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Copley, Ira Clifton (25 October 1864–02 November 1947), newspaper publisher, congressman, public utilities executive, and philanthropist, was born in Copley Township, Knox County, Illinois, the son of Ira Birdsall Copley and Ellen Madeline Whiting, farmers. When Copley was two he was struck with scarlet fever, which left him blind. When he was three, the family moved to Aurora, Illinois, where he received treatment for his eyes. Even with the care of an eye specialist, his complete blindness lasted five years. With the move to Aurora, his father and his mother’s brother assumed ownership of the Aurora Illinois Gas Light Company, the beginning of a large utility company that Ira would one day manage....

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George B. Cortelyou. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92421).

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Cortelyou, George Bruce (26 July 1862–23 October 1940), presidential aide, cabinet secretary, and businessman, was born in New York City, the son of Peter Crolius Cortelyou, a businessman and Rose Seary. Educated at public and private schools, he graduated from the Massachusetts State Normal School in 1882. He studied music in Boston before going back to New York to learn stenography and court reporting. He married Lilly Morris Hinds in 1888; they had five children....

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Dawes, Rufus Cutler (30 July 1867–08 January 1940), utility executive and civic leader, was born in Marietta, Ohio, the son of Rufus R. Dawes, a businessman, and Mary Beman Gates. His family background included Marietta’s founders, while his father acquired a sizable fortune in a series of business ventures that included railroad construction, contracting, and a rolling mill operation. Although the latter enterprise failed in the Panic of 1873, his father soon entered the wholesale lumber business, and young Dawes grew up amid wealth....

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Wendell Willkie Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103648).

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Willkie, Wendell Lewis (18 February 1892–08 October 1944), corporation lawyer and executive, politician, and civil rights activist, was born in Elwood, Indiana, the son of Herman F. Willkie and Henrietta Trisch. His father was a lawyer and local reformer, and his mother was one of the first female lawyers in Indiana. Willkie attended local schools and Indiana University, graduating in 1913. After teaching high school in Kansas (Sept. 1913–Nov. 1914), he returned to Indiana University to complete a law degree in 1916....