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Acheson, Edward Goodrich (09 March 1856–06 July 1931), inventor and industrialist, was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, the son of William Acheson, a merchant and ironworks manager, and Sarah Diana Ruple. Acheson attended the Bellefonte Academy in Centre County, Pennsylvania, for three years, concentrating his studies on surveying. In 1872, at the age of sixteen, his formal education was brought to an abrupt end by a combination of that year’s financial panic and his father’s declining health. Acheson went to work as a timekeeper at Monticello Furnace, an ironworks operated by his father, where he developed his first invention, a drilling machine for coal mining. This yielded him his first patent, at age seventeen, but the device was awkward to use and by no means a commercial success....

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Adler, Charles, Jr. (20 June 1899–23 October 1980), engineer and inventor, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Harry Adler, a physician, and Carolyn “Carrie” Frank. At age fourteen, he patented his first invention, an electric automotive brake that he installed on his father’s Packard. Following graduation from high school, which he described as “completing four years in five,” Adler entered the Johns Hopkins University school of engineering. During that time he also served briefly in the Army training corps as acting corporal, being discharged in December 1918....

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Akeley, Carl Ethan (19 May 1864–17 November 1926), taxidermist, naturalist, and inventor, was born near Clarendon, New York, the son of Daniel Webster Akeley and Julia Glidden, farmers. In his early teens he taught himself taxidermy. After two years at the State Normal School in Brockport, New York, he began work at the age of nineteen for Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, a company that prepared laboratory and museum specimens. One of Akeley’s jobs was to skin and mount for exhibition ...

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Alger, Cyrus (11 November 1781–04 February 1856), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the son of Abiezer Alger, an iron manufacturer, and Hepsibah Keith. After several years of schooling he went to work for his father, from whom he learned the principles of iron production. Within a few years he was placed in charge of his father’s Easton plant. In 1804 he married Lucy Willis, with whom he had seven children....

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Allen, Zachariah (15 September 1795–17 March 1882), textile manufacturer, engineer, and inventor, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Zachariah Allen, a merchant, and Ann Crawford. Allen graduated from Brown University in 1813, receiving a certificate in proficiency from the newly established medical school in addition to his college degree. Although the War of 1812 frustrated his original plan to continue medical study abroad, Allen maintained a lifelong interest in science that expressed itself in practical and theoretical research and writing, principally in mechanics and the physical sciences. He joined the Rhode Island bar in 1815 after studying with James Burrill, Jr., but his career as a lawyer was brief. In 1817 he married Eliza Harriet Arnold; they had three children. Serving on the Providence town council from 1820 to 1823, Allen modernized the town’s fire-fighting system and was an effective proponent of public education, two causes that he continued to espouse throughout his life....

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Alvarez, Luis Walter (13 June 1911–01 September 1988), physicist and inventor, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Walter Clement Alvarez, a physician, and Harriet Smyth, a teacher. Alvarez attended the University of Chicago from 1928 to 1936, earning his bachelor of science degree in physics in 1932, his master of science in 1934, and his Ph.D. in 1936. Alvarez married Geraldine Smithwick on 15 April 1936. He had two children with her, including the geologist Walter Alvarez. The marriage ended in divorce. Alvarez married Janet Lucile Landis in 1958 and had two children with her. Alvarez held forty patents for inventions in radar, optics, and electronics. For his work with liquid hydrogen bubble chambers he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1968....

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Ammen, Daniel (16 May 1819–11 July 1898), naval officer, author, and inventor, was born in Brown County, Ohio, the son of David Ammen and Sally Houtz, farmers. While still a boy, Ammen exerted an unanticipated influence on later national affairs when he pulled his friend and schoolmate ...

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Appleby, John Francis (23 May 1840–08 November 1917), inventor, was born in Westmoreland, New York, the son of James Appleby and Jane (maiden name unknown), farmers and recent immigrants from England. When he was five his parents moved to a farm in Walworth County, Wisconsin. In 1857 Appleby worked for a farmer near Whitewater, who had purchased a reaper. The implement’s performance impressed Appleby, but he believed that a mechanical harvester could be designed both to cut the stalks of grain and bind them into sheaves. He applied himself to this problem and soon carved a knotting device in the shape of a bird’s bill from wood. In 1858 he crafted a similar knotter from steel at a gunshop in Beloit, but he did not believe that it merited the expense of patenting. His service from 1861 to 1865 in the Twenty-third Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War interrupted this work. During the war years he served in the battle of Vicksburg and invented a magazine and automatic cartridge-feeding mechanism, which he patented. The sale of this patent supported his work on a binder after the war. In 1867 Appleby married a woman whose name is unknown; they had three children....

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Armstrong, Edwin Howard (18 December 1890–31 January 1954), electrical engineer and inventor, was born in New York City, the son of John Armstrong, a publisher, and Emily Smith, a teacher. Armstrong attended public schools in New York City and in Yonkers, New York, where the family moved in 1900. Fascinated by machinery, he enjoyed repairing broken toys for friends and later learned to repair automobiles. In his teens he was impressed by ...

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Atanasoff, John Vincent (04 October 1903–15 June 1995), inventor and computer scientist, was born near Hamilton, New York, the son of Ivan Atanasoff, a Bulgarian immigrant and self-taught electrical engineer, and Iva Purdy Atanasoff, a schoolteacher. John Atanasoff was precocious; by age nine he had corrected faulty home wiring, become fascinated with his father's slide rule and logarithms, and been tutored to college algebra–level mathematics by his mother. One of his mother's books introduced him to nondecimal number bases, a nontraditional concept that served him well later in his pursuit of automatic calculation. He attended Mulberry High School in Florida. In 1925 he received a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida and an M.S. in mathematics from Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) the following year. Also in 1926 he married Lura Meeks; they had three children and divorced in 1949. In 1949 he married Alice Crosby....

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R. Stanton Avery. Courtesy of Avery Dennison Corporation.

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Avery, R. Stanton (13 January 1907–12 December 1997), inventor and entrepreneur, was born Ray Stanton Avery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the son of Oliver Perry Avery, a Congregationalist minister, and Emma Dickinson Avery. Avery's early life was largely shaped by his family's religious and humanitarian interests. (Avery's mother was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, and his brother became a minister.) Although “Stan” rebelled against the family profession, he continued to be drawn to its secular message. As a student at Pomona College from 1926 to 1932, he worked at a Los Angeles skid row mission. During a year-long trip to China (1929–1930), he spent several months at a missionary-run famine relief center. In 1932 he graduated from Pomona and took a job with the Los Angeles County Department of Charities. In later years he always insisted on the highest ethical standards in business relationships....

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Bachelder, John (07 March 1817–01 July 1906), manufacturer and inventor, was born in Weare, New Hampshire, the son of William Bachelder, a lumberman and blacksmith, and Mary Bailey. Bachelder went to public school and to college for training as a teacher. After teaching school for three years, Bachelder left New Hampshire for Boston. There he found employment as an accountant for a Middlesex Canal transportation firm. Soon he formed a partnership that competed with his former employers. The business closed upon the completion of the Manchester railroad, which eliminated the demand for shipping on the Middlesex Canal. In 1843 Bachelder married Adaline Wason; they had three children. With the demise of his transportation enterprise, he worked in Boston’s dry-goods business until 1846. During the winter of 1846, he traveled to England in an effort to establish himself as an importer. By 1847 he had established his own firm once again in a partnership called Bachelder, Burr and Company....

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Anthony N. Stranges and Richard C. Jones

Baekeland, Leo Hendrik (14 November 1863–23 February 1944), chemist and inventor, was born in St. Martens-Latem, near Ghent, Belgium, the son of Karel Baekeland, a cobbler, and Rosalia Merchie, a housemaid. A government scholarship enabled Baekeland to enter the University of Ghent, where he studied chemistry in the School of Exact Sciences. He received a B.S. in 1882 and a D.Sc. in organic chemistry in 1884, passing the examination with highest honors. The following year he became an assistant to Theodore Swarts, a professor of chemistry at Ghent. In 1887 Baekeland won a traveling scholarship in an academic competition sponsored by the Universities of Ghent, Liege, Brussels, and Louvain. He postponed travel and instead continued as an assistant professor and then as associate professor from 1888 to 1889 at Ghent and at the nearby Higher Normal School at Bruges from 1885 to 1887. In 1889 he married Swarts’s daughter, Céline, an artist; they had two children. The couple used Baekeland’s scholarship for travel to France, Britain, and the United States that year....

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Bausch, Edward (26 September 1854–30 July 1944), industrialist and inventor, was born in Rochester, New York, the son of John Jacob Bausch, an industrialist, and Barbara Zimmerman. His father, who had immigrated from Würtemberg (in present-day Germany) in 1849, opened an optical shop in Rochester in 1853 and had begun to make eyeglasses and frames, taking Henry Lomb into a partnership that would grow into the Bausch & Lomb Optical Company....

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Beach, Alfred Ely (01 September 1826–01 January 1896), magazine publisher and inventor, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of Moses Yale Beach, a newspaper publisher, and Nancy Day. His father was apprenticed as a cabinetmaker but rose through a series of businesses to become owner and publisher of the New York ...

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Beach, Moses Yale (07 January 1800–19 July 1868), journalist and inventor, was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, the son of Moses Sperry Beach and Lucretia (Stanley) Yale, farmers. (Some sources cite 15 January as his birth date.) With some common school education, young Moses demonstrated mechanical ingenuity and was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker at age fourteen. By working overtime he was able to buy his freedom in four years, and he set up a cabinet shop of his own in Northampton, Massachusetts. He married Nancy Day of Springfield in either 1819 or 1821 (sources conflict); the couple would have eight children. (It is possible that he married a second time, but the evidence is not firm.)...

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Alexander Graham Bell Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104276).

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Bell, Alexander Graham (03 March 1847–02 August 1922), inventor and educator, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of Alexander Melville Bell and Eliza Grace Symonds. Family tradition and childhood environment set him on the path to his greatest invention, the telephone. His grandfather had turned from acting to speech teaching, and his father had become eminent in the latter vocation. His mother, despite her seriously impaired hearing, was an accomplished pianist and engaged her son’s interest in that form of sound communication. Edinburgh, second only to London as an intellectual center of the British Empire, excelled in science and technology, which probably stirred the boy’s interest and ambition in such matters. He made a hobby of botany and zoology. Playing about a local grist mill, he took up the miller’s challenge to make himself useful and devised a hand-cranked machine that took the husks off the grain—“my first invention,” he later called it....

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Bendix, Vincent Hugo (12 August 1881–27 March 1945), engineer, inventor, and industrialist, was born in Moline, Illinois, the son of the Reverend Jan Bendix, a minister of the Swedish Methodist Episcopal church, and Alma Danielson. (The original family name, Bengtson, was changed to Bendix after Vincent’s parents emigrated from Sweden.) At an early age Bendix moved with his family to Chicago. He had an early interest in mechanical inventions, and at age thirteen he designed a chainless bicycle. At age sixteen he left home for New York City, where he worked as an elevator operator, in a lawyer’s office, and as a handyman in bicycle shops and garages. In 1901 he was hired by ...