–21 June 2007), founder of Bob Evans Farms, was born on May 30, 1918, the son of Stanley and Elizabeth Lewis Evans, grocers, near Sugar Ridge (Wood County) in Northwestern Ohio. In 1924, when Bob was five, the Evans' moved to the Ohio River town of Gallipolis (Gallia County) in Southeastern Ohio where the parents had relatives. Evans' parents were products of a Welsh immigrant community that prospered in the region. Along with an older brother, Stanley Evans established the Evans Grocery Store, which grew into a chain of sixteen outlets in the area. The Evans brothers established the first Evans Grocery Store in Gallipolis in 1924. In 1929, the brothers opened a second store in Point Pleasant West Virginia. Four other stores were established in Southeastern Ohio by 1941, at the same time, the family established another store in the Charleston region of West Virginia. In 1960, the Evans Grocery Store ceased operation. Before its run ended, the Evans brothers operated a total of sixteen stores in Southeastern Ohio....

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Everleigh, Ada (15 February 1876–03 January 1960), and Minna Everleigh (13 July 1878–16 September 1948), businesswomen, were born in rural Kentucky, the daughters of a prosperous lawyer whose last name was Lester. Their mother’s name is unknown. They received little education. The sisters married brothers in 1897, but both husbands proved to be violent brutes, and the sisters left them after less than a year. Ada and Minna left Kentucky in 1898 and settled in Omaha, Nebraska, where they worked as prostitutes during the Trans-Mississippi Exhibition and eventually invested in a brothel. The closing of the fair led to a shortage of customers, and the sisters decided to head for more lucrative surroundings. With money inherited from their father they traveled to Chicago and on 1 February 1900 opened the famous Everleigh Club in the heart of the city’s vice district, known as the Levee District. They had assumed the name Everleigh at some point and used it throughout their residence in Chicago. Within a year they employed thirty women and achieved a national reputation for providing entertainment for men. “Minna and Ada Everleigh are to pleasure what Christ was to Christianity,” a reporter wrote....

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Fraunces, Samuel (1722 or 1723–10 October 1795), innkeeper, was born in the West Indies of unknown parentage. Little is known about his life before his arrival in New York City sometime in the mid-1750s. Though he was often referred to by contemporaries as “Black Sam,” surviving census records and other sources indicate that he was white. He first appeared in official city records in 1755 as an “innholder,” and a year later he acquired a tavern license. From 1759 to 1762 he maintained Masons’ Arms, the first of several taverns he would own or lease in New York and later in Philadelphia. Little is known about his first wife, Mary Carlile, except that she died shortly after he established himself as a tavern owner in New York City. He soon married again, and his second wife, Elizabeth Dailey, played a crucial role in his business operations, especially in the 1790s. They raised two sons and five daughters in a household that at various times contained several slaves and indentured servants....