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Astor, John Jacob, III (10 June 1822–22 February 1890), capitalist and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of William Backhouse Astor and Margaret Rebecca Armstrong. The family was noted for great wealth and public charity. Astor graduated from Columbia College in 1839, and after studying at the University of Göttingen for a short time and traveling through Europe he earned a law degree at Harvard in 1842. He practiced briefly as an attorney specializing in commercial transactions and then entered his father’s burgeoning real estate office. In 1846 Astor married the socially prominent Charlotte Augusta Gibbes of South Carolina. They had one child, ...

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William Waldorf Astor. Second from right, with Lady Astor, far right, and Henry Ford and Clara Ford. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98997).

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Astor, William Waldorf (31 March 1848–18 October 1919), businessman and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of John Jacob Astor, a businessman, and Charlotte Gibbes. Astor received his education at home under private tutors and studied law at Columbia University. He worked at law for a short while but found his first real calling in Republican politics. He served a term as a New York State assemblyman beginning in 1877, and two years later he was elected to the state senate. Twice he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but he was defeated each time. The press and his political enemies found Astor’s inherited wealth an easy target for excoriation, and the public humiliation he suffered at their hands was the first step on the path toward his alienation from everything American. By all accounts Astor was extremely sensitive and simply could not endure criticism. Nor did he find satisfaction in his 1878 marriage to Mary Dahlgren Paul, although the union produced four children. The marriage suffered as shy Mary Astor was forced into a contest with her husband’s Aunt Caroline for the position of most important society matron in New York’s upper crust—the famous “Four Hundred Families.” In addition, the Astors were concerned for the safety of their children, whom they feared might become victims of a kidnapping for ransom....

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Babson, Roger Ward (06 July 1875–05 March 1967), businessman, author, and philanthropist, was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Babson, a dry-goods merchant and wholesaler, and Ellen Stearns. As a child, Babson spent his summers in Gloucester on his paternal grandfather’s farm, an experience that later prompted him to write that he “owed more to that farm than any educational institution.” Off the farm, the young Babson, who was a rowdy albeit “nervous” boy, worried his mother by associating not with other middle-class Yankee children but with the “Gould Courters,” an Irish street gang....

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Bishop, Charles Reed (25 January 1822–07 June 1915), banker, cabinet minister, and philanthropist, was born near Glens Falls, New York, the son of Samuel Bishop, a toll collector on the Hudson River, and Maria Reed. Charles’s mother died when he was two years old, and his father remarried. He was cared for first by an aunt and then by his paternal grandfather on whose farm he received an education in hard work and practical business. His only formal education was at Glens Falls Academy, which he attended in the seventh and eighth grades. Around 1838, after leaving school, he became a clerk in a mercantile house in Warrensburgh, New York, where he learned the intricacies of bookkeeping, inventory, and other business skills. In 1842 he moved to Sandy Hill, New York, to take a job as a bookkeeper and head clerk....

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Coffin, Charles Fisher (03 April 1823–09 September 1916), banker, Quaker minister, and philanthropist, was born at New Garden, Guilford County, North Carolina, the son of Elijah Coffin, a teacher and banker, and Naomi Hiatt, a Quaker minister. In 1824 his family moved to Milton, Indiana, and in 1833 they went to Cincinnati for a year before moving to Richmond, Indiana, where Charles would live for the next half-century....

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Colgate, James Boorman (04 March 1818–07 February 1904), capitalist and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the son of William Colgate, a prominent manufacturer, and Mary Gilbert. Educated at local schools and in Connecticut, he abandoned formal schooling at the age of sixteen to enter the commission house of Boorman, Johnson & Company. For a number of years he remained with the firm, which was headed by a relative, James Boorman. After returning from an extended trip to Europe in 1841–1842, he entered the employment of a wholesale dry-goods firm, where he worked for nine years. In 1844 he married Sarah Ellen Hoyt of Utica, New York; the marriage produced one son before his wife’s death in 1846....

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Cope, Caleb Frederick (18 July 1797–12 May 1888), financier and philanthropist, was born in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, the son of William Cope and Elizabeth Rohrer. After his father’s death during his early years, Cope was cared for by his mother and his maternal grandfather, Frederick Rohrer. He received only a rudimentary education in a one-room schoolhouse and was apprenticed at the age of twelve or thirteen to John Wells, a storekeeper, with whom he remained for four years....

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W. W. Corcoran. Engraving after drawing by Charles Loring Elliott, 1812-1868. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90033).

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Corcoran, William Wilson (27 December 1798–24 February 1888), banker, investor, and philanthropist, was born in Georgetown, District of Columbia, the son of Thomas Corcoran, an Irish-born merchant, real estate seller, and local politician, and Hannah Lemmon. Corcoran, who is usually referred to as “W. W.” rather than William, was educated in local Georgetown schools and spent one year at Georgetown College (now Georgetown University). In 1815 he left college to go into the business of operating a dry goods store with his two older brothers, James and Thomas, Jr. In 1817 Corcoran opened a branch store, and by 1820, the three brothers expanded their interests to include an auction and commission house. After the company went bankrupt in a financial panic in 1823, Corcoran worked until 1847 to pay off all their creditors in full, an act that demonstrated his views regarding honor....

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Creighton, Edward (31 August 1820–05 November 1874), pioneer telegraph builder, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Belmont County, Ohio (near the present town of Barnesville), the son of James Creighton and Bridget Hughes, farmers. Creighton’s father had emigrated in 1805 from County Dungannon, Ireland, to the United States. In 1830 the Creighton family moved to a farm in Licking County, Ohio. Edward Creighton began full-time employment on the family farm and as a wagoner at the age of fourteen. In these early years he worked on the pike roads of Ohio with the young ...

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Davis, Arthur Vining (30 May 1867–17 November 1962), industrialist, financier, and philanthropist, was born in Sharon, Massachusetts, the son of Perley B. Davis, a Congregational minister, and Mary Vining. Educated in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and at Roxbury Latin School in Boston, Davis enrolled at Amherst College and graduated in 1888 at the top of his class. He left for Pittsburgh, where ...

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DePauw, Washington Charles (04 January 1822–05 May 1887), businessman and philanthropist, was born in Salem, Indiana, the son of John DePauw, a merchant and lawyer, and Betsy Batiste. John DePauw was a prosperous landowner and a successful politician. Young “Wash,” as he was called, was educated at the county seminary and assisted his father in various business enterprises. His father died when he was sixteen, leaving “Wash” $700 in cash and a small piece of property. Elijah Malott, a merchant, and Elijah Newland, a physician, acted as the boy’s guardians. Malott appointed DePauw as his deputy in the county clerk’s office before he was of legal age, and he won the position on his own in 1844. DePauw married his patron’s daughter, Sarah Ellen Malott, in 1846; they had two children. He was an early success in business and freely admitted his determination to earn a fortune. He soon owned a flour mill, a saw mill, and a wool-carding mill and in 1850 erected both a brick commercial building and a railroad depot in Salem. He was active in Democratic politics and won reelection as county clerk by a large majority in 1851....

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Drexel, Anthony Joseph (13 September 1826–30 June 1893), investment banker and philanthropist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Francis Martin Drexel, an investor, and Catherine Hookey. Under the supervision of his father, young Tony Drexel was brought up in Philadelphia, where he was richly educated in art, music, and languages....

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Marshall Field III In military uniform during World War I. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93592).

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Field, Marshall, III (28 September 1893–08 November 1956), investor, newspaper publisher, and philanthropist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Marshall Field II and Albertine Huck. Being the grandson of the first Marshall Field, the Chicago multimillionaire merchant and real-estate developer, meant that Field would be heir to fabulous wealth—all the sooner when his father, unhappy and passive in his active father’s shadow, committed suicide in 1905 and then when his beloved grandfather died of pneumonia two months later. Field’s mother, who had lived in England with her husband and their children and who disliked Chicago, returned to England. The grandfather’s will provided well for Albertine and gave Field and his younger brother a $75 million trust together. Field attended Eton (1907–1912) and then Trinity College, Cambridge (1912–1914), studying mostly history and vacationing with the horsy set. He returned to the United States in 1914 and married Evelyn Marshall the following year; the couple had three children, including Marshall Field IV. He also studied high finance and played polo. In April 1917 he volunteered as a private, despite his earlier rheumatic fever, in the First Illinois Cavalry (quickly converted to artillery service). He was soon commissioned and promoted, saw action in France as a captain with the Thirty-third Division, and was decorated for gallantry at Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne....

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Girard, Stephen (20 May 1750–26 December 1831), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of Pierre Girard, an officer in the French navy, and Odette Lafargue. He was blind, or partially sighted, in one eye at birth and, therefore, probably received less formal education than his peers. At age fourteen he signed on as a cabin boy for vessels sailing to the West Indies. His first American port of entry was New Orleans. After receiving a license to serve as a ship captain at age twenty-three, Girard was named an officer on a voyage to Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue (now Haiti), in 1774. He departed the West Indies and set sail for New York with a consignment of sugar and coffee. Rather than returning to France, Girard remained in New York and became an employee of the shipping firm of Thomas Randall & Son. He purchased a half-interest in the ship ...

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Goldman, Henry (21 September 1857–04 April 1937), financier and philanthropist, was the youngest child of Bertha Goldman and of Marcus Goldman, who organized and directed a successful New York currency- and note-discounting firm. Henry Goldman was born in Philadelphia and spent his early childhood there. After the family moved in 1869 to New York City, the young Goldman received a fine education at the private Sachs Collegiate Institute for Boys and did well in his courses in the classics, history, and math. Having excelled on his college boards, he was admitted to and attended Harvard between 1874 and 1875. Goldman enjoyed history, literature, and art appreciation and wrote insightful papers for these courses. However, he had to drop out of Harvard at the end of his freshman year as a result of encountering severe problems with his eyesight....

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Green, John Cleve (04 April 1800–29 April 1875), philanthropist, railroad entrepreneur, and China trader, was born in Lawrenceville (formerly Maidenhead), New Jersey, the son of Caleb Smith and Elizabeth Green. His great-great-grandfather, Jonathan Dickinson, was first president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University; this family connection would later play a great part in Princeton’s future....

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Hagar, Jonathan (1714–06 November 1775), land speculator, assemblyman, and town developer, was born in the duchy of Westphalia, Germany; the names of his parents are unknown. Hagar (also spelled Hager) arrived as a freeman in Philadelphia from Rotterdam on the ship Harle on 1 September 1736, at the age of twenty-two. He was one of the many German-speaking settlers who began to migrate to the western areas of Maryland in the 1730s and 1740s. While most of these settlers first spent a few years in eastern Pennsylvania (sometimes as indentured servants to pay for their passage), high land prices in that settled land forced new arrivals to establish their own homes farther west and south....