Business Leaders

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Entry Category: Business Leaders

Adler, Simon

Simon Adler, born in Bavaria in 1832 (according to his tombstone), was one of the first Jewish immigrants to settle in Batesville (Independence County). He established a successful business career, operating a general merchandise store, working as a real estate speculator and agent, and serving as a cotton broker, as well as founding his own bank. He was a popular and respected man, for census records show that he had at least a dozen namesakes during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Simon Adler, along with three of his brothers, moved to Batesville to join yet another brother, Israel Adler, who had formed a business partnership in a general store with French immigrants Aaron and Samuel Hirsch. Simon Adler’s …

Alderson, Edwin Boyd Jr.

Edwin Alderson Jr. became a prominent lawyer, jurist, and businessman in Arkansas in the late twentieth century. A lifelong booster of his hometown of El Dorado (Union County), he was also an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Edwin Boyd Alderson Jr. was born on May 16, 1940, to Edwin Boyd Alderson and Jewell Sample Murphy Alderson. The couple’s oldest son, he was a sixth-generation resident of Union County. After graduating from El Dorado High School in 1958, Alderson earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1962. He did postgraduate study in philosophy for a year at the University of Georgia before moving to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where …

Alley, Gerald Byron

Gerald Byron Alley is the founder of Con-Real, LP, which is the leading black-owned construction and real estate firm in Texas, with other offices located in Arkansas and California. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013. Gerald Alley was born in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) on September 30, 1952. He was the youngest of five children of Troy Alley, a local businessman who started the Alley ESSO Service Station, and Gladys Gray Alley, an educator who had taught at Philander Smith College before marriage. After attending local public and private schools, and working in his father’s station, Alley enrolled in the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) at the age of sixteen, majoring …

Andrews, Glen

Glen Daniel Andrews Sr. is considered one of the all-time great professional bass anglers. Bobby Murray, two-time Bassmaster Classic champion, describes him as “the first true professional bass angler.” He mentored such fishing greats as Bill Dance, Billy and Bobby Murray, Ray Scott, and Jerry McKinnis. In addition, Andrews manufactured lures, promoted tournaments, wrote a syndicated outdoor column for the Springdale News called “Anglers World,” and wrote Techniques of Bass Fishing, a manual he used to teach fishing classes across Arkansas and throughout the Midwest. Andrews was inducted into Garry Mason’s Legends of the Outdoors National Hall of Fame in 2010. Glen Andrews was born on May 31, 1931, the third of seven children, to Earl and Ruth Andrews on …

Arnold, Mary Ann Ritter

Mary Ann Ritter Arnold became president of E. Ritter & Company, one of the most successful family-owned businesses in the state, in 1976. The company, established in the early twentieth century by Arnold’s great-grandfather Ernest Herman Ritter Jr. and based in Marked Tree (Poinsett County), distributes agricultural supplies and telecommunication services throughout northeast Arkansas and north-central Arkansas; it also includes farming and cotton-ginning operations. Arnold became the first female mayor of Marked Tree, was inducted into the Arkansas Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1998, and was an inaugural inductee into the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015. The only daughter of Louis V. Ritter Sr. and Betty Hart Ritter, Mary Ann Ritter was born on April 25, 1927, in …

Ashley, Chester

Chester Ashley was prominent in territorial and antebellum Arkansas. He was involved in the dispute over ownership of the site of Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Bowie land claims, and the ill-fated State and Real Estate Banks, as well as being the pre-eminent appellate attorney of the period. He was a member of the powerful Conway-Sevier-Johnson political faction, which controlled state politics until the Civil War. In addition, he was the third Arkansan elected to the U.S. Senate and was probably the wealthiest Arkansan for much of his life because of his land holdings. Chester Ashley was born on June 1, 1791, in Amherst, Massachusetts, to William Ashley and Nancy Pomeroy. Some sources list his birth year as 1790, but …

Bailey, O. C.

aka: Olin Cavanaugh Bailey
Olin Cavanaugh Bailey of El Dorado (Union County) was a leader in the Arkansas oil industry and served as the first chairman of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission. Both Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) and Hendrix College have buildings named in Bailey’s honor. O. C. Bailey was born in Blevins (Hempstead County) on July 28, 1894, the second child of Gentry Ethridge, a farmer from Haynesville, Louisiana, and Sarah Margaret Stephens Bailey, a housewife from Wallaceburg (Hempstead County). Bailey graduated from Ouachita College (now Ouachita Baptist University) with a BA in 1914. Bailey married Leila St. Clair Lide of Camden (Ouachita County) on September 12, 1917. The couple had no children. On October 18, 1918, Bailey joined the United States …

Barkman, Jacob

Jacob Barkman is known as the father of Clark County. An early settler along the Caddo River, Barkman eventually became a prominent landowner and planter. Jacob Barkman was born on December 20, 1784, in Kentucky. Little is known of his early life, but, by 1811, Barkman had married Rebecca Davis. Eventually, the couple had two sons and a daughter. Wishing to move west, the family joined Barkman’s brother John, John’s wife, and their several slaves at Bayou Sara in Louisiana in 1811. Joining another group organized by John Hemphill, the party moved up the Ouachita River. The Barkmans settled along the Caddo River, just a few miles from its merger with the Ouachita. This location was a few miles to …

Bartell, Fred Wallace

Frederick Wallace Bartell was a Siloam Springs (Benton County) merchant, church leader, and Circuit Chautauqua manager. He organized Associated Chautauquas, which was among the first “tent” or “traveling” Chautauqua circuits. Fred W. Bartell was born in Milford, Kansas, on October 12, 1872, to immigrant parents. His father, Edward Charles Bartell, was from Germany; his mother, Louesa (or Louise), Edward’s second wife, was from France. He was the fourth of their five children. There also were six children from Edward’s first marriage to Catharine Branscom, who died in 1860. Louesa died in 1878. Edward Bartell and other family members migrated to Siloam Springs sometime before May 1892, when Fred Bartell arrived. Bartell said of his arrival, “I came with the flood,” …

Bartlett, E. M.

aka: Eugene Monroe Bartlett Sr.
With the exception of his protégé, Albert E. Brumley, no other Arkansas figure contributed more to the development of the Southern gospel music genre than singer, songwriter, and publisher Eugene Monroe Bartlett Sr. E. M. Bartlett was born on December 24, 1883, in the small community of Waynesville, Missouri, according to Barlett’s World War I draft card, though historians have variously placed his year of birth in 1884 and 1885. He and his parents eventually relocated to Sebastian County, Arkansas. Educated at the Hall-Moody Institute in Martin, Tennessee, and William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, Bartlett received training as a music teacher. In 1917, Bartlett married Joan Tatum; they had two children. As an aspiring songwriter, Bartlett became an employee …

Barton, Thomas Harry

Colonel Thomas H. Barton, a pioneer El Dorado (Union County) oilman and philanthropist, launched his small Lion Oil Company into a major oil company that included exploration, production, marketing, distribution, refining, and research programs. Barton was born in Marlin, Texas, on September 20, 1881. His father, Thomas Killebrew Barton, was a merchant and farmer in Falls County. At age sixteen, he entered Texas A&M College, but limited funds forced him to leave school early in his second year. He entered the U.S. Army in 1901 and was discharged in 1904 with the rank of corporal. From 1905 to 1917, he worked in a variety of occupations that included banking and lumber in Dallas County. In 1906, he was commissioned with …

Baucum, George Franklin

George F. Baucum was a Confederate officer and a Little Rock (Pulaski County) businessman. He served in many major battles of the Civil War’s western theater, including at Murfreesboro in Tennessee and Chickamauga and Atlanta in Georgia. After the war, he became a prominent grocer, cotton broker, and banker who owned plantations in central Arkansas. George Franklin Baucum was born on February 1, 1837, in St. Charles, Missouri. He was the son of Daniel Baucum and Kathryn Baucum, both of whom were natives of Mississippi. The family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1851. Two years later, the Baucums settled in Searcy (White County). At the outbreak of the Civil War, Baucum was working as a grocer in Searcy. He joined …

Beebe, Roswell

Roswell Beebe was the first benefactor of the city of Little Rock (Pulaski County); the town of Beebe (White County) was named after him. In the late 1840s and the 1850s, he was one of the most important businessmen and politicians in Little Rock. He donated several pieces of land to the city. Roswell Beebe was born on December 22, 1795, in Hinsdale, New York, to a wealthy English family. When he was seventeen, he talked his father into letting him go to New Orleans, Louisiana. He was behind the cotton bales with Andrew Jackson when the United States turned back the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Roswell was successful in several businesses. The 1832 New …

Bennett, Alvin Silas (Al)

Alvin Silas (Al) Bennett was a recording industry executive best known for his tenure as president and director of Liberty Records from 1958 to 1968. Known as a “music business wizard,” Bennett is largely credited with the transformation of Liberty Records from a struggling start-up operation to a dominant force in the recording trade. “Alvin” of Alvin and the Chipmunks was named after Bennett. Al Bennett was born in Joiner (Mississippi County) on September 21, 1926, to the farming family of Silas S. Bennett and Jessie Starling Bennett. The oldest of four children, he spent his early years working on the farm while attending Shawnee School, graduating in 1943. Bennett enlisted in the U.S. Army on November 5, 1945, for …

Bertig, Adolph

Adolph Bertig, a Jewish immigrant, was one of the leading merchants and financiers in northeastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was later known as the “Merchant Prince of Paragould.” Ad Bertig was born on June 21, 1853, in Kraków, Galicia, part of what was then the Austrian Empire. He was the eldest son of Wolff Jozef Bertig and Maryem Cortel Bertig. Bertig was nineteen when he immigrated alone to the United States in 1872, arriving first in New York, then migrating west to Little Rock (Pulaski County). While in Little Rock, he gained employment from one of the town’s most prominent businessmen, Colonel John G. Fletcher, who sent Bertig peddling goods to …

Blackburn, Sylvanus

Sylvanus Walker Blackburn is noted for building the first gristmill in Benton County, locating his mill on War Eagle River. After selecting a site, Blackburn built a home, followed by a gristmill, blacksmith shop, carpentry shop, sawmill, and school. Today, Blackburn’s two-story home still stands, while a 1973 reproduction of the mill sits on its original spot. War Eagle Mill is Arkansas’s only remaining working mill and is believed to be the only undershot waterwheel now in operation in the United States. This is also the site of the well-known annual Ozark Arts and Crafts Fair, generally known as the War Eagle Fair, established in 1954 and held in October. Born on February 15, 1809, Sylvanus Blackburn was the son …

Blass, Gustave (Gus)

Gus Blass was a Jewish immigrant who settled in Arkansas and became one of the state’s most successful merchants, establishing what became the largest department store in Arkansas, the Gus Blass Company. Gustave (Gus) Blass was born on February 15, 1849, in Obornik, Germany, a small town north of Poznan, which is now part of Poland. At the age of sixteen, he boarded a ship bound for New York, identifying himself on the ship’s manifest as a merchant. After a short stint in Memphis, Tennessee, he made his way to Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he founded the Gus Blass Dry Goods Company in 1871. The following year, Blass married Bertha Katzenstein, who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. They had …

Block, Abraham

aka: Abraham Bloch
Abraham Block was the patriarch of the first documented Jewish family to immigrate to the state of Arkansas. After a period as a businessman in Virginia, Block moved his family to southwest Arkansas in search of new economic opportunities. Along with his sons, he created a regional merchant empire with businesses in Washington (Hempstead County), Fulton (Hempstead County), and Paraclifta (Sevier County) in Arkansas, as well as in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at several stops along the railroad in Texas from Houston to Dallas. The family home in Washington has been restored and is currently a house museum in Historic Washington State Park. Abraham Block (or Bloch) was born on January 30, 1780, or 1781, in Schwihau, Bohemia. The names …

Bond, Scott Winfield

Scott Winfield Bond was a successful landowner, farmer, and businessman at a time when the total number of African-American farm owners and their average acreage declined both in the state and in the nation. He was among wealthy Arkansans in the period before the New Deal. Scott W. Bond was born enslaved in Livingston, Mississippi, near Canton. His mother, Ann Bond, was enslaved as a domestic. His mother married fellow slave William Bond when Scott was eighteen months old. On the eve of the Civil War, the white Maben-Bond family moved their enslaved property from Mississippi to Fayette County, Tennessee, and finally to Cross County, Arkansas. Bond’s mother died during the Civil War, and Bond moved with his stepfather to …

Bond, Ulysses Scott (U. S.)

Prominent businessman and entrepreneur Ulysses Scott (U. S.) Bond, like his father and brothers, was a member of a small group of well-educated, wealthy African-American businessmen who encouraged the advancement of minorities. He grew up in a progressive family that provided him with the opportunity to achieve a level of success not typically found in the town of Madison (St. Francis County), and with this success, he encouraged the growth of the black community and economy in St. Francis County. U. S. Bond was born on August 1, 1897, in Madison. His parents were Scott Winfield Bond—a landowner, businessman, and notable resident of St. Francis County—and Magnolia (Nash) Bond. He was the tenth of the eleven sons born to Scott …

Bowen, William Harvey

William Harvey Bowen was a senior partner in Arkansas’s largest law firm, president of the state’s largest bank, chief executive officer of a health insurance company, and dean of the state’s largest law school, which was later named the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. He was a friend and adviser to Bill Clinton and managed the governor’s office for a year while Clinton was running for president. He was also a friend and adviser to Dale Bumpers and David Pryor when they were governors and U.S. senators. William H. Bowen was born on May 6, 1923, in Altheimer (Jefferson County), one of five children of Robert J. (Bob) Bowen, who farmed and managed …

Boyle, John

John F. Boyle Jr. was a Little Rock (Pulaski County) businessman and philanthropist whose name survives in the Boyle Building downtown and Boyle Park in the west-central portion of the city. John F. Boyle Jr. was born on November 14, 1874, in Little Rock to John F. Boyle Sr. and Mary Matilda Dorsey Boyle. After completing primary and secondary school in Little Rock, around 1900, Boyle was hired to work for his father’s insurance firm, Adams & Boyle Insurance Company (1877–1921). He had a long career as a general insurance agent as well as cotton salesman and real estate investor. In 1910, Boyle started his first company, the Boyle Realty Company, but it failed a year later. In 1916, he …

Bradford, Jay T.

Jay Bradford is an Arkansas businessman and government official. A longtime member of the Arkansas General Assembly, he capped a public career of over thirty years with a six-year stint as state commissioner of insurance. Jay T. Bradford was born on April 30, 1940, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to J. Turner Bradford and Chrystal Jacobs Bradford. He had one brother and two sisters. After Bradford’s mother died when he was eight years old, his father, who was a traveling salesman, placed his children in the care of relatives in Paris (Logan County). After receiving his early education in the local schools, he attended Subiaco Academy, a Catholic college preparatory school in Subiaco (Logan County). After graduating from Subiaco, he …

Brandon, Benton Douglas, Jr.

Benton Douglas Brandon Jr. was a legislator, businessman, and civic leader who brought a business presence into a state legislature dominated by attorneys, helping to open the state to outside commerce and financial growth. Brandon felt that unless Arkansas had adequate education, proper roads, and a strong civic presence, the state could not grow to its potential. He saw the Arkansas legislature as the vehicle for this growth. Doug Brandon was born on August 23, 1932, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Anne Maloney and Benton Brandon Sr., a local businessman and early aviator. Brandon graduated from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) with a business degree. He later joined the U.S. Army, graduating from Command and …

Brown, Jacob

Jacob Brown was an important but often overlooked figure in Arkansas’s territorial and early statehood period. He served as the chief disbursement agent for the Office of Removal and Subsistence and was the first president of the Arkansas State Bank. After Brown fought and was killed in the Siege of Fort Texas during the Mexican War, Fort Texas was renamed Fort Brown in his honor; the city of Brownsville, Texas, also bears his name, as does Brownsville (Lonoke County). Jacob Brown was born in Charlton, Massachusetts, on July 19, 1789. Brown’s father, also called Jacob, had served during the Revolutionary War against Great Britain, and his mother was Mary Wells Brown, also from Charlton. Brown served with distinction in the …

Busey, Samuel Thompson

Samuel Thompson Busey was a 1920s oil speculator and promoter of the Arkansas oil industry. While originally trained as a physician, he later became a geologist and completed the famed “Discovery Well,” or Busey No. 1 Well, outside El Dorado (Union County) in 1921. Busey’s efforts helped usher in the south Arkansas oil boom of the 1920s. Samuel Busey was born in Champaign County, Illinois, on February 10, 1867, and was the fifth of six children of John Simpson Busey and the former Caroline Marie Snyder. Busey came from a family of adventurers and community activists. His father was a farmer until 1845, when he left farming to travel across the United States. His father then took over his own …

Bush, John

John Edward Bush, a chairman of the Republican Party in Arkansas, rose from poverty to national prominence when he co-founded the Mosaic Templars of America (MTA), an African-American fraternal organization of international scope, spanning twenty-six states and six foreign countries from the 1880s until the 1930s. Headquartered in Little Rock (Pulaski County), MTA became one of the largest and most successful black-owned business enterprises in the nation and the world; it included an insurance company, a building and loan association, a hospital, a business college, a publishing house, and a nursing school. Living most of his early life in the downtown 9th Street district of Little Rock, Bush was widely acknowledged as one of the wealthiest black men in Arkansas …

Carnes, Jack

aka: Samuel Jacob Carnes
Samuel Jacob (Jack) Carnes was the founder and owner of Camark Pottery, one of Arkansas’s premier art pottery companies. Camark pottery has become highly valuable to collectors and is featured in museums such as the Old Statehouse Museum and the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Jack Carnes was born on March 12, 1896, in Zanesville, Ohio, the son of John O. Carnes, a lawyer. His mother’s name is unknown. He had one sister, Hazel, and one brother, Craig. He grew up in Cambridge, Ohio, and graduated from Cambridge High School in 1915. He received his BS degree from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, on June 4, 1918, and did graduate work in engineering at the Massachusetts …

Clarke, Faye

Faye Clarke co-founded the Educate the Children Foundation, which was created to support rural and impoverished school districts with donations of books and other educational materials. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2002. Faye Wilma Robinson was born on August 6, 1931, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to Jerimah and Earnest (or Eariest) Robinson. In high school, she was an Arkansas National Merit Scholar and went on to study at Hampton Institute in Virginia. After graduation, she attended a one-year program in businesses at Radcliffe College taught by professors of the Harvard Business School, where women were not yet allowed; she was the first African-American woman in this program. She began working at Aramark, a company …

Claybrook, John C.

John C. Claybrook was a lumberman, farmer, baseball team owner, and one of the most successful African-American businessmen of his time in the South. He built a town around his farming and logging operation in eastern Arkansas and eventually gained national attention for being among the first African Americans in the South since Reconstruction, if not the first, chosen to sit on a jury trying black men for the rape of a white woman. John Claybrook was born on June 11, 1872, in Florence, Alabama. His parents’ names and occupations are unknown. He ran away to Memphis when he was thirteen to find work, which he soon found as a laborer on riverboats. After renting and working some plantation land …

Coleman, Walter Carpenter (Walt), III

Walt Coleman is a longtime football official who began serving as a National Football League (NFL) referee in 1995. While the 2018 season marked his thirtieth as an NFL official, making him only the seventh NFL official to achieve that milestone, he is best known for his call in the 2002 American Football Conference (AFC) game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders in which he invoked the “Tuck Rule” resulting in an apparent fumble by New England quarterback Tom Brady being ruled an incomplete pass and keeping the Patriots on the road to an eventual Super Bowl victory. Walter Carpenter (Walt) Coleman III was born on January 16, 1952, to W. C. Coleman Jr. and Robbye Cooper …

Cook, Virgil Young (V. Y.)

Virgil Young (V. Y.) Cook was a veteran of two wars—the Civil War and the Spanish-American War—who founded the town of Olyphant (Jackson County) and eventually accumulated thousands of acres of land, running a vast plantation enterprise in northeastern Arkansas. His home in Batesville (Independence County), today known as the Cook-Morrow House, is on the National Register of Historic Places. V. Y. Cook was born on November 14, 1848, in Boydsville, Kentucky, to William Detterline (Bill) Cook and Pernecia Dodds Cook. Cook attended subscription schools in Boydsville, obtaining the equivalent of an elementary education. Kentucky was a divided state in the Civil War, and even though it stayed with the Union, there were many Confederate sympathizers living there. One was …

Cordell, Carl Richey “Cotton”

Few figures were more recognized in the multi-billion dollar sportfishing industry than Arkansas native Carl Richey “Cotton” Cordell Jr., who built a fishing tackle empire based in Hot Springs (Garland County) that grew to be the largest in America. Carl Cordell Jr. was born in Benton (Saline County) on December 9, 1928, the only child of Carl R. and Alice J. (Barnes) Cordell. His father worked for Alcoa but moved the family in November 1945 to Lake Catherine near Hot Springs, where he had purchased a marina and resort. Cordell, nicknamed “Cotton” because of his light hair, spent most of his youth traversing the Arkansas outdoors for fish and game, becoming able to help his father at the marina in …

Couch, Harvey Crowley

Influenced by a teacher’s counsel, Harvey Crowley Couch helped bring Arkansas from an agricultural economy in the early twentieth century to more of a balance between agriculture and industry. His persuasiveness with investors from New York and his ingenuity, initiative, and energy had a positive effect on Arkansas’s national reputation among businessmen. He ultimately owned several railroad lines and a telephone company and was responsible for what became the state’s largest utility, Arkansas Power and Light (AP&L). Harvey Couch was born on August 21, 1877, in Calhoun (Columbia County) to Tom Couch, a farmer turned minister, and Mamie Heard Couch. He had five siblings. Couch attended school in Calhoun two months out of each year, as did many farmers’ children …

Crossett, Edward Savage

Edward Savage Crossett was a pioneer Arkansas lumberman during the late nineteenth century. As the great Southern forest was being developed to meet a growing nation’s need for lumber and wood fiber, Crossett and two associates—all from Davenport, Iowa—came to south Arkansas, acquired land, and began a sawmilling operation that was one of the largest of its kind. The city of Crossett (Ashley County) was named for him and came to be known as “The Forestry Capital of the South.” Edward Crossett was born on February 4, 1828, in West Plattsburgh, New York, one of three children of Mary Gregory and John Savage Crossett, a veteran of the War of 1812. Crossett received his early education in the public schools …

Dalton, Donald

Donald Dalton served as a brigadier general in the Arkansas National Guard. At the end of his career, he was the commander of the Arkansas Air National Guard. Donald Dalton was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 10, 1939, to John and Dora Dalton. His father worked as a baker, and Donald had an older brother and two older sisters at the time of his birth. While he was a child, the family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County), and Dalton graduated from Central High School in 1957. Dalton enlisted in the Air National Guard as a weapons mechanic that same year. In 1961, he received a commission as a second lieutenant and entered undergraduate pilot training at Laredo …