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Brush, Charles Francis (17 March 1849–15 June 1929), inventor, was born in Euclid, near Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Isaac Elbert Brush, a woolens manufacturer and farmer, and Delia Williams Phillips. The youngest of nine children, he was spared many of the farm chores and spent much of his youth reading about astronomy, chemistry, and physics or working with microscopes, telescopes, and photographic equipment in a small workshop. At Cleveland’s Central High School he built his own battery-powered arc lighting system. At the University of Michigan he earned a bachelor’s degree (1869) in mining engineering in just two years....

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Coffin, Charles Albert (30 December 1844–14 July 1926), first president of the General Electric Company, was born in Somerset County, Maine, the son of Albert Coffin and Anstrus Varney. He graduated from the Bloomfield Academy in Maine and then went to Boston to work in the shoe and leather business. He went to Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1862 to establish with his uncle Charles F. Coffin and an investor, Micajah P. Clough, the company of Coffin and Clough, a manufacturer of shoes and boots. The company was quite profitable, for Charles A. Coffin developed an aggressive sales staff for the distribution of its products. In 1872 he married Caroline Russel of Holbrook, Massachusetts. They had no children....

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Couch, Harvey Crowley (21 August 1877–30 July 1941), entrepreneur, was born in Calhoun, Arkansas, the son of Thomas Gratham Couch, a preacher and farmer, and Manie Heard. The Couches were of Welsh extraction. Harvey Couch grew up in rural poverty with little formal schooling until the illness of his father led the family to give up farming and move to Magnolia, Arkansas, where at age seventeen Couch completed his education at the Magnolia Academy. He credited his education to a teacher, Pat Neff, later a governor of Texas....

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Thomas Alva Edison Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98066).

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Edison, Thomas Alva (11 February 1847–18 October 1931), inventor and business entrepreneur, was born in Milan, Ohio, the son of Samuel Edison, a shingle maker, land speculator, and shopkeeper, and Nancy Elliott, a schoolteacher. Of Dutch and American heritage, his father escaped from Canada during the rebellion of 1837–1838 and, with his wife and children, settled in Milan, a burgeoning wheat port on a canal near Lake Erie, midway between Cleveland and Detroit. “Al,” as his family called him, received devoted attention from his oldest sister Marion and his mother. The arrival of the railroad in a nearby town sharply diminished the canal business in Milan and prompted the family to move to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854. Al attended both public and private schools for short periods but studied extensively with his mother at home, where he also read books from the library of his politically radical father....

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Eickemeyer, Rudolf (31 October 1831–23 January 1895), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Altenbamberg, Bavaria, Germany, the son of Christian Eickemeyer, a forester, and Katherine Bréhm. He received his education in his village’s schools, at the Realschule in Kaiserslautern, and finally at the Polytechnic Institute in Darmstadt, from which he graduated at the age of seventeen....

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Hewitt, Peter Cooper (05 March 1861–25 August 1921), inventor, mechanical and electrical engineer, and manufacturer, was born in New York City, the son of Abram Stevens Hewitt, an iron manufacturer, merchant, and politician, and Sarah Amelia Cooper. Hewitt attended Stevens Institute of Technology at Hoboken, New Jersey, and Columbia University School of Mines in New York City. The fortune amassed by his father and his maternal grandfather, Peter Cooper, enabled him to pursue his own interests. As a result, he devoted much of his adult life to scientific investigation and experimentation, for which he received numerous patents. An orderly and determined individual, his strict work regimen was to attend to business interests in the morning while his afternoons and evenings were devoted to experimentation and investigations in his laboratory, located in the tower of the old Madison Square Garden. This intense schedule continued for three-quarters of the year and was followed by three months totally devoid of work and devoted to relaxation, travel, and sports....

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Rankine, William Birch (04 January 1858–30 September 1905), attorney, promoter, and company director, was born in Owego, New York, the son of James Rankine, an Episcopal clergyman, and Fanny Meek. His father was a cousin of the Scottish engineer William John Macquorn Rankine....

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Reed, Philip Dunham (16 November 1899–10 March 1989), corporation executive and internationalist, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of William Dennis Reed, an insurance company executive, and Virginia Brandreth Dunham. He received the B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin with his class of 1921 despite an interruption for army training toward the end of World War I....

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Anson Stager. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1443).

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Stager, Anson (20 April 1825–26 March 1885), telegraph pioneer, was born in Ontario County, New York, and raised in Rochester, New York. Information about his parents is sketchy. His father was probably Henry W. Stager, a prominent Rochester edge-tool maker. His mother’s identity is not known. Anson attended public schools in Rochester and at age sixteen was employed as a printer’s devil by Henry O’Reilly of the Rochester ...

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Swope, Gerard (01 December 1872–20 November 1957), corporation president, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Isaac Swope, a watchcase manufacturer who had emigrated from Saxony, now Germany, and Ida Cohn. His brother Herbert Bayard Swope was to become one of the nation’s leading newspapermen, as a reporter on the ...

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Tesla, Nikola (9/10 July 1856–07 January 1943), electrical inventor, was born in Smiljan, Croatia (then under the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the son of Milutin Tesla, a minister in the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Djouka Mandich, both of whom were Serbs. They idolized his brilliant older brother, who died at the age of twelve. Nikola, who was five at the time, felt the full burden of their expectations fall on him. Tesla’s formal education extended through part of a second year at the polytechnic school in Graz, which he entered in 1875 and where he studied physics, mathematics, and mechanics and was exposed to recent developments in electrical technology. He then spent time in Prague, where he may have studied informally at the university. In any case, he was a voracious reader, not only in technical subjects, but also in literature, notably poetry, in the several languages at his command....

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Elihu Thomson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102513).

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Thomson, Elihu (29 March 1853–13 March 1937), inventor and industrialist, was born in Manchester, England, the son of Daniel Thomson, a mechanic, and Mary Ann Rhodes, both Scots. The Thomsons were driven to the United States in 1858 by unemployment and settled in the rapidly industrializing Southwark neighborhood of Philadelphia. A precocious student, Thomson finished grammar school at age nine, passed the entrance exam for Philadelphia’s highly competitive Central High School two years later, and, too young to enter the program, studied science and experimented on his own until beginning his four-year training at the high school at age thirteen. Mentored by Professor ...

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Warren, Henry Ellis (21 May 1872–21 September 1957), inventor and businessman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Henry Warren, a businessman, and Adelaide Ellis. As a child he was active both in outdoor pursuits and in the use of tools. Upon graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1894, he went to work for the Saginaw Valley Traction Company. When it went bankrupt, he and a friend, Henry Loring, took it over and revived it. In 1902 the two returned to Boston, where Loring became president and Warren superintendent of the Lombard Governor Company, which made speed control devices for water wheels and turbines. In 1904 Warren and the company moved to Ashland, Massachusetts, where in 1907 he married Edith B. Smith. It has been reported that the couple had no children, but the information cannot be confirmed....

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George Westinghouse. [left to right] George Wallace Melville, George Westinghouse, and John Macalpine. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92230).

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Westinghouse, George (06 October 1846–12 March 1914), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Central Bridge, Schoharie County, New York, the son of George Westinghouse and Emeline Vedder, farmers. In 1856 his father, blessed with mechanical aptitude, relocated the family to Schenectady, New York, where he formed G. Westinghouse & Company. The firm manufactured agricultural implements, and its machine shop provided young Westinghouse with his first opportunities for mechanical experimentation. Westinghouse divided his time between attendance at local schools and tinkering in his father’s shop. He produced his first invention, a rotary engine, by the age of fifteen. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, he followed the example of two older brothers and ran away from home to join the Union army. He briefly served with the Twelfth Regiment, New York National Guard, before his parents forced him, because he was still only fifteen, to return home. Finally able to sway his parents to his wishes, Westinghouse joined the Sixteenth Regiment, New York Cavalry, in 1863. He resigned from the army in December 1864 to join the Union navy, where he served as acting third assistant engineer aboard the USS ...

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Weston, Edward (09 May 1850–20 August 1936), electrical engineer, inventor, and industrialist, was born at Brynn Castle, near Oswestry, County Shropshire, England, the son of Edward Weston, a carpenter and mechanic, and Margaret Jones. When Weston was seven years old, his family moved to Wolverhampton, part of England’s highly industrialized “Black Country.” After his education in the town’s grade schools, he attended St. Peter’s Collegiate Institute. He studied chemistry and physics privately there with a fellow of the London Chemical Society, Henry A. Horton. Contrary to Weston’s wishes, his parents insisted that he pursue a medical career. A three-year-long apprenticeship convinced Weston that medicine was not his field. In spite of his parents’ bitter opposition, Weston abandoned that field of study in 1870 and went to London, intending to find work in a scientific field. When this hope proved futile, Weston disappointed his parents still more by leaving to seek opportunities in the United States....