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Peter Cooper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-11083).

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Cooper, Peter (12 February 1791–04 April 1883), inventor, manufacturer, and civic benefactor, was born in New York City, the son of John Cooper and Margaret Campbell. His father was a struggling merchant who moved the family successively to Peekskill, Catskill, and finally Newburgh, New York, in search of financial success. Assisting his father in a series of occupations (hatter, brewer, shopkeeper, and brickmaker), Cooper obtained valuable practical work experience. Given his family’s relative poverty and constant movement, Cooper was only able to obtain a year’s worth of formal schooling; this deficiency in his formal education haunted him throughout his life....

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Gillette, King Camp (05 January 1855–09 July 1932), inventor and social theorist, was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the son of George Wolcott Gillette, a hardware wholesaler, and Fanny Lemira Camp, later the author of the bestselling White House Cookbook. Shortly before the Civil War the family moved to Chicago, where he graduated from high school. Gillette clerked in a hardware store and then became a traveling salesman. Like his father and two older brothers, he delighted in inventive tinkering, and in 1879 he was granted his first patent, for a water-faucet component. In 1890 he married Atlanta Ella Gaines; they had one son....

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Goldman, Sylvan Nathan (15 November 1898–25 November 1984), inventor of the folding shopping cart and businessman-philanthropist, was born in Ardmore, Indian Territory (later Oklahoma), the son of Michael Goldman and Hortense Dreyfus, owners of a general store. He received eight years of education in local public schools and in 1912 underwent his bar mitzvah in a Jewish Reform temple....

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Morehead, John Motley (03 November 1870–07 January 1965), electrochemist, diplomat, and philanthropist, was born in Spray (now Eden), North Carolina, the son of James Turner Morehead, a prominent textile manufacturer, and Mary Elizabeth Connally. After preparatory and military school training, he entered the University of North Carolina and graduated with election to Phi Beta Kappa in 1891....

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Parker, John P. (1827–30 January 1900), African-American abolitionist and entrepreneur, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a slave mother and white father, whose names are unknown. At the age of eight, Parker was sold as a slave to an agent in Richmond, where he in turn was purchased by a physician from Mobile, Alabama. While employed as a house servant for the physician, Parker learned to read and write. In Mobile he was apprenticed to work in furnaces and iron manufactures as well as for a plasterer. Beaten by the plasterer, Parker attempted to escape, only to be captured aboard a northbound riverboat....

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Arthur J. Schmitt. Courtesy of the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation.

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Schmitt, Arthur J. (14 June 1893–29 March 1971), inventor, CEO, and philanthropist, was born Arthur John Schmitt in Austin, Illinois (later annexed by Chicago), the son of Henry W. Schmitt and Barbara Elizabeth Schneider Schmitt, owners of a leather-tanning business. Schmitt read Popular Mechanics...

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Squibb, Edward Robinson (04 July 1819–25 October 1900), physician, chemist, and manufacturing pharmacist, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of James Robinson Squibb (occupation unknown) and Catherine Bonsall. After Squibb’s mother died in 1831, the family moved to Philadelphia. In 1837 Edward became a pharmacist’s apprentice. Five years later he entered Jefferson Medical College; he received his M.D. degree in 1845....