Historic, but not famous

George Downing, abolitionist and activist

George T. Downing (1819-1903) was an abolitionist and activist for African-American civil rights. From the 1830s until the end of slavery, Downing was active in the abolitionist movement and in the Underground Railroad, with his restaurant serving as a rest house. During the American Civil War, Downing helped recruit African American soldiers.

Downing’s grandparents were former slaves. He attended one of the first free African schools in New York City and went on to Hamilton College. In 1842, Downing started a catering business in Manhattan. His work brought him in touch with many of the elites of the city, including the Astors and Kennedys. In 1850, he moved to Providence, Rhode Island, continuing to work in Newport during the summer. In 1854 he built the Sea Girt Hotel, which was burnt to the ground on December 15, 1860, by an arsonist. He replaced the building with Downing Block, part of which he rented to the Government to serve as a Naval Academy hospital.

Downing was an important leader in abolitionism in New York. He was active in the organization of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and together with Frederick Douglass and Alexander Crumell. Downing was central in the movement for African American civil rights during the Civil War. He was also president of the Convention of Colored Citizens in Boston on August 1, 1859. He played a role in Reconstruction politics as well pushing for the support of blacks against violence and repression in the south.


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Historic, but not famous

Jonathan H. Green, inventor, writer, reformer

Jonathan Harrington Green (1813–1887) was an American gambler, inventor, writer and later reformer of illegal gambling. In his youth, he was a skilled card player who left gambling in 1842, he became an active crusader against illegal gambling. He was responsible for enacting anti-gambling laws in several states.

Green was born in Ohio, but traveled the country, including Mississippi river boats, gambling in his younger days. After leaving gambling, he became a general executive agent of the New York Association for the Suppression of Gambling and, between 1850–51, conducted an exhaustive investigation on illegal gambling operations in New York City. He presented his findings astonishing report on the existence of around 6,000 gambling houses, 200 of these being high-class establishments, as well as several thousand raffling, lottery and policy houses.

He published his memoirs on his gambling days while living in NYC, but moved to Indiana during the Civil War became a captain in the Union Army. He was later employed by the US Secret Service. An amateur inventor, he took out 20 to 30 patents during his lifetime.

He retired to Philadelphia after the war where he lived a quiet life with his wife and became destitute, having to ask for funds to bury her.

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Historic, but not famous

Franz Sigel, military commander

Franz Sigel (November 18, 1824 – August 21, 1902) was a military officer, revolutionist and German immigrant to the United States who was a teacher, newspaperman, politician, and served as a Union major general in the Civil War. He was able recruit German-speaking immigrants to the Union armies, greatly appreciated by President Abraham Lincoln.

Sigel served in the German military for many years, he became Secretary of War and commander-in-chief of the revolutionary republican government of Baden and was wounded during battle. He immigrated to New York in 1852 along with many others from his corp.

He taught in the New York Public schools, but eventually moved to St. Louis to teach. In 1857, he became a professor at the German-American Institute in St. Louis. He was elected director of the St. Louis public schools in 1860. He was influential in the Missouri immigrant community. He attracted Germans to the Union and antislavery causes when he openly supported them in 1861.

At the end of his service in the Civil War, he turned to writing and wrote for the Baltimore Wrecker newspaper before returning to NYC to serve as an editor. He also served in many political positions in New York State as well as giving lectures, working in advertising and publishing the New York Monthly, a German-American periodical, for some years.

In NYC, you can find a statue of Mr. Sigel in Riverside Park near 106th street, a street in Williamsburg Brooklyn named for him, and Sigel Park in The Bronx.

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Historic, but not famous

Eliphalet Williams Bliss, manufacturer, inventor

By E. W. Bliss Co. - http://vintagemachinery.org/mfgindex/imagedetail.aspx?id=4302, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26396971Eliphalet Williams Bliss (April 12, 1836 – July 21, 1903) was a manufacturer and inventor who established the E. W. Bliss Company of Brooklyn. His company supplied the US Navy with Whitehead and Bliss-Leavitt torpedoes, as well as projectiles for its naval guns during the Spanish–American War, World War I and World War II. He was born in NY and attended public school. Eventually he moved to Connecticut to work at a gun factory.

After fighting in the Civil War, he married and moved back to Brooklyn where he worked for a printing company. In 1867, Bliss founded the machine shops which would become the E. W. Bliss Company. Bliss had many patents, many his own inventions; machines for manufacturing and soldering metal cans and for shaping and casting sheet metal. Bliss’ company also supplied part of the material used in building the Brooklyn Bridge.

When Bliss died, the E. W. Bliss Company’s plant covered eighty-five city lots and employed 1,300 men; in 1884, it was the largest factory in the world.

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