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Bonwit, Paul J. (29 September 1862–11 December 1939), retail merchant, was born Paul Joseph (or Josef) Bonwit near Hanover, Germany, the son of Bernard Bonwit. His father's occupation and mother's name are unknown. He attended the local Gymnasium before moving to Paris at age sixteen, where he found work with a local export house as a clerk while continuing his academic studies at night. In 1883 Bonwit came to the United States. After a brief stay in New York City, he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he worked in a department store. By now determined to enter the retail business world, he returned to New York and became affiliated with Rothschild & Company. Bonwit eventually became a partner in the firm, which was renamed Bonwit, Rothschild & Company. He married Sarah Woolf in 1893. The couple had two sons....

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Carnegie, Hattie (15 March 1886–22 February 1956), fashion designer and merchandiser, was born Henrietta Könengeiser in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Isaac Könengeiser and Hannah Kraenzer. The family emigrated to the United States, settling on New York’s Lower East Side in 1892. Hattie’s first job was as a messenger at R. H. Macy’s, where she encountered the heady new world of modern retailing and the lifestyle of affluent New York. That experience may have inspired her to assume the name Carnegie; ...

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Cortelyou, George Bruce (26 July 1862–23 October 1940), presidential aide, cabinet secretary, and businessman, was born in New York City, the son of Peter Crolius Cortelyou, a businessman and Rose Seary. Educated at public and private schools, he graduated from the Massachusetts State Normal School in 1882. He studied music in Boston before going back to New York to learn stenography and court reporting. He married Lilly Morris Hinds in 1888; they had five children....

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Gimbel, Bernard Feustman (18 April 1885–29 September 1966), retailer, was born in Vincennes, Indiana, the son of Isaac Gimbel, a and Rachel Feustman. He grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Educated at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1907. In 1912 he married Alva Bernheimer. They had five children....

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Hoving, Walter (02 December 1897–27 November 1989), corporate executive, was born in Stockholm, Sweden, the son of Johannes Hoving, a surgeon, and Helga Adamsen, an opera singer. In 1903 he went with his parents to New York City, where he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School before earning his Ph.B. from Brown University in 1920. Four years later he found his metier while in a training program for R. H. Macy & Company, where by 1928 he had become a vice president. During this period he refined his artistic tastes by attending Metropolitan Museum classes for four years in areas such as textile design, painting, and antique silver and furniture. In 1924 he married Mary Osgood Field, with whom he had two children, one of whom, Thomas Hoving, became a director of the Metropolitan Museum. In 1937, a year after his first marriage had ended in divorce, Walter Hoving married Pauline Vandervoort Rogers. They had no children....

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Macy, R. H. (30 August 1822–29 March 1877), retail merchant, was born Rowland Hussey Macy on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, the son of John Macy, a merchant ship captain and and Elisa Myrick Barnard Macy. The fourth of six children, he received a meager formal education in his hometown before shipping out on a whaling ship at age fifteen. After four years at sea, Macy went to Boston and tried his hand at a variety of occupations with little success. In August 1844 he married Louisa Houghton, with whom he had a son and a daughter....

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Post, Charles William (26 October 1854–09 May 1914), cereal magnate, entrepreneur, and advertising innovator, was born in Springfield, Illinois, the son of Charles Rollin Post, a purveyor of agricultural implements, and Caroline Lathrop Parsons. At the age of fourteen Post matriculated at the Illinois Industrial University (the predecessor to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign), where he studied mechanical engineering for about a year. Leaving school before earning a degree, he joined the Springfield Zouaves, a militia unit that became known as the Governor’s Guard. Post’s company served under General ...

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Sears, Richard Warren (07 December 1864–28 September 1914), businessman, was born in Stewartville, Minnesota, the son of James Warren Sears, a blacksmith, and Eliza Benton. Sears spent his childhood in several small Minnesota towns. He attended high school but never graduated. When he was fourteen his father bought a farm, but James Sears suffered from mental and physical illness and had to leave the operation of the farm to his son. Two years later his father died, and Richard became the family breadwinner....

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Williams, Esther Jane (08 August 1921–06 June 2013), movie star, swimming champion, and swimwear executive, was born in a small bungalow in Inglewood, a southwest suburb of Los Angeles, the fifth child born to Bula Myrtle Gilpin, a teacher, and Louis Stanton Williams, a sign painter. The family had followed her brother Stanton to Hollywood from Utah, and he appeared as a child star in silent pictures. Esther's mother took no interest in her, and she was raised by older sister Maurine, who taught her to swim. When Esther was eight years old, Stanton died from a burst colon. She hoped to replace his achievements with her own. At age eleven, Esther won a fifty-meter freestyle race at the Olympic Swim Stadium in Los Angeles. When she was sixteen she began swimming for the Los Angeles Athletic Club. During her teens she was repeatedly raped by an orphaned boy her parents had taken into their house. The water became her sanctuary....

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Willkie, Wendell Lewis (18 February 1892–08 October 1944), corporation lawyer and executive, politician, and civil rights activist, was born in Elwood, Indiana, the son of Herman F. Willkie and Henrietta Trisch. His father was a lawyer and local reformer, and his mother was one of the first female lawyers in Indiana. Willkie attended local schools and Indiana University, graduating in 1913. After teaching high school in Kansas (Sept. 1913–Nov. 1914), he returned to Indiana University to complete a law degree in 1916....