Thomas Goodman was born in England in 1816 and emigrated to Canton, Ohio, in 1832. Six years later, he married Hannah Jane Saxton (1820-1895), daughter of the prominent banker James Saxton. They had eight children including daughter Emily Goodwin (born 1840), who married Charles Vent. Thomas Goodman studied law in Canton and was admitted to the bar in 1845. Instead of becoming a lawyer, Goodman was hired as a secretary for the Stark County Mutual Insurance Company. In 1849, he joined the Hartford Insurance Company as an agent. He and his family moved to Chicago in 1861. Along with his insurance interests, he was also a partner in a publishing company. He left that company in 1863 to found the Lumbermen’s Insurance Company, which specialized in fire insurance. Though the company prospered, it was bankrupted by the Great Chicago Fire (1871). He continued in the Chicago insurance business with a new company, Goodman's Insurance Agency.
Charles Frederick Vent was born in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1830. He was sent to Dartmouth College by his maternal grandfather, Jonas Chickering, and was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. After college, Vent taught at the Maplewood Young Ladies' Institute in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, but left this position to travel west as a salesman. He eventually settled in Cincinnati, where he entered the printing business, in partnership with Thomas Goodman to form the subscription-based publishing company C. F. Vent, J. S. Goodman & Co. With offices in Cincinnati, Chicago, and later New York, the company published abolitionist pamphlets and history books, including volumes on Lincoln and Grant, and the Great Chicago Fire. In 1862, he married Emily Goodman (b. 1840), daughter of his partner Thomas Goodman. They had four children: Evelyn Vent, Lillian Vent, Fred Vent, and Thomas Goodman Vent. Charles Vent remained in the printing business until his death in 1905.
The Goodman and Vent families were both wealthy and well connected. Goodman's Chicago acquaintances included Mayor John Wentworth, Cyrus McCormick, and Marshall Field, among others. Hannah Goodman's sister, Ida Saxton, became the wife of William McKinley, 25th president of the United States. Vent corresponded with such notable people as Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, General Lew Wallace, and Harper’s Weekly editor G.W. Curtis. The families both held progressive views on abolition and women's suffrage and were Republican supporters.