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Eckert, Thomas Thompson (23 April 1825–20 October 1910), telegrapher and business and military manager, was born at St. Clairsville, Belmont County, Ohio, where his father was a farmer. His parents’ names are unknown. Eckert married Emma D. Whitney (date unknown), with whom he had two children. After a common school education, Eckert went to New York, building on a youthful interest in telegraphy as an operator with the Morse Telegraph Company. Eckert’s early initiatives as a telegrapher and organizer caught the attention of his second employer, J. H. Wade, owner of the Wade Telegraph Company. While working as one of Wade’s operators in Wooster, Ohio, Eckert managed to get appointed local postmaster and connected the telegraph wire with his post office, combining the two jobs. Wade in 1852 made Eckert superintendent of the newly completed Pittsburgh and Chicago branch line of the Union Telegraph Company, of which Wade, residing in Chicago, was president. Eckert held this position, which was expanded when the line was taken over by Western Union, until 1859, when he resigned to manage a gold mining company in North Carolina until the outbreak of the Civil War. Early in the Civil War the assistant secretary of war, made aware of Eckert’s talents, placed him in charge of General in Chief ...

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Edison, Thomas Alva (11 February 1847–18 October 1931), inventor and business entrepreneur, was born in Milan, Ohio, the son of Samuel Edison, a shingle maker, land speculator, and shopkeeper, and Nancy Elliott, a schoolteacher. Of Dutch and American heritage, his father escaped from Canada during the rebellion of 1837–1838 and, with his wife and children, settled in Milan, a burgeoning wheat port on a canal near Lake Erie, midway between Cleveland and Detroit. “Al,” as his family called him, received devoted attention from his oldest sister Marion and his mother. The arrival of the railroad in a nearby town sharply diminished the canal business in Milan and prompted the family to move to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854. Al attended both public and private schools for short periods but studied extensively with his mother at home, where he also read books from the library of his politically radical father....

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Field, Cyrus West (30 November 1819–12 July 1892), financier and promoter of the transatlantic cable, was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the son of David Dudley Field, a Congregationalist minister, and Submit Dickinson. Field’s abiding interest in grand projects such as the Atlantic telegraph owed much to his upbringing. Reared in a strict yet emotionally supportive household, he acquired from his parents a taste for hard work, a zeal for organization, and a restless curiosity. He “never saw Cyrus so uneasy,” one of his brothers once aptly remarked, “as when he was trying to keep still” (Judson, p. 58). It was also an upbringing conducive to high achievement as three of Field’s brothers also rose to national prominence: ...

Article

Kendall, Amos (16 August 1789–12 November 1869), journalist, postmaster general, and business agent, was born in Dunstable, Massachusetts, the son of Zebedee Kendall and Molly Dakin, farmers. Kendall spent his early years working on the family farm under the supervision of his father, a deacon in the Congregational church. After attending academies in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, and Groton, Massachusetts, he enrolled in 1807 at Dartmouth College. Frail and unaccustomed to independence, Kendall had difficulty adjusting to college life, especially because many of his classmates had moral standards much less strict than his own and because he had to drop out each winter to earn money by teaching school. But he adapted, made friends, and was so intelligent and hardworking that when he graduated in 1811 he ranked first in his class. Uncertain about his future, he spent the next few years in Groton studying law under Republican congressman William M. Richardson, who later became chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court....

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Morse, Samuel Finley Breese (27 April 1791–02 April 1872), artist and telegraph inventor, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the eldest child of Rev. Jedidiah Morse and Elizabeth Ann Breese. Some biographers have emphasized the influence of his father’s evangelical Calvinism on Morse, but much of his early life was spent away from home; he was enrolled as a boarder at Phillips Academy in Andover at age eight. He entered Yale in 1805 and graduated in 1810, obtaining some knowledge of electricity (but not of electromagnetism, which had yet to be discovered) from courses with ...

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Sarnoff, David (27 February 1891–12 December 1971), media executive, was born in Uzlian in the Russian province of Minsk, the son of Abraham Sarnoff, a trader and house painter, and Leah Privin, a seamstress. When David was five, his father left for the United States and he was sent to live with an uncle. When his father sent money for his passage five years later, David rejoined the family and traveled to Canada in steerage, landing in Montreal and entering the United States by train in 1900. The Sarnoffs settled in the Lower East Side of New York City, and David entered school but also helped support the family by running errands for a local butcher, delivering newspapers, and singing soprano in a synagogue. He also studied at the Educational Alliance, quickly learning English. When he was fifteen his father died, and David left school for good; while he later received many honorary degrees, his formal education ended with eighth grade....

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Sibley, Hiram (06 February 1807–12 July 1888), business leader, was born in North Adams, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Sibley and Zilpha Davis, farmers. Sibley attended village schools in North Adams, where he worked as a sawyer and shoemaker while also honing his skills as a practical mechanic. At age sixteen he left home for the Genesee Valley of New York, where he worked briefly as a wool carder. In 1830 he set up a successful machine shop in Lima, New York, and the following year he and a partner purchased a machine shop in nearby Mendon from Giles Tinker, a fellow North Adams native. Sibley remembered Tinker’s daughter, Elizabeth, from his youth, and married her in 1833. The couple had five children. Between 1831 and 1837 Sibley supervised a team of eighty artisans who manufactured wool carding machinery and agricultural implements. In 1838 Sibley moved to Rochester, New York, where he expanded the range of his activities still further by engaging in banking and real estate. Between 1843 and 1847, he also served as sheriff of Monroe County....

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Stager, Anson (20 April 1825–26 March 1885), telegraph pioneer, was born in Ontario County, New York, and raised in Rochester, New York. Information about his parents is sketchy. His father was probably Henry W. Stager, a prominent Rochester edge-tool maker. His mother’s identity is not known. Anson attended public schools in Rochester and at age sixteen was employed as a printer’s devil by Henry O’Reilly of the Rochester ...

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Watson, Thomas Augustus (18 January 1854–13 December 1934), technician and entrepreneur, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas R. Watson, a livery stable foreman, and Mary Phipps. A bright, quick boy, he left public school at fourteen from restless ambition rather than incapacity. After drifting from job to job for four years he settled down at the Boston shop of Charles Williams, who made a variety of electrical devices in small quantities. Watson took to his new job from the first. He later recalled his exultation as “I made stubborn metal do my will and take the shape necessary to . . . its allotted work.” He lay awake at night devising special tools to speed and improve his work. By 1874 he was recognized as one of the shop’s best men and accordingly was set to doing custom work for inventors. In January 1875 Watson was assigned to make apparatus for a young inventor, ...