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Bowdoin, James (07 August 1726–06 November 1790), scientist and statesman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of James Bowdoin, a wealthy Boston merchant of French Huguenot origins and a member of the Massachusetts Council, the upper house of the General Assembly, and his second wife, Hannah Portage. Young James Bowdoin was educated at Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard College in 1745. At his father’s death in 1747 he inherited a fortune valued at over £80,000 sterling. Independently wealthy, he lived luxuriously on his income from bonds, loans, rentals, and real estate holdings in Maine. In 1748 he married Elizabeth Erving, daughter of John Erving, a Boston merchant. The couple had two children....

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Chase, Pliny Earle (18 August 1820–17 December 1886), educator, natural philosopher, and physicist, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Anthony Chase, an insurance company president and county treasurer, and Lydia Earle. A lifelong Quaker, Chase attended Worcester Latin School and the Friends’ School in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1835 he entered Harvard University, where he excelled in mathematics and physics. It was in 1837, while at Harvard, that Chase made some of the first recorded observations on shooting stars. After his graduation with an A.B. in 1839, he took a series of teaching jobs. From 1839 to 1840 he served as principal of district schools in Worcester and Leicester, Massachusetts. From 1840 to 1843 he taught in Providence and Philadelphia at Quaker preparatory schools, and he worked as a private tutor. Also in 1843 he married Elizabeth Brown Oliver of Lynn, Massachusetts. Together they had six children. In 1844 he published a well-received textbook, ...

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Benjamin Franklin. From a nineteenth-century engraving. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90398).

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Franklin, Benjamin (06 January 1706–17 April 1790), natural philosopher and writer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, opposite the Congregational Old South Church, where the Reverend Samuel Willard baptized him the same day. The youngest son and fifteenth child of Josiah Franklin, a tallow chandler and soap maker who emigrated from England in 1683 to practice his Puritan faith, Benjamin had eleven living brothers and sisters. Five were Josiah’s children by his first wife, Anne Child, and six were by his second wife, Abiah Folger, Benjamin’s mother. Two sisters were born later....

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Paul Beck Goddard. Engraving by John Sartain. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B012918).

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Goddard, Paul Beck (26 January 1811–03 July 1866), pioneer in photography, physician, and anatomist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of John Goddard and Mary Beck. He received an A.B. from Washington (later Trinity) College in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1828. The same year he entered the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, where in 1832 he completed his M.D. with a thesis titled “The Anatomy and Physiology of Mucous Membrane.” Goddard did not find the day-to-day practice of being a physician in Philadelphia particularly satisfying. After a few years in private practice, he became the assistant to ...

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LeConte, John (04 December 1818–29 April 1891), scientist and educator, was born in Liberty County, Georgia, the son of Louis LeConte, a planter, and Ann Quarterman. Receiving most of his education at home on a sizable plantation in Liberty County, LeConte imbibed of his father’s keen interest in mathematics, chemistry, and natural history. He entered the University of Georgia in 1835 and graduated with an A.B. in 1838. During the following year LeConte enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, in New York, from which he received his M.D. in 1841. Married to Eleanor Josephine Graham, of New York, in the same year, he moved to Savannah, Georgia, and established a medical practice in 1842. Since he had inherited a large plantation and numerous slaves upon the death of his father in 1838, LeConte did not have to depend upon his medical practice for income. Thus he utilized much of his time in promoting the work of the Georgia Medical Society and in writing articles for scholarly journals. He published a list of Georgia birds and beetles, wrote medical case studies and medical treatises, and conducted experiments to determine “the seat of volition” in the alligator. His publications brought him to the attention of the trustees of the University of Georgia, who appointed him to the faculty in 1846 as professor of chemistry and natural philosophy....

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Mannes, Leopold Damrosch (26 December 1899–11 August 1964), pianist, educator, and scientist, was born in New York City, the son of David Mannes and Clara Damrosch Mannes, musicians. Mannes’s musical precociousness became apparent at age three. According to his mother, Eugène Ysaÿe called the youngster “the reincarnation of Mozart.” However, his parents carefully prevented his exploitation as a child prodigy. While he studied the piano in New York City with Elizabeth Quaile and Guy Maier, he also developed an avid interest in photography. In his last year of attending Riverdale Country School, he met Leopold Godowsky, Jr., a violinist and the son of the famous pianist, who also shared his keen interest in photography. Together they began physics experiments with color photography at the school and at the Mannes home. While attending Harvard College Mannes studied physics and music and continued his photography experiments....

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Samuel Latham Mitchill. Engraving after a painting by Henry Inman. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B019371).

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Mitchill, Samuel Latham (20 August 1764–07 September 1831), physician, scientist, and legislator, was born in Hempstead, Long Island, New York, the son of Robert Mitchill, a farmer and overseer of highways, and Mary Latham. He learned the fundamentals of medicine from his uncle Dr. Samuel Latham, who also underwrote the cost of his nephew’s education. Mitchill served as a medical apprentice for Dr. ...

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Oliver, Andrew (13 November 1731–06 December 1799), jurist and scientist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver and Mary Fitch. A scion of wealth and power, Oliver developed early into a dilettante. At Harvard College he pursued extracurricular studies in French and such arts as music, astronomy, and cryptography. He also developed skill as a jeweler, and his letters often contain comic verse. Graduating with the class of 1749, Oliver continued study toward master’s degrees at Yale (1751) and Harvard (1752). ...

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Jonathan Williams. Engraving by R. W. Dodson, after a painting by Thomas Sully. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91220).

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Williams, Jonathan (26 May 1750–16 May 1815), merchant, lay scientist, and first superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Jonathan Williams, a successful merchant, and Grace Harris. His father provided him with the finest education then available. Following several terms at Harvard College, Williams ventured to London in 1770 to conduct family business and finish studying under the aegis of his great-uncle ...