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Bloomingdale, Alfred Schiffer (15 April 1916–20 August 1982), cofounder of Diners Club and adviser to President Ronald Reagan, cofounder of Diners Club and adviser to President Ronald Reagan, was born in New York City, the son of Hiram Bloomingdale and Rosalind Schiffer. Alfred Bloomingdale attended Brown University, where he played varsity football, graduating in 1938 after spending a year in a hospital recovering from a football-related back injury. He began his business career working as a salesman at Bloomingdale Brothers, the firm founded by his grandfather Lyman and great-uncle Joseph in 1872. In 1941 he switched careers and became a theatrical agent, producer, and financial backer of Broadway shows and Hollywood movies. Among his clients were ...

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Bluhdorn, Charles G. (20 September 1926–19 February 1983), conglomerate entrepreneur, was born in Vienna, Austria, the son of Paul Bluhdorn and Rose (maiden name unknown). Bluhdorn was first educated in his native Austria, but fled after Hitler invaded, and was sent to school in England. In 1942 he came to the United States, where he worked for a cotton broker in New York City and attended the City College of New York. In 1945 Bluhdorn joined the U.S. Army Air Force. When he was released he got a job with an import-export firm and attended Columbia University in the evenings. In 1949 Bluhdorn formed his own importing firm, which specialized in commodities. The venture was very successful, and within five years he was a millionaire. Desiring to find a business less subject to the vicissitudes of the commodities markets, Bluhdorn purchased a controlling interest in Michigan Plating and Stamping, a small auto bumper manufacturer that had an almost worthless contract with Studebaker Motors. The firm was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, however, and provided Bluhdorn with an entrance to the auto parts distribution segment of the rapidly expanding auto industry. The next year he acquired an auto parts replacement firm, Beard and Stone Electric of Houston, Texas. He merged the two businesses to create the Gulf and Western Corporation, a move that began an auto parts distribution network in the southwestern states....

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Collier, Barron Gift (23 March 1873–13 March 1939), advertising entrepreneur and capitalist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Cowles Miles Collier, a naval officer and artist, and Hannah Celeste Shackelford. Collier attended the Memphis public schools until age sixteen, when he dropped out to solicit business for the Illinois Central Railroad, to contract with the city of Memphis to improve the street lighting, and to learn advertising and selling for his uncle, owner of the ...

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Cornell, Ezra (11 January 1807–09 December 1874), entrepreneur and founder of Cornell University, was born at Westchester Landing (now the Bronx), New York, the son of Elijah Cornell, a potter and schoolteacher, and Eunice Barnard. Both parents were Quakers, and his father struggled to make a modest living in various communities around New York City. Seeking to better their fortune, the family moved in late 1818 to a previously purchased farm in the community of De Ruyter, in upstate New York. Establishing themselves in a Quaker enclave on the outskirts of town, Cornell’s father tried his hand at farming and also taught during the winter at the local school. Ezra Cornell assisted his father in his work and also sporadically attended school, finishing his formal education in De Ruyter at the age of seventeen. Having learned the carpenter’s trade and after achieving some success locally, Cornell then became a journeyman carpenter. He spent the next few years traveling throughout upstate New York, working in a number of communities, including Syracuse and Homer. Learning of the prosperity that existed in the town of Ithaca, Cornell arrived in what would become his lifelong home in April 1828....

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Craigie, Andrew (22 February 1754–19 September 1819), druggist, entrepreneur, and speculator, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew Craigie, a ship captain and merchant, and Elizabeth Gardner. He attended Boston Latin School for an undetermined period starting in 1763; there is no information as to his further education. Indeed, there seems to be no further record of him until 1775, when the Massachusetts Committee of Safety appointed him to take care of medical stores and the Provincial Congress named him “medical commissary and apothecary for the Massachusetts army.” This and his subsequent activity in the Continental army suggest that he had had some background in pharmacy or the wholesale drug business. There is nothing known of Craigie’s background or later activity that would warrant the appellation “Doctor” frequently accorded him....

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Davenport, George (1783–04 July 1845), Indian trader and frontier townsite entrepreneur, was born in Lincolnshire, England. Nothing is presently known of his parentage or childhood, although he apparently enjoyed the equivalent of a good common-school education. At age seventeen he was placed with an uncle, a captain of a merchant vessel. In 1804 Davenport’s ship visited New York, where he broke his leg and had to be left behind to recuperate....

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Hertz, John Daniel (10 April 1879–08 October 1961), transportation entrepreneur and investment banker, was born in Ruttka, a village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the north of Budapest (now a part of Slovakia), the son of Jacob Hertz and Katie Schlessinger. The family immigrated to the United States in 1884 and settled in Chicago. The family was poor and parental discipline strict....

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Edna Hopper Seated in her berth on a train. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95412).

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Hopper, Edna Wallace (17 January 1864?–14 December 1959), actress, entrepreneur, and financier, was born and raised in San Francisco, California, the daughter of Walter Wallace. (Her mother’s identity is unknown.) Little is verifiable about her early years, except that she was educated at the Van Ness Seminary, as public records were destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. She began her stage career on a whim when, at a reception, she met and charmed comedian Roland Reed into issuing her an invitation to join his company. In August 1891 she made her debut as Mabel Douglas in the musical comedy ...

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Insull, Samuel (11 November 1859–16 July 1938), electric utilities executive and holding company entrepreneur, was born in London, England, the son of Samuel Insull, a clergyman, and Emma Short, sometime keeper of Insull’s Temperance Hotel. Insull started work in a London auctioneering house for five shillings a week. In 1881 he left London for the United States, where he became the personal secretary of ...

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Kennedy, Joseph Patrick (06 September 1888–18 November 1969), businessman and public official, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Patrick Joseph Kennedy, a saloonkeeper and politician, and Mary Hickey. Kennedy’s perspective on life grew out of his origins in the Irish districts of Boston at the turn of the century. Grandson of an Irish immigrant and son of a prosperous ward leader of the Democratic party, his childhood swirled about friends and relatives, the culture of the Roman Catholic church, and politics. While he was proud of his Irish heritage and profited mightily from family and group associations, he came to understand that advancement to a higher level of power and status necessitated moving beyond an Irish identity....

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Lamar, Gazaway Bugg (20 October 1798–05 October 1874), business entrepreneur, was born near Augusta, in Richmond County, Georgia, the son of Basil Lamar, a landholder, and Rebecca Kelly. Lamar received little formal education, although he had private Latin instruction. By age twenty-three and married to his first wife Jane Meek Creswell, whom he wed in October 1821, Lamar became a commission merchant in Augusta and, by 1823, in Savannah. Lamar’s expanding enterprises included banking and steamboating....

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Liggett, Louis Kroh (04 April 1875–05 June 1946), drugstore chain founder and executive, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of John Templeton Liggett and Julia Kroh. He attended public school until age sixteen, after which he worked for the Detroit Journal, then for Wanamaker’s. He soon showed a flair for sales and, while still a teenager, was sent to close up a bankrupt store. Though his advertising—bright red footsteps painted on sidewalks leading to the store—got him arrested briefly, the sale was a smash success. In 1895 he married Musa Bence; they had three children....

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Mills, Darius Ogden (05 September 1825–03 January 1910), banker and mining and railroad entrepreneur, was born in North Salem, Westchester County, New York, the son of James Mills, a town supervisor of North Salem (1835), and Hannah Ogden. From a prominent family, Mills was educated at the North Salem Academy and then at the Mount Pleasant Academy at Ossining, New York. His father’s death in 1841 deprived Mills of a college education. Instead he became a clerk in a mercantile establishment in New York City. In 1847, at the invitation of a cousin, he became cashier of the Merchants’ Bank of Erie County in Buffalo, New York....

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Nicholson, John (1757–05 December 1800), land speculator, financier, and entrepreneur, was born in Wales, the son of William Nicholson and Sarah (maiden name unknown), farmers. John Nicholson emigrated from Wales with his family and settled in Chamberstown (now Chambersburg), Pennsylvania. Nicholson enlisted in the Continental army after the revolutionary war began and served as sergeant of the Pennsylvania Line. He had no formal education but was apparently astute in finances; in October 1778 he was appointed clerk in the Chamber of Accounts of the Board of Treasury of the Continental Congress. It was during this period that he met ...

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Perry, Heman Edward (05 March 1873–03 January 1929), entrepreneur and bank and insurance company founder, was born in Houston, Texas, the son of John Perry and Lucy Compton. Heman Perry, the second of nine children, grew to manhood in post-Reconstruction Texas. His father, a former Georgia slave, reputedly ran away to Texas where he dabbled in various entrepreneurial activities; at times he operated a farm, dabbled in the trading of cotton and other commodities, rented out drays, and worked as an insurance agent. Although without formal training himself, John Perry believed firmly in the value of education for his children. Heman completed only a few years of formal schooling, but his father encouraged his self-education through reading and practical business experience....

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Phelan, James (02 December 1821–23 December 1892), merchant and entrepreneur, was born near Grantstown, Queen’s County (now County Laois), Ireland, the son of John Phelan and Judith Brophy, farmers. Phelan was brought to America to rejoin his widowed father, who had emigrated in search of greater economic opportunities. James reunited with his two older brothers (John and Michael) and his father in Newark, New Jersey, in 1827. Upon the early business failure of John Phelan, Sr., the three sons ceased attending public school. James entered the retail trade at $5 per month plus his keep....

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Pritzker, Abram Nicholas (06 January 1896–08 February 1986), entrepreneur and financier, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Nicholas Pritzker, a pharmacist and later a lawyer, and Annie Cohn. He attended public schools and then Northwestern University, but he preferred the University of Chicago, where he transferred and lived on campus, completing his B.A. in philosophy in 1916. He began law school at Harvard but left during the first year to join the navy, where he served as a chief petty officer. When he was mustered out, he returned to Harvard, earning his law degree in 1920. He immediately joined his father and brother in the firm of Pritzker and Pritzker. He married Fanny L. Doppelt in 1921; they had three sons. He practiced law only briefly, drawn instead to real estate investment and finance. He did well in Chicago real estate but lost most of his fortune in the great Florida land boom of the 1920s; he then recovered quickly, in spite of the Great Depression....

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Roebling, Mary G. (29 July 1905–25 Oct. 1994), banker and the first woman governor of the American Stock Exchange, was born Mary Gindhart in West Collingswood, New Jersey, the eldest of four children of Isaac Dare Gindhart, Jr., a telephone company executive, and Mary W. Gindhart, a vocalist and pianist. As a child Mary displayed a hardy work ethic by picking strawberries for a penny per box, and this industriousness later characterized her career. She attended public schools in Haddonfield and Moorestown, New Jersey before leaving high school in ...

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Smith, Francis Marion (02 February 1846–27 August 1931), mining and railroad entrepreneur, was born in Richmond, Wisconsin, the son of Henry Grovier Smith and Charlotte Paul, farmers. After completing grade school in Richmond, Smith attended high school in nearby Milton and Allen’s Grove. He worked on the farm until he reached the age of twenty-one, when he succumbed to the lure of the West. In 1867 he traveled to Montana Territory, where he tried prospecting and both placer and hard-rock mining. Unimpressed with the return, he resumed his travels, working at various jobs until he reached western Nevada, where he became a restaurateur. After a few months he decided that prospecting was more interesting, and for the next five years he followed various mineral rushes in the region....