How to Build a Railroad
Like Anthony Gregory, I agree with many of the nominees for the "Free Market Hall of Fame." Unfortunately, as Gregory notes, too many good guys are missing, and not all candidates are exactly "free market." This is especially true of the "(past) free market business leader" category. My own nominee would be James J. Hill, a true market entrepreneur. In building his Great Northern Railroad, Hill did not rely on government subsidy and privilege, but rather acted as the true free market businessman should, i.e. guided by the consumer, not the state. Thomas DiLorenzo includes Hill in his magnificent book, How Capitalism Saved America. As DiLorenzo writes:
Quite naturally, Hill strongly opposed government favors to his competitors: "The government should not furnish capital to these companies, in addition to their enormous land subsidies, to enable them to conduct their business in competition with enterprises that have received no aid from the public treasury," he wrote. This may sound quaint by today's standards, but it was still a hotly debated issue in the late nineteenth century.
He certainly deserves to replace the inflationist, Benjamin Franklin.