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Dickerson, Mahlon (17 April 1770–05 October 1853), New Jersey political leader, secretary of the navy, and iron mine operator, was born in Hanover Neck, Morris County, New Jersey, the son of Jonathan Dickerson and Mary Coe. Dickerson’s father owned substantial property in Morris County, including an iron mine that Dickerson later inherited. The younger Dickerson grew up privileged. He enjoyed preparatory school near home, and further education at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). Graduating from Princeton in 1789, Dickerson studied law in Morristown and in 1793 was admitted to the local bar. Although his political leanings were strongly favorable to the nascent Jeffersonian-Republican cause, Dickerson volunteered for duty in militias organized to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 in western Pennsylvania. Although perhaps motivated by visions of military glory, Dickerson saw no direct action....

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Hiester, Joseph (18 November 1752–10 June 1832), merchant and politician, was born in Bern Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, the son of John Hiester and Mary Barbara Epler, farmers. In 1737 his father and three brothers had emigrated from Silesia, then part of the Hapsburg Empire, to the colony of Pennsylvania. Eventually buying several thousand acres of land in Berks County, his father and two brothers moved to Bern Township, where Joseph was born. From an early age, Joseph worked hard on the farm. He obtained his formal education under the minister at the Bern church but could attend classes for only a few months of the year, during the intervals of farm labor. When he grew up, he was apprenticed as a clerk in the general store of Adam Whitman in Reading. He became a partner in the business in 1771, when he married Whitman’s daughter, Elizabeth Whitman. Together they had six children....

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Higgins, Frank Wayland (18 August 1856–12 February 1907), businessman and politician, was born in Rushford, Allegany County, New York, the son of Orrin T. Higgins, a storekeeper and businessman, and Lucia Cornelia Hapgood. He attended the Rushford Academy and, with a youthful interest in soldiering, the Riverview Military Academy in Poughkeepsie, New York, from which he graduated in 1873. He supplemented his education with a commercial course in a business college and extensive travel through various parts of the United States. Higgins worked briefly as a salesman in Denver, Chicago, and then in Stanton, Michigan, where for three years he was a partner in Wood, Thayer, and Company, a mercantile firm. In 1878 he married Catherine Corrinne Noble; they had three children. The next year he returned to New York state and joined his father in Olean in the grocery firm of Higgins, Blodgett, and Company. Later he acquired additional stores in Olean and had large holdings in pine timberlands and iron ore fields in the West, some of which he inherited from his father. He became head of a half-dozen corporations in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington and often visited their operations to see that they were functioning properly. Contemporaries attributed Higgins’s business successes to sound judgment, shrewd investment practices, and solid administrative abilities....

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Robert S. Kerr Photograph by Mary Dean, 1954. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114948).

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Kerr, Robert Samuel (11 September 1896–01 January 1963), oil executive and politician, was born in Indian territory, near present-day Ada, Oklahoma, the son of William Samuel Kerr, a farmer, clerk, and politician, and Margaret Eloda Wright. Kerr’s upbringing as a Southern Baptist had a profound influence on his life. Not only did his religious beliefs lead him to teach Sunday school and to shun alcohol throughout his adulthood, it also aided his political aspirations in a conservative state where Baptists were the single largest denomination....

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Langdon, John (26 June 1741–18 September 1819), merchant and politician, was born a few miles outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on a modest farm belonging to his parents, John Langdon, Sr., and Mary Hall. He received the finest schooling available for boys in Portsmouth, at Major Samuel Hale’s Latin grammar school, where emphasis lay on the classics. It was not there, however, but in Daniel Rindge’s countinghouse that Langdon, as a young clerk, gained his lifelong trade and a shrewd eye for the main chance. By the mid-1700s Portsmouth, with its deep-water harbor and easily defended location on the Piscataqua River, buzzed with commercial prosperity. Investing first in some of Rindge’s West Indian voyages and then skippering a few himself in the early 1760s, Langdon entered the town’s maritime bonanza. Within a few years his own vessels headed out of the Piscataqua laden with lumber, hides, beef, and dried cod and returned carrying sugar and rum. By 1770, having abandoned seafaring, he and ...

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Marland, Ernest Whitworth (08 May 1874–03 October 1941), oilman and politician, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Alfred Marland, an English-born industrialist, and Sara McLeod, his Scottish-born wife. Educated in private schools, Marland graduated from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1893. Too young to be admitted to the bar, Marland taught himself geology and went to the oil fields along the Pennsylvania–West Virginia border. There he made his first fortune in oil and just as quickly lost it when the panic of 1907 devastated the region’s small, independent producers. In 1908 Marland left for Oklahoma. Passing over the fields already developed in the state’s eastern counties, Marland ventured a hundred miles further west to the undulating plains near the village of Ponca City....

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Maybank, Burnet Rhett (07 March 1899–01 September 1954), politician and businessman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Joseph Maybank, a physician, and Harriet Lowndes Rhett. By birth, Maybank was a member of Charleston’s aristocracy and inherited a place in two of South Carolina’s oldest and most distinguished families. The Maybanks were an integral part of the Low Country plantation life in South Carolina, and the Rhetts were among the earliest settlers in Charleston. ...

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Morgan, Edwin Denison (08 February 1811–14 February 1883), merchant and politician, was born in Washington, Massachusetts, the son of Jasper Morgan and Catherine Avery, farmers. When Edwin was nine years old the family moved to Connecticut, where he received a sparse formal education that ended when he was fifteen. At seventeen he became a clerk in an uncle’s general store. Quickly displaying an acumen for business and politics, he became a partner in the store at twenty and a member of the Hartford Common Council the next year. He married his cousin Eliza Waterman in 1833; of their five children only the first born, Edwin, survived infancy....

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Romney, George (08 July 1907–26 July 1995), industrialist and politician, was born George Wilcken Romney in Chihuahua, Mexico, the son of Gaskell Romney, a construction contractor, and Anna Pratt. From the beginning, Romney’s Mormon faith strongly influenced his life. His parents had moved to Mexico to escape American laws discriminating against Latter-day Saints. After Mexican revolutionary leader ...

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Williams, David Rogerson (08 March 1776–17 November 1830), politician, planter, and textile manufacturer, was born on the family plantation, on the Pee Dee River near Society Hill, South Carolina, the son of David Williams, a well-to-do planter, and Anne Rogerson. The elder Williams died a few months before his son’s birth and left an estate that had grown to some 4,300 acres and 70 slaves by David’s sixteenth birthday. Growing up in Charleston, where his widowed mother settled, Williams experienced the powerful influence of ...