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Mary Kay Ash. In her office, Dallas, Texas, January 1982. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Ash, Mary Kay (12 May 1918–22 November 2001), founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, known as Mary Kay, was born Mary Kathlyn Wagner in Hot Wells, Texas, north of Houston, the daughter of Edward Alexander Wagner, an invalid, and Lula Vember Hastings, a restaurant manager. Texas has no record of Mary Kathlyn Wagner's birth for 1918—the year she usually claimed—nor for 1916, the date cited second most often; she may have been born as early as 1915. By 1920, her family moved to Houston's bleak Sixth Ward....

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Ayer, James Cook (05 May 1818–03 July 1878), proprietary medicine manufacturer and entrepreneur, was born in Ledyard, Connecticut, the son of Frederick Ayer, a mill operator, and Persis Cook. His father, who ran water-driven sawmills, gristmills, and woolen mills as well as a blacksmith and wheelwright’s shop, died when Ayer was seven. His mother and the children lived for two years with her father in Preston, Connecticut. Ayer spent a winter with his nearby paternal grandfather while attending school; he then returned to Preston and stayed for three years, working long hours at various tasks in a carding mill—eventually under a four-cents-an-hour contract. He insisted on further education and at age twelve was sent to a school in Norwich for six months, after which he clerked for a year for a country merchant....

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Albert C. Barnes Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 102 P&P).

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Barnes, Albert Coombs (02 January 1872–24 July 1951), collector, educator, and entrepreneur, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Jesse Barnes, a butcher, and Lydia A. Schafer. Barnes’s father lost his right arm in the Civil War, and his ability to support his family proved sporadic. However, Albert’s mother, to whom he was devoted, was hardworking and resourceful. Among his most vivid childhood memories were the exuberant black religious revivals and camp meetings he attended with his devout Methodist parents. Accepted at the academically demanding Central High School, which awarded bachelor’s degrees, his early interest in art was stimulated by his friendship with the future artist ...

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Dreyfus, Camille Edouard (11 November 1878–27 September 1956), industrial chemist and entrepreneur, was born in Basel, Switzerland, the son of Abraham Dreyfus, a banker, and Henrietta Wahl. Camille and his younger brother, Henri (later Americanized to Henry), both received their education at the University of Basel, being awarded their Ph.D.s in chemistry in 1902 and 1905, respectively. Camille also pursued postgraduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris until 1906. After working several years in Basel to gain industrial experience, Camille and his brother established a chemical laboratory in their home town. Seeking a product that the public would readily buy, they developed a synthetic indigo. Although they made some money in this venture, it quickly became clear that synthetic indigo did not have a sufficient market. Consequently the Dreyfus brothers focused their attention on celluloid, which at that time was produced only in a flammable form. They recognized that a large potential market existed for nonflammable celluloid, if it could be developed. They focused on cellulose acetate and were shortly producing one to two tons per day. Half of their output went to the motion picture industry for film, with the other half going into the production of toilet articles....

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Fuller, Alfred Carl (13 January 1885–04 December 1973), brush manufacturer and door-to-door marketer, was born in Welsford, Kings County, Nova Scotia, the son of Leander Joseph Fuller and Phebe Jane Collins, farmers. The eleventh of twelve children, Fuller grew up in an extended family of New England émigrés on Acadian land settled following the French and Indian War. The farm relied on oxen rather than horses, the family worshiped with the local Methodist congregation, and the children studied at the common school. As he came of age Fuller joined most of his generation in migrating to cities to find work. In January 1903 he left from the port at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, for Boston, where three brothers and two sisters already lived. A sister in Somerville provided him a room, while a brother got him a job as a streetcar conductor. He was discharged after eighteen months for derailing a car. Then failing as a groom and a teamster, Fuller sought a job with the Somerville Brush and Mop Company, a business begun by another brother who had subsequently died, and started work there on 7 January 1905 as a salesman....

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Washburn, Frank Sherman (08 December 1860–09 October 1922), engineer and industrial entrepreneur, was born in Centralia, Illinois, the son of Elmer Washburn, a politician and banker, and Elizabeth Knight. Washburn received a degree in civil engineering from Cornell University in 1883, after which he went to work for the Chicago and North Western Railroad. During 1884 he did graduate study at Cornell in economics, history, and political science and returned to the Chicago and North Western in 1885 as a bridge engineer and later a division engineer....

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Weightman, William (30 September 1813–25 August 1904), manufacturer, chemist, and financier, was born in Waltham, Lincolnshire, England, the son of William Weightman and Anne Farr. Weightman emigrated to the United States when he was sixteen at the suggestion of his uncle John Farr, a chemist and founder of the firm Farr & Kunzi, established in 1818. Farr & Kunzi was the first company to experiment with conchona alkaloids in the United States, at the same time that Pellatier and Gaventou were announcing their discovery of that substance in 1820. Weightman entered the firm in 1820, and when Kunzi retired in 1836, Weightman and another associate, Thomas Powers, formed Farr, Powers & Weightman. In 1841 Weightman married Louise Stelwagon; they had three children....