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Oakes Ames. Photograph from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-B-1245).

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Ames, Oakes (10 January 1804–08 May 1873), businessman and politician, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Ames, a manufacturer, and Susanna Angier. He was educated in local schools and, for a few months, at Dighton Academy. At the age of sixteen, he entered his father’s shovel factory as an apprentice, rising quickly to become the works superintendent and then his father’s assistant. In 1827 he married Evelina Orvile Gilmore, and for the next three decades lived with her and their four children in one wing of his father’s house opposite the factory....

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Brown, John (27 January 1736–20 September 1803), merchant and congressman, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of James Brown, a merchant and shipowner, and Hope Power. The Brown family was long dominant in the mercantile life of Rhode Island, and during the Revolution Brown and his brothers ...

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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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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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Draper, William Franklin (09 April 1842–28 January 1910), textile machinery manufacturer and inventor, congressman, and ambassador to Italy, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of George Draper and Hannah Thwing. His grandfather, Ira Draper, had patented the first self-acting rotary temple for cotton looms in 1816 and had established a plant to manufacture the new machine part in Weston, Massachusetts. By 1842 Ira’s son Ebeneezer had taken control of the business and had moved the plant from Weston to Hopedale, Massachusetts, where he became a member of the Reverend ...

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Findlay, James (12 October 1770–28 December 1835), congressman, lawyer, and merchant, was born in Mercersburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Findlay and Jane Smith. Little is known about Findlay’s early life, including his father’s occupation. Apparently, he grew up in comfortable circumstances and had some formal education. But when his father suffered a major financial setback, probably as the result of a fire, James and his two older brothers had to fend for themselves. Like many other young Americans in postrevolutionary America, Findlay decided to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. In 1793 he and his wife, Jane Irwin, moved to Virginia and then to Kentucky, before finally settling in Cincinnati....

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Fitzsimons, Thomas (1741–26 August 1811), congressman and merchant, was born in Ireland. No information about his parents or his early life is available. He emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1760 and found work as a clerk in a countinghouse. In 1763 he married Catharine Meade, daughter of wealthy merchant Robert Meade; he became a partner with his brother-in-law in George Meade & Company, which conducted a considerable business in the West Indies....

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Joseph W. Fordney [left to right] Gilbert M. Hitchcock, Henry Cabot Lodge, Joseph W. Fordney , Frank W. Mondell, and George B. Christian, c. 1921. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97866).

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Fordney, Joseph Warren (05 November 1853–08 January 1932), lumberman and congressman, was born on a farm near Hartford City, in Blackford County, Indiana, the son of John Fordney, a farmer and mill owner, and Achsah Cotton. The youngest of ten children, Joseph Warren Fordney spent his childhood caring for his chronically ill mother and felling trees for his father’s sawmill. At age thirteen he hired out as a farmhand, receiving ninety dollars a year and three months of schooling in return for his labor. Although Fordney had an affinity for mathematics, his formal education ended after a single summer. In 1867 he left the farm to serve as the water boy on a railroad construction crew....

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Greenway, Isabella (22 March 1886–18 December 1953), congresswoman, businesswoman, and community activist, was born Isabella Selmes in Boone County, Kentucky, the daughter of Martha Macomb Flandrau and Tilden Russell Selmes, a rancher and lawyer. After Isabella’s birth, her mother took her to join Tilden Selmes in North Dakota, where ...

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Haralson, Jeremiah (01 April 1846–1916?), congressman from Alabama, was born a slave on a plantation near Columbus in Muscogee County, Georgia. Sold twice before becoming the property of Jonathan Haralson of Selma, Alabama, a lawyer and the head of the Confederate Niter Works, the self-taught Jeremiah remained in Dallas County as a freedman following the Civil War. There he married Ellen Norwood in 1870, and his son Henry (who later attended Tuskegee Institute) was born....

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Hewitt, Abram Stevens (31 July 1822–18 January 1903), iron manufacturer, congressman, and mayor, was born near Haverstraw, New York, the son of John Hewitt, a machinist and cabinetmaker, and Ann Gurnee. After attending the public schools of New York City, Abram, at the age of thirteen, entered the Grammar School of Columbia College. Three years later he won a scholarship to Columbia College, where he ranked first in his class in academics. Upon graduation from Columbia in 1842, he began the study of law while also teaching mathematics at Columbia’s grammar school. At this time he tutored ...

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Samuel Hooper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93108 ).

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Hooper, Samuel (03 February 1808–14 February 1875), merchant and legislator, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of John Hooper and Eunice Hooper. Through both his mother and his father, Samuel was descended from the early and influential settlers of Marblehead, and he carried on the family tradition in trade and shipping. As a boy he learned the business firsthand, sailing on his father’s ships to Europe, Russia, and the West Indies. In the counting room of the Marblehead Bank, of which his father was president, Hooper received his first lessons in finance. Although the family lived in a mansion, called the “Hooper House,” Hooper attended Marblehead common schools....

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Alanson B. Houghton. c. 1922. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-99334).

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Houghton, Alanson Bigelow (10 October 1863–16 September 1941), congressman, diplomat, and manufacturer, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Amory Houghton, a glass manufacturer, and Ellen Ann Bigelow. After operating a glass factory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his grandfather, Amory Houghton, Sr., and his father operated the Brooklyn Flint Glass Company in New York (1864–1868). The company’s operations were then transferred to Corning, New York, and the company was renamed Corning Flint Glass Company; it was incorporated as the Corning Glass Works in 1875. After early education in Corning and St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, Alanson Houghton graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with an A.B. in 1886. He undertook graduate study at the Universities of Göttingen, Berlin, and Paris, with a focus on political economy. Before 1890 he also published articles on Italian finance in the ...

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Hyman, John Adams (23 July 1840–14 September 1891), North Carolina senator and U.S. congressman, was born a slave near Warrenton, Warren County, North Carolina. Nothing is known about his parents. In 1861 Hyman worked as a janitor for a jeweler who with his wife taught Hyman to read and write. When that was discovered, the jeweler and his wife were driven from Warrenton, and Hyman was sold and sent to Alabama. Having been at least eight times “bought and sold as a brute,” as he described it, Hyman in 1865 returned to Warren County, where he was a farmer and store manager. Sometime between 1865 and 1867 he became a trustee of one of the first public schools in Warren County....

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Jefferson Franklin Long. Lithograph on paper, 1872, by Currier & Ives Lithography Company. (Long on right.) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Long, Jefferson Franklin (03 March 1836–04 February 1901), Reconstruction era politician, was born a slave of mixed African and Caucasian ancestry in Knoxville, Crawford County, Georgia. The names of his parents and of his owners are unknown. Sometime before the beginning of the Civil War, Long was taken from rural Crawford County to nearby Macon, where he evidently taught himself to read and write and learned a trade. Freed at the end of the war, he opened a tailor shop in Macon, which he and his son operated for a number of years and which provided him a steady income and a position of some eminence in the black community there. He married Lucinda Carhart (marriage date unknown) and had seven children....