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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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Barton, Bruce Fairchild (05 August 1886–05 July 1967), advertising executive, writer, and congressman, was born in Robbins, Tennessee, the son of William Eleazar Barton, a Congregationalist minister, and Esther Treat Bushnell, an elementary school teacher. His father brought the family from Tennessee, where he had been an itinerant preacher, to Oak Park, Illinois, before Bruce was a year old, and there William Barton became pastor of the First Congregational Church. He held this post for twenty-five years, serving for a time as moderator of the National Council of Congregational Churches, and he published a distinguished biography of ...

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Bedinger, George Michael (10 December 1756–08 December 1843), soldier, legislator, and businessman, was born in York County, Pennsylvania, the son of Henry Bedinger and Magdalene von Schlegel, innkeepers. In 1737 his grandfather had moved to Pennsylvania from the vicinity of Strasbourg in Alsace-Lorraine. At the time of George Michael’s birth, the family name was spelled Biedinger and German was the language spoken at home. Late in life Bedinger was described by a contemporary as a “full blooded Virginia Dutchman.”...

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Sol Bloom. With his daughter, Vera. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (George Grantham Bain Collection: LC-B2-6405-7).

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Bloom, Sol (c. 9 Mar. 1870–07 March 1949), music and entertainment entrepreneur and longtime congressman, was born in Pekin, Illinois, the son of Gershon (later anglicized to Garrison) Bloom and Sara Bloom, Jewish immigrants from Szyrpez, Prussian Poland, who emigrated to the United States before the Civil War. Although legal papers maintain that he was born on 9 March, Bloom acknowledged in his autobiography that his exact date of birth is unknown. Never well-off, the Blooms moved to San Francisco in 1873. According to Bloom his formal education lasted one day, but his mother—the family force—taught him to read and write....

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Blow, Henry Taylor (15 July 1817–11 September 1875), entrepreneur and congressman, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of Peter Blow, a planter, and Elizabeth Taylor. Depressed conditions in Virginia forced the family to move to northeastern Alabama in 1820. Ten years later they migrated farther west to St. Louis. Henry graduated from St. Louis College (now University) in 1835. He briefly studied law but gave that up to enter the retail drug business in 1836 with Joseph Charless, who had married his older sister. Blow married Minerva Grimsley in 1840; they had 12 children....

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Cheves, Langdon (17 September 1776–26 June 1857), lawyer, congressman, and financier, was born in Bull Town Fort, South Carolina, the son of Alexander Chivas (or Chivis) of Buchan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and Mary Langdon. It is not known when or why he changed the spelling of his last name. Alexander Chivas had migrated to America in 1762 and established himself as a frontier trader. A Loyalist supporter, he lost his livelihood during the Revolution and moved to the low country. Cheves’s mother, daughter of supporters of the colonial rebellion, died in 1779, and Langdon’s aunt, Mrs. Thomas Cheves, cared for young Langdon. He attended Andrew Weed’s school, and in 1785 his father took him to Charleston. He continued his formal schooling briefly but then pursued vigorous independent study. He apprenticed in a shipping merchant’s office, gaining experience in business and finance by keeping the firm’s accounts. He read for the law with Judge William Marshall and was admitted to the bar in 1797. Successful as a Charleston lawyer, he moved into the political arena. His first elected office was as warden of his city ward in 1802; he then served from 1802 to 1809 in the state legislature and became attorney general in 1809. He won national office in 1810 when he ran for Congress on the Republican ticket. In 1806 he married Mary Elizabeth Dulles; they had fourteen children. In addition to the law and politics, Cheves enjoyed success in designing and building houses and in farming....

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Lyon, Matthew (14 July 1749–01 August 1822), congressman, soldier, and entrepreneur, was born in Wicklow County, Ireland. Little information about Lyon’s parents has survived, and most of the information about Lyon’s youth is derived from the recollections of a grandson who read Lyon’s memoirs before they were mutilated by attic mice....

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McFadden, Louis Thomas (25 July 1876–01 October 1936), banker and congressman, was born in Troy, Bradford County, Pennsylvania, the son of Theodore L. McFaddin [ sic] and Julia Babb, farmers. When his mother died in 1887, McFadden went to live with Dr. T. A. Gamble in East Troy, where he attended school and did farm chores to earn his keep. Several months after the death of his father in 1892, McFadden moved to nearby Canton, where he found a job as an office boy and janitor at the First National Bank. By 1899 he had risen to cashier, and in 1916 he became president, serving in the position until 1926, when he resigned to devote himself full time to politics. McFadden was very active in the Pennsylvania Bankers’ Association, serving as president for two years and in a variety of other capacities. He was also an active farmer. In 1898 he married Helen Westgate; they had three children. Beginning in 1914 they made their home at Mourland Park, a local landmark....

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Morrill, Edmund Needham (12 February 1834–14 March 1909), banker, congressman, and governor of Kansas, was born in Westbrook, Maine, the son of Rufus Morrill, a tanner and currier, and Mary Webb. He was educated in the common schools and at Westbrook Academy, where he graduated in 1855. For one year he was the academy’s superintendent, but he moved with a colony of settlers in 1857 to Brown County, Kansas Territory, and established a sawmill a few miles west of present-day Hiawatha. The mill failed after a fire in 1860, but Morrill repaid all of his creditors....

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Price, Hiram (10 January 1814–30 May 1901), congressman and banker, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania. His parents were farmers who moved frequently, and their names are not known. When Price was nineteen years old, he left home and went to Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. Having mastered single-entry bookkeeping, he secured a job in a store and by the next year had raised his salary to $300 a year. He wanted to marry Susan Betts, the daughter of prosperous Quakers, and when her parents opposed the match they eloped in 1834. They had five children....

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Roberts, Ellis Henry (30 September 1827–08 January 1918), editor, congressman, and financier, was born in Utica, New York, the son of Watkin Roberts, a factory worker, and Gwen Williams, immigrants from Wales. His father died in 1831, and consequently Roberts experienced a difficult childhood. He attended local schools. To support himself and earn money for more education, he learned the printer’s trade in the office of William Williams in Utica. Roberts did the usual work assigned to beginners and had mastered the trade and saved money by the time his brother Robert W. Roberts, under whom he continued to work, purchased the office. Roberts attended Whitestown Seminary for two terms in 1845 before enrolling in 1846 at Yale College, where he won a scholarship, took prizes for English composition, and edited the ...

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Spaulding, Elbridge Gerry (24 February 1809–05 May 1897), congressman and banker, was born in Summerhill, Cayuga County, New York, the son of Edward Spaulding and Mehitable Goodrich, farmers. Educated in nearby Auburn, Spaulding later read law in Batavia and Attica and by 1834 had been admitted to practice in Genesee County. That year he moved to Buffalo to clerk in the office of Potter & Babcock. He eventually became a partner, and when the firm dissolved in 1844, he took over its business, enjoying a thriving legal practice....

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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....