MacArthur, Douglas (1880–1964) The son of Medal of Honor winner General Arthur MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur was a star cadet at West Point and served valiantly in World War I. At the outbreak of World War II, he was in command of the Philippines and fought a gallant but doomed defense against the Japanese invasion until he was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to evacuate to Australia. He then assumed overall command of the Southwest Pacific Theater and was a prime architect of the U.S. victory over Japan. He was appointed to head the U.S. occupation government of Japan after the war and proved to be an enlightened administrator who was tremendously popular with the Japanese and who brought genuine democracy into Japanese government—for the first time in that nation’s history. In 1950, MacArthur took command of U.S.-led United Nations forces at the outbreak of the Korean War. The conflict occasioned both his greatest military exploit—the daring and brilliant Inchon Landing (which temporarily turned the tide of the war)—and his dismissal by President Harry S. Truman for insubordination when he refused to fight the “limited” war national policy dictated. MacArthur’s best modern biographer, William Manchester, aptly dubbed him the “American Caesar.”
Macdonald, Dwight (1906–1982) During the 1940s, Macdonald made his debut as a man of letters by founding the magazine Politics, which published work by the most important literary, philosophical, and political thinkers of the day. He earned widespread notoriety as an extraordinarily perceptive film critic and staff writer for The New Yorker (1951–1971) and Esquire magazine (1960–1966), but his most important contribution to American intellectual life was his analysis of what he called “middlebrow” (as opposed to “highbrow” and “lowbrow”) culture, which included most of mass or popular American culture. He was one of the first genuinely perceptive critics to take popular culture seriously and to write about it in ways that illuminate American values and the American character.
Madison, Dolley (1768–1849) Dolley Payne married James Madison on September 15, 1794, and, when he became president of the United States in 1809, she took up what she saw as the duty of the chief executive’s wife: managing the social aspects of life at the White House. She was a valuable political asset to the Madison presidency, creating an atmosphere of great charm and warmth. She is also widely credited with introducing ice cream to America.
Madison, James (1751–1836) Madison may be the least well-known of the founding fathers of the United States. He was, however, a key creator of the Constitution and, with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, wrote The Federalist Papers, which were indispensable in securing ratification of the document. In the House of Representatives (under that new Constitution), Madison sponsored the Bill of Rights. A junior colleague of Thomas Jefferson, he served as his secretary of state and was instrumental in the Louisiana Purchase. His presidency (1809–1817) was marred by the War of 1812, during which Washington, D.C. was burned by the British, forcing Madison and his wife, Dolley, to flee.
Madonna (1958– ) Madonna—original name Madonna Louise Ciccone—began her entertainment career as a dancer, but by the beginning of the 1980s was singing elaborately produced pop songs focused on love and sex. She exploited her sexuality to fashion herself into a cultural and commercial icon who, for more than a decade, was unchallenged as the reigning queen of pop music. As skilled a businesswoman as she was an entertainer, Madonna gained extraordinary power and influence in the entertainment industry.
Mahan, Alfred Thayer (1840–1914) Although he was the son of a West Point professor, Mahan graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (1859) and served as a naval officer for some 40 years. From 1886 to 1889, he was president of the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and lectured on sea power. His 1890 collection of lectures, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783, postulated that sea power was crucial throughout history in the attainment of national supremacy. This and his next book, The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793–1812 (1892), guided U.S. global military strategy during both world wars and helped to transform the nation into a major naval power.
Mailer, Norman (1923– ) Mailer burst onto the literary scene with his 1948 World War II novel The Naked and the Dead, for which he was hailed as “the next” Ernest Hemingway. Mailer produced a series of distinguished (if controversial) works of fiction following this debut, but his most important contribution to American literature and culture was his unique synthesis of journalism and fiction called the “New Journalism.” This journalistic/literary form used the aesthetic techniques of fiction to report on key events and personalities. His 1968 The Armies of the Night, which grew out of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement, was a breakthrough in this uniquely American genre.
Malamud, Bernard (1914–1986) Born in New York, Malamud was the son of Russian Jews and developed his writing career by creating parable-like chronicles of the Jewish immigrant experience. Although he was very successful as a novelist (especially with The Natural in 1952 and The Assistant in 1957), his masterpieces are his short stories, which employ an elegantly terse style to evoke great depth of character and meaning.
Malcolm X (1925–1965) Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha and grew up in Lansing, Michigan, where white supremacists burned his house down and, later, murdered his father. Malcolm Little embarked on a career as a petty criminal, was sentenced to prison for burglary, and, while in prison, became a convert to the Nation of Islam (“Black Muslim”). Rejecting his “slave name,” he called himself Malcolm X. He became a Black Muslim preacher, but, even more, emerged as a charismatic and electrifyingly eloquent speaker on black pride and black nationalism during the early 1960s. His rhetoric was angry, and he presented a dramatic contrast to the non-violent approach of Martin Luther King, Jr. At first unwilling to reconcile with white society, he became increasingly amenable to the coexistence of the races as he matured in his Muslim faith. He was, however, gunned down by Black Muslim assassins on February 21, 1965—but not before he had written (with Alex Haley) The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), a book that made him a role model and hero to a generation of African-American youth.
Mann, Horace (1796–1859) Raised in poverty and largely self-educated, Mann believed that the prosperity of a democratic society required free universal public education carried out by highly trained professional teachers. He was the nation’s first important advocate of public education.
Manson, Charles (1934– ) Manson was a career criminal, who, in the 1960s—an era in which communes and non-conventional living arrangements were common—led a group he called “the Family” and also known as the “Manson Family.” On August 8, 1969, Manson masterminded the singularly bloody murders of Sharon Tate (pregnant actress wife of movie director Roman Polanski) and four others in the Tate-Polanski Beverly Hills home. On August 9, the Manson Family similarly slaughtered Leno and Rosemary La Bianca in their Los Angeles home. Manson and his “family” were soon captured. Identified as the instigator and planner of the murders, Manson was sentenced to life imprisonment. He came to symbolize the darkest aspects of freewheeling 1960s counterculture and entered the pantheon of American pop culture as the incarnation of senseless but elemental evil.
Marcy, William L. (1786–1857) Marcy was a leading New York state Democrat who, while serving in the Senate, defended and sought to justify the so-called “spoils system” (by which those elected to office enjoyed the privilege of making lucrative political patronage appointments, regardless of an appointee’s qualifications for the position), declaring simply “to the victor belongs the spoils.”
Marion, Francis (1732–1795) A commander of South Carolina forces during the American Revolution, Marion led a band of guerrillas in bold actions that often defeated British military formations of superior strength. His comrades dubbed him the “Swamp Fox,” and his fame was sufficient to propel him into the Senate after the war (1782–90).
Marquette, Jacques (1637–1675) With Louis Jolliet, this French Jesuit missionary explored the Mississippi River and charted its course. The explorations of Jolliett and Marquette were the basis for French claims to the vast territory dubbed Louisiana.
Marshall, George C. (1880–1959) During World War II, Marshall was chief of staff of the U.S. Army—the senior officer of the army. After the war, he served Harry S. Truman as secretary of state (1947–1949) and then as secretary of defense (1950–1951). While he was secretary of state, Marshall collaborated on and championed the European Recovery Program—a massive U.S. funding of postwar recovery—which was popularly known as the Marshall Plan. He was recognized in 1953 with the Nobel Prize for Peace—the first former professional soldier to be awarded the prize.
Marshall, John (1755–1835) Marshall was the fourth chief justice of the United States and perhaps the Supreme Court’s single most important figure. He was the architect of American system of constitutional law, and he raised the judicial branch to equal status with the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government by introducing the doctrine of judicial review, whereby the Supreme Court has the authority to determine the constitutionality of any law that meets with legal challenge. In thirty years as chief justice, Marshall wrote 519 of the more than 1,000 decisions in which he participated.
Marshall, Thurgood (1908–1993) Marshall earned fame as an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who argued the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) before the U.S. Supreme Court and won an epoch-making decision that declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy nominated Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Southern senators delayed confirmation, but he was ultimately seated. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson named Marshall U.S. solicitor general, then nominated him to the Supreme Court in June 1967. He served as one of the high court’s great liberal voices.
Marx Brothers (Chico [Leonard, 1887–1961], Harpo [Adolph or Arthur, 1888–1964], Groucho [Julius Henry, 1890–1977], Gummo [Milton, 1892–1977], Zeppo [Herbert, 1901–1979]) The Marx Brothers—in varying combinations—began performing onstage in 1904, earned a reputation on Broadway (for their 1924 musical-comedy revue I’ll Say She Is, which was followed by other stage hits), but claimed an international reputation for their films, beginning in 1929 with The Cocoanuts and continuing through the 1930s with Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), Duck Soup (1933) A Night at the Opera (1935), and A Day at the Races (1937). Their exuberantly absurdist humor skewered all that was socially respectable—with hilarious results.
Mason, George (1725–1792) Mason was a Virginia revolutionary leader who, in 1776, drafted his state’s constitution, which included a declaration of rights that inspired Thomas Jefferson to include the concept of “unalienable rights” in the Declaration of Independence. Mason’s constitution and declaration of rights served as models for most of the other states and were the basis for the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Massasoit (circa 1590–1661) Sachem of the Wampanoag Indians of New England, Massasoit befriended the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth in 1620 and, by showing them how to plant successfully in the region’s flinty soil, was instrumental in their survival. Massasoit maintained friendly relations with the settlers throughout his life, establishing a profitable trading relationship with them.
Mather, Cotton (1663–1728) Mather was a Puritan conservative who tried desperately to maintain the old order in which the clergy served as the government of Massachusetts. A man of remarkable learning and industry, he was superstitious (a believer in witchcraft), yet also scientific (he was a pioneer in advocating smallpox inoculation). The most famous of New England’s Puritans, he was one of the most prolific writers who ever lived, the author of about 400 works, including the monumental Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), a church history of America from the founding of New England to his own day.
Mather, Increase (1639–1723) Mather led the Puritans of New England as the torch passed from the first-generation settlers of Plymouth to the second—those actually born in America. Among his many books was An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684), which (some historians believe) set the stage for the Salem witch trials of 1692. Increase Mather’s most famous son was Cotton Mather, the most celebrated of all Puritan leaders and thinkers.
Mauchly, John W. (1907–1980) With his student J. Presper Eckert, this University of Pennsylvania professor created in 1946 ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first all-electronic digital computer. Previous computers had been electromechanical. ENIAC was commissioned by the U.S. government primarily for military applications. It incorporated in rudimentary form all of the circuitry employed in modern computers.
Mayer, Louis B. (1885– 1957) Born Eliezer Mayer in Minsk, Russia, Mayer immigrated to the United States with his family when he was a boy. He opened his first nickelodeon in Haverhill, Massachusetts, in 1907 and within little more than a decade owned and operated New England’s biggest movie theater chain. In need of movies for his theaters, Mayer started Louis B. Mayer Pictures and Metro Pictures Corporation in 1918. He merged these companies with the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation in 1924 to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer—MGM—and for the next thirty years Mayer reigned as the most powerful movie producer in Hollywood. The heart of his operation was the “star system,” which he created during the late 1920s and early 1930s, putting under exclusive contract a galaxy of motion picture actors certain to attract large audiences.
Mays, Willie (1931– ) Mays started playing baseball in the Negro National League in 1948. At about this time, Jackie Robinson crossed the “color line,” and major league baseball was integrated. Mays was recruited by the New York (later San Francisco) Giants for the minors in 1950 and entered the major league team in 1951. By 1966, he was earning the highest salary of any baseball player of the time. In 1972, he was traded to the New York Mets and retired the following year. His home run career total was 660 and his batting average .302. He had 3,283 hits to his credit. Many fans consider him baseball’s best all-around player.
McAuliffe, Christa (1948–1986) Born Sharon Christa Corrigan, McAuliffe was a Maryland schoolteacher chosen in 1984 out of some 10,000 applicants as the first ordinary citizen (non-pilot, non-scientist) in space. Her enthusiastic participation in the mission of the space shuttle Challenger drew much public interest and focused more public attention on the January 28, 1986, launch than usual. Seventy-four seconds after liftoff, Challenger exploded, killing all seven on board. Subsequent investigation revealed that the accident resulted from the failure of a seal on a solid-fuel booster rocket, a failure NASA knew was possible, but, to avoid further delays of an already repeatedly delayed launch, downplayed. McAuliffe was hailed as a hero, but public support for the space program diminished.
McCarthy, Eugene (1916–2006) Democrat McCarthy was elected to the Senate from Minnesota in 1958 and served in relative obscurity until, on November 30, 1967, he announced that he would challenge incumbent president Lyndon B. Johnson in the Democratic primaries. McCarthy became the principal anti-Vietnam War candidate, a figure around whom the antiwar movement rallied. His candidacy encouraged Robert F. Kennedy to declare his candidacy as well, also on an antiwar platform. McCarthy’s performance in the primaries was among the factors that prompted President Johnson to withdraw as a candidate for reelection in 1968.
McCarthy, Joseph R. (1908–1957) Elected to the Senate from Wisconsin in 1946, McCarthy had an undistinguished career until he announced in a February 1950 speech to a Republican women’s organization in Wheeling, West Virginia, that he possessed the names of 205 Communists who had infiltrated the State Department. Although McCarthy was never able to substantiate the charges, he fueled a “red scare” that propelled his reelection in 1952 and his chairmanship of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate and of its permanent subcommittee on investigations. This gave him a forum to air his sensational allegations of Communist subversion in government, industry, Hollywood, and the U.S. Army. Although McCarthy never succeeded in actually identifying a single subversive, the anti-Communist hysteria he generated dominated much of the national life for the next two years. His innuendo was sufficient to ruin many careers, and McCarthy became an intensely polarizing figure: reviled by many, and regarded as a patriot-hero by many others. Most politicians were afraid to challenge him, but as his allegations became increasingly reckless the challenges began to come. When he turned against fellow Republicans, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and also alleged that the army had been infiltrated by Communists, the Senate held 36 days of nationally televised hearings on his charges. This proved to be his downfall, as the American public saw in McCarthy a desperate, reckless bully. On December 2, 1954, McCarthy’s Senate colleagues censured him for conduct unbecoming a senator. The era of McCarthyism was at an end.
McCormick, Cyrus (1809–1884) McCormick was raised in rural Virginia, where his father was a farmer, blacksmith, and sometime inventor. Cyrus McCormick had little formal education, but spent most of his time in his father’s workshop. In 1831, he began working on a mechanical reaper, and by 1834 had sufficiently perfected the horse-drawn device to secure a patent. The McCormick reaper revolutionized agriculture, accomplishing in a single hour what took 20 hours by hand labor. It made possible large-scale farming—and without slave labor. With John Deere’s “Grad Detour” plow, the reaper was instrumental in opening up the American West to agricultural settlement on a vast scale.
McClellan, George B. (1826–1885) When President Abraham Lincoln appointed McClellan to command the Army of the Potomac in May 1861, the Union press hailed the dashing officer as the “Young Napoleon.” With great skill, McClellan transformed a blue-uniformed rabble into a disciplined army, yet he repeatedly avoided decisive combat. McClellan’s overly cautious approach prompted Lincoln to diagnose him as having a “case of the slows,” and the president relieved him of major command. McClellan’s lack of aggressiveness prolonged the bloody Civil War.
McGillivray, Alexander (circa 1759–1793) Of mixed European and Indian blood, McGillivray was chief of the Creek Indians and successfully resisted white invasion of Creek tribal lands for years. To achieve this, he fought alongside the British during the American Revolution, then, after the war, negotiated an alliance with Spanish interests in America. In 1789, he was finally able to negotiate a favorable treaty with President George Washington’s secretary of war, Henry Knox, which set a limit to white American settlement. McGillivray was one of very few Native American leaders who enjoyed significant success in retaining for his tribe both its tribal identity and its lands in the face of white American expansion—at least for the span of a generation.
McGovern, George (1922– ) Democratic U.S. senator from South Dakota, McGovern emerged as an anti-Vietnam War presidential candidate, challenging Republican incumbent Richard M. Nixon in 1972. McGovern not only advocated an immediate end to the war in Vietnam, he called for a broad agenda of social and economic reforms that recalled Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” program of the 1960s. McGovern’s liberal stance failed to unify the Democratic Party, and he lost to Nixon by a landslide.
McGuffey, William Holmes (1800–1873) A professor at Miami University of Ohio, McGuffey wrote and published his first reading and spelling elementary instruction text in 1836. Over the years—and into the 20th century—the McGuffey Readers would not only teach generations of Americans to read and to spell, but would also impart instruction in religion, morality, ethics, and patriotism, helping to create many aspects of a common American cultural heritage.
McKinley, William (1843–1901) Republican McKinley entered the White House in 1897. Amid a political and popular clamor for war with Spain—for the purpose of “liberating” Cuba—McKinley ultimately acquiesced, and the brief Spanish-American War (1898) transformed Cuba from a Spanish colony into an American client state. The war also resulted in U.S. annexation of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam (and it also helped to propel the annexation of Hawaii). Thus McKinley presided over an intense period of U.S. global expansion, which transformed the nation into a major world power and an imperialist force. McKinley’s postwar popularity was such that he was reelected in 1900; however, while attending the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York, he was shot at pointblank range on September 6, 1901 by a self-proclaimed anarchist, Leon Czolgosz. He died on September 14 and was succeeded by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.
McKissick, Floyd (1922–1991) Born in Asheville, North Carolina, McKissick was the first African American to study at the University of North Carolina Law School. He became active in the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and participated in every major aspect of the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. He became CORE’s national director in 1966, and began to turn the attention of the organization from the rural South to the problems of the northern urban ghettos. Beginning in 1968, McKissick developed Soul City, North Carolina, intended as model town and industrial project.
McLuhan, Marshall (1911–1980) Although McLuhan was a Canadian, his major impact was on American popular culture, which he helped to shape in the 1960s with his analysis of the extraordinarily pervasive influence of television and computers on all modes of information and thought in virtually every cultural field. He declared that “the medium is the message” and predicted the obsolescence of the printed book, which would yield to electronic media destined to transform a diverse world into a “global village.”
McNamara, Robert (1916– ) McNamara was president of the Ford Motor Company when President John F. Kennedy appointed him secretary of defense in 1961. McNamara revolutionized the Pentagon by revamping the military bureaucracy, cutting costs, and refocusing the thrust of defense policy from its strategic (nuclear) emphasis to the doctrine of flexible response, enhancing the military’s ability to fight smaller conventional wars. During the Kennedy administration, McNamara played a major role in successfully resolving the Cuban Missile Crisis, but he was also instrumental in greatly expanding America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, especially during the administration of JFK’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.
McPhee, John (1931– ) McPhee is a journalist who has written a series of popular books focusing on the environment and key aspects of technology and current events. Many of his works first appeared, at least in part, in The New Yorker. His first major book was a study of New Jersey’s surprisingly remote semi-wilderness, The Pine Barrens (1968). Alaska was profiled in Coming into the Country (1977), the citrus industry was the focus of Oranges (1967), aeronautics in The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed (1973), and nuclear terrorism in The Curve of Binding Energy (1974). During the 1980s he wrote a series of books on the geology of the American West.
McVeigh, Timothy (1968–2001) A decorated veteran of the Persian Gulf War (1991), McVeigh left the army after he failed to qualify for a Special Forces assignment. Disaffected with the federal government, he packed a rented Ryder truck with explosive material made from nitrate fertilizer and detonated it beside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on August 19, 1995. In the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in American history, 167 persons were killed (including many children in the building’s daycare center), and many more were injured. Apprehended, tried, and convicted, McVeigh was sentenced to death and was executed on June 11, 2001.
Mead, Margaret (1901–1978) Mead was a student of pioneering anthropologists Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, earning her Ph.D. in 1929. She wrote 23 books during her long career, beginning in 1928 with Coming of Age in Samoa, a bestseller and a classic study of adolescence in an “undeveloped” region. Mead popularized anthropology’s relativistic approach to culture, enabling many of her readers and lecture audiences to overcome ethnocentrism and appreciate our common humanity. Although many scientists questioned Mead’s reliance on observation over statistics and her absolute belief in cultural determinism, the force of her charismatic personality could not be denied, and she surely advanced popular interest in the human sciences.
Meade, George G. (1815–1872) Meade was a Union cavalry officer not noted for his brilliance, but respected for his careful competence. He was in command of the Army of Potomac when it engaged Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at a Pennsylvania crossroads town called Gettysburg during July 1–3, 1863. After a bad start, Meade prevailed over Lee, thereby turning the tide of the war. His failure to pursue the defeated Army of Northern Virginia, however, almost certainly prolonged the conflict.
Mellon, Andrew W. (1855–1937) A financier—his fortune was built on steel—Mellon was appointed secretary of the Treasury by Warren G. Harding. He served under Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, from 1921 to 1932, and reduced the national debt from $24 billion in 1920 to $17,604,000,000 by reforming taxation, generally reducing tax rates. The reductions stimulated the economy and were credited with the 1920s economic boom. Mellon fell from favor, however, after the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. As for Mellon’s philanthropy, it built the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Melville, Herman (1819–1891) Melville went to sea as a young man and used his experiences as the basis for his first two novels, Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847), South Seas adventure tales that were popular successes. His next work, Mardi (1849), was far more experimental and failed to find a public. He returned to simpler, more popular fare with Redburn (1849) and White-Jacket (1850), then embarked upon his masterpiece, Moby-Dick (1851), an epic story woven around a sea captain’s obsessive quest for vengeance against the white whale—Moby-Dick—that had severed his leg. Filled with brilliant philosophical digression, the book is a mighty allegory of humanity’s relation to nature and, indeed, the universe itself. The book was a popular and critical failure, as was most of the rest of Melville’s literary output. Although he continued to write sporadically, he supported himself and his family as a custom’s inspector. His literary reputation came posthumously, with the rediscovery of his work in the late 1920s. Since then, he has come to be widely regarded as the greatest of all American novelists.
Mencken, H. L. (1880–1956) Henry Louis Mencken was a brilliant journalist and social critic, who—with great high spirits—lampooned organized religion, business, and especially the American middle class, which he dubbed the “boobocracy” or “booboisie.” Mencken made controversy fun. A penetrating literary critic, his influence on American literature—especially fiction—during the 1920s was profound. He was also a serious student of linguistics, and his massive study, The American Language (1919), is a monument of linguistics and also a delight to read.
Mercer, Hugh (1726–1777) Mercer was born in Scotland and fought at the bloody Battle of Culloden Moor (1746), then fled to America, where he practiced as a physician. Mercer fought in the French and Indian War and belonged to the same Masonic lodge as George Washington. The two became friends, and, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, Mercer first served in the militia and then in the Continental Army. He was Washington’s close comrade and distinguished himself particularly during the crossing of the Delaware and Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776. His death at the Battle of Princeton, which followed the triumph at Trenton, made Mercer a martyr of the revolution and a symbol of heroic sacrifice for liberty.
Mercer, Johnny (1909–1976) Born John Herndon Mercer in Savannah, Johnny Mercer was a lyricist of great wit and charm, ranging from breezy to wistfully romantic. His most popular songs include “Lazy Bones,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Blues in the Night,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Laura,” “Accent-tchu-ate the Positive,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Moon River,” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” An astute businessman, Mercer in 1942 cofounded Capitol Records and served as the company’s president and chief talent scout.
Michelson, A. A. (1852–1931) Born in Prussia, Michelson immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was two years old. He determined the speed of light with great accuracy and established it as a fundamental constant. His experiments with the American physicist Edward Williams Morely provided the foundation on which Albert Einstein would formulate his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905. Michelson was awarded the 1907 Nobel Prize for Physics.
Mifflin, Thomas (1744–1800) Like so many other participants in the American Revolution, Mifflin was a prosperous merchant. He held numerous offices in the colonial and revolutionary government of Pennsylvania and fought in the American Revolution as a major general. Although he preferred action in the front lines of combat, he accepted the thankless task of quartermaster—the officer responsible for supply and logistics—and absorbed much criticism during his tenure in this post.
Miles, Nelson A. (1839–1925) Miles was a brilliant—and temperamental—officer who received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry at Chancellorsville during the Civil War and went on to become an important commander in the Indian Wars. He was in overall command during the infamous Massacre at Wounded Knee (December 29, 1890)—which he condemned—and it was he who accepted the final surrender of the Sioux, thereby ending the era of the Indian Wars. Miles fought in the Spanish-American War—he was, at the time, commanding general of the U.S. Army—and led the invasion of Puerto Rico, then served as the first head of the military government of that island after the war. He retired from the army in 1903, but, when he was in his late seventies, asked to serve in World War I. President Woodrow Wilson turned him down.
Milken, Michael (1946– ) Head of the bond-trading department of Drexel Burnham Lambert, Milken began in the early 1980s exploiting “junk bonds”—hitherto neglected non-investment-grade bonds issued by new companies or companies in trouble. Because of the great risk they carried, junk bonds earned high rates of return—as long as the issuers remained solvent. Milken persuaded savings and loan associations, pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, and other institutions to invest in junk bonds, creating a massive influx of capital that fueled an emerging class of entrepreneur called corporate raiders. These individuals specialized in acquiring companies then dismantling or merging them. Such activity came to characterize the frenetic economy of the 1980s. Milken was the king of junk bonds until he was implicated with one of his clients, Ivan Boesky, in an insider trading scheme. He was forced out of Drexel in 1989, and, without him, the junk-bond market imploded. Convicted of securities fraud, Milken was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $600 million in fines.
Miller, Arthur (1915–2005) Miller came of age during the Great Depression and was moved by this background to write plays that combined an acute social consciousness with penetrating and compassionate insight into individual humanity. In his most famous play, Death of a Salesman (1949), Miller created an Everyman character—an embodiment of aspiration and disappointment—who also emerges as one of the great portraits of personality in all drama.
Miller, Glenn (1904–1944) During the 1920s and 1930s, Miller was a successful freelance trombonist and arranger, who repeatedly attempted to make a go with a band of his own, but succeeded only after he had formulated a unique sound that was not only an unmistakable individual signature, but came to be identified with the World War II era of swing. During the war, Miller put his career on hold to lead a U.S. Army Air Forces band, bringing “the sound of home” to GIs stationed overseas. On December 16, 1944, while flying from England to Paris, his plane was lost over the English Channel. Neither the aircraft wreckage nor any sign of Miller was ever recovered.
Minuit, Peter (1580?–1638) Minuit was a Dutch settler who sailed to North America and arrived at the mouth of the Hudson River on May 4, 1626. He was subsequently appointed by the Dutch West India Company director general of the colony on Manhattan. Wanting to legitimate the Dutch claim to the island, he gathered the local Indian leaders and “purchased” Manhattan for goods valued at 60 guilders on August 10, 1626. Historians calculated this as $24. Minuit then founded the town of New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan. It was renamed New York when the British took it over in 1664.
Miranda, Ernesto (1941–1976) Miranda was a career criminal who, in 1963, was arrested for a series of rapes in Phoenix, Arizona. On the basis of his confession, he was convicted; however, the U.S. Supreme Court on June 13, 1966, overturned the conviction because the police had failed to inform Miranda of his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination by refusing to answer police questions without the presence of legal counsel. As a result of this decision, arresting officers now read suspects their “Miranda rights,” informing them that they have the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present before any questioning is conducted. (Miranda was later retried and convicted on new evidence.)
Mitchell, Margaret (1900–1949) In 1926, Atlanta journalist Mitchell began writing an epic Civil War novel told from the Southern point of view. It took her a decade to complete, but when Gone with the Wind was published in 1936, it became a runaway bestseller—a million copies flying off the shelves within six months of publication and its heroine and hero, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, becoming household names. It was made into a movie in 1939, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, which, for twenty years after its release was the top-earning movie in cinema history.
Mitchell, John (1913–1988) Richard M. Nixon appointed Mitchell attorney general in 1969. He made himself controversial—even widely despised—for endorsing two Supreme Court nominees rejected by the Senate as unqualified, for approving wiretaps not authorized by any court, for vigorously prosecuting anti-Vietnam War protesters, and for attempting to block publication of the “Pentagon Papers.” In March 1972, Mitchell stepped down as attorney general to become head of Nixon’s reelection committee but resigned in July during the early phases of the Watergate scandal. Convicted in 1975 of conspiring in the Watergate break-in, obstructing justice, and perjury, he entered prison in 1977 and was paroled in 1979.
Monk, Thelonious (1917–1982) Monk was a jazz pianist at Minton’s Play House, a major modern jazz venue in New York City during the early 1940s. He was a prime mover of bebop, which took the era’s “swing” style in new and adventurous directions. An enormously prolific composer, he created works of jagged, angular complexity, full of odd harmonies and “wrong” notes, with strangely accented rhythms, and always supremely inventive and intriguing. His best-known compositions—including “Well, You Needn’t,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Mysterioso,” “Epistrophy,” “Blue Monk,” and “‘Round Midnight”—are considered monuments of modern jazz.
Monroe, James (1758–1831) Monroe fought alongside General George Washington during the American Revolution and, afterward, studied law with Thomas Jefferson. He was elected the fifth president of the United States in 1816 and served from 1817 to 1825. Despite economic hardship during this period, Monroe’s administration was dubbed the “Era of Good Feelings.” Monroe’s most famous contribution to American history was his promulgation on December 2, 1823, of the so-called “Monroe Doctrine,” which put European powers on notice that the United States would resist any attempt to establish colonies in the Western Hemisphere or otherwise interfere in the affairs of the region. The doctrine further stated the intention of the United States to hold itself aloof from European affairs. The Monroe Doctrine has exerted a powerful influence on U.S. foreign policy ever since.
Monroe, Marilyn (1926–1962) Born Norma Jean Mortenson in Los Angeles, she later took her mother’s name, Baker, but became known to world by her screen name, Marilyn Monroe. She struggled in bit parts until one of these—an uncredited appearance in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)—elicited an avalanche of fan mail, and she soon climbed to top billing when studios promoted her as a “love goddess.” Monroe was more than a movie idol; she became, through some 23 movies, the central sex symbol of the 1950s and entered the pantheon of American popular culture. She died mysteriously on August 5, 1962, of an overdose of sleeping pills. The coroner’s verdict was suicide, but rumors of murder continue to circulate—including an unsubstantiated theory that she was killed at the behest of the Kennedy family (she almost certainly had a romantic affair with President John F. Kennedy and may have been involved with Robert F. Kennedy as well).
Morgan, Daniel (1736–1802) Morgan was a frontiersman who led a unit of handpicked Virginia riflemen during the revolution. A master of guerrilla warfare, he played major roles in the U.S. invasion of Canada early in the war and in the battles at Saratoga in 1777, but his most important victory was at the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina (January 17, 1781), which helped turn the tide of the war in the South.
Morgan, J. Pierpont (1837–1913) The son of a financier, J. P. Morgan made his fortune—and fortunes for others—by reorganizing a number of major railroads and consolidating United States Steel, International Harvester, and General Electric. For a long time, Morgan was the single most powerful figure on Wall Street.
Morgenthau, Henry, Jr. (1891–1967) A brilliant manager of money, Morgenthau served as secretary of the Treasury through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dozen years in office (1934–1945). During this period, which saw both the massive expenditures of the Depression-era New Deal and World War II, Morgenthau was in charge of some $370 billion in spending—three times the funds than were managed by his 50 predecessors combined. Morgenthau’s uncompromising proposal after World War II that Germany be permanently reduced to a pre-industrial agricultural economy was rejected by President Harry S. Truman and prompted Morgenthau’s resignation.
Morris, Gouverneur (1752–1816) Morris was a man of contradictions. Highly conservative (he was an extreme Federalist, who believed in the strongest possible central government, including presidential tenure for life and presidential appointment of senators), he was nevertheless a zealous champion of independence during the American Revolution and a strong advocate of unlimited religious freedom. Under the Articles of Confederation, Morris formulated the decimal coinage system that became the basis of the U.S. monetary system. A key delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he was a principal drafter of the document.
Morris, Robert (1734–1806) Born in England, Morris immigrated to Maryland in 1747 then moved to Philadelphia, where he became a prominent merchant. Active in the American Revolution as vice president of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety (1775–1776) and a delegate to the Continental Congress (1775–1778) and the Pennsylvania legislature (1778–1779, 1780–1781, 1785–1786), Morris was the primary manager of finance for the war effort from 1776 to 1778. Later, he worked as a fund raiser, requisitioning cash from the states and borrowing from the French. In 1781, he founded the Bank of North America and was superintendent of finance under the Articles of Confederation from 1781 to 1784. Ironically, his personal finances suffered toward the end of his life, and from 1799 to 1801 he was incarcerated in debtors’ prison.
Morrison, Toni (1931– ) Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Ohio and created a career in fiction by writing of the African-American experience, often from the female point of view. Her works span from slave times to the present. She burst onto the literary scene with her 1977 Song of Solomon, and her 1987 Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.
Morse, Samuel F. B. (1791–1872) Samuel Finley Breese Morse embarked on a career as a painter and received acclaim in this field, but little monetary reward. He turned to invention, and in the 1830s designed the first truly practical telegraph. He successfully commercialized the invention beginning on May 24, 1844, with a spectacular demonstration in which he sent the question “What hath God wrought?” over some 40 miles of wire from the main chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to Alfred Vail in Baltimore. Morse also invented the Morse Code (in 1838), which was for well over a century a major means of communication both by wired and wireless systems.
Moses, Grandma (1860–1961) Anna Mary Robertson Moses was popularly known as “Grandma Moses” because of her long life. She was born in rural New York and farmed there and in Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She began painting the landscapes familiar to her, partly in imitation of Currier & Ives prints, but also in a manner true to her charmingly naïve vision. A collector exhibited her work in New York City in 1939–1940, and it met with instant national acclaim. She became the most celebrated of American folk artists.
Moses, Robert (1888–1981) Moses was an urban planning commissioner of boundless ambition, who created public works that profoundly transformed the cityscape of New York and served as a model—and sometimes a cautionary example—for the nation as a whole. Moses was wholly or partly responsible for some 35 new highways, a dozen bridges, many city parks, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Shea Stadium, numerous housing projects, two hydroelectric dams, and the entire 1964 New York World’s Fair. He was also a moving force behind the construction of the United Nations headquarters buildings in New York. Widely admired, Moses was also condemned as a megalomaniacal empire builder, who did not scruple at tearing down buildings of historical importance and even entire neighborhoods.
Mott, Lucretia (1793–1880) Born Lucretia Coffin in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Mott was a liberal reformer active in the abolition movement. With Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she founded the American Equal Rights Association and other activities of the first organized women’s rights movement in the country.
Mudd, Samuel (1833–1883) Mudd was a Maryland physician and Confederate sympathizer who met John Wilkes Booth through a mutual acquaintance. After Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln and made his escape, he stopped at Mudd’s home around four o’clock in the morning on April 15 to seek the doctor’s aid in setting his leg, which he had broken when he leaped from the presidential box to the stage of Ford’s Theatre after shooting the president. Mudd was subsequently convicted of conspiracy to murder Lincoln. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he was incarcerated at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, some 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. He protested innocence of the conspiracy and claimed that he had merely aided an injured man. Mudd’s heroic medical work during a yellow fever outbreak at the fort in 1867 earned him a presidential pardon in 1869.
Muhammad, Elijah (1897–1975) Muhammad was born Elijah Poole in Georgia and took his Muslim name after he became assistant minister to Wallace D. Fard, founder of the Nation of Islam, popularly called the Black Muslims. Elijah Muhammad became head of the Muslims after Fard disappeared in 1934. Under his leadership, the Black Muslims expanded into a major black nationalist movement.
Muir, John (1838–1914) Muir was born in Scotland and immigrated to the United States in 1849. He embarked on a career as an inventor, but, after suffering an industrial accident in 1867, turned to the natural world. He wrote eloquently of the beauties of North America and of the vital importance of the wilderness, especially in modern life. He became a passionate advocate of forest conservation. A charismatic organizer, he was in large part responsible for the creation of California’s Sequoia and Yosemite national parks.
Murrow, Edward R. (1908–1965) Murrow was a radio and television broadcaster-journalist, whose radio reports of key European events preceding World War II and of World War II itself (especially the Battle of Britain) were not only broadcasting landmarks, but helped shape America’s attitude toward the Axis and the Allies. Murrow became a pioneer of television news during the infancy of the medium, inaugurating a highly respected weekly news digest called See it Now. During the early 1950s, Murrow’s television broadcasts were instrumental in exposing the reckless demagoguery of anti-Communist witch hunter Senator Joseph McCarthy and did much to bring about the end of the infamous McCarthy era. Murrow became an enduring model for journalists in the age of electronic media.
Murtha, John (1932– ) Murtha joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1952, served as a drill instructor, and was subsequently commissioned an officer. A member of the Marine Corps Reserve during the Vietnam War, Murtha volunteered to serve in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967 and was highly decorated. Elected to Congress from Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district in 1974, he earned a reputation as a populist Democrat. He came to national prominence on November 17, 2005 when he called for U.S. withdrawal from the Iraq war, which President George W. Bush had begun in 2003. Within a short time, Murtha became the most vocal and visible critic of the war in Congress.
Muybridge, Eadweard (1830–1904) Born in England, Muybridge immigrated to the United States in his youth and came to international attention in 1868 with a spectacular large-scale portfolio of photographs of Yosemite Valley, California; however, it is on his experiments with photographing motion that Muybridge’s enduring reputation rests. In 1872, financier Leland Stanford commissioned him to settle a wager by proving that, at a given moment, all four legs of a trotting horse leave the ground simultaneously. By 1877, Muybridge created an array of cameras that captured the horse’s motion. Not only did this prove Stanford correct, it was the rudimentary beginning of the art and science of photographing motion. Muybridge later invented the zoopraxiscope, a device that projected images in rapid succession, thereby producing the illusion of live movement. The device was a precursor of cinema.