U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s Second Term (1905-1909): Federal Regulation of Railroads

During President Theodore Roosevelt’s second term (March 4, 1905—March 4, 1909) the major developments regarding federal regulation of railroads were congressional enactment of the Hepburn Act in 1906 and proposed increases in such freight rates in 1907-1908.

The main provision of the Hepburn Act empowered the Interstate Commerce Commission to impose “just and reasonable” freight rates while banning rebates and preferential rates.The debate over this legislation and its terms were covered in prior posts.[1]

Now we look at the controversy over proposed increases in such freight rates in 1908.[2]

Following the Financial Panic of late 1907 [3] and  the continued economic recession in the first half of 1908, railroads felt pressured by Roosevelt not to cut wages while believing they could raise profits only by raising freight rates. As a result, some roads announced such increases. Roosevelt did not like this, especially in advance of the November 1908 presidential election.

During this new battle over freight rates, President Roosevelt met at the White House with W. C. Brown, now the Senior Vice President of the New York Central Railroad and my great-great uncle, who through letters and speeches had been the most vocal advocate for raising rates. Indeed, Brown provided the President with a collection of Brown’s speeches and other materials, Freight Rates and Railway Conditions. One was the Freight Rate Primer, which in comic-book form argued that an increase in rates would have minimal impact on the common man. Comic Book Propaganda!

Afterwards in an August 6, 1908, letter, Roosevelt told Brown that raising rates just before the election was very unwise, and instead the issue should be addressed later “purely on its merits.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Federal Regulation of the Railroads in U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s Second Term (1905-1909): Introduction (Aug. 19, 2014); Federal Regulation of the Railroads in U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s Second Term (1905-1909): The Hepburn Act (Aug. 29, 2014); Reactions to the Hepburn Act Regarding Railroads’ Freight Rates, July-December 1906 (Sept. 8, 2014); Public Debate About U.S. Regulation of Railroads, January-May 1907 (Sept. 12, 2014); President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Decoration Day” Speech About the Railroads (May 30, 1907) (Sept. 14, 2014).

[2] See Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex  (Random House; New York; 2001).

[3]   See U.S. President Roosevelt’s Second Term: The Economy and Securities Markets of 1906-1907, dwkcommentaries.com  (Sept. 11, 2014).

An Enjoyable Thanksgiving Day In Nebraska City, Nebraska

On a beautiful, sunny, crisp Thanksgiving Day this year my wife, two of her sisters and I were in Nebraska City, 40 miles south of Omaha on the western bank of the Missouri River near the southeastern corner of the State of Nebraska.[1]

Lied Lodge & Conference Center
Lied Lodge &  Center
Lied Lodge
Lied Lodge
Lied Lodge
Lied Lodge

 

 

 

The main reason for going there was to have a delicious and enjoyable holiday meal at the handsome Lied Lodge & Conference Center as shown in the above photographs courtesy of the Arbor Day Foundation; the center photo shows at the end of the central atrium the tapestry that says “Plant trees!” in many different languages. Here are the details of the Thanksgiving Day buffet menu:

  • Appetizers: shrimp, crab claws, oysters, mussels, fruits, cheeses and various salads.
  • Entries: slow-roasted turkey, prime rib, glazed butternut squash, apple sage stuffing, whipped potatoes, baked yams, vegetable medley, baby carrots and rolls.
  • Desserts: pumpkin, pecan and fruit pies; cupcakes; and other classic items.

The Lodge & Center is owned and operated by the Arbor Day Foundation, which seeks to “inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.” In so doing, the Foundation celebrates the life and vision of one of the town’s most famous citizens, J. Sterling Morton.

The day in Nebraska City also unexpectedly became a fascinating lesson in late 19th and early 20th century U.S. history.

Julius Sterling Morton[2]

Sterling & Caroline Morton,ca. 1854
Sterling & Caroline Morton,  ca. 1854

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of that year created the two territories with those names and opened them for settlement.[3] Enticed by the prospect of owning land in this new Territory, Morton at age 22 came to Nebraska City, really a village of less than 2,000 and the Territory’s first city, with his wife, Caroline (“Carrie”) Ann Joy French Morton, an accomplished artist, musician and gardener.[4] Mr. Morton, who was a graduate of Union College, started the Territory’s first newspaper, the Nebraska City News, and served as its Editor.

He also immediately bought land in the town, presumably under the Preemption Act of 1841 permitting “squatters” who were living on federal government-owned land to purchase up to 160 acres at a very low price (not less than $1.25 per acre), before the land was to be offered for sale to the general public.

As a nature lover with a passion for horticulture, Morton was appalled by the lack of trees in Nebraska, but soon planted various kinds of trees on his own property. In order to attract people to the Territory (and then State in 1867), Mr. Morton endeavored to encourage others in the area to plant trees. He did that first as Editor of the local newspaper and then as President of the Territory’s Agricultural Board. In 1872, he proposed that the state declare April 10 as Arbor Day, and his proposal was accepted. On that day in 1872, it is said that Nebraskans planted one million trees. In 1885, Nebraska declared his birthday, April 22, as Arbor Day and made it a legal holiday.

He voiced his love of trees when he said, “There is no aristocracy in trees. They are not haughty. They will thrive near the humblest cabin on our fertile prairies, just as well and become just as refreshing to the eye and as fruitful as they will in the shadow of a king’s palace.”

Morton also was engaged in public service as a member of the Nebraska Territorial House of Representatives (1855-1858); Acting Governor of the Territory (1858-1859); and Secretary of the Nebraska Territory (1858-1861). In 1860 Morton won an election to Congress, but lost a challenge to his election in the Republican-controlled House. He also ran four unsuccessful campaigns for governor after Nebraska became a state in 1867.

J. Sterling Morton
J. Sterling Morton

In 1893 President Grover Cleveland, with widespread acclaim, appointed Morton as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. In his four years in that position he expanded and improved the Department’s programs while turning back to the Treasury over 20% of its appropriated funds.[5]

ArborLodgedistance

ArborLodgedistance2

ArborLodgeDK2

 

 

 

 

Before our Thanksgiving dinner at the Lodge, my wife and I went out on its north-facing balcony to see the beautiful valley full of trees and a test plot of hybrid hazelnut bushes. We were surprised to see on the opposite hill a strikingly handsome pillared white house peaking out through the trees as shown in the top photographs (the middle one is courtesy of the Arbor Day Foundation.) We then discovered that this was the 52-room mansion of Mr. Morton that is a reasonable facsimile of the White House in Washington, D.C. as shown in the third photograph.

The mansion is now called the Arbor Lodge in the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum, which we drove by after dinner. Unfortunately the Lodge was not open for visitors that day to see its Victorian and Edwardian furnishings, Tiffany skylight and collection of artifacts of early Nebraska history.

Sterling and Joy Morton had four sons: Joy (1855-1934), Paul (1857-1911), Mark (1858-1951), who was involved in various family businesses, including the Morton Salt company; and Carl (1865-1901), who was a businessman with another family business, the Argo Starch Co., and with the Glucose Sugar Co. Mrs. Morton died in 1881; J. Sterling Morton, in 1902.

Joy Morton[6]

Joy Morton
Joy Morton

Sterling and Joy Morton’s first son, Joy Morton, was born in Nebraska City in 1855. At age 15 he began to manage the family farm and estate and to work in a local bank. Later he worked for railroads in Nebraska and Illinois before joining a Chicago salt distribution company in 1880. By 1899 he had acquired majority control of the firm and renamed it “Joy Morton & Company,” and in 1910 he incorporated it as the subsequently famous Morton Salt Company. He was its president until 1930 when he became its chairman of the board, a position he held until his death in 1934. His brother Mark also was involved in the salt company.

MortonSalt

While driving around the town of Nebraska City this Thanksgiving Day I was amused to see these large signs for Morton-family businesses brightly painted on the brick wall of a downtown building: “Morton Salt” and “Morton–Gregson Co.“ The latter was a hog packing plant that was organized in 1901 and after financial problems was sold in 1917 to Wilson & Company.

Carrying on his parents’ interest in trees and gardening, Joy Morton in 1922 established The Morton Arboretum on 178 acres of land adjacent to his estate in Lisle, Illinois, roughly 26 miles west of Chicago, to display woody plants that grow in temperate zones around the world, to educate the public about them and to conduct research on their management and preservation.[7]

After his father’s death in 1902, Joy Morton redesigned and enlarged the family mansion in Nebraska City into its current size and used it as his family’s summer home until after 1922 when he donated the mansion (now the Arbor Lodge) and surrounding property to the State of Nebraska to be its first state park.

Paul Morton[8]

Paul Morton
Paul Morton

Paul Morton was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1857 and grew up in Nebraska City.

After turning 18, he moved to Chicago, where he worked for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, attaining the position of General Freight Agent. He then was an officer and director of Colorado Fuel and Iron Company before he joined the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, where he became a Vice President.

Paul, like his father, was a Bourbon (and then a Gold) Democrat, but that Party’s nomination of Bryan in 1896, he said later, “left him out.” As a result he voted for McKinley that year and in 1900 worked openly for the election of McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. Indeed, Morton said he “had always been a staunch supporter of Roosevelt.”

The close connection between Paul Morton and Roosevelt is shown after the Republican convention had nominated Roosevelt as its vice presidential candidate in June 1900. Roosevelt visited Chicago as a guest of Morton in order for both of them to board the latter’s private Santa Fe railroad car to go to Oklahoma with two Republican National Committeemen and three fellow Rough Riders for a reunion of the Rough Riders Regiment as Morton and Roosevelt had done the prior year for another such reunion in Las Vegas. When and how the two of them first became acquainted are intriguing questions I was unable to answer.

In September 1900, as discussed in a prior post, he and two other railroad executives accompanied candidate Roosevelt on his campaign train from Quincy, Illinois to Chicago. The other railroad executives on the train were my maternal great-great-uncle, William Carlos Brown, then General Manager of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad; and Theodore P. Shonts, then the President of the Illinois & Iowa Railroad.

I have not been able to discover the substance of the conversations the four of them had on the train, but perhaps they discussed the issue of federal regulation of business, especially railroads. The three railroaders presumably were present at the end of the train ride in Chicago on Labor Day to hear candidate Roosevelt’s “The Labor Question” speech, in which he said he had been “thrown into intimate contact with railroad men [and] . . . gradually came to the conclusion that [they] . . . were about the finest citizens there were anywhere around.” Teddy must have included these three railroad executives in that illustrious group.

Four years later, Roosevelt, now the President after the 1901 assassination of McKinley, appointed Paul Morton to be Secretary of the Navy. An article about the appointment said that the President and Morton had a “strong friendship,” that Morton and his father had voted for McKinley and Roosevelt in 1900 and that Paul “some weeks ago decided to accept the Republican faith.”

Though he knew next to nothing about naval affairs, the Senate confirmed Morton’s nomination in December 1904.

A problem for Morton emerged early the next year when the Interstate Commerce Commission asked the Justice Department to investigate charges that Morton had acted illegally as an officer of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe when it paid rebates to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, Morton’s prior employer, from 1902 though 1904. Morton subsequently admitted the rebates had been paid even though he had no knowledge of them at the time and even though he had instructed subordinates to not pay any rebates. These charges never resulted in his prosecution, but they did force Morton to resign quietly on June 30, 1905.

In all of this, President Roosevelt supported Morton and had Morton with him on a private railroad car trip early the next month and later that month had Morton for a private over-night visit at Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill home at Oyster Bay, New York.

Indeed, Roosevelt in his 1913 Autobiography refers to this period when he said that with the help of “a first-class railway man, Paul Morton …. I was able to stop the practice of [railroad rebates]. Mr. Morton volunteered to aid the Government in abolishing rebates” by testifying before the ICC that the Santa Fe had granted rebates because all railroads did so. In so doing, he had “shown courage and sense of obligation to the public . . . in order that we might successfully put an end to the practice . . . because of the courage and patriotism he had shown. . . . [Some people] “wished me to prosecute him, although such prosecution would have been a piece of unpardonable ingratitude and treachery on the part of the public toward him. . . . I stood by him; and later he served me as Secretary of the Navy, and a capital Secretary he made too.”

In any event, Morton immediately after leaving the Navy became the President of the Equitable Life Assurance Society in New York City, and in 1909, he was appointed as the vice chairman of a commission to reorganize the Navy. Paul Morton died in 1911.

Conclusion

After leaving Nebraska City and doing research for this post, I discovered that this town, current population of nearly 7,300, also is home to the Mayhew Cabin, the only site in the state of the Underground Railroad in the 19th century, and the Missouri River Lewis and Clark Center, which focuses on the natural history achievements of that 1804-1806 expedition. The town sounds worth another visit to see these sights as well as the interior of the Arbor Lodge.

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[1] As a non-Nebraskan, I earnestly solicit comments and corrections. I also give thanks to Amy Stouffer, Marketing Director of the Arbor Day Foundation, for her assistance.

[2] This section is based upon Anderson, Julius Sterling Morton, Forest History Today at 31 (Fall 2000); Wikipedia, Julius Sterling Morton; Will Be in the Cabinet: J. Sterling Morton for Secretary of Agriculture, N. Y. Times (Feb. 18, 1893); Morton A Man of Strength, N. Y. Times (Feb. 19, 1893); John R. Thomas and Congressman Harter Praise Mr. Morton, N.Y. Times (Feb. 19, 1893); The Cabinet Selections, N.Y. Times (Feb. 20, 1893); Editorial, Julius Sterling Morton, N.Y. Times (Feb. 20, 1893); Praise for the New Cabinet, N.Y. Times (Feb. 23, 1893); Editorial, Mr. Cleveland’s Cabinet, N.Y. Times (Feb. 23, 1893); Mr. Cleveland’s Cabinet, N.Y. Times (Feb. 26, 1893); Julius Sterling Morton of Nebraska, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 1893); Gold Democrats Banquet, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 1897); Elections in Other States, N.Y. Times (Oct. 31, 1897); Palmer Democrats Speak, N.Y. Times (May 13, 1900); Abram S. Hewitt on Bryan, N.Y. Times (July 1, 1900); Bryan’s Impeded Veracity, N.Y. Times (Oct. 8, 1900); Anti-Imperialists’ July 4 Manifesto, N.Y. Times (July 4, 1901); J. Sterling Morton Dead, N.Y. Times (April 28, 1902). I have not yet read James C. Olson, J. Sterling Morton—Pioneer Statesman and Founder of Arbor Day (1942).

[3] The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed the future white male settlers of the territories determine through popular sovereignty whether each would allow slavery within its borders. The principal supporter of the Act was Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois who saw the Act as a compromise to gain Southern support in order to promote the eventual construction of a transcontinental railroad from Chicago The opponents of the Act saw it as a betrayal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had banned slavery in Kansas. In opposition to the Act, the Republican Party was created to stop the expansion of slavery. In the famous 1858 debates between Senator Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, the latter argued that Douglas was part of a conspiracy to nationalize slavery and that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the first step in that direction. OI course, two years later (1860), Lincoln was the Republicans’ successful presidential candidate. In the meantime, after passage of the Act, pro- and anti-slavery adherents flooded into Kansas to vote slavery up or down, leading to a low-intensity civil war that became known as “Bleeding Kansas.” In 1860 the Kansas territorial legislature passed, over a governor’s veto, a bill banning slavery and in 1861 Kansas entered the Union as a State. In Nebraska the territorial legislature in 1861 passed, over a governor’s veto, a similar bill prohibiting slavery although Nebraska limited the vote to “free white males,” a provision that delayed Nebraska’s becoming a state until 1867 after the elimination of this provision.

[4] I have not read In Memory of Caroline Joy French Morton, Wife of J. Sterling Morton (1882); Margaret V. Ott’s biography of Mrs. Morton: Sterling’s Carrie: Caroline Ann Joy French, Mrs. J. Sterling Morton, 1833-1881 (1992).

[5] Grover Cleveland and Morton were prominent conservative or Bourbon Democrats, opposing imperialism and U.S. overseas expansion and supporting the gold standard for U.S. currency. Public support for this philosophy was damaged by the Panic of 1893 when Cleveland refused to expand the money supply with silver. This lead to the Party’s granting its 1896 presidential nomination to Nebraskan William Jennings Bryan after his “Cross of Gold” speech urging silver as an additional backing for the currency. In response, some of the Bourbon Democrats formed their own unsuccessful political party (National Democratic Party) to advance their policies; but their presidential and vice presidential candidates were badly defeated in the 1896 election. These conservative Democrats often were referred to as the “Gold Democrats” for their support of the gold standard. In 1900 Democrat Morton endorsed Republican William McKinley because Morton detested Bryan’s bimetallism and admired Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican vice presidential candidate; Morton deemed these reasons more important than his strong disagreement with McKinley’s trade protectionism.

[6] This section is based upon Wikipedia, Joy Morton and Wepman, Joy Morton, American National Biography Online. I have not yet read Ballowe, A Man of Salt and Trees: The Life of Joy Morton (2009).

[7] Now 1,700 acres, the Arboretum’s current mission “is to collect and study trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world, to maintain living collections on display across naturally beautiful landscapes for people to study, enjoy and learn how to grow them in ways that enhance the environment.” The town of Lisle, by the way, now calls itself “The Arboretum Village.”

[8] This section is based upon Wikipedia, Paul Morton; University of Virginia Miller Center, Paul Morton (1904-1905) Secretary of the Navy; The Governor’s [Roosevelt’s] Western Trip, N. Y. Times (June 26, 1900); Governor [Roosevelt] Goes West, N. Y. Times (June 30, 1900); Roosevelt in Chicago, N. Y. Times (July 1, 1900); Roosevelt Going West, N. Y. Times (July 2, 1900); Roosevelt Leaves Chicago, N. Y. Times (Sept. 2, 1901); Changes in Cabinet Officially Announced, N. Y. Times (June 25, 1904); Morton Enlisted in Navy, N.Y. Times (June 26, 1904); Mr. Morton’s Case, N. Y. Times (June 23, 1905); Morton’s Rebate Testimony, N. Y. Times (June 23, 1905); Bryan on Roosevelt, N. Y. Times (June 25, 1905) ; President at Home Again, N. Y. Times (July 7, 1905); Knapp Praises Morton, N.Y. Times (July 9, 1905); Taft To Run the Canal, N.Y. Times (July 23, 1905); Theodore Roosevelt, Autobiography (1913).

William Carlos Brown’s Loyalty to His Parents and Home State of Iowa

While W C. Brown (my great-great-uncle) was an important top executive of the powerful New York Central Railroad in New York City, 1902-1913, he still demonstrated loyalty to the state of Iowa, where he grew up, and to his parents (and my maternal great-great-grandparents), Rev. Charles E. Brown and Frances Lyon Brown.

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown
Frances Lyon Brown & Charles E. Brown
Frances Lyon Brown & Charles E. Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Rev. Charles E. Brown, died in 1901, W.C. paid for an imposing monument for his parents in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery” in Lime Springs in northeastern Iowa, for the establishment of the “Brown Park in the town and for a beautiful stained-glass window in honor of his father at the First Baptist Church of nearby Cresco, Iowa. W.C. also financed the private publication of his father’s memoirs, Personal Recollections 1813-1893 of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of His Wife and Children and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 with Sketches of His Children and the Family Record 1767-1907.[1]

Brown Park, LIme Springs, IA
Brown Park, LIme Springs, IA
Baptist Church, Cresco
Baptist Church, Cresco, IA

 

 

 

 

 

 

W.C. owned a home in Lime Springs (Howard County) for himself and his family as well as a farm in the neighboring countryside. In addition, W.C. owned a farm and home near the southwestern Iowa town of Clarinda (Page County) where a brother-in-law (Charles P. Hewitt) and a sister-in-law (Hattie Hewitt Galloway) lived. In that town W.C. also owned an interest in a small bank and manufacturer. Brown usually returned in the summers to visit these towns and farms during his New York City years.

Howard County Iowa
Howard County Iowa
Page County Iowa
Page County Iowa

 

 

 

 

 

His summer sojourns to Lime Springs were in W. C.’s private railroad car, which sat on a siding while he and his family (but not always his daughters) stayed in their home in the town. The African-American cook and chauffeur stayed in another house across the street from the Brown house.

Back in the City, W. C. served as the president of the Iowa Society of New York. At its annual dinner in 1910, he spoke with pride of Iowa’s hatred of slavery and its first railroad, the underground railroad, whose “builder and maker were God.” One of its passengers was John Brown, who in 1859 stayed with Josiah B. Grinnell, after whom Grinnell College (my alma mater) was named. W.C. also commended Iowa’s “unconditional, sleepless opposition to the saloon,” which was a cause dear to his father’s heart.

At the Iowa Society’s dinner two years later, in March 1912, W. C. said “I love Iowa and her people, and when I go back to Iowa, as I hope to very soon, . . . I look forward to . . . returning to New York . . . and telling you of their sensible citizenship, a citizenship that has always saved her from the sophistries of the designing demagogue.”[2]

After Brown retired from the New York Central at the end of 1913, he and his wife usually returned to their Iowa homes in the summer after spending the winter months at their retirement home in Pasadena, California.

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[1] W. C. also donated the organ to the Methodist Church of Lime Springs in honor of his wife and made large financial contributions for the construction of the Church’s building and for the endowment of the town’s Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

[2] Also in attendance at the dinner that night was the Iowa Congressman from Clarinda, William P. Hepburn, about whom we hear in a later post about federal regulation of railroad freight rates.

 

 

William Carlos Brown’s New York Central Railroad Career

 

W. C. Brown
W. C. Brown

 

After his successful 19th century career with railroads in the Midwest, in 1902 my great-great-uncle, William Carlos (or W.C.) Brown, became the Vice President in charge of the transportation, engineering, mechanical and purchasing departments of the New York Central Railroad, which as described in a prior post was one of the most powerful corporations in the country.

Brown’s joining the Central in 1902 prompted a letter writer to the New York Times to state that W.C. “has made a careful study of [railroad] safety appliances, and he is in large part responsible for the adoption of the operating rules now in force on [U.S. railroads]. He was a member of the first Committee on Safety Appliances and Train Rules of the American Railway Association.” In addition, according to this writer, Brown had a “strong and vigorous personality and he has a faculty of making friends with all of his employees.”

Brown was a Vice President until 1906, when he was promoted to the position of the Senior Vice President. He held this position until 1909 when he was appointed to be the Central’s President, Director and member of its Executive Committee. Effective December 31, 1913, he retired from the Central.

When Brown assumed the Central’s presidency in 1909, a trade journal said W.C. was “a studious man, clear-headed, with retentive memory” and “an accurate judge of men and subjects.”

The New York Times added that Brown was “one of the most popular railroad officials” in the U.S. and had “an extraordinary forcefulness and energy. He has a faculty of disposing of things in the shortest possible span of time, and an equally strong one for analyzing propositions down to the backbone. He talks quickly, energetically, and very clearly. Among his subordinates and associates he is immensely popular, and the joy over his promotion is heartfelt and unaffected.” He also was described as “courteous and modest . . . [a] moderate disciplinarian . . . kind-hearted and considerate . . . [and] not as uncompromising as many of his contemporaries [toward labor unions].”

Another journalist in 1909 said Brown “knows what the duty is of every one of his 150,000 men in the system.” The National Cyclopedia of American Biography in its 1910 edition stated that Brown was then “probably one of the best posted and most able and efficient railroad men in the [U.S.] He is firm and determined . . . . His career affords a splendid example of accomplishments due to untiring industry, perseverance, and fidelity to one’s duties.”

Brown himself was quoted in the New York Times at the time of his promotion to President of the Central. He said, “ In the United States, it is the workingman who, even though he starts at the bottom, ends in the important posts at the top of our railroads and our great industrial enterprises. The day of favoritism and family has departed. I believe that plain sticking to it is a good rule for every workingman who is earnest in his ambition. I believe, too, it may not be for his best welfare for any worker to set for himself . . . a definite goal.”

For another publication, Brown continued on this theme. He said the most important factor his advancement was, “Just sticking to it and making a business of my business, filling every job I got as well as I knew how. . . . [I]t is more or less a mistake to preach to young men that they should fix for themselves a specific goal, and strive toward it . . . . If a fellow sets out with that idea, he is apt to become an office politician, and he wastes more time figuring out how he is going to get the step over somebody else than he expends in attending to the business in hand. The thing he has to do is bend every energy . . . to doing today, as well as it can be done, what he has to do. The man who does that does not need to worry about promotion . . . . Promotion will look for him.”

Here are some of the significant events at the Railroad in which he was involved during his 12 years at the Central and which have been or will be covered in other posts:

  • the demolition of the old Grand Central Terminal and the construction of the new Terminal at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan;[1]
  • the related electrification of the trains coming into and going out of that Terminal;
  • the Woodlawn Crash, February 16, 1907, when a Central train with a new electric engine flew off the tracks, instantly killing 20 people and injuring more than 150, some seriously;
  • the financial panic of 1907;
  • the national political issue of whether and how the federal government should regulate railroads, especially their freight rates; and
  • other public issues, including promotion of agriculture.

In these and other issues over those 12 years, Brown, of course, was not a sole actor. Just look at the members of the Railroad’s Board of Directors, 1909-1913, whom we reviewed in an earlier post and with whom Brown worked.

During this time at the Central, Brown and his family lived in Manhattan at 135 Central Park West overlooking Central Park. But every summer he and his family returned to Iowa to visit his parents and friends and his farms. These visits along with other ways he honored his parents will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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[1] A prior post discussed the Terminal on its centennial in 2013 with other details provided in another post.

 

The New York Central Railroad at Start of the 20th Century

New_York_Central_Herald

 At the start of the 20th century the New York Central Railroad was one of the most important and powerful railroads in the U.S., and because of the importance of railroading at the time, it was one of the country’s most powerful corporations. Its lines stretched from Boston in the east to Chicago and St. Louis in the west and from New York City in the south to the Canadian border in the north.

20th Century Limited
20th Century Limited

Starting in 1902, its flagship operation was the luxurious first-class Twentieth Century Limited, operating on a fast schedule between New York’s Grand Central Terminal and Chicago’s LaSalle Street Station. Here are an image of an early Twentieth Century Limited train and a map of the Central’s lines in 1914.

 

 rail.str.0249.01        

 The Central’s Board of Directors

From its headquarters in New York City, the Central’s board of directors during the first decade of the century included men (all white and no women, sorry) who were wealthy and powerful in their own right and who are important in American history. Here are profiles of some of these figures.

William K. Vanderbilt
William K. Vanderbilt

William K. Vanderbilt, a grandson of Cornelius “Commodore Vanderbilt, [1] had been active in the day-to-day operations of the Central from 1863 until 1903. He was a yachtsman who won the America’s Cup in 1895, an owner of many race horses, an active supporter of the Metropolitan Opera and an owner of fine paintings which he eventually bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His mansion on Fifth Avenue  was regarded as one of Manhattan’s most magnificent residences. When he died in 1920 his estate publicly was estimated at $100 million.

Frederick K. Vanderbilt was another grandson of the Commodore who also had been active in the Central.

Hamlton McKown Twombly
Hamlton McKown Twombly

 

Hamilton McKown Twombly was married to the Commodore’s granddaughter, Florence Adele Vanderbilt, and through wise investment of her inheritance and his own money became very wealthy.

 

 

 

Chauncey Depew
Chauncey Depew

Chauncey M. Depew was the Vanderbilts’ lawyer, a “glib raconteur, master of ceremonies and after-dinner speaker” who used his legal talents in “an essentially public relations role for the [Central] and other Vanderbilt properties.”

Depew also was a prominent Republican Party politician. He was one of the organizers of the Party in 1858; a delegate to every Party convention from 1860 to 1920; a member of the New York legislature, 1861-62; New York’s Secretary of State, 1864-65; a candidate for the Party’s presidential nomination in 1888; President Harrison’s choice for U.S. Secretary of State, which Depew declined; and a U.S. Senator from New York, 1899-1911 (while he was a Director of the Central). During the Civil War he was a confidant of President Lincoln, which lead to Depew’s being New York’s official escort for President Lincoln’s funeral train on its way to Illinois.

In 1866 Depew as the principal speaker at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty said,“We dedicate this statue to the friendship of nations and the peace of the world. The spirit of liberty embraces all races in common; it voices in all languages the same needs and aspirations. The full power of its expansive and progressive influence cannot be reached until wars cease, armies are disbanded, and international disputes are settled by lawful tribunals and the principles of justice. Then the people of every nation, secure from invasion and free from the burden and menace of great armaments, can calmly and dispassionately promote their own happiness and prosperity.” This sounds like the post-World War II Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

J. P. Morgan
J. P. Morgan

 

John Pierpont (“J.P.”) Morgan, of course, was the famous Wall Street financier of the robber barons in the late 19th century. He reorganized major industrial companies and railroads and was one of the most powerful figures in railroading. J.P. also helped to halt financial panics in 1893 and 1907.

 

 

George S. Bowdoin was a wealthy partner of J. P. Morgan.[2]

William Rockefeller
William Rockefeller

 

William Rockefeller with his older brother, John D. Rockefeller, established and was active in the Standard Oil Company. William also was part of the “Standard Oil Gang” that engaged in various financial promotions. William was a jovial man who liked good living with little taste for philanthropy.

 

George F. Baker
George F. Baker

 

George F. Baker was another Wall Street financier, an ally of the Rockefellers and a founder of the First National Bank of New York. During the Civil War he was consulted by members of the Lincoln Cabinet on financial matters. He endowed the Harvard Business School and made large contributions to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Red Cross.[3]

 

 

 

James Stillman
James Stillman

James Stillman was the President of the National City Bank of New York City (now known as Citibank), and his two daughters married sons of William Rockefeller. Stillman was considered to be one of the 100 wealthiest Americans of his time.

Edward H. Harriman
Edward H. Harriman

 

Edward H. Harriman was the President of the Union Pacific Railroad and an ally of William Rockefeller and James Stillman.[4]

 

 

Marvin Hughitt
Marvin Hughitt

 

Marvin Hughitt was the President of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad.

Lewis Cass Ledyard
Lewis Cass Ledyard

 

Lewis Cass Ledyard, a Wall Street lawyer, co-founder of the law firm of Carter, Ledyard & Milburn and counsel for the New York Stock Exchange and noted corporations. Ledyard was the executor of the J.P. Morgan estate.

 

Darius O. Mills
Darius O. Mills

 

Darius O. Mills was a Gold Rush adventurer who turned to finance and banking. For a time he was the wealthiest person in California.

William H. Newman was the Central’s President at the start of the 20th century until he was succeeded by W. C. Brown.  Newman was from Virginia and started his railroad career at age 23 in 1869 as a station agent to become in 1898 the president of two Central subsidiaries–the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern and the Lake Erie & Western Railroads.

Conclusion

This was the world that in 1902 welcomed into its senior executive ranks William Carlos Brown, a man of modest background from the State of Iowa.

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[1] “Commodore” Vanderbilt through a shipping fortune and stock manipulations gained control of the Central in the 1860’s. His grand ball in 1883 is often seen as the epitome of the gilded age. The Commodore gave $1 million to Tennessee’s Central University in exchange for its being renamed as Vanderbilt University. A contemporary descendant of the “Commodore” is CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

[2] One of George S. Bowdoin’s ancestors, James Bowdoin, was a Governor of Massachusetts, and the latter’s son, James Bowdoin III, was an early benefactor of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The College was chartered in 1794 by Massachusetts Governor Samuel Adams when Maine was part of Massachusetts and was named for Governor Bowdoin.

[3] Baker’s son, George F. Baker, Jr., was another Wall Street financier whose trust established a college scholarship program, of which I was a beneficiary as a George F. Baker Scholar at Grinnell College.

[4] Edward Harriman’s son, W. Averell Harriman (1891 – 1986), was a special envoy to Europe for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Truman, Governor of New York and U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union and later to Great Britain. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952, and again in 1956, but lost to Adlai Stevenson both times.

 

William Carlos Brown: A 19th Century Railroading Success Story

My great-great-uncle, William Carlos (or W.C.) Brown, was a senior executive of the New York Central Railroad when Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal was built in the early 20th century at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. He was one of its Vice Presidents, 1902-1906; Senior Vice President, 1906-1909; and President, 1909-1913.[1]

As we will see in this post, W.C. rose to these important positions with the New York Central from very modest beginnings. He was a 19th century railroading success story.

On July 29, 1853, W.C. and his twin brother, George Lyon, were born in Norway, New York. His father was my maternal great-great-grandfather, Rev. Charles Edwin Brown, who was recuperating in his native upstate New York from “inflammatory rheumatism” he had caught while working as a Baptist missionary in the Iowa Territory (and State after 1846). W.C.’s mother (and my maternal great-great-grandmother) was Frances Lyon Brown.[2]

Four years later (July 1857) Rev. Brown returned to Iowa to continue his missionary work in the northeastern part of that State.[3] Going with him were his wife and their four sons: Charles Perry, 17 years old; James DeGrush (my maternal great-grandfather), 11 years old;[4] and the four-year old twins, William and George.

William in 1869, at the age of 16, after being educated at home and in schools in small towns, started working as a “section hand and wooder” in Illinois for the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Louis Railroad [“the Milwaukee Road”]. During the day W.C. loaded, unloaded and piled wood that powered the seam-engines of the locomotives. At night he learned telegraphy skills from the station agent.

This was the start of Brown’s 33-year journey in the railroad industry to become a senior executive of the New York Central Railroad in New York City.

By the spring of 1870 he was a telegraph operator for the Milwaukee Road in Iowa, and the next year (1871) he was promoted to night-operator at the Road’s train dispatcher’s office in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In 1872 W.C. left the Milwaukee Road to join the Illinois Central Railroad as train dispatcher in Iowa. Three years later, in 1875, he was hired in the same position at another Iowa town by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (“the Burlington Road”) was the next stop on W.C.’s advancement in railroading for the next 18 years. From 1876 to 1880 he was a train dispatcher in Iowa, and during a blizzard he volunteered to help rescue cattle from 400 stalled cattle-cars. This demonstration of ability to act in an emergency and his other skills brought him successive promotions to chief dispatcher, trainmaster, assistant superintendent and then superintendent for the Burlington Road from 1880 to 1890.

In the 1880’s while on duty in St. Louis, W.C. pulled a switch to let a train proceed in the middle of striking switchmen holding rifles. He instantly was anointed with the nickname: “Little Man Unafraid.” This moniker was used again when in 1888 he took over as engineer to take a train out of Ottumwa, Iowa during an engineer’s strike and safely piloted the train to Chicago. Perhaps for the working men on the railroads, he was known as “the Strikebreaker.”

From 1890 to 1896, W.C. was general manager for several railroads with operations in Missouri (Hannibal & St. Joseph; Kansas City, St. Joseph & Council Bluffs; and Chicago, Burlington & Kansas City). In 1893 after learning that a band of robbers were planning to hold up a passenger train, Brown quietly replaced the passengers on that train with armed policemen in the baggage car. When the bandits stopped the train and forced the engineer and fireman to open up the baggage car, the bandits were surprised to be looking into the barrels of police rifles. The robbery was foiled, and a St. Louis newspaper said, “the lives of some innocent passengers, were undoubtedly saved. Mr. Brown thus adds another circlet to the palm and laurel which he already wears.”

In 1896 W.C. returned to the Burlington Road as general manager. This prompted an Ottumwa newspaper to say, “There are a few especial reasons for Brown’s success. He took whatever duties that were assigned to him and gave them his best effort. His methods were always clean and honest and his treatment of his subordinates and of the public has been based on the same candor and courtesy accorded his superiors in rank. The story of his life reads like a romance and in this story is the greatest incentive to youth, for hard work, intelligent effort, and clean methods, in whatever is undertaken.”

Brown remained with the Burlington until 1901 when at age 48 he joined the New York Central system as Vice President and General Manager of its Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad, which ran from Buffalo along the southern shore of Lake Erie through Cleveland, Toledo, and South Bend to Chicago, and of its Lake Erie & Western Railroad, which ran from Fremont Ohio to Bloomington Illinois.

Thus, over his past 33 years, W.C. had advanced from a manual laborer handling wood for steam-engines to become the C.E.O. of two railroads affiliated with the New York Central Railroad. He did this with the modest education available in small towns on the prairie. This remarkable journey shows the amazing employment opportunities then available in railroading before the age of university business education.[5]

During this period of career advancement, W.C. married his sweetheart from Lime Springs, Mary “Ella” Hewitt, in 1874 in her parents’ home in the town, and their five children were born: Georgia Frances Brown, 1875; Charles Edwin “Eddie” Brown, 1877; Lura Belle Brown, 1880; Bertha Adelaide Brown, 1882; and Margaret Heddens Brown, 1891. Two of the children died during this period: “Eddie” Brown, 1882; and Lura Belle, 1882, while Georgia Frances was married to Dr. Frank Ellis Pierce, 1899.

Subsequent posts will look at what the New York Central looked like at the start of the 20th century, at W.C.’s career with the New York Central, his retirement, his being charged (but not prosecuted) with a federal crime, and his death.

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[1] A prior post discussed the Terminal on its centennial in 2013 with other details provided in another post.

[2] Other posts discussed Rev. Brown’s lineage in America, his initial trip to the Iowa Territory in 1842, his missionary work in that Territory (and State), 1842-1851; and his recuperation in New York State, 1851-1857.

[3] Another post was about Rev. Brown’s missionary work in Iowa, 1857-1887.

[4] An earlier post focused on my maternal great-grandparents, James DeGrush and Ella Francelia Dye Brown.

[5] Two of W.C.’s brothers also went into railroading. His twin brother, George Lyon, was a trainman for the Milwaukee Road, but died at age 18 in 1871 from injuries received while coupling railroad cars in St. Paul, Minnesota. Another brother (and my maternal great-grandfather), James DeGrush Brown, worked in railroading his entire working life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Report on Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial

Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal

As discussed in a prior post, New York City’s Grand Central Terminal opened on February 2, 1913, when the President of the New York Central Railroad was William Carlos Brown, my maternal second great-uncle.

Another report on the Terminal’s centennial comes from Andrea Sachs for the Washington Post.

Grand Central Terminal Clock
Grand Central Terminal Clock

She notes the four-sided Tiffany clock in the center of the main floor is an iconic symbol of New York City that appears every Saturday night in the opening sequence for the “Saturday Night Live” television show.

The clock also is evidence of the creation starting in 1883 of four time zones in the continental U.S. by the nation’s railroads in order to synchronize train schedules. Previously each city set its own local time based on the sun’s position at high noon and as a result, for example, Boston was always a few minutes ahead of New York City.

Grand Central Terminal Chandeliers
Grand Central Terminal Chandeliers

The terminal’s floors, she points out, are made of Tennessee pink marble while chandeliers hang like heavy acorns, which were in the family crest of the Vanderbilts who were the majority owners of the railroad in the early 20th century. One of the Vanderbilt descendants, by the way, is Anderson Cooper of CNN.

There is a 75-minute guided tour of the Terminal from top to bottom, inside and out (the Official MTA Metro-North Grand Central Terminal Tour) that I would love to take some day.

Unfortunately I missed the recent exhibit at the Terminal, “Grand by Design: A Centennial Celebration of Grand Central Terminal.”