Titans of Industry & Commerce

Free for Museum Members at the Patron level and above

$20 for all other Museum Members

$46 for all non-Members. Includes required Museum Admission

Lecture Series Ticket $110
(for all six lectures)
Does not include required Museum Admission

All Lecture begins at 3:00 pm

The Annual Whitehall Lecture Series presents Unlikely Titans of Industry & Commerce: From Modest Beginnings to Phenomenal Success, at 3:00 p.m. each Sunday from February 4th to March 10th. Experts and authors will speak about the Titans that were responsible for some of the most successful business ventures built from the ground-up. When possible, each lecture will be followed by a book signing with the author. Visit the H. M. Flagler & Co. Museum Store for a wide selection of books related to the Whitehall Lecture Series.

Website visitors can now watch the lectures via a Livestream broadcast. There is no charge to watch the Livestream lectures.

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George Westinghouse

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3:00 pm, February 4, 2024 

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George Westinghouse (1846-1914) was an American inventor, engineer, and entrepreneur known for his pioneering contributions to the development of the electrical industry. He was a key figure in the late 19th century "War of Currents," a competition between Thomas Edison's direct current (DC) electrical system and Westinghouse's alternating current (AC) system. Westinghouse, with his engineers, provided power and light for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. His electric engines powered trains, and his air brakes stopped them. Westinghouse's most significant innovation was the development and promotion of AC electrical power transmission, which allowed electricity to be generated at power plants and efficiently transmitted over long distances. This AC system, coupled with Nikola Tesla's AC motor designs, became the foundation for modern electrical power distribution. Westinghouse's company, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, played a crucial role in the spread of AC power systems across the United States. His legacy also extends to other fields, as he held over 300 patents in his lifetime, covering a wide range of inventions and innovations. His scientific contributions forever changed the world.

Lecturer: Dr. William R. Huber

Dr. Huber earned a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962, and graduated summa cum laude. He was awarded a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from The Ohio State University in 1963 and a Doctor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1969.

Thomas Alva Edison

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3:00 pm, February 11, 2024

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Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931) only had three months of formal education, a curious and hardworking young man beat the odds and became one of the greatest inventors in history. Not only did he invent the phonograph and the first successful electric light bulb, but he also established the first electrical power distribution company and laid the technological groundwork for today’s movies, telephones, and sound recording industry. Through relentless tinkering, by trial and error, the story goes, Thomas Alva Edison changed the world.

The "Wizard of Menlo Park" is a nickname often used to refer to Thomas Alva Edison. Edison earned this moniker because of his prolific inventiveness and the groundbreaking work he conducted at his research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. This laboratory, officially known as the Edison Laboratory, was where Edison and his team developed numerous inventions and innovations, including the phonograph and the practical incandescent light bulb.

Lecturer: Dr. Paul Israel

Author Dr. Paul Israel enriches this view of the solitary “Wizard of Menlo Park,” expertly situating his subject within a thoroughly realized portrait of a burgeoning country on the brink of massive change. The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the birth of corporate America, and with it the new interests of scientific, technological, and industrial cultures. Working against the common perception of Edison as a symbol of a mythic American past where persistence and individuality yielded hard-earned success, Israel demonstrates how Edison’s remarkable career was very much a product of the inventor’s fast-changing era.

Henry Ford

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3:00 pm, February 18, 2024

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How a Michigan farm boy became the richest man in America is a classic tale. The real Henry Ford was a tangle of contradictions. He promoted the consumer revolution by producing a car affordable to the masses, while lamenting the moral toll exacted by consumerism. He believed in giving his workers a living wage, though he was entirely opposed to union labor. He had a warm and loving relationship with his wife, but sired a son with another woman. Uncovering the man behind the myth, situating his achievements and their attendant controversies firmly within the context of early twentieth-century America, Dr. Watts has written a comprehensive and fascinating biography of one of America’s first mass-culture celebrities.

Lecturer: Dr. Steven Watts

Dr. Steven Watts is a historian and writer who has charted the evolution of American culture in a number of highly-praised books. His series of biographies of major figures has explored the shaping of a modern value-system devoted to consumerism, self-fulfillment, leisure, and personality.

J.C. Penney

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3:00 pm, February 25, 2024

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J. C. Penney, a fixture of suburban shopping malls, started out as a small-town Main Street store that fused its founder’s interests in agriculture, retail business, religion, and philanthropy. David Kruger’s presentation will bring to light the little-known agrarian roots of an American department store chain and explore how the company, and their famous founder shaped rural America throughout the twentieth century, and provides a new perspective on this American cultural institution, and its founder’s unique brand of American capitalism.

Lecturer: David Delbert Kruger

 David Kruger is Agricultural Research and Instruction Librarian, William Robertson Coe Library, University of Wyoming, Laramie.

John Wanamaker

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3:00 pm, March 3, 2024

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Remembered for his store’s extravagant holiday decorations and displays, Wanamaker built one of the largest retailing businesses in the world and helped to define the American retail shopping experience. From the freedom to browse without purchase and the institution of one price for all customers to generous return policies, he helped to implement retailing conventions that continue to define American retail to this day. Wanamaker was also a leading Christian leader, participating in the major Protestant moral reform movements from his youth until his death in 1922. But most notably, he found ways to bring his religious commitments into the life of his store.

Lecturer: Dr. Nicole C. Kirk

Dr. Nicole Kirk’s presentation will examine how and why Wanamaker blended business and religion in his Philadelphia store, offering a historical exploration of the relationships between religion, commerce, and urban life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Dr. Kirk is an associate professor and the Frank and Alice Schulman Chair of Unitarian Universalist History at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, and holds degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and Vanderbilt University.

Frank Winfield Woolworth

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3:00 pm, March 10, 2024

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Frank Winfield Woolworth was a classic self-made man who rose from an impoverished background to establish F. W. Woolworth and Company, which at one time was the world’s largest merchandising operation. He built a chain of stores around a merchandising tactic that was used by store owners in the years following the Civil War to clear out unwanted merchandise for a nickel. The low-priced goods displayed in his stores gave his customers the luxury of choosing from a wide array of merchandise.

Lecturer: George W. Nelson 

Utilizing his private collection of Woolworth publications, researching numerous books, magazines, newspaper articles, and websites, plus calling on his father’s and his own personal recollections, George Nelson has written an engaging story about the first Five & Ten, F. W. Woolworth, and other chains in the industry that contributed so much to the American consumer.