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Abernethy, George (07 October 1807–02 May 1877), businessman and provisional governor of Oregon, was born in New York City, the son of William Abernethy, a shoemaker; the name of his mother is unknown. He attended school in New York. In 1830 he married Anne Cope, with whom he would have two children. As a young man, he entered a mercantile business and continued in it until his firm failed in the panic of 1837, an event that ruined him financially. He sold his property in Brooklyn, New York, and repaid his debts....

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Ames, Oliver (04 February 1831–22 October 1895), industrialist and governor of Massachusetts, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oakes Ames (1804–1873), a manufacturer and congressman, and Evelyn Gilmore. Ames came from a long line of Massachusetts capitalists. The family gained notoriety in 1872, when the House of Representatives censured Oliver’s father because of his part in the Credit Mobilier scandal. Oliver was to fight throughout his life to clear his father’s besmirched image....

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Barnum, P. T. (05 July 1810–07 April 1891), showman, was born Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethel, Connecticut, the son of Philo F. Barnum, a farmer and storekeeper, and Irena Taylor. While attending public school in Bethel, Barnum peddled candy and gingerbread. He later wrote that he had always been interested in arithmetic and money....

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Bedinger, George Michael (10 December 1756–08 December 1843), soldier, legislator, and businessman, was born in York County, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry Bedinger and Magdalene von Schlegel, innkeepers. In 1737 his grandfather had moved to Pennsylvania from the vicinity of Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine. At the time of George Michael’s birth, the family name was spelled Biedinger and German was the language spoken at home. Late in life Bedinger was described by a contemporary as a “full blooded Virginia Dutchman.”...

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Bowles, Chester Bliss (05 April 1901–25 May 1986), businessman, politician, and diplomat, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Allen Bowles, a paper manufacturer, and Nellie Harris. His grandfather, Samuel Bowles (1826–1878), a man Chester frequently identified as his inspiration and role model, transformed the Springfield ...

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Brown, Joseph Emerson (15 April 1821–30 November 1894), U.S. senator, governor, and entrepreneur, was born at Long Creek in the Pickens District of South Carolina, the son of Mackey Brown and Sally Rice, farmers. The family moved to Union County in northern Georgia, where Brown spent most of his childhood and adolescence on the family farm. His formal education was meager until, at the age of nineteen, he left home to attend an academy in the Anderson District of South Carolina. Returning to Georgia, he taught school for a time to repay tuition charges, and he subsequently read law and was admitted to the Georgia bar in August 1845. During 1845–1846 he attended the Yale Law School but did not receive a degree. In 1847 Brown married Elizabeth Grisham, daughter of a prominent Baptist minister. The marriage produced seven children. Moderate and controlled in his public actions, Brown has been characterized by his biographer as a traditional, occasionally even harsh, husband and father....

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Bulkeley, Morgan Gardner (26 December 1837–06 November 1922), president of the Aetna Life Insurance Company, governor of Connecticut, and U.S. senator from Connecticut, was born in East Haddam, Connecticut, the son of Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley, a public official, Republican party leader, and founder of the Aetna Life Insurance Company, and Lydia S. Morgan Gardner....

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Asa Smith Bushnell. c. 1895. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-DIG-pga-01541).

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Bushnell, Asa Smith (16 September 1834–15 January 1904), entrepreneur and governor of Ohio, was born in Rome, New York, to Daniel Bushnell, a teacher whose father, Jason Bushnell, fought as a Connecticut soldier in the American Revolution, and Harriet Smith Bushnell. His mother helped to develop her son's ambitious qualities. In 1845 his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father became involved with the Underground Railroad. Asa Bushnell attended the city's public schools for six years, the only formal education he ever received....

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Colton, George Radcliffe (10 April 1865–06 April 1916), American colonial administrator, banker, and customs specialist, was born in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of Francis Colton and Frances A. Garey. Nothing is known about his parents’ occupations. At seventeen Colton moved west to work on a New Mexico cattle ranch for five years before he entered the banking business in David City, Nebraska, as cashier, manager, and subsequently vice president of the Central Nebraska National Bank. He entered Republican politics in 1889 when he served one term in the Nebraska state legislature. He married Jessie T. McLeod in the same year; they had two children. In 1897 he was a Nebraska state bank examiner and an active member of the National Guard. When the Spanish-American War of 1898 began, Colton helped organize the First Regiment of Nebraska Volunteer Infantry. As lieutenant colonel he served with his regiment in the Philippines. When the war ended President ...

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Walter E. Edge Seated, left, at a session of the Senate's Committee on Elections, 1921. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104398).

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Edge, Walter Evans (20 November 1873–29 October 1956), New Jersey businessman and political leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Edge, a railroad manager, and Mary Elizabeth Evans. In 1877 his family moved to Pleasantville, New Jersey, and in 1887 he took a job as a printer’s devil for the ...

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English, James Edward (13 March 1812–02 March 1890), businessman and politician, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of James English, a customs collector and shipowner, and Nancy Griswold. When he was eleven, English persuaded his parents to allow him to live with and work for a local farmer. After three years his father enrolled him in a private school. At sixteen he became an apprentice to a New Haven carpenter and joiner and grew adept at creating architectural designs and drawing up contracts. Subsequently, he worked as an independent contractor and master builder, planning and constructing several of New Haven’s more imposing houses. English had accumulated enough money by 1835 to form a lumber company in New Haven with a partner, Harmanus M. Welch. However, in the wake of the panic of 1837, he decided that it would be prudent to diversify his business. He purchased and constructed ships to serve the Philadelphia–New England trade and over the next two decades built a considerable fortune....

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Few, William (08 June 1748–16 July 1828), lawyer, politician, and banker, was born near Baltimore, Maryland, the son of William Few, a failed tobacco planter turned frontier farmer, and Mary Wheeler. Few’s family moved in 1758 to North Carolina, where young William received little formal schooling but enough skills and enough love for reading that the future Founding Father was able to educate himself. In the early 1770s, the Few family joined the Regulator movement, rural westerners’ sometimes violent opposition to unrepresentative coastal political control. The family lost one of William’s brothers, the family farm, and the family fortune in the struggle for more local autonomy. The Fews then moved to Georgia, leaving William behind to settle the family’s affairs, to farm, and to teach himself law....

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Grace, William Russell (10 May 1832–21 March 1904), founder of W. R. Grace & Co. and twice mayor of New York City, founder of W. R. Grace & Co. and twice mayor of New York City, was born in Riverstown, Ireland, the son of James Grace, a landowner and farmer, and Eleanor Mary Russell. Grace, like so many Irishmen of his generation, left his famine-ravaged homeland in the mid-nineteenth century seeking a new life in the Americas. Well educated in Jesuit schools and coming from the minor gentry of Ireland, young William arrived in Peru in 1854....

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Herrick, Myron Timothy (09 October 1854–31 March 1929), banker, governor of Ohio, and diplomat, was born near Huntington, Ohio, the son of Mary Hulbert Herrick and Timothy R. Herrick, farmers. He attended local schools and at age sixteen began teaching in nearby Brighton. Two years later he enrolled in Oberlin Academy for a year and a half, and he later attended Ohio Wesleyan University for two years. In 1875 Herrick began reading law in the Cleveland offices of G. E. Herrick and J. F. Herrick and became active in the Cleveland Grays, a local militia group. In 1878 he opened his own law office. In 1880 he married Carolyn M. Parmely; they had one son. Until her death in 1918, Herrick considered his wife his closest adviser....

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Jackson, Maynard Holbrook, Jr. (23 March 1938–23 June 2003), Atlanta mayor, businessman, and national political leader, was born in Dallas, Texas, the second of five children and the eldest son of the Reverend Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Sr., and Irene Dobbs Jackson, a professor of French. The family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1945 when Reverend Jackson was chosen as the new minister of Friendship Baptist Church. A large youth who grew into a six-foot-three, three-hundred-pound adult, Maynard, Jr., was a poor athlete but a brilliant student who skipped grades six and seven, as well as his junior and senior years of high school, and enrolled in Morehouse College at age fourteen. When his father died the following year, his maternal grandfather, the Atlanta civic and political leader John Wesley Dobbs, became his surrogate father. Dobbs was one of the most important leaders in Atlanta’s black community for more than four decades. He was known as the “Mayor of Auburn Avenue” (the location of several of Atlanta’s largest black businesses), and he served as the national grand master of the Prince Hall Masons from 1932 until his death in 1961....

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Ladd, William Sargent (10 October 1826–06 January 1893), financier, merchant, and mayor of Portland, Oregon, was born in Holland, Vermont, the son of Nathaniel Gould Ladd, a physician, and Abigail Mead. Ladd’s father moved the family to New Hampshire in 1830, and at age fifteen William started work on a farm. Four years later he taught school and then became a station agent for the Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad at Sanbornton Bridge. In 1851 he arrived in San Francisco, responding to reports from a schoolmate, Charles Elliott Tilton. Tilton had written that wealth and opportunity awaited in Portland, Oregon, by supplying miners and prospectors in the area. Portland, Ladd learned, provided the primary source of provisions for the miners in the northern California region, where gold was plentiful. Tilton had moved his own business to San Francisco, specialized in the China trade, and extended his sales network northward. Thus, Ladd had an available supplier in the region, so he acquired a stock of goods and opened a general mercantile business called W. S. Ladd & Company in Portland....

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Herbert H. Lehman. At laying of the cornerstone of Letchworth Village, a state mental institution near Haverstraw, New York. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102023).

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Lehman, Herbert Henry (28 March 1878–05 December 1963), investment banker and politician, was born in New York City, the son of Mayer Lehman and Babette Newgass, German immigrants. Lehman was reared in the prosperous surroundings of German-Jewish society in midtown Manhattan. His father was a founding partner of Lehman Brothers, a cotton-trading company that developed into a leading investment banking firm....