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Walt Disney. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114742).

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Disney, Walt (05 December 1901–15 December 1966), animator and motion picture producer, was born Walter Elias Disney in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Elias Disney, a building contractor, and Flora Call, a teacher. After a childhood near Marceline and in Kansas City, Missouri, Disney studied at the Chicago Institute of Art in the evening while attending McKinley High School during the day. In 1918 he enlisted in the American Ambulance Corps, serving in France and returning to employment as an artist at the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio, where he befriended artist ...

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Schenck, Joseph M. (25 December 1877–22 October 1961), motion picture executive, was born in Rybinsk, Volga, Russia. (His parents’ names are unknown.) Schenck and his younger brother, Nicholas Schenck, came to the United States in 1892. Little is known of their early years. We do know that they grew up poor in New York City and left school early to help support the family. Schenck looked for a time to be fashioning a career in pharmacy, but in his teens he was lured by the bright lights of show business. Success did not come quickly. He labored mightily before he was able to find his show business niche in the nascent amusement park business in 1908. He and his brother would go on to build Palisades Park across the Hudson River from New York City....

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Schenck, Nicholas Michael (14 November 1881–03 March 1969), motion picture executive, was born in Rybinsk, Volga, Russia, the son of Hyman Schenck, a laborer, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). In 1892 Schenck came to the United States, where he received an elementary school education in New York City until he was forced to leave school to help support his family. His first business success came in 1908 when he and his brother, ...

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Thompson, Frederic (1873–06 June 1919), builder and proprietor of Coney Island's Luna Park, builder and proprietor of Coney Island’s Luna Park, was born in Ironton, Ohio, the son of Fred “Casey” Thompson, a steel contractor, and Martha J. Williams. Raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and Nashville, Tennessee, Thompson left school at the age of fourteen to work as a clerk in a pump factory. He was subsequently employed as a building materials broker and an architectural draftsman prior to becoming, at age twenty, manager of the Manning, Maxwell & Moore exhibit at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. His success in this venture led to contracts to design exhibits at the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition at Nashville and to operate amusement concessions at Omaha’s Trans-Mississippi Exposition in 1898....

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Tilyou, George Cornelius (03 February 1862–30 November 1914), amusement park entrepreneur and inventor, was born in New York City, the son of Peter Augustus Tilyou, a hotel proprietor, and Ellen Mahoney. Of Huguenot heritage, his father owned the Surf House, one of the first resort hotels at Coney Island. The family moved to Coney Island when George was three years old, and he subsequently attended the Gravesend and Brooklyn, New York, public schools. Even as a youth, the boy’s talents as an amusement genius and showman were evident. At the age of fourteen, inspired by publicity surrounding the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, he set up a stand at Coney Island, selling bottles of seawater and boxes of beach sand for twenty-five cents each. At seventeen he began his professional career with his own Coney Island real estate business operating out of two bathhouses joined together, and he also began publishing his own newspaper, ...