USA Famous People of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Biographies

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Edward Goodrich Acheson (March 9, 1856 – July 6, 1931)  Notable engineer and inventor; born in Washington. was an American chemist. Born in Washington, Pennsylvania, he was the inventor of carborundum, and later a manufacturer of carborundum and graphite. Thomas Edison put him to work on September 12, 1880 at his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory under John Kruesi. Acheson experimented on making a conducting carbon that Edison could use in his electric light bulbs. Acheson began his career as a surveying assistant for the Pittsburgh Southern Railroad

In 1884, Acheson left Edison and became supervisor at a plant competing to manufacture electric lamps. He began working on the development of Cubic Zirconium (artificial diamonds) It was here he began his own experiments on methods for producing artificial diamonds in an electric furnace. He heated a mixture of clay and coke in an iron bowl with a carbon arc light and found some shiny, hexagonal crystals (silicon carbide) attached to the carbon electrode.

In 1891 Acheson built an electricity plant in Port Huron at the suggestion of Edison, and used the electricity to experiment with carborundum. • Edward Goodrich Acheson Books

Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888) Novelist.  She wrote Little Women (1868-69); born in Germantown. Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale.

Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. • Louisa May Alcott Books

Maxwell Anderson; James Maxwell Anderson (15 December 1888 – 28 February 1959) was an American playwright, author, poet, journalist and lyricist. He was a founding member of The Playwrights Company.

Anderson was born in Atlantic, Pennsylvania, the second child of William Lincoln Anderson, a Baptist minister, and Charlotte Perrimela Stephenson. His family initially lived on his maternal grandmother's farm in Atlantic, then moved to Andover, Ohio, where his father became a railroad fireman while studying to become a minister. They moved to Jamestown, North Dakota in 1907, where Anderson attended Jamestown High School, graduating in 1908.

As an undergraduate, he waited tables and worked at the night copy desk of the Grand Forks Herald, and was active in the school's literary and dramatic societies. He obtained a B.A. in English Literature from the University of North Dakota in 1911. He became the principal of a high school in Minnewaukan, North Dakota, also teaching English there, but he was fired from this job in 1913 because he had made pacifist statements to his students. He then entered Stanford University, obtaining an M.A. in English Literature in 1914. He became a high school English teacher in San Francisco: after three years he became chairman of the English department at Whittier College in 1917. He was fired after a year for public statements supporting a student seeking status as a conscientious objector. • Maxwell Anderson Books •

Samuel Barber composer, West Chester Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music.

Barber was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the son of Marguerite McLeod (née Beatty) and Samuel LeRoy Barber. At a very early age, Barber became profoundly interested in music, and it was apparent that he had great musical talent and ability. He wrote his first musical at the early age of 7 and attempted to write his first opera at the age of 10. He was an organist at the age of 12. When he was 14, he entered the Curtis Institute, where he studied piano, composition, and voice.

Barber was born into a comfortable, educated, social, and distinguished Irish-American family. His father was a doctor, and his mother was a pianist. His aunt, Louise Homer, was a leading contralto at the Metropolitan Opera and his uncle, Sidney Homer, was a composer of American art songs. Louise Homer is noted to have influenced Barber's interest in voice. Through his aunt, Barber had access to many great singers and songs.

Barber began composing seriously in his late teenage years. Around the same time, he met fellow Curtis schoolmate Gian Carlo Menotti, who became his partner in life as well as in their shared profession.  • Samuel Barber Books • Samuel Barber Discography

John Barrymore actor, Philadelphia John Sidney Blyth Barrymore (February 15, 1882 – May 29, 1942) was an American actor, frequently called the greatest of his generation. He first gained fame as a stage actor in light comedy, then high drama and culminating in groundbreaking portrayals in Shakespearean plays Hamlet and Richard III. His success continued with motion pictures in various genres in both the silent and sound eras. Barrymore's personal life has been the subject of much writing before and since his passing in 1942.

A member of a multi-generation theatrical dynasty, he was the brother of Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, and is the paternal grandfather of Drew Barrymore.

Barrymore was born in the Philadelphia home of his maternal grandmother. His parents were Maurice Barrymore and Georgie Drew Barrymore. His maternal grandmother was Louisa Lane Drew (aka Mrs Drew), a prominent and well-respected 19th century actress and theater manager, who instilled in him and his siblings the ways of acting and theatre life. His uncles were John Drew, Jr. and Sidney Drew.

Barrymore fondly remembered the summer of 1896 in his youth, spent on his father's rambling estate on Long Island. He and Lionel lived a Robinson Crusoe-like existence, attended by a black servant named Edward. John was expelled from Georgetown Preparatory School in 1898 after being caught entering a bordello. • John Barrymore Books • John Barrymore Movies

Donald Barthelme (April 7, 1931 – July 23, 1989) was an American author known for his playful, postmodernist style of short fiction.

Barthelme also worked as a newspaper reporter for the Houston Post, managing editor of Location magazine, director of the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston (1961–1962), co-founder of Fiction (with Mark Mirsky and the assistance of Max and Marianne Frisch), and a professor at various universities. He also was one of the original founders of The University of Houston Creative Writing Program.

Donald Barthelme was born in Philadelphia in 1931 to two students at the University of Pennsylvania. The family moved to Texas two years later, where Barthelme's father would become a professor of architecture at the University of Houston, where Barthelme would later major in journalism. In 1951, still a student, he wrote his first articles for the Houston Post. Barthelme was drafted into the Korean War in 1953, arriving in Korea on July 27, the very day the cease-fire ending the war was signed. He served briefly as the editor of an Army newspaper before returning to the U.S. and his job at the Houston Post. Once back, he continued his studies at the University of Houston, studying philosophy. Although he continued to take classes until 1957, he never received a degree. • Donald Barthelme Books

Stephen Vincent Benet  (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American author, poet, short story writer, and novelist. Benét is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body (1928), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and for two short stories, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and "By the Waters of Babylon". In 2009, The Library of America selected Benét’s story “The King of Cats” for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales, edited by Peter Straub.

Benét was born into an Army family in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania. His father and namesake led the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, 1874 – 1891, with the rank of brigadier general.

Benet spent most of his boyhood in Benicia, California. At about age ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He was graduated from The Albany Academy in Albany, New York and Yale University, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. Benet published his book at age 17. He was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis. Benet was also a part-time contributor for the early Time magazine. Benet help solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition • Stephen Vincent Benet Books

Daniel Boone frontiersman, Reading (October 22, 1734 – September 26, 1820] was an American pioneer and hunter whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now the U.S. state of Kentucky, which was then beyond the western borders of the Thirteen Colonies. Despite resistance from American Indians, for whom Kentucky was a traditional hunting ground, in 1778 Boone blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky. There he founded Boonesborough, one of the first English-speaking settlements beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Before the end of the 18th century, more than 200,000 people entered Kentucky by following the route marked by Boone.

Boone was a Militia officer during the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), which in Kentucky was fought primarily between settlers and British-allied American Indians. Boone was captured by Shawnees in 1778 and adopted into the tribe, but he escaped and continued to help defend the Kentucky settlements. He was elected to the first of his three terms in the Virginia General Assembly during the war, and fought in the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, one of the last battles of the American Revolution. Boone worked as a surveyor and merchant after the war, but he went deep into debt as a Kentucky land speculator. Frustrated with legal problems resulting from his land claims, in 1799 Boone resettled in Missouri, where he spent his final years. • Daniel Boone Books

James Buchanan (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) The 15th president of the U.S.; born in Mercersburg. Almost no president was as well trained and well prepared for the office as James Buchanan. He had served in the Pennsylvania state legislature, the U.S. House, and the U.S. Senate; he was Secretary of State and was even offered a seat on the Supreme Court. And yet, by every measure except his own, James Buchanan was a miserable failure as president, leaving office in disgrace. Virtually all of his intentions were thwarted by his own inability to compromise: he had been unable to resolve issues of slavery, caused his party to split-thereby ensuring the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln-and made the Civil War all but inevitable. Historian Jean H. Baker explains that we have rightly placed Buchanan at the end of the presidential rankings, but his poor presidency should not be an excuse to forget him. To study Buchanan is to consider the implications of weak leadership in a time of national crisis. Elegantly written, Baker's volume offers a balanced look at a crucial moment in our nation's history and explores a man who, when given the opportunity, failed to rise to the challenge. • James Buchanan Books
Alexander Calder (July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976), also known as Sandy Calder, was an American sculptor and artist most famous for inventing the mobile. In addition to mobile and stabile sculpture, Alexander Calder also created paintings, lithographs, toys, tapestry and jewelry.

Born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, on July 22, 1898, Calder came from a family of artists. His father, Alexander Stirling Calder, was a well-known sculptor who created many public installations, a majority of them in Philadelphia. Calder’s grandfather, sculptor Alexander Milne Calder, was born in Scotland and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1868. He is best-known for the colossal statue of William Penn on top of Philadelphia's City Hall tower. Calder’s mother, Nanette Lederer Calder, was a professional portrait painter who studied at the Académie Julian and the Sorbonne in Paris from around 1888 until 1893. She then moved to Philadelphia where she met Alexander Stirling Calder while studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Calder’s parents were married on 22 February 1895. His older sister, Margaret "Peggy" Calder, was born in 1896. Her married name was Margaret Calder Hayes, and she was instrumental in the development of the UC Berkeley Art Museum. • Alexander Calder Books

Rachel Carson; born in Springdale.Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and nature writer whose writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

Carson started her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her financial security and recognition as a gifted writer. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the republished version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. Together, her sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea.

In the late 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation and the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented portion of the American public. Silent Spring spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy—leading to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides—and the grassroots environmental movement the book inspired led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter. • Rachel Carson Books

Mary Cassatt; Mary Stevenson Cassatt (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) (pronounced /kəˈsæt/) was an American painter and printmaker. She lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists.

Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

Cassatt was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, which is now part of Pittsburgh. She was born into favorable circumstances: her father, Robert Simpson Cassat (later Cassatt), was a successful stockbroker and land speculator, and her mother, Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking family. The ancestral name had been Cossart. Cassatt was a distant cousin of artist Robert Henri. Cassatt was one of seven children, of which two died in infancy. Her family moved eastward, first to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then to the Philadelphia area, where she began schooling at age six. • Mary Cassatt Books

George Catlin (July 26, 1796 – December 23, 1872) was an American painter, author and traveler who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West.

Catlin was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, Catlin spent many hours hunting, fishing, and looking for American Indian artifacts. His fascination with Native Americans was kindled by his mother, who told him stories of the Western Frontier and how she was captured by a tribe when she was a young girl. Years later, a group of Native Americans came through Philadelphia dressed in their colorful costumes and made quite an impression on Catlin. Following a brief career as a lawyer, he produced two major collections of paintings of American Indians and published a series of books chronicling his travels among the native peoples of North, Central and South America. Claiming his interest in America’s 'vanishing race' was sparked by a visiting American Indian delegation in Philadelphia, he set out to record the appearance and customs of America’s native people.

Catlin began his journey in 1830 when he accompanied General William Clark on a diplomatic mission up the Mississippi River into Native American territory. St. Louis became Catlin’s base of operations for five trips he took between 1830 and 1836, eventually visiting fifty tribes. • George Catlin Books

Henry Steele Commager  (October 25, 1902 – March 2, 1998) was an American historian who wrote (or edited) over forty books and over 700 journalistic essays and reviews. He won fame as one of the most active and prolific public intellectuals of his time, and he based his activism in support of the causes he advocated, opposition to the war in Vietnam, and criticism of the constitutional agendas of the administrations of Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, on his authority as a historian and educator. The most widely used textbook Commager co-authored has been criticized, in its early editions, for racial bias.

Commager, who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, worked his way through the University of Chicago, having earned the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees by the time he was twenty-eight. He taught at New York University from 1930 to 1936, Columbia University (from 1936 to 1956), and Amherst College in Massachusetts (from 1956 to 1992). He retired in 1992 from the John Woodruff Simpson Lectureship. • Henry Steele Commager Books

Bill Cosby; born in Philadelphia. William Henry "Bill" Cosby, Jr. (born July 12, 1937) is an American comedian, actor, author, television producer, musician and activist. A veteran stand-up performer, he got his start at various clubs, then landed a starring role in the 1960s action show, I Spy. He later starred in his own series, The Bill Cosby Show, in 1969. He was one of the major characters on the children's television show, The Electric Company, for its first two seasons, and created the humorous educational cartoon series, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, about a group of young friends growing up in the city. Cosby has also acted in a number of films.

During the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in what is considered to be one of the decade's defining sitcoms, The Cosby Show, which aired eight seasons from 1984 to 1992, and is still seen in syndication. The sitcom highlighted the experiences and growth of an upper-middle-class African American family. He also produced the hit sitcom, A Different World, which became second to The Cosby Show in ratings. In the 1990s, he starred in Cosby, which aired from 1996 to 2000, and during the show's last two seasons, hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things.

His good-natured, fatherly image has made him a popular personality and garnered him the nickname of "America's Dad". He has been a sought-after spokesman over the years, and has endorsed a number of products, including Jell-O pudding, Kodak film, Ford, Texas Instruments, and Coca-Cola, including New Coke. In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included him in his book, the 100 Greatest African Americans. • Bill Cosby Books • Bill Cosby Films

Stuart Davis painter, Philadelphia (December 7, 1892–June 24, 1964), was an early American modernist painter. He was well known for his Jazz influenced, proto pop art paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, bold, brash, and colorful.

He was born in Philadelphia to Edward Wyatt Davis and Helen Stuart Davis. His parents both worked in the arts. His father was the art editor of the Philadelphia Press while his mother was a sculptor. Davis studied painting, and art under Robert Henri, the leader of the early modern art group the Eight; he was one of the youngest painters to exhibit in the controversial Armory Show of 1913.

Exposed at this exhibition to the work of such artists as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, Davis became a committed "modern" artist and a major exponent of cubism and modernism in America. • Stuart Davis Books

Jimmy Dorsey band leader, Shenandoah (February 29, 1904 – June 12, 1957) was a prominent American jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, trumpeter, composer, and big band leader. He was known as "JD". He composed the standards "I'm Glad There is You (In This World of Ordinary People)" and "It's the Dreamer in Me".

Jimmy Dorsey was born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the son of a music teacher and older brother of Tommy Dorsey who also became a prominent musician. He played trumpet in his youth, appearing on stage in a Vaudeville act as early as 1913. He switched to alto saxophone in 1915, and then learned to double on clarinet. Jimmy Dorsey played on a clarinet outfitted with the Albert system of fingering, as opposed to the more common Boehm system used by most of his contemporaries including Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

With his brother Tommy playing trombone, he formed Dorsey’s Novelty Six, one of the first jazz bands to broadcast. In 1924 he joined the California Ramblers (who were based in New York City). He did much free lance radio and recording work throughout the 1920s. The brothers also appeared as session musicians on many jazz recordings. He joined Ted Lewis's band in 1930, with whom he toured Europe. • Jimmy Dorsey Books • Jimmy Dorsey Discography

Tommy Dorsey band leader, Mahanoy Plane Thomas Francis Dorsey (November 19, 1905 – November 26, 1956) was an American jazz trombonist, trumpeter, composer, and bandleader of the Big Band era. He was known as "The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing".. He was the younger brother of bandleader Jimmy Dorsey.". Dorsey disliked improvisation and had a reputation for being a perfectionist. He was volatile and also known to hire and fire (and sometimes rehire) musicians based on his mood.

Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr. was a native of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, the second of four children born to Thomas Francis Dorsey, Sr. and Theresa (née Langton) Dorsey . The Dorsey brothers' two younger siblings were Mary and Edward (who died young).

At age 15, Jimmy Dorsey recommended his brother Tommy as the replacement for Russ Morgan in the germane 1920s territory band "The Scranton Sirens." Tommy and Jimmy worked in several bands, including those of Tal Henry, Rudy Vallee, Vincent Lopez, and especially Paul Whiteman. In 1928, the Dorsey Brothers had their first hit with "Coquette" for OKeh records • Tommy Dorsey Books • Tommy Dorsey Discography

Oliver Evans inventor, Philadelphia (September 13m  1755 – April 15, 1819) was an American inventor. Evans was born in Newport, Delaware to a family of Welsh settlers. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a wheelwright.

Evans' first invention was in 1777, when he designed a machine for making card teeth for carding wool. He went into business with his brothers and produced a number of improvements in the textile industry. His most important invention was an automated grist mill which operated continuously through the use of bulk material handling devices including bucket elevators, conveyor belts, and Archimedean screws. Evans described this invention in The Young Mill-wright and Millers' Guide. He patented this invention in a few states and, when the US patent system was established, in the federal patent system. Evans devoted a great deal of his time to patents, patent extensions, and enforcement of his patents.

In 1792 he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he produced an improved high-pressure steam engine — his second most important invention. For some years he contemplated the idea of applying steam power to wagons. He was granted a patent for a steam-carriage design in 1789, but did not produce a working example of such a machine until over a decade later.  • Oliver Evans Books

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