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Copley, Ira Clifton (25 October 1864–02 November 1947), newspaper publisher, congressman, public utilities executive, and philanthropist, was born in Copley Township, Knox County, Illinois, the son of Ira Birdsall Copley and Ellen Madeline Whiting, farmers. When Copley was two he was struck with scarlet fever, which left him blind. When he was three, the family moved to Aurora, Illinois, where he received treatment for his eyes. Even with the care of an eye specialist, his complete blindness lasted five years. With the move to Aurora, his father and his mother’s brother assumed ownership of the Aurora Illinois Gas Light Company, the beginning of a large utility company that Ira would one day manage....

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George B. Cortelyou. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92421).

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Cortelyou, George Bruce (26 July 1862–23 October 1940), presidential aide, cabinet secretary, and businessman, was born in New York City, the son of Peter Crolius Cortelyou, a businessman and Rose Seary. Educated at public and private schools, he graduated from the Massachusetts State Normal School in 1882. He studied music in Boston before going back to New York to learn stenography and court reporting. He married Lilly Morris Hinds in 1888; they had five children....

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Couch, Harvey Crowley (21 August 1877–30 July 1941), entrepreneur, was born in Calhoun, Arkansas, the son of Thomas Gratham Couch, a preacher and farmer, and Manie Heard. The Couches were of Welsh extraction. Harvey Couch grew up in rural poverty with little formal schooling until the illness of his father led the family to give up farming and move to Magnolia, Arkansas, where at age seventeen Couch completed his education at the Magnolia Academy. He credited his education to a teacher, Pat Neff, later a governor of Texas....

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Dawes, Rufus Cutler (30 July 1867–08 January 1940), utility executive and civic leader, was born in Marietta, Ohio, the son of Rufus R. Dawes, a businessman, and Mary Beman Gates. His family background included Marietta’s founders, while his father acquired a sizable fortune in a series of business ventures that included railroad construction, contracting, and a rolling mill operation. Although the latter enterprise failed in the Panic of 1873, his father soon entered the wholesale lumber business, and young Dawes grew up amid wealth....

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Insull, Samuel (11 November 1859–16 July 1938), electric utilities executive and holding company entrepreneur, was born in London, England, the son of Samuel Insull, a clergyman, and Emma Short, sometime keeper of Insull’s Temperance Hotel. Insull started work in a London auctioneering house for five shillings a week. In 1881 he left London for the United States, where he became the personal secretary of ...

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O’Sullivan, James Edward (26 June 1876–15 February 1949), builder, was born in Port Huron, Michigan, the son of James O’Sullivan, a building contractor and local political leader, and Anna Waller. His parents were Irish immigrants who had come to the United States by way of Canada, first settling in Detroit and finally Port Huron. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. degree in 1902, attended law school there, and was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1903. He also worked at the same time in his father’s contracting firm. In 1905 he married Pearl Twiss, with whom he had three children....

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Sloan, Matthew Scott (05 September 1881–14 June 1945), utility and railroad executive, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Matthew Scott Sloan, the chief of the city fire department, and Mary Elizabeth Scott. Details of his early education are sketchy. He entered Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) at the age of fourteen and received a B.S. in 1901 and an M.S. in 1902 in electrical engineering. Following graduation, he briefly served as the manager of an electric light plant in Dothan, Alabama, and then he worked for a streetcar company in Nashville, Tennessee. Later in 1902 he moved north and began an apprenticeship in the railway motor testing department of the General Electric Company (GE) in Schenectady, New York. At GE, Sloan advanced steadily through the ranks and became supervisor of turbine installations by 1906. Returning to his native state, he went to work for a GE subsidiary, the Electric Bond and Share Company, which operated a number of utilities nationwide, as the chief engineer and assistant to the president of the Birmingham Railway Light and Power Company. In 1911 he married Lottie Everard Lane; they had one daughter....

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Sporn, Philip (25 November 1896–23 January 1978), electrical engineer and utility executive, was born in Folotwin, Austria, the son of Isak Sporn and Rachel Kolker. He emigrated with his family to the United States at age eleven and attended public schools in New York City. He became a U.S. citizen through his father’s naturalization in 1907. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Columbia University in 1918. While finishing the degree he took a position with the Crocker Wheeler Manufacturing Company, and in 1919 he became an electrical utility engineer with the Consumers Power Company in Michigan....

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Wendell Willkie Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103648).

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Willkie, Wendell Lewis (18 February 1892–08 October 1944), corporation lawyer and executive, politician, and civil rights activist, was born in Elwood, Indiana, the son of Herman F. Willkie and Henrietta Trisch. His father was a lawyer and local reformer, and his mother was one of the first female lawyers in Indiana. Willkie attended local schools and Indiana University, graduating in 1913. After teaching high school in Kansas (Sept. 1913–Nov. 1914), he returned to Indiana University to complete a law degree in 1916....