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Allen, Ira (01 May 1751–15 January 1814), frontier entrepreneur and Vermont political leader, was born in Cornwall, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Allen and Mary Baker, farmers. Little is known of his youth, but in 1770 he followed his five elder brothers north to the New Hampshire Grants region and joined the Yankee versus Yorker struggle, which stemmed from the 1764 Crown decree that New York rather than New Hampshire owned the area that would become Vermont. While brother ...

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Barnum, P. T. (05 July 1810–07 April 1891), showman, was born Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethel, Connecticut, the son of Philo F. Barnum, a farmer and storekeeper, and Irena Taylor. While attending public school in Bethel, Barnum peddled candy and gingerbread. He later wrote that he had always been interested in arithmetic and money....

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Bedinger, George Michael (10 December 1756–08 December 1843), soldier, legislator, and businessman, was born in York County, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry Bedinger and Magdalene von Schlegel, innkeepers. In 1737 his grandfather had moved to Pennsylvania from the vicinity of Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine. At the time of George Michael’s birth, the family name was spelled Biedinger and German was the language spoken at home. Late in life Bedinger was described by a contemporary as a “full blooded Virginia Dutchman.”...

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Sol Bloom. With his daughter, Vera. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (George Grantham Bain Collection: LC-B2-6405-7).

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Bloom, Sol (c. 9 Mar. 1870–07 March 1949), music and entertainment entrepreneur and longtime congressman, was born in Pekin, Illinois, the son of Gershon (later anglicized to Garrison) Bloom and Sara Bloom, Jewish immigrants from Szyrpez, Prussian Poland, who emigrated to the United States before the Civil War. Although legal papers maintain that he was born on 9 March, Bloom acknowledged in his autobiography that his exact date of birth is unknown. Never well-off, the Blooms moved to San Francisco in 1873. According to Bloom his formal education lasted one day, but his mother—the family force—taught him to read and write....

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Bloomingdale, Alfred Schiffer (15 April 1916–20 August 1982), cofounder of Diners Club and adviser to President Ronald Reagan, was born in New York City, the son of Hiram Bloomingdale and Rosalind Schiffer. Alfred Bloomingdale attended Brown University, where he played varsity football, graduating in 1938 after spending a year in a hospital recovering from a football-related back injury. He began his business career working as a salesman at Bloomingdale Brothers, the firm founded by his grandfather Lyman and great-uncle Joseph in 1872. In 1941 he switched careers and became a theatrical agent, producer, and financial backer of Broadway shows and Hollywood movies. Among his clients were ...

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Blow, Henry Taylor (15 July 1817–11 September 1875), entrepreneur and congressman, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of Peter Blow, a planter, and Elizabeth Taylor. Depressed conditions in Virginia forced the family to move to northeastern Alabama in 1820. Ten years later they migrated farther west to St. Louis. Henry graduated from St. Louis College (now University) in 1835. He briefly studied law but gave that up to enter the retail drug business in 1836 with Joseph Charless, who had married his older sister. Blow married Minerva Grimsley in 1840; they had 12 children....

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Bowen, Thomas Meade (26 October 1835–30 December 1906), U.S. senator and mining entrepreneur, was born in Burlington, Iowa. His parents’ names and occupations are unknown. Bowen was educated at Mount Pleasant Academy (Mount Pleasant, Iowa) and began practicing law in 1853 at the age of eighteen. He was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1856 but served only one term before moving to Kansas, where he joined the Republican party over the issue of free soil. During the Civil War, Bowen organized and commanded the Thirteenth Kansas Infantry and was eventually brevetted a brigadier general in 1863. When the war ended, Bowen was stationed in Arkansas. He settled in Little Rock, where he married Margarette Thurston and established himself as a planter and a prominent lawyer. Whether they had children is not known....

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Brown, Joseph Emerson (15 April 1821–30 November 1894), U.S. senator, governor, and entrepreneur, was born at Long Creek in the Pickens District of South Carolina, the son of Mackey Brown and Sally Rice, farmers. The family moved to Union County in northern Georgia, where Brown spent most of his childhood and adolescence on the family farm. His formal education was meager until, at the age of nineteen, he left home to attend an academy in the Anderson District of South Carolina. Returning to Georgia, he taught school for a time to repay tuition charges, and he subsequently read law and was admitted to the Georgia bar in August 1845. During 1845–1846 he attended the Yale Law School but did not receive a degree. In 1847 Brown married Elizabeth Grisham, daughter of a prominent Baptist minister. The marriage produced seven children. Moderate and controlled in his public actions, Brown has been characterized by his biographer as a traditional, occasionally even harsh, husband and father....

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Asa Smith Bushnell. c. 1895. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-DIG-pga-01541).

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Bushnell, Asa Smith (16 September 1834–15 January 1904), entrepreneur and governor of Ohio, was born in Rome, New York, to Daniel Bushnell, a teacher whose father, Jason Bushnell, fought as a Connecticut soldier in the American Revolution, and Harriet Smith Bushnell. His mother helped to develop her son's ambitious qualities. In 1845 his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father became involved with the Underground Railroad. Asa Bushnell attended the city's public schools for six years, the only formal education he ever received....

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George Calvert. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-12252).

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Calvert, George (1580?–15 April 1632), first Lord Baltimore and colonial entrepreneur, was born in Kiplin, Yorkshire, the son of Leonard Calvert, a gentleman of modest means, and a woman named Crossland, perhaps Alicia or Alice, or Grace. Calvert received a broad education through formal study and extensive travel. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Oxford, in 1597 and in 1605 an honorary master’s degree from that university. He gained fluency in Spanish, French, and Italian in his sojourns on the European continent. By his mid-twenties this preparation and his obvious talents in administration and diplomacy brought appointment as private secretary to Sir Robert Cecil, a privy councilor and secretary of state, through whom Calvert acquired still other patronage and the attention of the king. Marriage by 1605 to Anne Mynne of Hertfordshire probably also assisted Calvert’s career; she was related to several prominent families active in government circles and in early trading and colonizing ventures....

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Cohen, Walter L. (22 January 1860–29 December 1930), businessman and politician, was born a free person of color in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Bernard Cohen and Amelia Bingaman, a free woman of color. Although Cohen’s father was Jewish, he was raised as and remained throughout his life a Roman Catholic. His parents died when he was in the fourth grade, whereupon he had to quit school, though he later attended Straight University in New Orleans for several years. As a boy Cohen became a cigar maker and later worked in a saloon. His entrée into the world of politics came during the post–Civil War period of Reconstruction, when he worked as a page in the state legislature, then meeting in New Orleans. In the legislature, Cohen became acquainted with several influential black Republicans, among them, ...

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Connor, Patrick Edward (02 March 1820?–17 December 1891), soldier, entrepreneur, and politician, was born Patrick Edward O’Connor in County Kerry, Ireland. His exact birth date and the names of his parents are in question. As a teenager, he emigrated with his parents to New York City, where he probably briefly attended public school....

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Cooper, William (02 December 1754–22 December 1809), land developer and politician, was born in Byberry (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, the son of James Cooper and Hannah Hibbs, farmers. Only modestly schooled, in 1774 young Cooper eloped with Elizabeth Fenimore, daughter of the well-to-do Quaker Richard Fenimore of Rancocas, New Jersey. They had twelve children, of whom seven lived to adulthood....

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Cuffe, Paul (17 January 1759–07 September 1817), entrepreneur and Pan-Africanist, was born Paul Slocum on Cuttyhunk Island near New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Coffe Slocum, a freedman from West Africa, and Ruth Moses, a Wampanoag Native American. Cuffe moved with his family from insular Cuttyhunk and Martha’s Vineyard to mainland Dartmouth, a bustling maritime community. After his father’s death, Cuffe shipped out on local vessels bound for the Caribbean. He was twice jailed, once in New York during the American Revolution, when the British blockade captured the vessel he was on, and later in Massachusetts, when Dartmouth selectmen ordered him and his older brother John confined for tax evasion. Unable to vote because of their color, they had unsuccessfully petitioned the Massachusetts legislature not to tax them....

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Dorsey, Stephen Wallace (28 February 1842–20 March 1916), entrepreneur and U.S. senator, was born in Benson, Vermont, the son of John W. Dorsey and Mary (maiden name unknown), farmers. Dorsey’s parents, Irish-born Congregationalists, settled in the 1850s in Oberlin, Ohio, where Stephen attended Oberlin College. When the Civil War began in April 1861, he enlisted in an Ohio regiment. Attaining the rank of artillery captain, he saw combat in the western and eastern theaters from Perryville through the fall of Richmond. He served under Generals ...

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Flora, William (fl. 1775–1818), war hero and businessman, was born probably in the vicinity of Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of free black parents, whose names are unknown. On the eve of the American Revolution fewer than 2,000 free blacks lived in Virginia. The colony’s statutes forbade the manumission of slaves except those who exposed an incipient slave uprising. Consequently, Flora, who was known as “Billy,” was probably descended from Africans who arrived in Virginia before 1640, when blacks were treated like indentured servants rather than slaves....

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Gibbs, Mifflin Wistar (17 April 1823–11 July 1915), businessman, politician, and race leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jonathan C. Gibbs, a Methodist minister, and Maria Jackson. His parents were free blacks. His father died when Mifflin was seven years old, and his mother was an invalid. As a teenager, Mifflin attended the Philomathean Institute, a black men’s literary society, and, like his brother ...