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Abbott, Horace (29 July 1806–08 August 1887), manufacturer, was born in Sudbury, Massachusetts, the son of Alpheus Abbott and Lydia Fay, farmers. His father died when Abbott was quite young, leaving the family in poverty. With little opportunity for formal education, Abbott was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Westborough, Massachusetts, in 1822. After completing his five-year term, he spent the following two years as a journeyman blacksmith. Abbott then returned to Westborough and set up his own blacksmith shop. In 1830 he married Charlotte Hapgood; they would have seven children. He remained in Westborough until 1836....

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Addicks, John Edward O’Sullivan (21 November 1841–07 August 1919), promoter and aspiring politician, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Edward Addicks, a politician and civil servant, and Margaretta McLeod. Addicks’s father achieved local political prominence and arranged for his son to take a job at age fifteen as a runner for a local dry goods business. Four years later Addicks took a job with a flour company and, upon reaching his twenty-first birthday, became a full partner in the business. Like many Quaker City merchants, Addicks speculated in local real estate in the booming port town, avoided service in the Civil War, and achieved a modicum of prosperity in the postwar period. He became overextended, as he would be most of his career, however, and went broke in the 1873 depression....

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Allerton, Samuel Waters (26 May 1828–22 February 1914), meat packer, was born in Amenia, New York, the son of Samuel Waters Allerton, Sr., a tailor and woolen mill operator, and Hannah Hurd. The youngest of nine children, he attended school for several years but received little formal education beyond that. The family experienced financial difficulties as a result of the 1837 panic and was forced to move several times, once as far west as Dubuque, Iowa, before settling on a farm in upstate New York in 1842. Eight years later Samuel and his older brother Henry rented a farm in Yates County and began raising and trading cattle and hogs. Shortly thereafter they bought a farm in Wayne County....

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Oakes Ames. Photograph from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-B-1245).

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Ames, Oakes (10 January 1804–08 May 1873), businessman and politician, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Ames, a manufacturer, and Susanna Angier. He was educated in local schools and, for a few months, at Dighton Academy. At the age of sixteen, he entered his father’s shovel factory as an apprentice, rising quickly to become the works superintendent and then his father’s assistant. In 1827 he married Evelina Orvile Gilmore, and for the next three decades lived with her and their four children in one wing of his father’s house opposite the factory....

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John Jacob Astor. Oil on canvas, c. 1825, by John Wesley Jarvis. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Susan Mary Alsop.

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Astor, John Jacob (17 July 1763–29 March 1848), fur trader and financier, was born in Waldorf, duchy of Baden, Germany, the son of Jacob Astor, a butcher, and Maria Magdalena Vorfelder, who died when John was about three. His family was of the artisan class, and few records survive from his youth. Due in large part to a fine town schoolmaster, Astor’s education seems to have been better than average. It ended at age thirteen with his confirmation in the Lutheran church. At an age when many contemporaries became apprentices, Astor spent two years as an assistant in his father’s butcher shop but had little interest in learning the business....

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Bingham, William (08 April 1752–07 February 1804), businessman and public official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Bingham, a saddler and merchant, and Mary “Molly” Stamper. Bingham graduated cum laude from the College of Philadelphia in 1768. Sometime after the death of his father in 1769, he served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia merchant ...

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Brown, Alexander (17 November 1764–04 April 1834), founder of an Anglo-American mercantile and financial services firm, was born in Ballymena, Ireland, the son of William Brown and Margaretta Davison. As a young adult he moved to Belfast, where he became involved in the linen trade, reportedly working as an auctioneer on occasion. His brother Stewart left for Baltimore in the mid-1790s, and Alexander followed in 1800. He had married Grace Davison in 1783, and after his arrival in Baltimore he opened a shop that featured linen goods supplied primarily by his in-laws and business associates in Ireland. The mercantile business prospered, and Brown soon widened the scope of his activities. He typified the all-purpose merchant of the early national era (c. 1790–1820), dabbling in various goods and services, including insurance and shipping. When his second son, ...

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Chisholm, Hugh Joseph (02 May 1847–08 July 1912), capitalist, was born in Chippawa, Ontario, Canada, the son of Alexander Chisholm and Mary Margaret Phelan. His father died when he was thirteen, causing him to go to work for the Grand Trunk Railroad as a newsboy on the passenger train that ran between Toronto and Detroit. Three years later, having completed the night school course at a Toronto business college, he and a brother acquired the rights to sell newspapers aboard all Grand Trunk trains running between Chicago, Illinois, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as on board most of the steamboats that plied the St. Lawrence River. In 1867 the two brothers established Chisholm Brothers, a publishing company that produced the first railroad and tourist guides and souvenir brochures. In 1872 Chisholm exchanged his interest in the partnership’s Canadian operations for his brother’s rights to its New England business and moved to Portland, Maine....

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Chouteau, Pierre, Jr. (19 January 1789–06 September 1865), merchant and financier, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Jean Pierre Chouteau, a trader and Indian agent, and Pelagie Kiersereau. He was familiarly known as Cadet, meaning second son. The Chouteaus were the most prominent family in St. Louis, the original founders of the town, and the very heart of its business and social life. Pierre Chouteau, Jr., gained only a rudimentary academic education in this frontier town, learning to speak and read English in addition to his native French. More important, he apprenticed in the fur trade from the age of fifteen on, learning the business that was the economic foundation of St. Louis and the best chance for profits on the early western frontier....

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Colt, Samuel Pomeroy (10 January 1852–13 August 1921), financier and industrialist, was born in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of Christopher Colt, a silk merchant, and Theodora DeWolf. Colt’s father died when the boy was very young. Colt then spent his early years at the Hartford, Connecticut home of his uncle, ...

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Coolidge, Thomas Jefferson (26 August 1831–17 November 1920), businessman and diplomat, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Coolidge, Jr., a businessman, and Eleanora Wayles Randolph. On his father’s side Coolidge was descended from John Coolidge, one of the first settlers of Watertown; on his mother’s side he was descended from Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. His parents were members of the Boston elite, and throughout his life Coolidge moved in the same circles....

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Davis, Arthur Vining (30 May 1867–17 November 1962), industrialist, financier, and philanthropist, was born in Sharon, Massachusetts, the son of Perley B. Davis, a Congregational minister, and Mary Vining. Educated in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and at Roxbury Latin School in Boston, Davis enrolled at Amherst College and graduated in 1888 at the top of his class. He left for Pittsburgh, where ...

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du Pont, Alfred Irénée (12 May 1864–29 April 1935), industrialist and financier, was born on the family estate outside of Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Eleuthère Irénée du Pont II, a gun powder manufacturer, and Charlotte Shepard Henderson. The wealthiest family in Delaware, the du Ponts lived as a communal unit, owning their lands and homes collectively. The sons were expected to enter the business, and the daughters usually brought their husbands to live within the du Pont enclave....

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Dunwoody, William Hood (14 March 1841–08 February 1914), milling industry executive and financier, was born in Westtown, Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of James Dunwoody and Hannah Hood, farmers. He attended local country schools until the age of fourteen and then attended an academy in Philadelphia for four years. Upon completing the prescribed course, Dunwoody remained in Philadelphia and joined his uncle’s grain and feed business. He remained with Ezekiel Dunwoody for the next five years, after which he began his own flour merchandising business. While serving as the senior partner in the new firm of Dunwoody & Robertson, he married Katie L. Patten of Philadelphia in 1868; they had no children....

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William C. Durant. With his second wife, Catherine Lederer Durant. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-101531).

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Durant, William Crapo (08 December 1861–18 March 1947), industrialist and financier, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Clark Durant, a businessman, and Rebecca Crapo. Durant grew up in a comfortable upper–middle-class household supported by his mother’s inheritance from her father, Henry Howland Crapo, a timber speculator, railroad investor, and former governor of Michigan. Without her husband, who had deserted the family, Rebecca Crapo Durant moved with her two children to Flint, Michigan, in 1872, three years after her father’s death....

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Eaton, Cyrus Stephen (27 December 1883–10 May 1979), industrialist and financier, was born in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada, the son of Joseph Howe Eaton, a Baptist minister, and Mary Adelle McPherson. The Eatons had long been influential in Nova Scotia political and religious life. They traced their lineage through the founding decades of that British colony in the mid-eighteenth century and to English immigrants to New England in 1640. When Cyrus Eaton was a teenager, it seemed he would pattern his life after his father’s, a rural minister of humble means. He studied at Amherst Academy in Woodstock, Ontario, and seemed destined for a life as a man of the cloth. His future was diverted, however, during a visit with his uncle, a Baptist preacher in Cleveland, whose congregation included ...

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Fair, James Graham (03 December 1831–28 December 1894), miner, financier, and U.S. senator, was born near Belfast, Ireland, the son of Scotch-Irish parents. His father’s name was James Fair; only his mother’s maiden name, Graham, is known. In 1843 Fair’s parents left Ireland with their son and emigrated to the United States. The family settled in Geneva, Illinois. After attending public schools, Fair continued his studies, primarily in business, chemistry, and mathematics in nearby Chicago....