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Austell, Alfred (14 January 1814–07 December 1881), businessman and financier, was born in Dandridge, Tennessee, the son of William Austell and Jane Wilkins, farmers. Austell was reared in the East Tennessee foothills and received little formal education. At the age of seventeen he left Tennessee to join his older brother William’s cotton business in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The business was heavily encumbered by debts, but Austell and his brother were able to turn it into a success and pay off their $20,000 liability in just three years....

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Brice, Calvin Stewart (17 September 1845–15 December 1898), U.S. senator, railroad builder, and financier, was born in Denmark, Ohio, the son of William Kilpatrick Brice, a Presbyterian minister, and Elizabeth Stewart. He received his earliest education at home and in the public schools of Columbus Grove, Putnam County, where his family moved after his third birthday. When Brice turned thirteen years old, his parents placed him in the preparatory program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where because of his father’s limited means he had to work his way through school. He required only one year of preparatory work before being granted admission as a freshman....

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Corbin, Austin (11 July 1827–04 June 1896), financier, real estate developer, and railroad executive, was born in Newport, New Hampshire, the son of Austin Corbin, a farmer and politician, and Mary Chase. Corbin had little formal education. He attended the common schools in Newport and taught there briefly as a young man. He read law under two New England attorneys and then enrolled in Harvard Law School, graduating in 1849. Corbin was not an active member of the bar for very long. For two years he practiced law in Newport with Ralph Metcalf. In 1851 he moved to Davenport, Iowa, and continued as an attorney for three more years. In 1853 he married Hannah Maria Wheeler of Newport; they had four children....

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Dillon, Sidney (07 May 1812–09 June 1892), railroad constructor and financier, was born in Northampton, Montgomery County, New York, the son of Timothy Dillon, a farmer who had fought in the revolutionary war. His mother’s name is unknown. He grew up in humble circumstances and at the age of seven accepted work as a water boy on the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad from Albany to Schenectady, New York. He carried water to the laborers who were employed on the grating and received one dollar per week for his efforts....

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Forbes, John Murray (23 February 1813–12 October 1898), merchant, capitalist, and railroad developer, was born in Bordeaux, France, and raised in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Ralph Bennet Forbes, a merchant, and Margaret Perkins. Through the generosity of his elder brother, Thomas Tunno Forbes, young John enjoyed five years of schooling at the experimental Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, before taking up a place in 1828 as a clerk to his uncles in Boston, the China traders James and ...

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Green, John Cleve (04 April 1800–29 April 1875), philanthropist, railroad entrepreneur, and China trader, was born in Lawrenceville (formerly Maidenhead), New Jersey, the son of Caleb Smith and Elizabeth Green. His great-great-grandfather, Jonathan Dickinson, was first president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University; this family connection would later play a great part in Princeton’s future....

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Collis Potter Huntington. Oil on canvas, 1958, by Herbert Bohnert. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Anna Hyatt Huntington.

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Huntington, Collis Potter (22 October 1821–13 August 1900), railroad builder and financier, was born at Harwinton, Connecticut, the son of William Huntington, a farmer and small manufacturer, and Elizabeth Vincent. Huntington’s schooling, limited to four months a year, ended when he was thirteen. His marriage in 1844 to Elizabeth T. Stoddard lasted until her death in 1883. Childless, the couple in 1862 adopted the daughter of Elizabeth’s deceased sister. In 1884 Huntington married a widow, Arabella Duval Yarrington Worsham, and adopted her only son. Huntington died at Pine Knot Lodge, near (or on) Lake Raquette, New York....

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Keep, Henry (22 June 1818–30 July 1869), New York financier and railroad president, was born in Adams, New York, the son of Heman Chandler Keep and Dorothy Kent, impoverished farmers. When Heman Keep died in 1835, his relatives proved unable to support his family, which was forced to take refuge in the Jefferson County poorhouse. Young Henry was bound out to a farmer who agreed to send him to a public school but then reneged on the obligation. The young man fled to Honeoye Falls, New York, where for an initial wage of seven dollars per month he became a drayman for a cooper named Tuler. He proved able to save money, which he devoted to speculation in bank notes depreciated in the panic of 1837. He proceeded into arbitrage in Canadian bank notes, buying them at a discount in upstate New York and redeeming them at par in Ontario. With the proceeds, he was able to return to his home area to establish a bank at Watertown. While there he married Emma Woodruff, daughter of a prominent citizen of the town. The couple had one daughter, also named Emma. Keep expanded his activities in the 1840s by establishing several country banks in his area....

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Kennedy, John Stewart (04 January 1830–31 October 1909), railroad commission merchant, private banker, and philanthropist, was born in Blantyre, Scotland (near Glasgow), the son of John Kennedy, probably a millhand, and Isabella Stewart. He attended school from age six to thirteen and received formal instruction outside of office hours for another four years....

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Lord, Eleazar (09 September 1788–03 June 1871), financier, railway president, and theologian, was born in Franklin, Connecticut, the son of Nathan Lord and Mary Nevins. After a local education, Lord began clerking in nearby Norwich. Four years later, in 1808, he prepared for college with the pastor of a nearby Congregational church. Lord entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1810. The Haverhill Association licensed him to preach in 1812, and he served a year as an itinerant. Lord later entered Princeton to complete his ordination studies. Failing eyesight thwarted his plans but did not keep him from enjoying a life of moneymaking, political lobbying, economic theorizing, and theological ruminating....

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Moffat, David Halliday (22 July 1839–18 March 1911), capitalist and railroad executive, was born in Washingtonville, Orange County, New York, the son of David Halliday Moffat, a farmer and storekeeper, and Katherine Gregg. Moffat went to work at the age of twelve, after only a few years at the local school. He commuted from his home to nearby New York City to work as a messenger for the New York Exchange Bank, where he later became an assistant teller. In 1855 he joined his older brother Samuel in Des Moines, Iowa, where Samuel was a teller in the banking firm A. J. Stevens & Company....

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Rogers, Henry Huttleston (29 January 1840–19 May 1909), oil tycoon, railroad builder, and capitalist, was born at Fairhaven, Massachusetts, the son of Rowland Rogers, a bookkeeper, and Mary Eldredge Huttleston. A high school graduate, Rogers worked in his hometown five years before leaving in 1861 for Pennsylvania, where oil had been discovered in 1859. Beginning with a $1,200 investment in a small refinery erected at McClintockville, Pennsylvania, Rogers and a partner, Charles Ellis, made $30,000 their first year. In 1866 Rogers met ...

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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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Cornelius Vanderbilt. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-4160).

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Vanderbilt, Cornelius (27 May 1794–04 January 1877), steamship and railroad promoter and financier, was born in Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York, the son of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Phebe Hand. His father, a poor farmer with nine children, increased his income with some boating around the New York harbor. In 1795 the family moved to Stapleton, on the eastern shore of Staten Island. Cornelius hated both schools and books and had no formal education past the age of eleven, when he became his father’s helper. The husky, robust boy was an expert swimmer and adept at identifying most types of sailing ships. At an early age he helped his father transfer farm produce by boat to New York City. At the age of sixteen his parents lent him $100 to purchase a small sailboat. Cornelius Vanderbilt at once set up a ferrying and freight business between Staten Island and New York City that earned more than $1,000 in the first year. The fare for the trip to New York City was eighteen cents one way or a round trip for a quarter....

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Vanderbilt, William Kissam (12 December 1849–22 July 1920), railroad capitalist and sportsman, was born on a farm near New Dorp, Staten Island, New York, the son of William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam. He was the grandson of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt. William studied with private tutors and later attended a school in Geneva, Switzerland. At nineteen he was sent to work in New York City as a clerk and bookkeeper under Charles C. Clarke, the treasurer of the Hudson River Railroad, a line his grandfather had controlled since 1865. The Commodore believed that only hard work would keep his grandsons from becoming spoiled. William worked his way up various clerical grades in Clarke’s office....

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Villard, Henry (10 April 1835–12 November 1900), railroad promoter and journalist, was born Heinrich Hilgard in Speyer, Rhenish Bavaria, the son of Gustaf Hilgard, a local judge, and Katharina Pfeiffer. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Villard was an indifferent student. When his father threatened to enlist him in the military, Villard immigrated to the United States in August 1853. He changed his name to Villard, after a schoolmate he admired, to make it difficult for his family to trace him and engaged in a number of jobs during his first years in the United States. Villard eventually found work as a journalist for German-language papers and later for English-language papers, covering the ...

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Wright, Charles Barstow (08 January 1822–24 March 1898), financier and railroad executive, was born in Wysox, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, the son of Rufus Wright, a currier, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). His father, a Quaker, had moved in 1814 from Connecticut to the upper Susquehanna River, where he established the first tannery in the area. In 1830 the family moved a few miles upstream to Tioga Point (now Athens), Pennsylvania. Charles attended the Athens Academy until he was fifteen....

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Young, Robert Ralph (14 February 1897–25 January 1958), financier and railroad executive, was born in Canadian, Texas, the son of David Young, a local businessman who became president of the First National Bank of Canadian, and Mary Moody. As a teenager he attended Culver Military Academy in Indiana. He graduated first in his class in 1914, excelling in English and math. After graduating he enrolled at the University of Virginia but withdrew during his second year. At about the same time, in 1916, he married Anita O’Keeffe, sister of the painter ...