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Eads, James Buchanan (23 May 1820–08 March 1887), civil engineer and entrepreneur, was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, the son of Thomas Clark Eads, a businessman, and Ann Buchanan. Eads was named after his mother’s cousin, James Buchanan, a Pennsylvania congressman who later became the fifteenth president of the United States. Eads had little formal schooling. When his family moved to St. Louis in 1833, he went to work doing chores and running errands for a wealthy dry-goods merchant and spent his spare time reading in his employer’s private library. When Eads was nineteen, he joined his family in Iowa, where they had moved in 1837. There he took a job as a second clerk on the river steamer ...

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Fisher, Avery Robert (04 March 1906–26 February 1994), entrepreneur, graphic designer, and audio engineer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of six children of Charles Fisher and Mary Byrach Fisher, both Russian immigrants. Young Avery was captivated by his father's extensive record collection and this began his lifelong love of classical music. He entered New York University (NYU) in 1924, majoring in biology and English. After graduating in 1929 he joined an advertising agency and came into contact with several publishing companies who were his clients. He got a job as a graphic designer with G. P. Putnam's Sons and then joined Dodd, Mead & Company in 1933, where he worked for the next ten years. He recalled his work in graphic design with great pride and claimed that designing books was his first love. He said that a beautiful typographic design was as pleasing to the eye as listening to music was pleasing to the ear. In 1941 he married Janet Cane; the couple had three children....

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Robert Fulton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102509).

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Fulton, Robert (14 November 1765–23 February 1815), artist, engineer, and entrepreneur, was born on a farm in Little Britain (later Fulton) Township, south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Fulton, a Scotch-Irish tailor and tradesman, and Mary Smith. Fulton’s father had left the prosperous market town of Lancaster to establish his family on the land, but like so many others with the same goal, he failed. The farm and the dwelling were sold at sheriff’s sale in 1772, and he took his family back to Lancaster. He died two years later....

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Hicks, Beatrice Alice (2 Jan. 1919–21 Oct. 1979), engineer, inventor, and business executive, was born Beatrice Alice Hickstein to Florence Benedict Neben and William Lux Hickstein in Orange, New Jersey. She often recounted that she was drawn to the field of engineering at the age of thirteen when her father, a chemical engineer, took her to see the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge. Amazed by the structures, she inquired who built them, and upon learning they were designed by engineers, she decided that she wanted to become one as well. As a student at Orange High School, she enjoyed mathematics, physics, chemistry, and mechanical drawing. Her academic interests and professional aspirations, however, received little support from her family, friends, and teachers. Her parents, concerned with having to finance special schooling for Beatrice’s younger sister, Margaret, who was born with an intellectual disability, encouraged her to study stenography instead. Meanwhile, she encountered outright opposition from her classmates and some of her teachers, who made a point of telling her that engineering—where women made up less than one percent of the profession—was not a suitable field for female students....

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Lear, William Powell (26 June 1902–15 May 1978), electrical engineer and aeronautical entrepreneur, was born in Hannibal, Missouri, the son of Reuben Lear, a carpenter and teamster, and Gertrude Powell. His parents separated when Lear was six, and his mother married a plasterer in Chicago. The family’s meager income represented a lifelong goad to Lear to become financially secure. After finishing the eighth grade, he left school and found work as a mechanic. At age sixteen Lear decided to leave home and enter military service. Lying about his age, he signed up in 1918 with the navy and was posted to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, where he was trained in radio technology. After the armistice, he found employment with a succession of electrical and radio businesses and developed several technical improvements while gaining valuable experience in a rapidly developing industry. During the early 1920s he built and patented the first practical radio for autos but lacked financial support to go into production and sold the design to Motorola in 1924....

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Sperry, Elmer Ambrose (12 October 1860–16 June 1930), engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur, was born in Cortland, New York, the son of Stephen Sperry, a farmer and carpenter, and Mary Burst, who died giving birth to him. Elmer was precocious mechanically and eagerly studied math and science at Cortland Normal School. His growing fascination for electrical technology and a visit to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876 helped ignite a lifelong drive to invent that would emphasize feedback control systems....

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Starrett, William Aiken (14 June 1877–25 March 1932), engineer, building contractor, and real-estate financier, was born in Lawrence, Kansas, the son of William A. Starrett, a Presbyterian minister, farmer, and lawyer, and Helen Martha Ekin, a Quaker teacher, journalist, and editor. He attended the University of Michigan for two years, then returned to graduate with a degree in civil engineering in 1917. In 1900 Starrett married Eloise Gedney of East Orange, New Jersey; they had two children....

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Torrence, Joseph Thatcher (15 March 1843–31 October 1896), industrial engineer, entrepreneur, and developer, was born in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, the son of James Torrence and Rebecca (maiden name unknown). He began his career working for a blast-furnace operator outside of Pittsburgh at Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania. From there he moved west to Youngstown, Ohio, where he became a blacksmith, and by the time of the Civil War, he had worked his way up to assistant foreman at a blast furnace....

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Washburn, Frank Sherman (08 December 1860–09 October 1922), engineer and industrial entrepreneur, was born in Centralia, Illinois, the son of Elmer Washburn, a politician and banker, and Elizabeth Knight. Washburn received a degree in civil engineering from Cornell University in 1883, after which he went to work for the Chicago and North Western Railroad. During 1884 he did graduate study at Cornell in economics, history, and political science and returned to the Chicago and North Western in 1885 as a bridge engineer and later a division engineer....