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Robert Fulton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102509).

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Fulton, Robert (14 November 1765–23 February 1815), artist, engineer, and entrepreneur, was born on a farm in Little Britain (later Fulton) Township, south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Fulton, a Scotch-Irish tailor and tradesman, and Mary Smith. Fulton’s father had left the prosperous market town of Lancaster to establish his family on the land, but like so many others with the same goal, he failed. The farm and the dwelling were sold at sheriff’s sale in 1772, and he took his family back to Lancaster. He died two years later....

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Lamar, Gazaway Bugg (20 October 1798–05 October 1874), business entrepreneur, was born near Augusta, in Richmond County, Georgia, the son of Basil Lamar, a landholder, and Rebecca Kelly. Lamar received little formal education, although he had private Latin instruction. By age twenty-three and married to his first wife Jane Meek Creswell, whom he wed in October 1821, Lamar became a commission merchant in Augusta and, by 1823, in Savannah. Lamar’s expanding enterprises included banking and steamboating....

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Ogden, Aaron (03 December 1756–19 April 1839), soldier, public official, and entrepreneur, was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, the son of Robert Ogden II, a lawyer, and Phebe Hatfield. He attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and graduated with the class of 1773. Over the next three years he taught school, first in Princeton, then in Elizabethtown, but with the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and its American colonies, he was quickly drawn into the revolutionary confrontation....

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Cornelius Vanderbilt. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-4160).

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Vanderbilt, Cornelius (27 May 1794–04 January 1877), steamship and railroad promoter and financier, was born in Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York, the son of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Phebe Hand. His father, a poor farmer with nine children, increased his income with some boating around the New York harbor. In 1795 the family moved to Stapleton, on the eastern shore of Staten Island. Cornelius hated both schools and books and had no formal education past the age of eleven, when he became his father’s helper. The husky, robust boy was an expert swimmer and adept at identifying most types of sailing ships. At an early age he helped his father transfer farm produce by boat to New York City. At the age of sixteen his parents lent him $100 to purchase a small sailboat. Cornelius Vanderbilt at once set up a ferrying and freight business between Staten Island and New York City that earned more than $1,000 in the first year. The fare for the trip to New York City was eighteen cents one way or a round trip for a quarter....

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Yeatman, Thomas (25 December 1787–12 June 1833), merchant and banker, was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, the son of John Yeatman, a ship and boat builder on the Potomac and Monongahela rivers, and Lucy Patty. Very little is known of Yeatman’s early life. He arrived in Nashville about 1807 and probably soon became a river trader. W. W. Clayton, in ...