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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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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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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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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....

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Thompson, William Boyce (13 May 1869–27 June 1930), mining entrepreneur and Wall Street financier, was born near Virginia City, Idaho Territory, the son of William Thompson, a carpenter, lumberman, and miner, and Anne Boyce. In 1879 the family moved to Butte; two years later the discovery of rich copper deposits made it a boom town. Thompson matured in this frenzied environment; by age fifteen he was a skilled gambler in local bars. He attended public school, with little result, until an Oxford-trained classicist, stranded by his employer and pressed into opening Butte’s first high school, recognized Thompson’s mathematical talent. Soon Thompson headed east to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. Arriving on 1 January 1887, Thompson focused on science and engineering; in three years, he had enough courses to be admitted to Columbia University’s School of Mines. Foregoing his final year at Exeter, he entered Columbia in fall 1889....