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Ames, Oliver (05 November 1807–09 March 1877), manufacturer and railroad promoter and official, was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Ames, a pioneer manufacturer, and Susanna Angier. Early in his childhood the family returned to their home in North Easton, twenty miles south of Boston. Ames attended the local schools and also became an adept worker in his father’s shovel works. At the age of twenty-one, having been temporarily disabled by a severe fall, he entered Franklin Academy at North Andover, Massachusetts. He was interested in debating clubs and intended to ultimately study law....

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Ball, George Alexander (05 November 1862–22 October 1955), glassmaker and railroad tycoon, was born on a farm near Greensburg, Trumbull County, Ohio, the son of Lucius Styles Ball, a farmer and inventor, and Maria Polly Bingham, a teacher. Young George attended the common schools and then Canandaigua Academy in upstate New York, an institution that was probably the equivalent of a modern junior college. In 1893 he married Frances E. Woodworth, with whom he would have one child....

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Erastus Corning. Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 27 April 1872. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102401).

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Corning, Erastus (14 December 1794–09 April 1872), manufacturer and railroad executive, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Bliss Corning and Lucinda Smith. About 1805 the family moved to Chatham, New York, a few miles southeast of Albany. Erastus completed a common school education and, at about age thirteen, moved to nearby Troy to work in his uncle Benjamin Smith’s hardware business. Smith was particularly helpful to Erastus, perhaps because an injury in infancy had left the boy with a lifelong reliance on crutches....

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Crocker, Alvah (14 October 1801–26 December 1874), manufacturer, railroad promoter, and congressman, was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Crocker and Comfort Jones. His parents were among the founders of the Baptist church in Leominster, and they imparted a strong work ethic to their seven sons, of whom Alvah was the eldest. He went to work at the age of eight in a Leominster paper mill, where he earned twenty-five cents for each twelve-hour day. He received little formal education (one year at Groton Academy at age sixteen), but he read widely on his own, and his letters displayed a bent toward literature and rhetoric. He subsequently worked in other paper mills in Franklin, New Hampshire, and Fitchburg, Massachusetts, before he started his first industrial concern, a paper manufactory in Fitchburg in 1826....

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Flagler, Henry Morrison (02 January 1830–20 May 1913), businessman and railroad promoter, was born in Hopewell, just outside of Canadaigua, New York, the son of the Reverend Isaac Flagler, a Presbyterian minister, and Elizabeth Morrison. As a pioneer missionary preacher, Isaac Flagler earned no more than $300 to $400 a year. Henry attended the local district school until he was fourteen, when he decided to strike out on his own. He walked to the Erie Canal and worked his way west on a canal boat until he reached Buffalo, New York, where he took a lake boat to Sandusky, Ohio. South of Sandusky in the small town of Republic, Flagler joined a half brother, Daniel M. Harkness, who helped him get a clerkship in a country store at five dollars a month plus board. He saved his money both at Republic and at another store in Fostoria, Ohio. Having gained both experience and capital, Flagler in about 1850 moved to Bellevue, south of Sandusky, where he became a grain commission merchant. Some of the other Harknesses, relatives of his mother, lived in Bellevue. In 1853 Flagler married Mary Harkness, niece of Stephen V. Harkness, a leading citizen of Bellevue. The couple had three children. Flagler shipped grain to ...

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Forbes, John Murray (23 February 1813–12 October 1898), merchant, capitalist, and railroad developer, was born in Bordeaux, France, and raised in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Ralph Bennet Forbes, a merchant, and Margaret Perkins. Through the generosity of his elder brother, Thomas Tunno Forbes, young John enjoyed five years of schooling at the experimental Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, before taking up a place in 1828 as a clerk to his uncles in Boston, the China traders James and ...

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Green, John Cleve (04 April 1800–29 April 1875), philanthropist, railroad entrepreneur, and China trader, was born in Lawrenceville (formerly Maidenhead), New Jersey, the son of Caleb Smith and Elizabeth Green. His great-great-grandfather, Jonathan Dickinson, was first president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University; this family connection would later play a great part in Princeton’s future....

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Mason, William (02 September 1808–21 May 1883), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Mystic, Connecticut, the son of Amos Mason, a blacksmith, and Mary Holdredge. At age six he moved with his family to Stonington. Seven years later he went to work as an apprentice spinner in a cotton mill in nearby Canterbury, and at age sixteen he moved to Lisbon, Connecticut, where he worked in a textile factory as an operator and mechanic. He became so adept at repairing machinery that a year later his employer put him in charge of setting up the machinery in a new cotton mill in East Haddam. On his return to Lisbon, he worked in the mill’s machine shop until his apprenticeship was completed in 1828....

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Merrick, Samuel Vaughan (04 May 1801–18 August 1870), manufacturer and railroad pioneer, was born in Hallowell, Maine, the eldest son of John Merrick, a Unitarian minister and author, and Rebecca Vaughan. His father, who came from England in 1798, provided Merrick with a rich cultural environment in which to develop. He attended Hallowell schools and in 1816 left Maine to work for his bachelor uncle, ...

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Mills, Darius Ogden (05 September 1825–03 January 1910), banker and mining and railroad entrepreneur, was born in North Salem, Westchester County, New York, the son of James Mills, a town supervisor of North Salem (1835), and Hannah Ogden. From a prominent family, Mills was educated at the North Salem Academy and then at the Mount Pleasant Academy at Ossining, New York. His father’s death in 1841 deprived Mills of a college education. Instead he became a clerk in a mercantile establishment in New York City. In 1847, at the invitation of a cousin, he became cashier of the Merchants’ Bank of Erie County in Buffalo, New York....

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O’Brien, John Joseph (04 November 1888–09 December 1967), business executive and sports administrator, was born in Brooklyn, New York, to John T. O’Brien, a construction superintendent, and Margaret Monohan. O’Brien’s love for sports started early. He played football, basketball, and baseball at Commercial High School in Brooklyn and continued to play for YMCA and other teams while pursuing further education through night school and correspondence courses in law and accounting. In 1910 he began officiating basketball games, an avocation he engaged in over the next twenty years at high school, college, and professional levels....

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Osborn, William Henry (21 December 1820–02 March 1894), merchant, railroad executive, and philanthropist, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of William Osborn and Anna Henfield Bowditch, farmers. After a few years at local schools Osborn, at the age of thirteen, became a clerk in a Boston firm, the East India House of Peele, Hubbell & Company. Bright and quite capable, by age sixteen he was representing his firm in Manila, Philippine Islands. While still in his twenties Osborn set up his own import-export business in Manila. The new firm prospered and by the early 1850s he had made a small fortune. He left the Philippines, toured Europe, and returned to the United States in 1853....

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Plant, Henry Bradley (27 October 1819–23 June 1899), transportation executive, was born in Branford, Connecticut, the son of Anderson Plant and Betsey Bradley, farmers. His father died of typhus when Plant was only six years old, and upon his mother’s remarriage to Philemon Hoadley several years later the family relocated to Martinsburg, New York. Plant later returned to his native state and settled in New Haven, where he finished his education at a private academy. Although Plant’s grandmother offered to pay his way through Yale (hoping that he would enter the ministry), he declined the offer in favor of entering the world of work....

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Richmond, Dean (31 March 1804–27 August 1866), businessman and politician, was born Elkanah Dean Richmond in Barnard, Vermont, the son of Hathaway Richmond, a manufacturer, and Rachel Dean. He never used his first name. He received only a few years of formal education during childhood, and after 1816, when the family moved to Salina (now Syracuse), New York, he learned the skills of salt production from his father and three uncles, who together operated a salt manufacturing concern. In 1821 Richmond’s father died, and Richmond took his father’s place in the salt business. Richmond married Mary Elizabeth Mead in 1833, and the couple had eight children. In 1842, after twenty-two years as a moderately successful businessman in Syracuse, Richmond moved to Buffalo, New York, and opened a new concern as a grain transporter. He also cofounded and directed the Buffalo & Rochester Railroad....

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Rogers, Henry Huttleston (29 January 1840–19 May 1909), oil tycoon, railroad builder, and capitalist, was born at Fairhaven, Massachusetts, the son of Rowland Rogers, a bookkeeper, and Mary Eldredge Huttleston. A high school graduate, Rogers worked in his hometown five years before leaving in 1861 for Pennsylvania, where oil had been discovered in 1859. Beginning with a $1,200 investment in a small refinery erected at McClintockville, Pennsylvania, Rogers and a partner, Charles Ellis, made $30,000 their first year. In 1866 Rogers met ...

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Sloan, Matthew Scott (05 September 1881–14 June 1945), utility and railroad executive, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Matthew Scott Sloan, the chief of the city fire department, and Mary Elizabeth Scott. Details of his early education are sketchy. He entered Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) at the age of fourteen and received a B.S. in 1901 and an M.S. in 1902 in electrical engineering. Following graduation, he briefly served as the manager of an electric light plant in Dothan, Alabama, and then he worked for a streetcar company in Nashville, Tennessee. Later in 1902 he moved north and began an apprenticeship in the railway motor testing department of the General Electric Company (GE) in Schenectady, New York. At GE, Sloan advanced steadily through the ranks and became supervisor of turbine installations by 1906. Returning to his native state, he went to work for a GE subsidiary, the Electric Bond and Share Company, which operated a number of utilities nationwide, as the chief engineer and assistant to the president of the Birmingham Railway Light and Power Company. In 1911 he married Lottie Everard Lane; they had one daughter....

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Smith, Francis Marion (02 February 1846–27 August 1931), mining and railroad entrepreneur, was born in Richmond, Wisconsin, the son of Henry Grovier Smith and Charlotte Paul, farmers. After completing grade school in Richmond, Smith attended high school in nearby Milton and Allen’s Grove. He worked on the farm until he reached the age of twenty-one, when he succumbed to the lure of the West. In 1867 he traveled to Montana Territory, where he tried prospecting and both placer and hard-rock mining. Unimpressed with the return, he resumed his travels, working at various jobs until he reached western Nevada, where he became a restaurateur. After a few months he decided that prospecting was more interesting, and for the next five years he followed various mineral rushes in the region....

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Tod, David (21 February 1805–13 November 1868), businessman, lawyer, and Civil War governor of Ohio, was born on a farm near Youngstown, Ohio, the son of George Tod, a lawyer and judge, and Sarah Isaacs. Although his father and maternal grandfather were Yale graduates, Tod’s hard-pressed father could only partially subsidize his schooling at Burton Academy and expenses while reading law in the office of Powell Stone of Warren, Ohio. In 1827, more than $1,000 in debt, Tod was admitted to the bar. He was not the ablest of the many lawyers in Warren, but his handsome appearance, musical voice, ready wit, and sociable manner made him effective with juries, and his practice flourished. The same attributes made him an excellent political campaigner. Attracted to ...

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William Henry Vanderbilt. Engraving by A. H. Ritchie. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-38787).