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Coston, Martha J. (1829–12 Jan, 1904), inventor and businesswoman, was born Martha Jane Hunt in Baltimore, Maryland (parents unknown). She moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a child with her widowed mother and siblings. By her own account she had a happy childhood, was a studious child, and enjoyed the constant companionship of her mother as well as a lively household filled with her brothers and sisters....

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Dreyfus, Camille Edouard (11 November 1878–27 September 1956), industrial chemist and entrepreneur, was born in Basel, Switzerland, the son of Abraham Dreyfus, a banker, and Henrietta Wahl. Camille and his younger brother, Henri (later Americanized to Henry), both received their education at the University of Basel, being awarded their Ph.D.s in chemistry in 1902 and 1905, respectively. Camille also pursued postgraduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris until 1906. After working several years in Basel to gain industrial experience, Camille and his brother established a chemical laboratory in their home town. Seeking a product that the public would readily buy, they developed a synthetic indigo. Although they made some money in this venture, it quickly became clear that synthetic indigo did not have a sufficient market. Consequently the Dreyfus brothers focused their attention on celluloid, which at that time was produced only in a flammable form. They recognized that a large potential market existed for nonflammable celluloid, if it could be developed. They focused on cellulose acetate and were shortly producing one to two tons per day. Half of their output went to the motion picture industry for film, with the other half going into the production of toilet articles....

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Hicks, Beatrice Alice (2 Jan. 1919–21 Oct. 1979), engineer, inventor, and business executive, was born Beatrice Alice Hickstein to Florence Benedict Neben and William Lux Hickstein in Orange, New Jersey. She often recounted that she was drawn to the field of engineering at the age of thirteen when her father, a chemical engineer, took her to see the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge. Amazed by the structures, she inquired who built them, and upon learning they were designed by engineers, she decided that she wanted to become one as well. As a student at Orange High School, she enjoyed mathematics, physics, chemistry, and mechanical drawing. Her academic interests and professional aspirations, however, received little support from her family, friends, and teachers. Her parents, concerned with having to finance special schooling for Beatrice’s younger sister, Margaret, who was born with an intellectual disability, encouraged her to study stenography instead. Meanwhile, she encountered outright opposition from her classmates and some of her teachers, who made a point of telling her that engineering—where women made up less than one percent of the profession—was not a suitable field for female students....

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Orshansky, Mollie (9 Jan. 1915–18 Dec. 2006), civil servant, economist and statistician, was born in the Bronx, New York City, the sixth daughter of Samuel Orshansky and Fannie Orshansky, recent Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine. Samuel worked at various occupations (tinworker, ironworker, plumber, repairman), eventually becoming the proprietor of a small neighborhood grocery store. Mollie was born in poverty and grew up understanding how families coped with inadequate incomes. In her South Bronx neighborhood few young women went even as far as high school, going directly into the labor force as soon as possible. Mollie was the first member of her family to attend high school. She graduated Hunter College High School in ...