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Cass, George Washington (12 March 1810–21 March 1888), engineer and business leader, was born near Dresden, Muskingum County, Ohio, the son of George W. Cass and Sophia Lord, farmers.

Cass received a good education. His parents sent him to Detroit at the age of fourteen, and from 1824 to 1827 he attended the highly regarded Detroit Academy while living with his uncle, ...

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Fink, Albert (27 October 1827–03 April 1897), railway engineer and executive, was born in Lauterbach, in what is now Germany, the son of Andres S. Fink, an architect, and Margaret Jacob. Albert studied architecture and engineering at the Darmstadt Politechnikum and graduated in 1848. Like many other young urban professionals, Fink left for the United States after the 1848 revolutions in central Europe. He settled in Baltimore and began work as an assistant in the engineering department of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad. He also married, but his young wife died, childless, soon afterward. Fink advanced in the engineering department of the B&O and also became a consulting engineer for the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad. During his tenure at the Baltimore and Ohio, he invented and patented a bridge truss that brought him income for the remainder of his life....

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Fitch, John (21 January 1743–June or July 1798), inventor and craftsman, was born in Windsor, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Fitch and Sarah Shaler, farmers. His father came from neighboring Hartford and his mother from Bolton. His mother died before he was five; his father married Abigail Church of Hartford two years later. Most of what is known about Fitch comes from an autobiographical sketch written between 1790 and 1792, when he was alone and embittered, convinced that he had been cheated by life. Although he had by then put aside the Calvinistic Presbyterianism of his upbringing and replaced it with a rationalistic deism, he still tended to pass judgment on those he felt had failed him. His memories of childhood were few and unhappy. He described his father as uncaring, even tyrannical. Unjust treatment by an older brother “forbode” his “future rewards,” he reminisced—with the irony intended ( ...

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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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Hall, Thomas Seavey (01 April 1827–01 December 1880), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Upper Bartlett, New Hampshire, the son of Elias Hall, a clergyman, and Hannah Seavey. Hall attended Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. He then established a textile company in Stamford, Connecticut, specializing in woolen products. Being very successful in this enterprise, Hall retired in 1866. That year Hall was traveling on a train that wrecked because a switch was misplaced. Although he was not injured, the event impelled him to find a better method for warning trains of other trains on the same track. His interest expanded from signaling devices to prevent accidents caused by misplaced switches and came to include prevention of mishaps at open drawbridges and highway crossings....

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Haupt, Herman (26 March 1817–14 December 1905), railway engineer, inventor, author, and administrator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jacob Haupt, a businessman of modest attainments, and Anna Margaretta Wiall, the proprietor of a small dry goods store. Herman attended several private schools in Philadelphia, but in 1827 his father, suffering from poor health, gave up the grocery store he then owned and moved to Woodville, New Jersey. Jacob Haupt died the next year, leaving his widow in straitened circumstances; Herman, the eldest of six children, was only eleven years of age. Two years later Herman Haupt’s congressman, John B. Sterigere, offered to help the boy gain admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He received a presidential appointment in 1830, but his entry was deferred for a year because of his youth. Unhappy with the strict upbringing he had received from his father, he was very uncertain about subjecting himself to the hard discipline of the academy, but his mother prevailed....

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Heineman, Daniel Webster (23 November 1872–31 January 1962), engineer and corporate executive, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the son of James Heineman, a businessman engaged in the chewing tobacco trade, and Minna Hertz. After attending elementary school in his hometown, Heineman relocated with his mother to her native Germany following his father’s death in 1880. He became interested in the newly emerging field of electrical engineering and studied the subject upon entering the Technical College of Hannover. After graduating from the college in 1895, he went to work at Union-Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft in Berlin. The firm, which was associated with General Electric, soon had Heineman out in the field directing the conversion of city transit systems from horsepower to electricity. Over the course of the next ten years, he oversaw the conversion process in a number of cities, including Liège, Naples, Brussels, and Koblenz....

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Judah, Theodore Dehone (04 March 1826–02 November 1863), engineer and railroad promoter, was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the son of Henry R. Judah, an Episcopal clergyman (his mother’s name and occupation are unknown). The family moved to Troy, New York, where Judah attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He went to work as a surveyor’s assistant at thirteen and became a civil engineer by 1844. Judah erected a bridge at Vergennes, Vermont, and planned and built the Niagara Gorge Railroad, a task that amply demonstrated his ingenuity and skill. He married Anna Ferona Pierce of Greenfield, Massachusetts, in 1847; the couple apparently had no children who lived to adulthood....

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Kneass, Strickland (29 July 1821–14 January 1884), civil engineer and railroad official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Kneass, an artist and engraver, and Mary Turner Honeyman. Named in honor of architect and family friend William Strickland, Strickland Kneass completed his early education at Dr. ...

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Mason, William (02 September 1808–21 May 1883), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Mystic, Connecticut, the son of Amos Mason, a blacksmith, and Mary Holdredge. At age six he moved with his family to Stonington. Seven years later he went to work as an apprentice spinner in a cotton mill in nearby Canterbury, and at age sixteen he moved to Lisbon, Connecticut, where he worked in a textile factory as an operator and mechanic. He became so adept at repairing machinery that a year later his employer put him in charge of setting up the machinery in a new cotton mill in East Haddam. On his return to Lisbon, he worked in the mill’s machine shop until his apprenticeship was completed in 1828....

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Daniel C. McCallum. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8172-1926).

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McCallum, Daniel Craig (21 January 1815–27 December 1878), engineer, builder, and railroad manager, was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland, the son of a tailor, and emigrated as a child with his parents, whose names are unknown, to Rochester, New York. After an elementary school education he worked his way from carpenter and builder to become a distinguished architect and engineer. The date of his marriage to Mary McCann is unknown; they had three sons....

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Samuel Rea Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95435).

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Rea, Samuel (21 September 1855–24 March 1929), civil engineer and railroad president, was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the son of James D. Rea, a judge, and Ruth Moore. Rea was forced by the death of his father to leave school at age thirteen and become a clerk in a local general store. In 1871 he secured a position as chainman on a Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) survey gang working near his home but lost the position with the onset of the panic of 1873. He soon found work as a clerk for the Hollidaysburg Iron and Nail Company and in 1875 resumed his employment with the PRR as assistant engineer with the railroad’s engineering corps at Connellsville, Pennsylvania....

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George Brooke Roberts. Engraving, c. 1890. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104965).

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Roberts, George Brooke (15 January 1833–30 January 1897), civil engineer and fifth president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was born at the family estate, “Pencoyd Farm,” near Bala, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the son of Isaac Warner Roberts and Rosalinda Evans Brooke. Roberts was born into an old and distinguished Philadelphia family of Welsh ancestry whose interests included coal, railroads, ironmaking, and farming. His early education was completed at the Lower Merion Academy, and at age fifteen he enrolled in the technical course at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where he completed the three-year course in just two years. This was followed by a year’s postgraduate studies there, which he completed in 1851 at age eighteen....

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Roosevelt, Nicholas J. (27 December 1767–30 July 1854), engineer and inventor, was born in New York City, the son of Jacobus Roosevelt, a shopkeeper, and Annetje Bogard. Nicholas’s brother Jacobus was the great-grandfather of Theodore Roosevelt. As a boy Roosevelt developed a great love for mechanics and built a model boat propelled by paddle wheels turned by springs and a cord. This experiment proved to be the start of his career in manufacturing steam engines and building some of the earliest steamboats. He persuaded friends to purchase land in what is now Belleville, New Jersey, and erect a metal foundry and shop. It was called Soho after the famous works of Boulton and Watt in Birmingham, England. Managing the enterprise alone, with several skilled mechanics imported from England, at first he had some success, building an engine for the Philadelphia waterworks and winning a federal contract to establish a rolling mill for copper to be used in the construction of warships. Unfortunately, the ships were never built, causing him a great financial loss....

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Sayre, Robert Heysham (13 October 1824–05 January 1907), civil engineer and railroad executive, was born in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, the son of William H. Sayre and Eliza Kent. His father was employed by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, which had built and was operating the Lehigh Canal from Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) to Easton, Pennsylvania. Robert attended public schools in Mauch Chunk and for a time studied civil engineering under James Nowlin, a mathematician. Most of his training in engineering, however, came from on-the-job experience. In 1840 he helped to enlarge the Morris Canal in New Jersey and in 1843 began working for the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company under his father’s direction. Sayre was active in building the company’s Switchback Railroad, a pioneer road carrying coal by gravity from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk, and the inclined plane or “back track” by which the empty cars were returned to the mines. “Alias Back Track” was the way he signed a letter to a friend in 1845. The company gave him the responsibility for building, maintaining, and operating all of its railroads and inclined planes in and about the mines....

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Stevens, John (1749–06 March 1838), engineer and inventor, was born in New York City, the son of John Stevens, a shipowner and merchant, and Elizabeth Alexander. In later years Stevens’s father entered politics, serving as treasurer of New Jersey and as president of the New Jersey convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. In 1766 Stevens entered King’s College, now Columbia, and graduated in 1768. He studied law for three years but never practiced it; instead, he joined his father in New Jersey politics and served as a special aide to Governor ...