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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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Ames, Oliver (05 November 1807–09 March 1877), manufacturer and railroad promoter and official, was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Ames, a pioneer manufacturer, and Susanna Angier. Early in his childhood the family returned to their home in North Easton, twenty miles south of Boston. Ames attended the local schools and also became an adept worker in his father’s shovel works. At the age of twenty-one, having been temporarily disabled by a severe fall, he entered Franklin Academy at North Andover, Massachusetts. He was interested in debating clubs and intended to ultimately study law....

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Deere, John (07 February 1804–17 May 1886), manufacturer, was born in Rutland, Vermont, the son of William Rinhold Deere, a tailor, and Sarah Yates, a seamstress. His formal schooling was limited, and he became an apprentice blacksmith at age seventeen. He worked for several blacksmiths in Vermont before opening his own shop while in his mid-twenties. Deere’s craftsmanship was highly regarded, but his luck was bad and his businesses failed. So in 1836 he left behind his pregnant wife, Demarius Lamb (whom he had married in 1827), and four young children (they eventually had nine) and joined the westward movement, heading for Grand Detour, Illinois. His family followed him the next year....

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Disston, Henry (24 May 1819–16 March 1878), manufacturer, was born in Tewkesbury, England, the son of Thomas Disston, a machinist, and Ann Harrod. His grandfather owned a textile mill, and his father invented a lace machine. An ambitious group of English businessmen arranged for Thomas Disston to set up his lace-making device in the United States. Taking his eldest daughter and fourteen-year-old son, Henry, with him, Thomas Disston reached Philadelphia in early 1833. When his father died three days after their arrival, young Henry apprenticed himself to a company of sawmakers in Philadelphia, where he learned all aspects of the manufacture of saws. Seven years later he started his own business with his savings. Also in 1840 Henry married Amanda Mulvina Bickley. After only one year of marriage Amanda died while giving birth to twins, who survived only a few hours. By 1843 Henry had married Mary Steelman; they had nine children, eight of whom survived infancy. The five sons would eventually join their father’s business....

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Gleason, Kate (25 November 1865–09 January 1933), businesswoman, was born in Rochester, New York, the daughter of William Gleason, an industrialist, and Ellen McDermot. She was educated in the parochial and public schools of Rochester. At the age of eleven she began assisting her father in his machine shop after school and by the time she was fourteen worked regularly as a bookkeeper. In 1884 Gleason enrolled at Cornell University to study engineering but left before the end of the academic year to rejoin her father’s business....

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Pratt, Francis Ashbury (15 February 1827–10 February 1902), inventor and toolmaker, was born in Woodstock, Vermont, the son of Nathaniel M. Pratt, a leather merchant, and Euphemia Nutting. In 1835 his father moved the family to Lowell, Massachusetts, where Francis attended public schools. He then apprenticed with Warren Aldrich, a machinist. In 1848 he completed his training and went to work for the Gloucester Machine Works in New Jersey. During his four years there he moved from journeyman to contractor. In 1850 he married Harriet E. Cole; they had eight children, five of whom died in infancy. In 1852, following one of his fellow Gloucester contractors, he moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to work in ...

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Towne, Henry Robinson (28 August 1844–15 October 1924), engineer, manufacturer, and a founder of scientific management, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Henry Towne and Maria R. Tevis. He attended local private schools and the University of Pennsylvania in 1860–1861, leaving because of the Civil War. (The university awarded him an honorary A.M. in 1888.)...