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Adams, Charles Francis (27 May 1835–20 March 1915), railroad official, civic leader, and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), a diplomat and politician, and Abigail Brown Brooks. He was the grandson of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) and great-grandson of ...

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Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth (06 November 1841–16 April 1915), U.S. senator, congressman, and businessman, was born in Foster, Rhode Island, the son of Anan Aldrich and Abby Burgess, farmers. Having received a modest education in East Killingly, Connecticut, and at the East Greenwich Academy in Rhode Island, Aldrich was by age seventeen working in Providence. Eventually a large wholesale grocery firm, Waldron, Wightman & Co., hired him as a clerk and bookkeeper. His career there was briefly interrupted in 1862 by service with the Tenth Rhode Island Volunteers garrisoning Washington, D.C. After contracting typhoid that same year he returned to Providence and, by 1866, had been elevated to junior partner at Waldron, Wightman. He married Abby Chapman that year; the couple would have eleven children. His wife was of independent means, but Aldrich insisted on accumulating a fortune on his own account and gradually did so. He worked his way up to full partner at Waldron, Wightman, was a director of the Roger Williams Bank by 1872, and by 1877 was president of Providence’s First National Bank. He also headed the city’s Board of Trade in these years....

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Brady, Diamond Jim (12 August 1856–13 April 1917), businessman and cultural icon, was born James Buchanan Brady in New York City, the son of Daniel Brady, a saloonkeeper, and his wife, whose name is not recorded. After attending local schools until the age of eleven, he left home and became a bellboy at the nearby St. James Hotel. While working there he befriended John M. Toucey, an official with the New York Central Railroad, who offered Brady (by then fifteen) a job in the firm's baggage department. After a few months of moving baggage by day and studying bookkeeping, at Paine's Business College, by night, he became a ticket agent at the Central's Spuyten Duyvil station in the Bronx. In 1874 Brady became a clerk in the home office, and in 1877 he was promoted to the position of Toucey's chief clerk. It was here that Brady began to display his love of fine clothing and nightlife, personal indulgences that would characterize his later lifestyle....

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Burnside, Ambrose Everett (23 May 1824–13 September 1881), soldier and businessman, was born in Liberty, Indiana, the son of Pamelia Brown and Edghill Burnside, a law clerk and farmer. The Burnsides had nine children and only a modest income, so Ambrose received no more than a rudimentary education before starting work as an apprentice tailor in 1840. His father took advantage of a term in the state legislature to have the boy appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, which he entered on 1 July 1843. He graduated eighteenth out of thirty-eight cadets in the class of 1847 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the Third U.S. Artillery. His battery was serving in the Mexican War, and he joined it in Mexico City, too late to see action. Bored, he gambled away six months’ pay. Further embarrassment was prevented by a posting, in spring 1848, to Fort Adams, Rhode Island....

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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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Depew, Chauncey Mitchell (23 April 1834–05 April 1928), public speaker, railroad president, and U.S. senator, was born in Peekskill, New York, the son of Isaac Depew, a shipowner, merchant, and farmer, and Martha Mitchell. After graduating from Peekskill Academy in 1852, Chauncey entered Yale where he forsook the Democratic faith of his father and sided with the antislavery forces of the newly created Republican party. After receiving his diploma in 1856, young Depew began the study of law in the office of a Peekskill attorney and was admitted to the bar in 1858. That same year he was a delegate to the Republican State Convention, and in 1862 and 1863 he served in the New York state legislature, becoming a leader of the GOP caucus during his second session. In 1863 he was elected New York’s secretary of state, a post he held for two years. Throughout this period he developed a reputation as a campaign speaker who could sway a crowd in support of the Republican cause. In an age when oratorical skill was a prerequisite to political success, his gift for speaking proved an invaluable asset....

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Garrett, John Work (31 July 1820–26 September 1884), businessman and railroad president, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Robert Garrett, a merchant, and Elizabeth Stouffer. Garrett and his older brother Henry enjoyed growing up in the busy harbor town, where after school they did chores in their father’s store and warehouse. At age fourteen Garrett attended Lafayette College in Pennsylvania but left after two years to work in his father’s firm....

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Harriman, Edward Henry (20 February 1848–09 September 1909), railroad leader, was born in the Episcopal rectory at Hempstead, Long Island, New York, the son of Orlando Harriman, an Episcopal minister, and Cornelia Neilson. With church support provided for clergymen’s sons, Harriman and his three brothers attended Trinity School in New York City. In 1860 Harriman won the top prize for scholarship at Trinity....

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Harriman, W. Averell (15 November 1891–26 July 1986), businessman and government official, was born William Averell Harriman in New York City, the son of the railroad organizer Edward H. Harriman and Mary Averell (Mary Williamson Averell Harriman). He spent his early years in New York and on the family estate of Arden in the nearby Ramapo Mountains. He was educated at Groton and Yale. Harriman did poorly in preparatory studies, which brought admonishment from his father, and it is possible that his stammer, which he carried throughout his long life, resulted from this experience. At Yale he did better academically, and excelled socially....

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McAdoo, William Gibbs (31 October 1863–01 February 1941), railroad executive, secretary of the treasury, and U.S. senator, was born in Marietta, Georgia, the son of William Gibbs McAdoo, Sr., and Mary Faith Floyd. His father served in the Tennessee state government and as attorney general in Knoxville before the Civil War. In 1863 his parents moved to Georgia intending to reside on his mother’s family plantation, but bleak prospects forced them to stop in Marietta and then settle in Milledgeville, the old state capital and McAdoo’s childhood home. During the last years of the war, McAdoo’s father fought in Georgia as a Confederate officer. Like many southerners McAdoo’s parents never recovered financially after the war, but they tried to replace material advantage with intellectual pursuits. His mother published several romantic novels of the Old South, and both parents wrote essays and book reviews for the local press. McAdoo’s father struggled to find work in Milledgeville before securing a professorship at the University of Tennessee in 1877 and moving the family back to Knoxville....

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McCallum, Daniel Craig (21 January 1815–27 December 1878), engineer, builder, and railroad manager, was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland, the son of a tailor, and emigrated as a child with his parents, whose names are unknown, to Rochester, New York. After an elementary school education he worked his way from carpenter and builder to become a distinguished architect and engineer. The date of his marriage to Mary McCann is unknown; they had three sons....

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Porter, Horace (15 April 1837–29 May 1921), soldier, businessman, and diplomat, was born in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, the son of David Rittenhouse Porter, a businessman, politician, and governor, and Josephine McDermott. Educated at Lawrenceville Academy and the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard (1854–1855), he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1855), graduating third in the class of 1860. Commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Ordnance Branch, he remained at the academy as an artillery instructor before being assigned to the Watervliet Arsenal at Troy, New York....

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Rea, Samuel (21 September 1855–24 March 1929), civil engineer and railroad president, was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the son of James D. Rea, a judge, and Ruth Moore. Rea was forced by the death of his father to leave school at age thirteen and become a clerk in a local general store. In 1871 he secured a position as chainman on a Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) survey gang working near his home but lost the position with the onset of the panic of 1873. He soon found work as a clerk for the Hollidaysburg Iron and Nail Company and in 1875 resumed his employment with the PRR as assistant engineer with the railroad’s engineering corps at Connellsville, Pennsylvania....

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Roberts, George Brooke (15 January 1833–30 January 1897), civil engineer and fifth president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was born at the family estate, “Pencoyd Farm,” near Bala, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the son of Isaac Warner Roberts and Rosalinda Evans Brooke. Roberts was born into an old and distinguished Philadelphia family of Welsh ancestry whose interests included coal, railroads, ironmaking, and farming. His early education was completed at the Lower Merion Academy, and at age fifteen he enrolled in the technical course at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where he completed the three-year course in just two years. This was followed by a year’s postgraduate studies there, which he completed in 1851 at age eighteen....

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Sewall, Arthur (25 November 1835–05 September 1900), shipbuilder and railroad and bank president, was born in Bath, Maine, the son of William Dunning Sewall, a shipbuilder, and Rachel Trufant. Sewall received a common school education in Bath. He was subsequently sent to Prince Edward Island to learn how to cut ship timber, and soon he was able to perform every job required in a shipyard. In 1854, during a peak period of wooden shipbuilding, he founded the firm of E. & A. Sewall with his older brother Edward and took over his father’s firm. When Edward died in 1879, the name was changed to Arthur Sewall & Co. Beginning with the 1,000-ton ...

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Stanford, Leland (09 March 1824–21 June 1893), corporation head, governor of California, and U.S. senator, was born Amasa Leland Stanford in Watervliet, New York, the son of prosperous gentry parents Josiah Stanford and Elizabeth Phillips. Josiah Stanford was an innkeeper, landowner, and bridge and road contractor; he was also a strong supporter of the Erie Canal. Leland (he rarely used his first name) Stanford attended local schools until adolescence and then was educated at home under the tutelage of his mother. Legend has it that young Stanford was a voracious reader; books do not seem to have been of much interest to him in later life. In his late teens, Stanford attended the nearby Clinton Liberal Institute and, later, the Cazenovia Seminary. He read law with the Albany firm of Wheaton, Doolittle and Hadley and was admitted to the bar in 1848. That same year Stanford traveled to Port Washington, Wisconsin, to begin his legal practice. Stanford married Jane Lathrop ( ...

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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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Vanderbilt, William Henry (08 May 1821–08 December 1885), railroad industrialist, was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the son of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877) and Sophia Johnson. The elder Vanderbilt operated a ferry between New Jersey and Manhattan, and the home atmosphere was one of frugality and hard work. The family moved to Manhattan when William was eight....

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Westinghouse, George (06 October 1846–12 March 1914), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Central Bridge, Schoharie County, New York, the son of George Westinghouse and Emeline Vedder, farmers. In 1856 his father, blessed with mechanical aptitude, relocated the family to Schenectady, New York, where he formed G. Westinghouse & Company. The firm manufactured agricultural implements, and its machine shop provided young Westinghouse with his first opportunities for mechanical experimentation. Westinghouse divided his time between attendance at local schools and tinkering in his father’s shop. He produced his first invention, a rotary engine, by the age of fifteen. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, he followed the example of two older brothers and ran away from home to join the Union army. He briefly served with the Twelfth Regiment, New York National Guard, before his parents forced him, because he was still only fifteen, to return home. Finally able to sway his parents to his wishes, Westinghouse joined the Sixteenth Regiment, New York Cavalry, in 1863. He resigned from the army in December 1864 to join the Union navy, where he served as acting third assistant engineer aboard the USS ...

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Yulee, David Levy (12 June 1810–10 October 1886), politician and businessman, was born David Levy on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the son of Moses Elias Levy, a timber dealer and merchant, and Hannah Abendanone. The young Levy studied at the Norfolk Academy in Virginia but was forced in 1827 to move to Florida, where his father had acquired large tracts of land in hopes of founding an agricultural colony for European Jews. The elder Levy had decided his children should support themselves, a condition apparently met by his son’s taking up residence on a plantation the father owned in Micanopy. David Levy subsequently read law in St. Augustine and, after being admitted to the bar in 1832, practiced there for several years....