Cabot, John (1450–circa 1499) Born Giovanni Caboto in Italy, Cabot sailed for England’s Henry VIII in 1497 and 1498 and discovered the Labrador coast of Newfoundland (which he mistook for China), thereby establishing the basis for the British claim to Canada.
Cabrini, Frances Xavier (1850–1917) Born in Italy, this nun founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in 1880 and sailed with them in 1889 to the United States, where she began mission work among poor Italian immigrants. She subsequently traveled throughout North America, South America, and Europe, founding 67 mission houses in addition to schools, hospitals, and orphanages. She was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1909, and was canonized on July 7, 1946.
Cage, John (1912–1992) The son of an American inventor, Cage pursued the serious study of music and included among his teachers Arnold Schoenberg and the American innovator Henry Cowell. Cage experimented with a wide variety of instruments and techniques, simultaneously expanding the musical vocabulary and paring it down to its essentials. A pioneer of aleatory music, in which chance figures prominently, Cage pushed the frontiers separating musical expression from random noise, even producing in 1952 one work, 4?33?, in which the performer sits silently before his instrument and his audience for exactly four minutes, thirty-three seconds.
Calder, Alexander (1898–1976) The son and grandson of prominent sculptors, Calder created what he called the mobile, a form of abstract kinetic sculpture, the elements of which are balanced and/or suspended, so that they move in response to wind or (in some works) an electric motor. In addition to this highly influential form, Calder produced elegant stationary sculptures (which he called stabiles) and, most delightfully, an array of imaginative wire figures, many of which he arranged into an expansive miniature circus.
Calhoun, John Caldwell (1782–1850) South Carolinian by birth, Calhoun was a congressman, secretary of war, vice president from 1825 to 1832, a senator, and secretary of state. He is best known for his defense of the doctrine of states’ rights, arguing that the U.S. Constitution was a compact among the states, which were sovereign, so that any state could nullify an act of Congress by pronouncing it unconstitutional. “Nullification” effectively protected slavery by disallowing—in the absence of a Constitutional amendment (which required ratification by two-thirds of the states to pass)—federal laws intended to curb slavery. Calhoun’s nullification doctrine also implied the right of states to secede from the Union and thereby provided a theoretical basis for the formation of the Confederacy and the start of the Civil War.
Calley, William (1943– ) On March 16, 1968, U.S. Army lieutenant William L. Calley’s platoon marched into the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai, reputedly a Viet Cong stronghold. In an atrocity recorded by U.S. Army photographers, the platoon massacred 347 unarmed civilians, including women, old men, and children. After an army cover-up was exposed by Vietnam veteran Ronald Ridenhour, several soldiers were tried by court martial, of whom only Calley was convicted on March 29, 1971. Many Americans saw My Lai as a microcosm of the Vietnam War, in which U.S. “defenders of democracy” were slaughtering the innocents; others saw Calley as a victim, thrust into a war without clear direction from policy makers. Calley was released in September 1974 after a federal court overturned his conviction.
Camp, Walter (1859–1925) Team captain (head coach) of the Yale football team, Camp introduced a host of innovations that transformed what had been essentially a form of English rugby into the modern game of American football. During the 1880s, his innovations became widely accepted, and he is generally credited as the inventor of the American form of the game.
Candler, Asa Griggs (1851–1929) Candler was an Atlanta druggist who, in 1887, bought the formula for Coca-Cola, at the time an obscure soda fountain beverage. Candler developed an improved manufacturing process and marketed Coca-Cola so skillfully that it became an enterprise of global proportions—probably the most universally recognized product of America.
Capone, Al (1899–1947) Born to Italian immigrant parents, Capone grew up in Brooklyn and, from youth, rose in New York’s criminal gangs. A razor fight in a saloon resulted in his nickname, “Scarface.” By the 1920s, Capone became organized crime boss of Chicago, which made him the most powerful and famous criminal in the United States. Despite crimes of corruption and violation of Prohibition, gambling, prostitution, and other laws—even despite gangland murders (most infamously the St. Valentine Day’s Massacre of February 14, 1929)—Capone evaded prosecution until he was finally convicted on charges of income tax evasion in 1931. He was imprisoned, but released in 1939 because of advanced syphilis.
Capra, Frank (1897–1991) Born in Italy, Capra grew up in Los Angeles and directed his first films in the early 1920s. In 1934, his It Happened One Night won an Academy Award and typified his gently satiric, slyly sentimental comic style, which presented naïve heroes who embody optimistic American “populist” values—founded on essential selflessness and decency—that invariably enable them to triumph over shrewder, more cynical opponents. Favorite Capra films include Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
Carey, Henry (1793–1879) This pioneering economist and sociologist founded the “American school” of economics, based on supremely optimistic notions of steady—indeed, unstoppable—economic progress and the possibility of productively harmonizing diverse economic interests.
Carmichael, Stokely (1941–1998) Born in Trinidad, Carmichael immigrated to the Bronx in 1952 and, while a student at Howard University, became active in the Civil Rights movement. By the mid-1960s, Carmichael was in the forefront of young African Americans who had grown impatient with the non-violent philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and espoused a more militant approach to social and racial justice he dubbed “Black Power.” During the late 1960s, he became vocal in protest against the Vietnam War and other examples of what he deemed American tyranny and repression. He moved to Guinea, West Africa, in 1969, and, after changing his name to Kwame Toure, helped found the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, dedicated to Pan-Africanism.
Carnegie, Andrew (1835–1919) Born poor in Scotland, Carnegie immigrated to the United States in 1848, went to work at 12 as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory, then became a messenger in a telegraph office two years later. He worked his way up to private secretary and personal telegrapher for the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1853. Within a very few years, he rose to superintendent of the railroad’s Pittsburgh Division. Through shrewd investment he came to control what became the Carnegie Steel Company, which he sold to United States Steel for $250,000,000 in 1901. Arguing that it was the duty of the wealthy to improve society, Carnegie used his enormous wealth to endow educational and other foundations, including a program to build and stock libraries in cities and towns across America.
Carrier, Willis H. (1876–1950) While working as an engineer for the the Buffalo Forge Company in 1902, Carrier invented a system that simultaneously controlled temperature and humidity. He explained the theory behind his system in a 1911 technical paper, “Rational Psychrometric Formulae,” which marked the birth of modern air conditioning, and his company, Carrier Corporation, founded in 1915, was the first manufacturer of the equipment. Air conditioning made it possible to work in all climates and proved essential to many precision manufacturing processes.
Carson, Kit (1809–1868) Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson was born near Richmond, Kentucky, and grew up in Missouri. At 16, he joined a Santa Fe trading caravan and from 1827 to 1842 lived in the Rockies as a fur trapper and mountain man. In 1842, he served as a military guide in Oregon and California and, during the Mexican War, was a courier. After the war, Carson settled in Taos, New Mexico, where he served from 1853 to 1861 as Indian agent to the Utes. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Carson became colonel of the First New Mexico Volunteer Cavalry and fought Confederates as well as Apaches and Navajos. Earning a national reputation as an Indian fighter, Carson was nevertheless an impassioned advocate for the rights of Native Americans.
Carson, Rachel (1907–1964) Carson’s dramatic and elegiac Silent Spring (1962) made the American public aware of the dangers of widespread pesticide use and is frequently cited as the popular manifesto that launched the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Federal legislation restricting the use of DDT and other pesticides had its origin in her book.
Carter, Jimmy (1924–) James Earl Carter, Jr. (Jimmy) Carter was a liberal Georgia politician who entered the White House in 1977, inheriting a severe economic recession from Presidents Nixon and Ford, then leading the country through an energy crisis, which included gasoline shortages. Added to the president’s problems was the Iran hostage crisis, which began on November 4, 1979, and did not end until Carter left office. Despite such foreign affairs triumphs as brokering the Camp David Accords, which brought peace between Israel and Egypt, and an array of domestic initiatives, Carter’s presidency was widely perceived as a failure, and he was not elected to a second term, losing to Ronald Reagan in a landslide vote in 1980. After leaving office, he began working on behalf of human rights and other causes. His diplomatic efforts earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002.
Carver, George Washington (1861?–1943) Born a slave, Carver worked odd jobs while he obtained two college degrees and became the director of the department of agriculture at the Tuskegee Institute in 1896. He spent the rest of his life at this pioneering African-American institution doing agricultural research, which resulted in finding new uses for the peanut (including peanut butter and a host of manufactured goods) and the soybean. By expanding southern agriculture beyond cotton, Carver’s work was a boon to white as well as black southern farmers.
Cash, Johnny (1932–2003) Cash achieved early fame as a Country and Western singer-songwriter beginning in the mid 1950s and overcame drug addiction to bring this genre to a new height with his “Man in Black” persona, which celebrated sincerity and the rebellious spirit. He and his music identified with society’s outcasts, and he loved especially to perform for prison inmates. Beginning in 1961, he often appeared in performance with his wife, the Country and Western great June Carter Cash (1929–2003), who died shortly before him.
Cassady, Neal (1926–1968) Cassady never wrote a novel or a poem, but he was a driving force behind the “Beat Generation” of writers during the 1950s and early 1960s, figuring as a principal character in the novel Go (1952) by John Clellon Holmes, considered the first work of “Beat” literature, and in the most famous Beat novel, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), as well as other works. He had been raised by an alcoholic father on Denver’s skid row and grew into a thief and con artist. He met Kerouac and the poet Alan Ginsberg in 1946 and served as the subject-catalyst for them and their circle—the embodiment of the sensitive outlaw spirit, born of America, yet apart from it. He died of exposure and acute alcoholic intoxication in Mexico in 1968.
Cassatt, Mary (1844–1926) Born in Pittsburgh, Cassatt was tutored privately in art in Philadelphia and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1861 to 1865, then studied in Europe. She became associated with the French Impressionist school and first exhibited—with great success—at the Paris Salon of 1872. Cassatt is best known for her magnificent and much-loved depictions of mothers and children.
Cather, Willa (1873–1947) Born in Virginia, Cather moved with her family at age nine to frontier Nebraska, where she imbibed the life of the immigrant settlers of the Great Plains. She graduated from the University of Nebraska and made her way as a journalist, then earned her first literary fame with stories from the Nebraska frontier, O, Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918). Her 1922 One of Ours was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Catt, Carrie Chapman (1859–1947) Successor to Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Catt was a brilliant and inspiring organizer, who mounted the culminating public campaign that finally achieved passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote in America.
Chambers, Whittaker (1901–1961) Born Jay Vivian Chambers in Philadelphia, this left-wing journalist took his mother’s maiden name, Whittaker, in the 1920s. In August 1948, he testified to a committee of Congress that State Department official Alger Hiss had been a fellow member of a Communist spy ring in Washington, D.C., during the 1930s. The accusation and the Hiss trial that followed became the focal points of an American “red scare” that persisted through the mid 1950s, brought the anti-Communist “witch hunts” of Senator Joseph McCarthy, and precipitated the rise of then-Congressman Richard M. Nixon.
Champlain, Samuel de (1567–1635) Champlain is generally acknowledged as the founder of Quebec and, in what is now the United States, explored widely in northern New York and the eastern Great Lakes. He did much to develop the French fur trade in eastern North America and generally to consolidate French holdings in the New World. New York’s Lake Champlain is named in his honor.
Channing, William Ellery (1780–1842) A Congregationalist minister, Channing founded Unitarianism, a liberal take on Christianity that advocated a rational approach to Scripture and religious belief. Linked to this was Channing’s advocacy of Transcendentalism, a philosophy whose most famous exponent was Ralph Waldo Emerson and that proposed the essential unity of all creation and the innate goodness of humankind. Channing exerted a profound influence over 19th-century American religion, philosophy, and literature.
Chanute, Octave (1832–1910) Born in Paris, Chanute was brought to the United States as a child. He was a civil engineer most of his life, but during his sixties set up a glider camp on the shore of Lake Michigan near Chicago, where he and colleagues made over 2,000 flights in gliders of Chanute’s design. Chanute and his work had a profound influence on Orville and Wilbur Wright, with whom he carried on a long correspondence.
Chaplin, Charlie (1889–1977) Chaplin was born to London music hall entertainers and made his stage debut at age five. While touring the United States with a stage company in 1913, Chaplin made his first comic short for Mack Sennett. This one-reeler was unremarkable, and Sennett asked Chaplin to come up with a more marketable film persona. The result, in 1914, was the figure of the “Little Tramp,” who was destined to become an icon of silent film comedy and even survived into the talking-picture era, culminating in the 1936 Modern Times. Most film historians consider Chaplin the greatest film comic of all time and one of the most important figures in the history of cinema.
Chase, Salmon Portland (1808–1873) Chase was a lawyer, politician, and abolitionist who served in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet as secretary of the Treasury from 1861 to 1864. He was skilled in the role of financing the war, but he also worked behind Lincoln’s back to steal the 1864 presidential nomination from him. On the death of Supreme Court chief justice Roger Taney, Lincoln disposed of Chase by nominating him to the court. He served as chief justice from 1864 to 1873, presiding with fairness over the Senate impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.
Chavez, Cesar (1927–1993) Born in Mexico, Chavez grew up as a migrant laborer in Arizona and California, becoming an organizer of oppressed migrant labor in 1958. In 1962, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which made great strides in organizing migrants to improve pay and working conditions. He was catapulted to national prominence when he led, beginning in 1965, a strike and nationwide boycott of California grapes. The boycott brought much support for the plight of the migrant and resulted in bargaining agreements with growers.
Cheney, Dick (1941– ) Cheney, a conservative Republican politician, served six terms as U.S. Representative from Wyoming and was secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush (1989–1993), overseeing the military invasion of Panama (1989) and the first Persian Gulf War (1990–1991). As vice president in the administration (2001– ) of George W. Bush, Cheney was popularly perceived as a shadow president, who wielded unprecedented decision-making power. Many saw Cheney—not Bush—as the chief architect of the “war on terror” that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the prime instigator of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Chennault, Claire L. (1890–1958) An innovative—even maverick—military aviator, Chennault retired from the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1937 and was hired by Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek as his aviation adviser. During the Sino-Japanese War (which began in 1937), Chennault organized the Chinese air force and in 1941 created the American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers, a squadron of volunteer U.S. pilots. With the most modest of resources, Chennault’s aviators, trained in combat techniques he developed, achieved an extraordinary record against the much more numerous air forces of the Japanese. With U.S. entry into World War II, the Flying Tigers were incorporated into the U.S. Army Air Forces as the China Air Task Force (later, the Fourteenth Air Force), and Chennault returned to active duty as the unit’s commander. Once again, Chennault performed tactical miracles against superior forces.
Child, Julia (1912–2004) Born Julia McWilliams, Child served in World War II as a member of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Ceylon (today, Sri Lanka), then spent six years after the war in Paris, where she attended the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school. She subsequently founded a school of her own and, in 1961, published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a runaway bestseller and enduring classic that brought French cookery into mainstream American culture. From 1962 through the mid 1990s, she was the star of several popular television cooking shows and became an international celebrity, as famous for her on-screen good-humored exuberance as for her cooking.
Child, Lydia Maria (1802–1880) Child was a pioneering abolitionist author, whose 1833 An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans contained a comprehensive history of slavery and appealed not only for abolition but for equality of education and employment for blacks. The first book of its kind, its publication created a sensation. Child continued to campaign for abolition until the end of the Civil War, after which she wrote An Appeal for the Indians (1868) and other works advocating just treatment for Native Americans. Chisholm, Shirley (1924–2005) The daughter of immigrant parents from British Guiana (now Guyana) and Barbados, Chisholm grew up in Brooklyn, where she later taught school and became active in the civil rights movement and in Democratic politics. She was elected to Congress in 1968—the first African-American woman to serve in the House—and was a powerful liberal voice in that body until her retirement in 1983. She subsequently became a lecturer and college professor.
Chomsky, Noam (1928– ) Chomsky’s 1955 work, entitled Transformational Analysis, established “transformational grammar.” This theory holds that grammar is not merely learned but grows from an innate human faculty for understanding the grammatical structures of language. During the 1960s and 1970s, Chomsky, already famed as a linguist, became known for his strident political activism, first directed against the Vietnam War and then more generally critical of American foreign policy. He is regarded as one of the most important voices of the American left.
Chopin, Kate (1851–1904) Chopin wrote about what she knew best: the colorful people in and around New Orleans in the late 1800s, but she is best remembered today for her 1899 novel The Awakening, a story about the sexual awakening of a young wife and mother, who seeks to escape stifling social convention by abandoning her husband and children. Condemned in its own time, it was rediscovered in the 1950s and is considered a precursor of modern feminist literature.
Chrysler, Walter P. (1875–1940) Chrysler’s first job was as an apprentice in a railroad machine shop; from this, he worked his way up to the presidency of the Buick Motor Company in 1916. After building Buick into the strongest unit of General Motors, Chrysler resigned to become director of the Willys-Overland Company and of Maxwell Motor Company, Inc., which he transformed into the Chrysler Corporation in 1925. For his new company, Chrysler personally designed a car with the first commercially available high-compression engine. Chrysler became the only major domestic competitor of Ford and GM.
Church, Benjamin (1639–1718) Born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Church was one of New England’s ablest military commanders and was instrumental in defeating the forces of Indian chief King Philip in King Philip’s War 1675–1676)—in proportion to population, the deadliest war in American history.
Church, Frederick (1826–1900) Church was one of the greatest of the Hudson River School painters, who specialized in magnificent panoramas. In addition to portraying great romantic American scenes (such as Niagara, 1857), Church painted in North and South America as well as Europe.
Clark, George Rogers (1752–1818) Although the battles fought on the settled East Coast are the most famous engagements of the American Revolution, most of the fighting took place in the interior, on the frontier, and Clark was one of the leading American commanders in this theater. His victories were largely responsible for Britain’s cession of the Old Northwest to the United States in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war.
Clark, Mark W. (1896–1994) After graduating from West Point in 1917, Clark served in France during World War II. His biggest assignment during World War II was as commander of the Fifth Army, the principal force fighting the Italian Campaign, which proved far more costly than anticipated. British prime minister Winston Churchill called Clark the “American Eagle.”
Clark, William (1770–1838) Younger brother of American Revolution hero George Rogers Clark, William Clark served in the U.S. Army before he was handpicked by Meriwether Lewis in 1803 as co-captain of the expedition to explore the Far West. He proved a magnificent choice.
Clay, Henry (1777–1852) Clay was born in Virginia, but lived most of his life in Kentucky, which sent him to the House of Representative (1811–1814, 1815–1821, 1823–1825) and the Senate (1806–1807, 1810–1811, 1831–1842, 1849–1852). In a struggle to find a compromise on the slavery issue and thereby avoid civil war, Clay became the chief promoter of the Missouri Compromise (1820), the compromise tariff of 1833 (which ended the Nullification crisis that threatened secession), and the Compromise of 1850, another effort to reconcile the claimed rights of free and slave states.
Cleveland, Grover (1837–1908) The only president to serve two discontinuous terms (1885–1889 and 1893–1897), Cleveland is remembered as that rarest of commodities of the so-called “Gilded Age”: an honest politician. He approached the presidency as a genuine conservative, believing that the chief executive’s function was mainly to check the excesses of the legislative branch. He won a majority of popular votes for reelection, but came in second to Republican Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College.
Clinton, Bill (1946– ) Clinton grew up poor in Arkansas but went on to become a Rhodes Scholar. As a young man, he deeply admired John F. Kennedy and resolved to embark on a life of public service. He served five two-year terms as Arkansas governor, then survived a sex scandal to win election as president in 1992. Through two terms, this moderate, centrist, and business-friendly Democrat presided over the nation’s longest peacetime economic expansion. In 1998, however, a new sex scandal—a liaison with White House intern Monica Lewinsky followed by the president’s efforts to cover it up—resulted in his impeachment by a Republican-controlled Congress. Voting along party lines, the Senate failed to obtain the two-thirds majority necessary for removal from office, and Clinton was acquitted in 1999.
Clinton, DeWitt (1769–1828) As a New York state legislator, Clinton promoted the construction of a canal across New York State to link the Northeast coastal trade with the Great Lakes via Lake Erie. He won legislative approval in 1816 to finance the canal, and his election as governor in 1817 ensured that he would be able to oversee the enormous project personally. The opening of the canal on October 25, 1825, made New York City a key trading port with the Midwest and opened the American frontier to eastern commerce.
Clinton, Hillary Rodham (1947– ) Hillary Rodham was an attorney and advocate of children’s rights, who, in 1975, married Bill Clinton, three years before he was elected governor of Arkansas. Hillary Clinton was active in children’s rights during her husband’s gubernatorial tenure, and she played a major strategy and public role in his 1992 campaign for the presidency. She was an active first lady, heading up the Task Force on National Health Care and working on other initiatives. Opinions about her tended to break down along party lines and she was often vilified by members of the conservative press. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked the Clinton presidency, she remained firmly behind her husband. In 2000, Hillary Clinton was elected junior senator from New York and, as of 2007, is thought to be one of the leading contenders for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in 2008.
Cobb, Ty (1886–1961) A Georgia native, Tyrus Raymond Cobb was dubbed the “Georgia Peach.” During 24 seasons in the American Baseball League, he scored of 2,245 runs (surpassed in 2001 by Rickey Henderson), stole 892 bases (surpassed in 1979 by Lou Brock), and achieved a lifetime batting average of .366 (unsurpassed as of 2007). A great ball player, Cobb was a miserable human being, outspoken in his racism and misogyny and often given to violence.
Cochise (d. 1874) Cochise was widely admired by the Chiricahua band of the Apaches, which he led in a fierce resistance against the incursions of white settlers in the Southwest during the 1860s. Feared and respected by all, he was given the posthumous honor of having an Arizona county named for him.
Cody, Buffalo Bill (1846–1917) William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was a buffalo hunter, an army scout, and an Indian fighter, but he earned international renown for his Wild West Show (officially called Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World), which debuted in 1883. The show dramatized the American West and made an enduring contribution to the image of the West in American history and mythology.
Cohan, George M. (1878–1942) Cohan was born into a vaudeville family, with whom he performed from an early age. Before the end of the 19th century, he was writing vaudeville skits and debuted his first full-length play in 1901. A pioneer of the American musical theater, Cohan had an unbroken string of hits from 1901 (The Governor’s Son) to 1937 (I’d Rather Be Right). Of his many songs, the most famous include “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Mary’s a Grand Old Name,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” His “Over There,” occasioned by U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, earned Cohan a Congressional medal in 1940.
Cohn, Roy (1927–1986) A New York prosecutor, Cohn came to prominence in helping to prosecute the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (1951) and as counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate committee investigating reputed Communist infiltration of the U.S. government. A ruthless opportunist, Cohn wielded significant power for a time, but was almost universally disdained.
Cole, Thomas (1801–1848) Cole was born in England and immigrated to Philadelphia, then settled in 1826 in Catskill, New York, on the Hudson River. This became his base for many painting trips along the Hudson River and its valley. His romantic sensibility created large canvases that evoke the mystery of the American forestland, and his example inspired a number of followers, who were the first great American landscape painters.
Colfax, Schuyler (1823–1885) Colfax was an Indiana newspaper publisher who became a Republican congressman and was in the forefront of Radical Reconstruction after the Civil War, favoring harsh treatment of the former Confederacy. He served as vice president during the first term (1869–1873) of Ulysses S. Grant, but in 1872 (while still sitting as vice president) was implicated in the massive Crédit Mobilier scandal, involving the financing of the transcontinental (Union Pacific-Central Pacific) railroad. Although never prosecuted, Colfax became a symbol of corruption during the era popularly known as “The Gilded Age.”
Colt, Samuel (1814–1862) Colt was serving as a sailor when, to pass the time, he whittled a wooden model of handgun he later perfected as a revolver. His first practical design was patented in England and France in 1835 and in the United States in 1836. The new design was slow to catch on, and Colt’s first factory failed in 1842, but after the U.S. government ordered 1,000 of the weapons for use in the U.S.-Mexican War, Colt reestablished his business and became the manufacturer of the most famous handgun in America—the “gun that tamed the West.”
Colter, John (circa 1775–1813) Colter was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803–1806) and joined Manuel Lisa’s fur trading enterprise in 1807, traveling into the region of present-day Yellowstone National Park in search of fur. He was the first white man to see and describe the area. Colter was celebrated for his hair’s-breadth escapes from Indian captivity and combat.
Coltrane, John (1926–1967) As a saxophonist, bandleader, and composer, Coltrane was highly influential on jazz, creating spiritually charged and musically adventurous improvisatory solos of unprecedented length and complexity. More than any musician before him, Coltrane introduced free improvisation into American jazz.
Columbus, Christopher (1451–1506) The Italian-born Columbus was already an experienced mariner when he managed to persuade King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain to fund his first voyage in 1492. His plan was to sail west to reach spice- and gold-rich Asia; instead, in one of the most famous mistakes in history, he encountered North America. Although the Viking Leif Eriksson had discovered the continent some 500 years earlier, Columbus’ four voyages were the first to excite among Europeans a desire to explore, settle, and exploit the New World. For this reason, Columbus is traditionally credited with the “discovery” of America.
Coolidge, Calvin (1872–1933) A taciturn New Englander, Coolidge was not the typical outgoing American politician. He served in Massachusetts politics, becoming governor in 1918. His hard line against striking Boston police officers (“There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”) gained him national prominence and selection as Warren G. Harding’s running mate in the presidential elections of 1920. When Harding died in office in 1923, Coolidge stepped in and did much to clean out the corruption that had characterized that administration and rebuilt American confidence in the presidency. Despite his tight-lipped approach—“Silent Cal,” he was called—Coolidge won election in his own right in 1924.
Cooper, James Fenimore (1789–1851) The scion of a prominent upstate New York family, Cooper is reputed to have become a novelist at his wife’s urging. He had complained about a British novel he had just read, claiming that he could do better. Susan De Lancy Cooper dared him to do just that, and he wrote Precaution (1820), largely in imitation of Jane Austen. He found his life’s subject in a series of five novels—collectively called the Leatherstocking Tales—that featured a frontier guide and scout named Natty Bumppo. In The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Prairie (1827), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841), Bumppo emerged as an archetypal man of the frontier, a character of mythic proportions.
Cooper, Peter (1791–1883) In 1830, Cooper built the locomotive “Tom Thumb” for the fledgling Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. An engine capable of pulling passengers and freight over the railway’s hilly route, the Tom Thumb enabled the commercial success of the B&O and launched the American railroad industry. Cooper went on to contribute to other manufacturing enterprises, including the production of the world’s first structural steel beams. Grown wealthy, he used much of his fortune to create in 1859 New York’s Cooper Union, which offered free courses in science, engineering, and art. The institution continues to thrive today.
Copland, Aaron (1900–1990) Copland grew up in Brooklyn, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. By the age of 15 he decided to become a composer and in 1921 studied with the famed teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris. His early avant-garde, abstract style matured into a vigorously American expression, replete with elements of jazz, folk songs, and spirituals, but also uniquely modernist. For such works as the ballets Billy the Kid (1938) and Appalachian Spring (1944)—among many others—he gained enduring recognition as a representative American classical composer.
Copley, John Singleton (1738–1815) Copley was born in Boston and created his early portraits there, including Boy with Squirrel (1766), which was praised by the great British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and thus became the first work of American art to be publicly appreciated in Europe. With opportunities limited in America, Copley settled permanently in London in 1775 and turned his attention to painting historical subjects.
Corbett, Boston (1832–1894?) Corbett immigrated to New York with his family in 1839 and became a hatter in Troy, New York. Like many in that trade (who were exposed to high levels of mercury), he suffered symptoms of mental illness, became a religious zealot, wore his hair long in imitation of Jesus, and (in 1858) castrated himself with scissors in order to avoid the temptations of prostitutes. He joined the Union Army in the Civil War and, on April 24, 1865, was one of 26 cavalrymen pursuing John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Corbett and the others ran Booth to ground on April 26 in a Virginia tobacco barn. The soldiers set the barn on fire to smoke Booth out, but when Corbett saw Booth silhouetted by the flames, he shot him with a Colt revolver. Paralyzed, Booth died within hours. Corbett was arrested for disobeying orders, but the charges were dropped by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Corbett was awarded $1,653.84 as his share of the bounty on Booth. Corbett died in obscurity, having suffered from mental illness for the rest of his life.
Corey, Giles (1612–1692) Accused during the infamous Salem witch trials of wizardry, Corey defiantly refused to enter a plea. English common law required a plea before a trial could proceed; to obtain the plea, the law prescribed pressing with weights until it was obtained. Corey, 80 years old at the time of his accusation, endured two days during which more and more rocks were laid on him. Reputedly, he refused to speak, except for his final words: “More weight.” Because he was not tried, his estate passed to his heirs and was not confiscated by Massachusetts. He figures as an early American example of refusal to yield to injustice. Coronado, Francisco (1510–1554) Coronado was a Spanish conquistador who explored the American Southwest in search of the fabled seven cities of gold. These he did not find, but he explored the vast magnificence of the American Southwest and was the first European to behold the Palo Duro Canyon of Texas and the Grand Canyon of Arizona.
Costello, Frank (1891–1973) Costello was four years old when his family emigrated from Italy and settled in New York. He became a gang member and, during Prohibition, engaged in bootlegging and gambling in New York, Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere. He moved up the syndicate ladder during the 1930s and, after World War II, was instrumental in financing the newly developing Las Vegas casino industry. During this period, he moved freely among New York politicians and legitimate businessmen, whom he variously corrupted. Costello was targeted by Senator Estes Kefauver’s organized crime committee in the early 1950s and was convicted first of contempt of Congress and then of income tax evasion. While out on bail in 1957, a rival crime boss shot him, he recovered, served out his sentence, but never regained his power in organized crime.
Coughlin, Charles (1891–1971) Born in Canada, Coughlin was ordained a Catholic priest in Detroit and began in 1930 experimenting with radio-broadcast sermons and religious lessons for children. His popularity exploded, and he became the first electronic-media evangelist; however, his shows became increasingly political. At first he attacked President Herbert Hoover and supported Franklin D. Roosevelt, but then turned on Roosevelt with diatribes protesting the New Deal, warning against Communism, and railing against the influence of Jews in government and business. His magazine, Social Justice, was banned for violating the Espionage Act and closed down in 1942, the same year that Church authorities ordered him to stop broadcasting.
Cox, Archibald (1912–2004) A distinguished American jurist, solicitor general in the Kennedy administration, and law professor, Cox accepted appointment in May 1973 as the first special prosecutor assigned to investigate the Watergate affair. When Cox pressed to obtain Richard M. Nixon’s secret tapes of White House conversations, the president ordered Cox to be fired. Attorney General Eliott Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, both resigned rather than obey the order, which was carried out by Solictor General Robert Bork on October 20, 1973, in the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre.” Cox responded with simple dignity: “Whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide.”
Cox, Ida (1896–1967) Georgia native Cox sang in the choir of the African Methodist Church in Cedartown before she left home to tour with traveling minstrel shows. In the 1920s, she began making “race records” (recordings by black performers, mostly marketed to a black audience) that helped inaugurate the era of classic female blues. She was a sensation among black and white audiences alike and was billed on tours as the “Sepia Mae West.”
Coxey, Jacob (1854–1951) A socialist politician from Ohio, Coxey is best remembered as the leader of what was popularly called Coxey’s Army. In 1894 and again in 1914, he marched at the head of bands of unemployed men from his hometown of Massillon, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., to demand that Congress vote for funds to create jobs for the unemployed. Coxey’s two “armies” were never large, and he was widely ridiculed in his own time, but the idea of creating public works jobs for the unemployed became a cornerstone of FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Crane, Hart (1899–1932) This poet created rich, visionary lyrics that portrayed and even celebrated life in industrial America. His most ambitious work, The Bridge (1930), used the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge as a central image on which to build an epic myth of the American experience. The result was one of the greatest American poems since Walt Whitman’s 19th-century masterpiece, Song of Myself.
Crane, Stephen (1871–1900) In his short life, Crane worked as a newspaper reporter while creating a new, lean realistic style of fiction, culminating in his masterpiece, The Red Badge of Courage (1895), a depiction of the Civil War so authentic that most readers thought it autobiographical. Crane inspired a generation of American realistic novelists, including Ernest Hemingway.
Crazy Horse (1842?–1877) One of the great Native American military leaders, this Oglala Sioux chief led the militant resistance to white settlement of Indian lands on the Great Plains. He is most famous for his victory over George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, in which Custer and his entire command fell. After years of fighting, Crazy Horse surrendered to General Crook in Nebraska on May 6, 1877. He was subsequently killed in a scuffle with his soldier-jailers.
Creel, George (1876–1953) Creel was a crusading journalist who, when the United States entered World War I in 1917, created for the administration of Woodrow Wilson the Committee on Public Information and fashioned it into a powerful propaganda machine, which made use of traditional and emerging media to shape American public opinion in favor of the war. Unprecedented, Creel’s efforts were a model for government propaganda and for the emerging American public relations industry.
Creeley, Robert (1926–2005) Creeley dropped out of Harvard University in his senior year, worked in India and Burma, lived variously abroad, and began writing poetry. In 1955, Creeley received a B.A. from the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, joined the faculty, and edited the Black Mountain Review, which became the leading venue for some of the most innovative American poetry and prose of the intellectually fertile 1950s.
Crèvecoeur, Hector St. John de (1735–1813) Born Michel-Guillaume-Saint-Jean de Crèvecoeur in France, Crèvecoeur served as a military officer and mapmaker in Canada, then traveled widely in the Ohio and Great Lakes region and became an American citizen in 1765. Caught up in the American Revolution—spurned by Patriots and Loyalists alike—he returned to Europe in 1780. Two years later, in London, using his American name, J. Hector St. John, he published Letters from an American Farmer, an optimistic vision of the young American democracy, which became an international bestseller and is still considered one of the best analyses of the American character ever written.
Crittenden, John J. (1787–1863) After Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, Crittenden desperately sought a compromise that would avert civil war by proposing a set of resolutions collectively called the Crittenden Compromise, which would have protected slavery but prohibited its spread beyond the current slave territories. This last-ditch effort to prevent the war failed, after which Crittenden worked successfully to save his state of Kentucky for the Union. One of his sons became a major general in the Union Army, while another served at the same rank in the army of the Confederacy.
Crockett, Davy (1786–1836) With a sparse education that amounted to no more than three months’ tutoring from a backwoods neighbor, Tennessean Crockett fought in the Creek War during 1813–1815, earning a reputation as a fearless Indian fighter, which helped to propel him in 1821 to the Tennessee legislature. There he fashioned his popular political persona and, in fact, showed great flair for spinning out amusing tales and homely metaphors, which found their way into a highly profitable series of almanacs and an 1834 Autobiography. Crockett served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, but after his defeat in 1835 he bade farewell to Washington—“You can all go to hell. I’m going to Texas”—and was among the Alamo defenders slain by Santa Anna on March 6, 1836.
Cullen, Countee (1903–1946) Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Cullen grew up in New York’s Harlem, where he won a citywide poetry competition then went on to New York University (B.A., 1925), winning there the prestigious Witter Bynner Poetry Prize. He was soon published by all of the important literary magazines, and his first collection of verse, Color, appeared in 1925, before he finished college. was one of the most active writers of the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and artistic movement in this predominantly black neighborhood during the 1920s that for the first time brought the work of African-American writers, artists, and musicians to broad American audience.
Cunningham, Merce (1919– ) Cunningham began to study dance from age 12 and joined Martha Graham’s dance troupe in 1939. He began choreographing for her in the 1940s and pushed the limits of modern choreography by developing dances of pure movement, removed from programmatic or narrative implications. From this, he went on to create “choreography by chance,” in which dances were created from a vocabulary of movements, which were assigned sequence random methods, including the toss of a coin. Cunningham founded his own dance company in 1952.
Currier, Nathaniel, and James M. Ives (1813–1888 and 1824-1895) Currier was a New York lithographer, who hired Ives as a bookkeeper in 1852 and made him a partner in 1857. As the firm of Currier & Ives, the pair produced the most popular lithographs of the 19th century. In an era before journalistic photography, film, and television, they satisfied the public appetite for visual depictions of important current events, and they also supplied images of famous people (both current and historical) and scenes of Americana and humor. Their company, run by their sons, endured until 1907, when other technologies made their prints obsolete. Today, the enormous volume of Currier & Ives images provides a unique window on 19th-century America.
Custer, George A. (1839–1876) Custer graduated from the West Point in 1861 at the bottom of his class, but distinguished himself in Civil War combat so spectacularly that, at 23 he became brigadier general of volunteers—the youngest general officer in the army. During the war, he acquired a reputation for recklessness; nevertheless, he was dashing and aggressive, pursuing Robert E. Lee so relentlessly at the end of the war that he surely hastened the Confederate’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. After the war, Custer served in the West, fighting Indians. His career and his life came to an end on June 25, 1876, at the Little Bighorn River, Montana Territory, when, anxious to attack a band of Sioux, he failed to make reconnaissance and fell into a brilliantly executed ambush. He and some 200 men were overwhelmed and killed.
Czolgosz, Leon (1873–1901) The son of Polish immigrants, Czolgosz worked for the American Steel and Wire Company, was fired for striking, and became a confirmed anarchist. On August 31, 1901, he moved from Ohio to Buffalo, New York, rented a room near the site of the Pan-American Exposition, which he knew that President McKinley was scheduled to visit. On September 6, armed with a pistol that he had concealed in a handkerchief, Czolgosz went to the exposition, assumed a place in a line of McKinley well-wishers, and shot the president twice at point-blank range at 4:07 p.m. McKinley died on September 14.