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Acheson, Edward Goodrich (09 March 1856–06 July 1931), inventor and industrialist, was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, the son of William Acheson, a merchant and ironworks manager, and Sarah Diana Ruple. Acheson attended the Bellefonte Academy in Centre County, Pennsylvania, for three years, concentrating his studies on surveying. In 1872, at the age of sixteen, his formal education was brought to an abrupt end by a combination of that year’s financial panic and his father’s declining health. Acheson went to work as a timekeeper at Monticello Furnace, an ironworks operated by his father, where he developed his first invention, a drilling machine for coal mining. This yielded him his first patent, at age seventeen, but the device was awkward to use and by no means a commercial success....

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Bausch, Edward (26 September 1854–30 July 1944), industrialist and inventor, was born in Rochester, New York, the son of John Jacob Bausch, an industrialist, and Barbara Zimmerman. His father, who had immigrated from Würtemberg (in present-day Germany) in 1849, opened an optical shop in Rochester in 1853 and had begun to make eyeglasses and frames, taking Henry Lomb into a partnership that would grow into the Bausch & Lomb Optical Company....

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Bendix, Vincent Hugo (12 August 1881–27 March 1945), engineer, inventor, and industrialist, was born in Moline, Illinois, the son of the Reverend Jan Bendix, a minister of the Swedish Methodist Episcopal church, and Alma Danielson. (The original family name, Bengtson, was changed to Bendix after Vincent’s parents emigrated from Sweden.) At an early age Bendix moved with his family to Chicago. He had an early interest in mechanical inventions, and at age thirteen he designed a chainless bicycle. At age sixteen he left home for New York City, where he worked as an elevator operator, in a lawyer’s office, and as a handyman in bicycle shops and garages. In 1901 he was hired by ...

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Bueche, Arthur Maynard (14 November 1920–22 October 1981), chemist and industrialist, was born in Flushing, Michigan, the son of Bernard P. Bueche, a merchant, and Margaret Rekart. He grew up in Flushing, where he worked in the family store, played football, and was school valedictorian and class poet at Flushing High School. He earned the associate degree in science from Flint Junior College in Michigan in 1941 and a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Michigan in 1943. He began graduate school in chemistry at Ohio State University in 1943 and then transferred to Cornell, where he did his thesis work under Nobel laureate ...

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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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Peter Cooper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-11083).

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Cooper, Peter (12 February 1791–04 April 1883), inventor, manufacturer, and civic benefactor, was born in New York City, the son of John Cooper and Margaret Campbell. His father was a struggling merchant who moved the family successively to Peekskill, Catskill, and finally Newburgh, New York, in search of financial success. Assisting his father in a series of occupations (hatter, brewer, shopkeeper, and brickmaker), Cooper obtained valuable practical work experience. Given his family’s relative poverty and constant movement, Cooper was only able to obtain a year’s worth of formal schooling; this deficiency in his formal education haunted him throughout his life....

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Couch, Harvey Crowley (21 August 1877–30 July 1941), entrepreneur, was born in Calhoun, Arkansas, the son of Thomas Gratham Couch, a preacher and farmer, and Manie Heard. The Couches were of Welsh extraction. Harvey Couch grew up in rural poverty with little formal schooling until the illness of his father led the family to give up farming and move to Magnolia, Arkansas, where at age seventeen Couch completed his education at the Magnolia Academy. He credited his education to a teacher, Pat Neff, later a governor of Texas....

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Dow, Herbert Henry (26 February 1866–15 October 1930), chemist and industrialist, was born in Belleville, Ontario, the son of Joseph Dow, a master mechanic, and Sarah Bunnell. Dow’s early life was spent in Connecticut, but in 1878 his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he graduated in 1888 from the Case School of Applied Science. While at Case he became fascinated with the possibility of extracting bromine, a substance used to produce drugs and photographic chemicals, from the salt-impregnated waters (brines) often associated with oil and gas wells. By 1889 he had developed a novel electrolytic process for doing this. After an initial attempt at commercialization failed, Dow secured new backing and in 1890 formed the Midland Chemical Company. He moved operations to Midland, Michigan, near rich, easy to tap brines, and by 1894 he had developed one of the earliest commercially successful electrochemical processes in the United States. In 1892 Dow married Grace Ball, a Midland schoolteacher; they had seven children. The oldest child, Willard Dow, eventually succeeded his father as head of the Dow Chemical Company....

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Hall, Charles Martin (06 December 1863–27 December 1914), inventor and industrialist, was born in Thompson, Ohio, the son of Heman Bassett Hall, Congregational minister and Caribbean missionary, and Sophronia Brooks. His educated, pious parents of modest means moved the family to Oberlin, Ohio, when Hall was ten so that the seven children might attend the college of their parents. As a youth, Hall read widely in the libraries of his father and of the college. He also became an accomplished pianist. A true son of the age of invention, for which the ...

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Hanger, James Edward (25 February 1843–09 June 1919), soldier and businessman, was born at his father's plantation, “Mt. Hope,” near Churchville, Augusta County, Virginia, the son of William Alexander Hanger, planter, and Eliza Hogshead Hanger. After receiving his early education in local schools, in 1859 he enrolled at Washington College (now Washington & Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, where he studied engineering....

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McKay, Gordon (04 May 1821–19 October 1903), inventor and industrialist, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Michael McKay, a manufacturer and politician, and Catherine Gordon Dexter. Possessing a delicate constitution, he received little formal education. Feeling that outdoor work might improve his health, McKay prepared for a career in engineering. At age sixteen he went to work for the Boston & Albany Railroad in the engineering department, and he later held a similar post with the Erie Canal. Having gained valuable practical experience and eager to direct his own firm, McKay returned to Pittsfield in 1845 and opened a machine shop that specialized in maintaining paper and cotton mill machinery. In that year he married Agnes Jenkins. They had no children, and the union ended in divorce several years later....

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Rice, Edwin Wilbur, Jr. (06 May 1862–25 November 1935), electrical engineer and industrialist, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the son of Edwin Wilbur Rice, a Congregational minister and an editor, and Margaret Eliza Williams. His family moved to Philadelphia, where he attended the Boys’ Central High School. The school, which then gave its four-year graduates the bachelor’s degree and the master’s degree for a fifth year of study, conferred A.B. and M.A. degrees on him. This was the extent of his formal education. In school he came under the tutelage of ...

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Takamine, Jokichi (03 November 1854–22 July 1922), chemist and industrialist, was born in Kanazawa, Kaga Province, Japan, the son of Seiichi Takamine, a samurai and a physician, and Yukiko Tsuda. He graduated as a chemical engineer from the Imperial Engineering College (later part of the Imperial University) in Tokyo in 1878. He spent three years at the University of Glasgow and Anderson’s College in Glasgow studying chemistry, sent by the Japanese government....

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Elihu Thomson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102513).

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Thomson, Elihu (29 March 1853–13 March 1937), inventor and industrialist, was born in Manchester, England, the son of Daniel Thomson, a mechanic, and Mary Ann Rhodes, both Scots. The Thomsons were driven to the United States in 1858 by unemployment and settled in the rapidly industrializing Southwark neighborhood of Philadelphia. A precocious student, Thomson finished grammar school at age nine, passed the entrance exam for Philadelphia’s highly competitive Central High School two years later, and, too young to enter the program, studied science and experimented on his own until beginning his four-year training at the high school at age thirteen. Mentored by Professor ...

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Weston, Edward (09 May 1850–20 August 1936), electrical engineer, inventor, and industrialist, was born at Brynn Castle, near Oswestry, County Shropshire, England, the son of Edward Weston, a carpenter and mechanic, and Margaret Jones. When Weston was seven years old, his family moved to Wolverhampton, part of England’s highly industrialized “Black Country.” After his education in the town’s grade schools, he attended St. Peter’s Collegiate Institute. He studied chemistry and physics privately there with a fellow of the London Chemical Society, Henry A. Horton. Contrary to Weston’s wishes, his parents insisted that he pursue a medical career. A three-year-long apprenticeship convinced Weston that medicine was not his field. In spite of his parents’ bitter opposition, Weston abandoned that field of study in 1870 and went to London, intending to find work in a scientific field. When this hope proved futile, Weston disappointed his parents still more by leaving to seek opportunities in the United States....