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Alger, Cyrus (11 November 1781–04 February 1856), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the son of Abiezer Alger, an iron manufacturer, and Hepsibah Keith. After several years of schooling he went to work for his father, from whom he learned the principles of iron production. Within a few years he was placed in charge of his father’s Easton plant. In 1804 he married Lucy Willis, with whom he had seven children....

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Blake, Eli Whitney (27 January 1795–18 August 1886), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Westboro, Massachusetts, the son of Elihu Blake, a farmer, and Elizabeth Whitney, sister of the cotton-gin inventor Eli Whitney. With the financing of his famous uncle, Blake graduated from Yale College in 1816. He then entered law school at Litchfield, Connecticut, but left when Whitney asked him to help run his arms factory near New Haven in the Whitneyville section of Hamden, Connecticut. As Whitney’s right-hand man, Blake gained much practical experience in civil and mechanical engineering. In 1822 he married Eliza Maria O’Brien of New Haven; they had twelve children and sent five of their six sons through Yale....

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Browning, John M. (23 January 1855–26 November 1926), gun inventor, was born John Moses Browning in Ogden, Utah, the son of Jonathan Browning, a blacksmith and gunsmith, and Elizabeth Caroline Clark Browning. Jonathan Browning, a disciple of Joseph Smith, had twenty-two children by three wives; Elizabeth Clark was his second wife. The inventor of two percussion cap repeating rifles, the elder Browning served as armorer to the Mormon column on its trek from Illinois to Utah in 1846–1847. John attended Ogden's public school until he was fifteen but mostly apprenticed himself to his father. At fourteen he built a clever slide rifle and was soon foreman in his father's blacksmith shed....

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Colt, Samuel (19 July 1814–10 January 1862), inventor and industrialist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Christopher Colt, a merchant and cotton and wool fabric manufacturer, and Sarah Caldwell. His mother died in 1821, after his father’s once-prosperous business failed. Christopher Colt remarried, indentured Samuel at age ten to a farmer, and a year later, sent him to work at a dyeing and bleaching factory in Ware, Massachusetts. Lack of parental supervision made it easy for Samuel to indulge his taste for firearms and explosives: he had acquired a pistol at the age of seven, and at twelve he detonated a spectacular explosion in Ware Pond....

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Davison, Gregory Caldwell (12 August 1871–07 May 1935), naval officer and inventor, was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, the son of Alexander Caldwell Davison, a physician, and Sarah Pelot Eppes. In 1888 he was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and graduated with the class of 1892....

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Ford, Hannibal Choate (08 May 1877–12 March 1955), engineer and inventor, was born in Dryden, New York, the son of Abram Millard Ford, a newspaper publisher, and Susan Augusta Giles. Ford was fascinated by clocks and watches as a child. After graduating from high school, he worked in the shops of the Crandall Typewriter Company in Groton, New York, from 1894 to 1896, the experimental department of Daugherty Typewriter Company in Kittaning, Pennsylvania, from 1896 to 1898, and Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in 1898. He entered Cornell University in 1899, graduating in 1903 as a “mechanical engineer in electrical engineering.”...

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Garand, John C. (01 January 1883–16 February 1967), inventor, was born on a farm near St. Remi, Quebec, Canada, a village near Montreal. His father was a farmer. At age eight his mother died, and three years later the family moved to Connecticut. There Garand dropped out of school and worked as a floor sweeper and bobbin boy in a textile mill. He spent his free time in the machine repair shop, watching the mechanics at work. By age fourteen, Garand had filed for his first patent, on a new type of jack screw....

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Gatling, Richard Jordan (12 September 1818–26 February 1903), inventor and manufacturer, was born in Hertford County, North Carolina, the son of Jordan Gatling, a wealthy planter, and Mary Barnes. He attended the local public schools and as a young man was of some assistance to his father, who had devised machines for sowing cotton seeds and for thinning out young cotton plants. After a short time as a schoolteacher when he was nineteen years of age, Gatling owned and operated a country store for several years. He became a full-time inventor at age twenty, developing and testing a screw propeller for vessels, but in 1839 he was denied a patent because another inventor, ...

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Lewis, Isaac Newton (12 October 1858–09 November 1931), soldier and inventor, was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, the son of James H. Lewis and Anne Kendall. Little is known of his childhood because of his own reticence and the destruction of many of his personal papers in a fire. The family moved to Kansas, where Lewis was educated. Beyond that there is no information on family life, parental occupations, or even exact location. At twenty Lewis taught school, a task he found unpleasant. In 1880 he received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1884 and was commissioned a second lieutenant into artillery. After several short postings, he attended the Torpedo School at Willet’s Point, New York, in 1885 and 1886. In 1886 he married Mary Wheatley; they had four children....

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Maxim, Hiram Percy (02 September 1869–17 February 1936), inventor and radio pioneer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Hiram Stevens Maxim, an inventor, and Louisa Jane Budden. In his memoir, A Genius in the Family (1937; movie adaptation, So Goes My Love...

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Mowbray, George Mordey (05 May 1814–21 June 1891), chemist and explosives manufacturer, was born in Brighton, England; the names of his parents are unknown. Mowbray recounted of his early life only that he studied organic chemistry in England, France, and Germany before becoming a pharmaceutical manufacturer, then a drug wholesaler in England. A voyage prescribed for poor health took him to South America, where he became interested in the nitrate industry. Continuing his journey around the Horn, he fetched up in the gold fields of California; working as an assayer, chemist, and amateur surgeon to the miners restored his energy. He married Annie Fade, a native of Kent, England, apparently around 1857, though whether he returned to England for that purpose is not clear. They had no children of their own, but they adopted Annie Mowbray’s orphaned nephew, Henry Siddons, who took their surname. They took up residence in New York in 1858, and Mowbray became a research chemist for the wholesale drug firm of Schieffelin Brothers and Company....

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Parrott, Robert Parker (05 October 1804–24 December 1877), soldier, inventor, and arms manufacturer, was born in Lee, New Hampshire, the son of John Fabyan Parrott, a shipowner, sea captain, and later a U.S. congressman and senator, and Hannah Skilling Parker, the daughter of a revolutionary privateer. Parrott graduated third in his 1824 class of the U.S. Military Academy and was commissioned in artillery. He was one of a distinguished group of West Point graduates who converted an education in mathematics, engineering, and applied science into a notable career as an applied scientist and inventor. Following a five-year assignment as assistant professor of natural and experimental philosophy at West Point, Parrott spent several years on garrison and coastal defense duty and served briefly as a staff officer in operations against the Creek Nation. On 13 February 1836 he was promoted to captain of ordnance and assigned as assistant to the chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. His work as inspector of ordnance during construction of the new West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, New York, so impressed its owner, Gouverneur Kemble, that he persuaded Parrott to resign his commission to direct the foundry’s operations. Following three years as superintendent of the foundry, Parrot leased it from Kemble. He purchased 7,000 acres of land to secure his supply of charcoal pig-iron and secured his technological capacity with the purchase of the Greenwood Iron Furnace in partnership with his brother, Peter Parrott. For some forty years Parrott ran the foundry while conducting research and experimentation in ordnance....

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Rains, Gabriel James (04 June 1803–06 August 1881), soldier, scientist, and inventor, was born in Craven County, North Carolina, the son of Gabriel M. Rains and Hester Ambrose. Rains graduated thirteenth in his 1827 class of the U.S. Military Academy and was commissioned in the infantry. He married (date unknown) into one of the South’s most venerable families when he wedded Mary Jane McClellan, granddaughter of Governor ...

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Rains, George Washington (1817–21 March 1898), soldier, scientist, engineer, and educator, was born in Craven County, North Carolina, the son of Gabriel M. Rains and Hester Ambrose. Rains graduated third in his 1842 class of the U.S. Military Academy. He was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers but transferred to the artillery. In 1844 Rains was detached to West Point as assistant professor of chemistry, geology, and mineralogy. He served with distinction in the war with Mexico and was breveted captain for gallantry at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco and major for gallantry at Chapultepec. Following postings in the South and Northeast, he resigned his commission in 1856, the same year he married Francis Josephine Ramsdell. The number of their children, if any, is unknown. He served as president of the Washington Iron Works and then the Highland Iron Works, both in Newburgh, New York. Rains joined the ranks of soldier-inventors produced by West Point, when in 1860–1861 he patented several inventions relating to steam engines and boilers....

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Spencer, Christopher Miner (20 June 1833–14 January 1922), inventor and manufacturer, was born on his father’s farm at Manchester, Connecticut, the son of Ogden Spencer, a farmer and dealer in wool, and Asenath Hollister. Parental ambitions seemed to destine him for the ministry, but when he went to live with his grandfather Hollister in 1845, supposedly to continue his education, he was introduced to mechanical arts and found a lifelong love of things mechanical. Two years later, he ended his formal education and went to work at the Cheney silk mill in South Manchester. During his spare time, Spencer built a working model of a steam engine, based on information he found in a book. In 1848 he entered an eight-month apprenticeship in the spinning and weaving machinery shop of Samuel Loomis of Manchester. He also attended Wilbraham Academy and in 1849 became a journeyman machinist. He returned for the next four years to the Cheney brothers, where he assisted Frank Cheney in the development of experimental machinery. In 1853 he moved to Rochester, New York, to work in the repair shops of the New York Central Railroad; soon afterward he was working in the armory of ...

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Whitney, Eli (08 December 1765–08 January 1825), inventor and gun manufacturer, was born in Westboro, Massachusetts, the son of Eli Whitney and Elizabeth Fay, prosperous farmers. From boyhood Whitney had shown an exceptional mechanical aptitude for repairing such intricate things as violins and watches and for using all kinds of tools on his family’s Massachusetts farm. To have spending money he made nails, hat pins, and walking canes. Finally realizing he would never amount to more than a clever mechanic without a college degree, he taught school long enough to pay his own way and at twenty-three years of age was admitted to Yale....

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Williams, Carbine (1901?–08 January 1975), weapons inventor, was born David Marshall Williams in Godwin, North Carolina, the son of James Claud Williams and Laura Kornegay, farmers. He left school after the eighth grade and worked at a blacksmith’s shop, spending his spare time making wooden guns. His father, unhappy that he had quit school so early, agreed to allow him to lie about his age and enter the U.S. Navy at age sixteen. When naval life did not suit him, his father managed to arrange an honorable discharge because of his age but promptly enrolled him at Blackstone Military Academy in Virginia in 1917. Although he worked hard and flourished at first under the daily military routine, he was expelled after one semester. When he returned home, he married Margaret Isobel Cook in August 1918; they had one son. He then took a job with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad....