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Alger, Russell Alexander (27 February 1836–24 January 1907), businessman and politician, was born in Lafayette Township, Medina County, Ohio, the son of Russell Alger and Caroline Moulton, farmers. Orphaned at eleven years of age, he worked as a laborer and taught school before reading law in Akron, Ohio, where he was admitted to the bar in 1859. Moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan, he involved himself in the lumber industry. In 1861 he married Annette Henry; they had nine children....

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Allen, Philip (01 September 1785–16 December 1865), manufacturer, governor, and senator, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Captain Zachariah Allen, a West Indies trader, and Nancy Crawford. Allen received his early education from tutors before attending Taunton Academy in Providence, Robert Rogers School in Newport, and Jeremiah Chaplin’s Latin School in Providence. In 1799 he entered Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and graduated in 1803....

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Bass, Robert Perkins (11 September 1873–29 July 1960), governor of New Hampshire, conservationist, and labor relations adviser, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Perkins Bass, a lawyer, and Clara Foster. Bass’s interest in politics was likely influenced by his father, who served as ...

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Coles, Edward (15 December 1786–07 July 1868), slavery opponent and second governor of Illinois, was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of Colonel John Coles and Rebecca Tucker, wealthy, slaveholding planters. The eighth of twelve children, almost from the day of his birth Edward was associated with the great and near-great in revolutionary American society. One of the first families of Virginia, the Coles moved in a social circle that included national figures such as ...

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Comer, Braxton Bragg (07 November 1848–15 August 1927), industrialist and governor of Alabama, was born at Spring Hill in Barbour County, Alabama, the son of John Fletcher Comer, a planter and lumberman, and Catherine Drewry. Comer was one of the cadets at the University of Alabama who fired on federal troops before they burned the university in the Civil War. He later completed his college training at Emory and Henry, graduating in 1869. In 1872 he married Eva Jane Harris; they had eight children including Donald (born James MacDonald) and Hugh, the sons who took over the family’s textile mills. After a brief foray in plantation management, Comer moved to Anniston and organized a wholesale grocery and commission business. Five years later, in 1890, he moved to rapidly growing Birmingham. In the “Magic City” he built a grist mill, became a banker, and organized Avondale Mills, which was to become the basis of his fortune....

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Crane, Winthrop Murray (23 April 1853–02 October 1920), industrialist, governor of Massachusetts, and U.S. senator, was born in Dalton, Massachusetts, the son of Zenas Marshall Crane, a paper manufacturer, and Louise Fanny Laflin. A member of a wealthy and politically prominent western Massachusetts family, Crane attended Wesleyan Academy (later Wilbraham Academy) in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, and Williston Seminary in Easthampton. He left school in 1870 to work in his family’s paper mills. After trying every job from floor sweeper to mill superintendent, he found his niche in sales....

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Dickerson, Mahlon (17 April 1770–05 October 1853), New Jersey political leader, secretary of the navy, and iron mine operator, was born in Hanover Neck, Morris County, New Jersey, the son of Jonathan Dickerson and Mary Coe. Dickerson’s father owned substantial property in Morris County, including an iron mine that Dickerson later inherited. The younger Dickerson grew up privileged. He enjoyed preparatory school near home, and further education at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). Graduating from Princeton in 1789, Dickerson studied law in Morristown and in 1793 was admitted to the local bar. Although his political leanings were strongly favorable to the nascent Jeffersonian-Republican cause, Dickerson volunteered for duty in militias organized to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 in western Pennsylvania. Although perhaps motivated by visions of military glory, Dickerson saw no direct action....

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Douglas, William Lewis (22 August 1845–17 September 1924), shoe manufacturer and governor, was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the son of William Douglas, a sailor, and Mary C. Vaughan. Attending public schools sporadically throughout his boyhood, Douglas was sent to work for his uncle, a shoemaker, at age seven, two years after his father’s death at sea. As a shoe pegger, he worked long hours and faced habitual mistreatment, but by age eleven he began to train formally as an apprentice under his uncle. Becoming a journeyman shoemaker at age fifteen, he was first employed at a cotton mill in Plymouth, where he earned thirty-three cents a day. He continued in the shoemaking trade in Hopkinton and later South Braintree under the well-known bootmaker Ansel Thayer until 26 February 1864, when he enlisted in the Fifty-eighth Massachusetts Regiment. Wounded at the battle of Cold Harbor in that same year, Douglas spent months in army hospitals and was discharged in 1865. In 1866 he headed west to Colorado, settling in Black Hawk and later Golden City. There he received training in designing, drafting, cutting, and fitting shoes—knowledge that allowed him to be classified as a professional shoemaker—and opened a retail boot and shoe store. He returned to Massachusetts in 1868 and that year married Naomi Augusta Terry. They had three children....

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Gilman, John Taylor (19 December 1753–31 August 1828), merchant, treasurer, and governor of New Hampshire, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, the son of Nicholas Gilman, a shipbuilder, merchant, and state treasurer, and Ann Taylor. Following his education in the local schools, Gilman learned the businesses of shipbuilding and finance from his father. Throughout his life he resided in Exeter; there he married Deborah Folsom in 1776, and the couple would have three children....

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Goodwin, Ichabod (08 October 1794–04 July 1882), governor of New Hampshire and businessman, was born in North Berwick, York County, Maine, the son of Samuel Goodwin and Anna Thompson Gerrish, farmers. Raised in a Congregationalist family, Goodwin attended but did not graduate from the South Berwick Academy. (He later received, in 1857, an honorary M.A. from Darmouth College.) Shortly after leaving the academy, he moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where in 1827 he married Sarah Parker Rice. They had seven children, including a daughter, Susan Boardman Goodwin, who married Admiral ...

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Grover, La Fayette (29 November 1823–10 May 1911), lawyer, politician, and manufacturer, was born in Bethel, Maine, the son of John Grover, a surgeon, and Fanny Lary. He grew up among the Bethel elite; his father served in the Maine constitutional convention of 1819 and later in the state legislature. La Fayette received his early education in Bethel’s common schools and the private Gould’s Academy. After two years of study at Bowdoin College (1844–1846), he moved to Philadelphia, where he studied law in the office of Asa I. Fish and attended lectures at the Philadelphia Law Academy. He was admitted to the bar in 1850....

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John Hancock. Engraving by C. Shepherd, 1775. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-7340).

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Hancock, John (12 January 1737–08 October 1793), merchant and politician, was born in Braintree (present-day Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of John Hancock, a Harvard graduate and minister, and Mary Hawke. In 1744 Hancock’s father died, forcing Hancock’s mother to move with her three children to Lexington to live with her father-in-law, John Hancock. In 1745 young John was sent to live with his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Lydia Hancock, in Boston. ...

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Hartness, James (03 September 1861–02 February 1934), inventor, business leader, and governor, was born on a farm near Schenectady, New York, the son of John Williams Hartness, a mechanic, and Ursilla Jackson. In 1863 the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Hartness’s formal education ended after elementary school. The Hartness family lived a comfortable life in Cleveland, as Hartness’s mother doted on her three surviving sons while his father succeeded as a foreman and then superintendent....

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Hiester, Joseph (18 November 1752–10 June 1832), merchant and politician, was born in Bern Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania, the son of John Hiester and Mary Barbara Epler, farmers. In 1737 his father and three brothers had emigrated from Silesia, then part of the Hapsburg Empire, to the colony of Pennsylvania. Eventually buying several thousand acres of land in Berks County, his father and two brothers moved to Bern Township, where Joseph was born. From an early age, Joseph worked hard on the farm. He obtained his formal education under the minister at the Bern church but could attend classes for only a few months of the year, during the intervals of farm labor. When he grew up, he was apprenticed as a clerk in the general store of Adam Whitman in Reading. He became a partner in the business in 1771, when he married Whitman’s daughter, Elizabeth Whitman. Together they had six children....

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Higgins, Frank Wayland (18 August 1856–12 February 1907), businessman and politician, was born in Rushford, Allegany County, New York, the son of Orrin T. Higgins, a storekeeper and businessman, and Lucia Cornelia Hapgood. He attended the Rushford Academy and, with a youthful interest in soldiering, the Riverview Military Academy in Poughkeepsie, New York, from which he graduated in 1873. He supplemented his education with a commercial course in a business college and extensive travel through various parts of the United States. Higgins worked briefly as a salesman in Denver, Chicago, and then in Stanton, Michigan, where for three years he was a partner in Wood, Thayer, and Company, a mercantile firm. In 1878 he married Catherine Corrinne Noble; they had three children. The next year he returned to New York state and joined his father in Olean in the grocery firm of Higgins, Blodgett, and Company. Later he acquired additional stores in Olean and had large holdings in pine timberlands and iron ore fields in the West, some of which he inherited from his father. He became head of a half-dozen corporations in Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington and often visited their operations to see that they were functioning properly. Contemporaries attributed Higgins’s business successes to sound judgment, shrewd investment practices, and solid administrative abilities....

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Robert S. Kerr Photograph by Mary Dean, 1954. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114948).

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Kerr, Robert Samuel (11 September 1896–01 January 1963), oil executive and politician, was born in Indian territory, near present-day Ada, Oklahoma, the son of William Samuel Kerr, a farmer, clerk, and politician, and Margaret Eloda Wright. Kerr’s upbringing as a Southern Baptist had a profound influence on his life. Not only did his religious beliefs lead him to teach Sunday school and to shun alcohol throughout his adulthood, it also aided his political aspirations in a conservative state where Baptists were the single largest denomination....

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Langdon, John (26 June 1741–18 September 1819), merchant and politician, was born a few miles outside of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on a modest farm belonging to his parents, John Langdon, Sr., and Mary Hall. He received the finest schooling available for boys in Portsmouth, at Major Samuel Hale’s Latin grammar school, where emphasis lay on the classics. It was not there, however, but in Daniel Rindge’s countinghouse that Langdon, as a young clerk, gained his lifelong trade and a shrewd eye for the main chance. By the mid-1700s Portsmouth, with its deep-water harbor and easily defended location on the Piscataqua River, buzzed with commercial prosperity. Investing first in some of Rindge’s West Indian voyages and then skippering a few himself in the early 1760s, Langdon entered the town’s maritime bonanza. Within a few years his own vessels headed out of the Piscataqua laden with lumber, hides, beef, and dried cod and returned carrying sugar and rum. By 1770, having abandoned seafaring, he and ...

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Marland, Ernest Whitworth (08 May 1874–03 October 1941), oilman and politician, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Alfred Marland, an English-born industrialist, and Sara McLeod, his Scottish-born wife. Educated in private schools, Marland graduated from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1893. Too young to be admitted to the bar, Marland taught himself geology and went to the oil fields along the Pennsylvania–West Virginia border. There he made his first fortune in oil and just as quickly lost it when the panic of 1907 devastated the region’s small, independent producers. In 1908 Marland left for Oklahoma. Passing over the fields already developed in the state’s eastern counties, Marland ventured a hundred miles further west to the undulating plains near the village of Ponca City....