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Bert Acosta. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-94370).

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Acosta, Bertrand Blanchard (01 January 1895–01 September 1954), aviation pioneer, was born in San Diego, California, the son of Aphonse Ferdinand Acosta and Martha Blanche Snook, businesspeople. Acosta became enthralled with aviation at an early age, built gliders and later powered aircraft, and taught himself to fly. Because of this interest, at age sixteen his parents enrolled him in Throop Polytechnic Institute (later the California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena so that he could study aeronautical engineering, but he never graduated. Beginning in 1911 Acosta spent almost every moment not in school working for ...

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Charles Francis Adams, Jr. During his Civil War service. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8171-7390).

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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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Nelson W. Aldrich. Drawing by Arthur Dove, published in Success, 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-54138).

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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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Alexander, Edward Porter (26 May 1835–28 April 1910), Confederate soldier and author, was born in Washington, Georgia, the son of Adam Leopold Alexander, a planter and banker, and Sarah Hillhouse Gilbert. Educated by tutors in his wealthy family’s household, Alexander entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1853 and graduated third in the class of 1857. He was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant of engineers on 1 July 1857 and was promoted to second lieutenant on 10 October 1858. Marked from the first as a promising officer, he taught at West Point immediately upon graduation, accompanied ...

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Allen, Edmund Turney (04 January 1896–18 February 1943), test pilot, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Edmund Allen, a preacher, and Abby Irene Dyer. A shy, frail-looking person, “Eddie” Allen moved around with his family before returning to Chicago, where he graduated from high school in 1913. He was initially drawn to farm work, but his mother and sister convinced him to attend the University of Illinois, which he did in 1916–1917. He then enlisted in the infantry before attending officers’ training camp at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he became interested in aviation....

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Allen, William McPherson (01 September 1900–29 October 1985), chief officer of the Boeing Company, was born in Lolo, Montana, the son of Charles Maurice, a mining engineer, and Gertrude Maud Hughes, an orchardist. Following preparatory school in Missoula, Montana, he enlisted in the army for a short time during World War I. Upon his return, he went on to graduate from the University of Montana in 1922. Later he characterized himself as a middling student who became more serious in the process of earning a law degree at Harvard....

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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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See Columbia Space Shuttle Crew

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Andrews, Alexander Boyd (23 July 1841–17 April 1915), railroad executive, was born near Franklinton, North Carolina, the son of William J. Andrews, a small planter and merchant, and Virginia Hawkins. The family soon moved to Henderson, North Carolina. After the death of his mother in 1852 and his father the next year, young Andrews passed into the care of his mother’s family. In 1859, not yet eighteen years old, he left the Henderson Male Academy to work for his uncle Philemon B. Hawkins, who had a construction contract on the Blue Ridge Railroad in South Carolina. In short order he was promoted to superintendent, paymaster, and purchasing agent of his uncle’s operation....

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Armstrong, Neil (05 August 1930–25 August 2012), aerospace engineer, test pilot, and astronaut, was born Neil Alden Armstrong in Auglaize County, Ohio, the first of three children of Stephen Koenig Armstrong and Viola Engel. His father, an auditor with a state agency, moved the family fourteen times before finally settling in Wapakoneta in 1944. Neil was a good student, a voracious reader who skipped a grade in elementary school; he won a freshman science award and represented his school in a state-wide civics program. He was also an Eagle Scout, played in the Blume High School band and orchestra, served as vice president of the student council in his senior year, and graduated at age sixteen....

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Atterbury, William Wallace (31 January 1866–20 September 1935), railroad executive, was born in New Albany, Indiana, the son of John G. Atterbury, an attorney and Presbyterian home missionary, and Catherine Larned. After graduating from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School in 1886, Atterbury entered the mechanical engineering department of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) as an apprentice in the Altoona, Pennsylvania, shops. In 1889, he was named road foreman of engines and in 1892 was promoted to assistant engineer of motive power for PRR Lines West (of Pittsburgh). Three years later he became master mechanic of the road’s Fort Wayne, Indiana, shops—the second-largest on the system, after Altoona. In 1896 Atterbury returned to Altoona as superintendent of motive power for PRR Lines East and five years later became general superintendent of motive power for the entire PRR, then the nation’s largest railroad by nearly every measure....

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Austell, Alfred (14 January 1814–07 December 1881), businessman and financier, was born in Dandridge, Tennessee, the son of William Austell and Jane Wilkins, farmers. Austell was reared in the East Tennessee foothills and received little formal education. At the age of seventeen he left Tennessee to join his older brother William’s cotton business in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The business was heavily encumbered by debts, but Austell and his brother were able to turn it into a success and pay off their $20,000 liability in just three years....

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Baer, George Frederick (26 September 1842–26 April 1914), lawyer and railroad president, was born in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, the son of Major Solomon Baer and Anna Baker, farmers. George spent his early years on the family farm until the Baers moved to the village of Somerset in 1848. Family resources enabled him to acquire his early education at the Somerset Institute. At age thirteen he served as an apprentice at the ...

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Baldwin, William Henry, Jr. (05 February 1863–03 January 1905), railroad executive and philanthropist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Henry Baldwin, a dry goods merchant, and Mary Chaffee. A direct descendant of an English settler who had arrived in Massachusetts before 1640, Baldwin grew up in a family noted for its commitment to abolition and other reforms. His father founded the Young Men’s Christian Union of Boston, an adult social service organization. When Baldwin was five years old, his father retired from his successful mercantile career to serve as the union’s president....

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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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Joel Barlow. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Barlow.

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Barlow, Joel (24 March 1754–26 December 1812), businessman, diplomat, and poet, was born in Redding, Connecticut, the son of Samuel Barlow and Esther Hull, fairly well-to-do farmers. Barlow was born the second-to-last child in a large family. Given the size of the family and their farm, Barlow could receive formal education only from the local minister, an education probably interspersed with farm chores. When Barlow was eighteen, his father arranged for his schooling at Moor’s Indian School (now Dartmouth) in Hanover, New Hampshire. Barlow began his studies there in 1772, yet his father’s death shortly thereafter made it necessary for Barlow to return home. He entered Yale College with the class of 1778. At Yale Barlow began to give evidence of an interest in poetry, in moral and political philosophy, and in science as a key to the improvement of the human condition. His first published poem, a broadside publication, was a satire in pseudobiblical verse about the bad food served in Yale commons. Although he wrote poems throughout his college days, Barlow’s best-known college verses were verse orations delivered at two Yale commencements, ...