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Bingham, William (08 April 1752–07 February 1804), businessman and public official, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Bingham, a saddler and merchant, and Mary “Molly” Stamper. Bingham graduated cum laude from the College of Philadelphia in 1768. Sometime after the death of his father in 1769, he served an apprenticeship with Philadelphia merchant ...

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Duer, William (18 March 1743–07 May 1799), businessman and politician, was born in Devonshire, England, the son of John Duer, a wealthy squire, and Frances Frye. After graduating from Eton, Duer joined the British army and traveled to India, where he later served as secretary to Lord Clive, governor-general of the East India Company. Duer soon fell ill, however, and returned to England. His father’s subsequent death left him in possession of a large inheritance, which included an estate in the West Indies. By 1768 Duer was actively managing his estate and trading with prominent businessmen in New York, including ...

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Fair, James Graham (03 December 1831–28 December 1894), miner, financier, and U.S. senator, was born near Belfast, Ireland, the son of Scotch-Irish parents. His father’s name was James Fair; only his mother’s maiden name, Graham, is known. In 1843 Fair’s parents left Ireland with their son and emigrated to the United States. The family settled in Geneva, Illinois. After attending public schools, Fair continued his studies, primarily in business, chemistry, and mathematics in nearby Chicago....

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Johnson, Sir William (1715–11 July 1774), merchant, land speculator, and royal official among the Iroquois Indians, was born in County Meath, Ireland, the son of Christopher Johnson and Anne Warren, members of the gentry. William’s mother provided the family connections that started her son on the way to fortune. Her brother, Vice Admiral ...

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Ladd, William Sargent (10 October 1826–06 January 1893), financier, merchant, and mayor of Portland, Oregon, was born in Holland, Vermont, the son of Nathaniel Gould Ladd, a physician, and Abigail Mead. Ladd’s father moved the family to New Hampshire in 1830, and at age fifteen William started work on a farm. Four years later he taught school and then became a station agent for the Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad at Sanbornton Bridge. In 1851 he arrived in San Francisco, responding to reports from a schoolmate, Charles Elliott Tilton. Tilton had written that wealth and opportunity awaited in Portland, Oregon, by supplying miners and prospectors in the area. Portland, Ladd learned, provided the primary source of provisions for the miners in the northern California region, where gold was plentiful. Tilton had moved his own business to San Francisco, specialized in the China trade, and extended his sales network northward. Thus, Ladd had an available supplier in the region, so he acquired a stock of goods and opened a general mercantile business called W. S. Ladd & Company in Portland....

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Larkin, Thomas Oliver (16 September 1802–27 October 1858), merchant, diplomatic agent, and capitalist, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas Oliver Larkin, Sr., a sea captain, and Ann Rogers Cooper. His spotty education is reflected in his correspondence, which is sprinkled with misspellings and grammatical slips. When Oliver was five, his father died, and in 1813 his mother remarried and moved the family to Lynn, which young Oliver always looked upon as his hometown. At the age of fifteen, he went to nearby Boston “to learn the art of making books,” a trade he abandoned two years later for a clerkship in a bookstore. That, too, proved confining, so in October 1821 he set out with a friend for Wilmington, North Carolina, to seek his fortune....

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Morris, Robert (20 January 1735–08 May 1806), preeminent merchant and revolutionary financier, was born in Liverpool, England, the son of Robert Morris, Sr., an ironmonger and later a tobacco agent in Maryland, and Elizabeth Murphet. Shortly after Morris joined his father in Maryland in 1747, his father placed him in the care of Robert Greenway of Philadelphia, who obtained an apprenticeship for Robert in the established Philadelphia mercantile house of Charles Willing. Morris quickly displayed exceptional talent and resourcefulness in commerce, sometimes serving as supercargo on the firm’s vessels. He also became a lifetime friend of Charles Willing’s son ...

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Seligman, Joseph (22 November 1819–25 April 1880), merchant, investment banker, and New York civic leader, was born in Baiersdorf, Bavaria, the son of David Seligman and Fanny Steinhardt. Joseph, who excelled in literature and in the classics, graduated from the Erlangen Gymnasium and started to study medicine. Resentful of the economic and sociopolitical restrictions against Jews in the Germanies, he decided against a career in medicine and against one in the wool-weaving business of his father and in 1837 made the long journey on the ship ...

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Swanwick, John (09 June 1759?–31 July 1798), merchant, banker, and congressman, was born in Liverpool, England, the son of Richard Swanwick and Mary Bickerton. Around 1770 the Swanwicks, a family of middling origins, came to America and settled in Caln Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Appointed commander of a British revenue cutter at the Customs House, his father moved the family to Philadelphia. When the Revolution broke out, his father became known for the fervor with which he pursued his role as a wagon master for the Loyalists. In contrast, young John Swanwick committed himself to the patriot cause by taking the oath of allegiance and by joining the second militia company of the Sixth Battalion in Philadelphia....

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Willing, Thomas (19 December 1731–19 January 1821), merchant, political leader, and banker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Charles Willing, a successful merchant and, later, mayor of Philadelphia, and Anne Shippen, granddaughter of Edward Shippen, the first mayor of Philadelphia. The Willings in 1740 sent young Thomas to England to be educated. He first went to school at Bath between 1740 and 1743 and then attended Robert Wheeler’s school at Wells, Somersetshire. Willing went to London in September 1748 and for six months took courses in business at the Watt’s Academy. The same year he began to read law at the Inner Temple....