Edward Henry Harriman (born February 20, 1848, in Hempstead, New York, USA; died September 9, 1909, in Arden, New York) was a prominent American railroad executive and financier of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He rose to prominence as president of the Union Pacific Railroad and later became the chairman of the Southern Pacific Railroad, helping to consolidate the railroads of the western United States and spur economic growth in the region.
Early Life and Career
Harriman was born in Hempstead, New York, in 1848, to an affluent family. He began his career in the railroad industry in 1865, working as a clerk for the New York freight and shipping firm of T. W. Taylor and Company. In 1867, he became a partner in the firm and, four years later, started his own brokerage firm, Edward H. Harriman & Co.
Union Pacific Railroad
In the 1880s, Harriman became involved with the Union Pacific Railroad, one of the largest railroads in the United States. He was appointed president of the company in 1899, and he quickly began a series of consolidations and acquisitions that would transform the Union Pacific into one of the largest and most powerful railroads in the country.
One of Harriman’s key strategies was to acquire control of the railroads that fed into the Union Pacific, giving the company a virtual monopoly on freight traffic in the western United States. He also invested heavily in new technology and infrastructure, upgrading the company’s rail lines and equipment and streamlining operations to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Southern Pacific Railroad
In 1901, Harriman acquired control of the Southern Pacific Railroad, one of the largest railroads in the country and a major player in the western United States. Under his leadership, the Southern Pacific became one of the largest and most powerful railroads in the country, with a virtual monopoly on freight traffic in much of the western United States.
Harriman also invested heavily in new technology and infrastructure for the Southern Pacific, upgrading the company’s rail lines and equipment and streamlining operations to increase efficiency and reduce costs. He was particularly interested in improving the company’s transcontinental service, and he spent millions of dollars on new locomotives, cars, and other equipment to upgrade the Southern Pacific’s transcontinental service.
Harriman was known for his aggressive business practices, which sometimes put him at odds with other railroad executives and the public. He was accused of using his control of the railroads to manipulate freight rates, and he was often criticized for his high-handed business dealings and his willingness to use the courts to gain advantage over his competitors.
Despite these controversies, Harriman was widely recognized as one of the most successful and influential figures in the railroad industry of his time. He was also a major philanthropist, supporting a wide range of cultural, educational, and scientific institutions, and was known for his support of scientific research and exploration.
Harriman died in 1909, at the age of 61, and his legacy in the railroad industry continues to this day. He was widely recognized as one of the most successful and influential figures in the history of American railroading, and his innovative business practices and investments in technology and infrastructure helped to spur economic growth and development in the western United States.
Today, the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads continue to operate as two of the largest and most powerful railroads in the country, and Harriman’s legacy as a visionary business leader and philanthropist continues to inspire new generations of entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Few interesting facts about Edward Harriman:
- Scientific Interests: In addition to his business pursuits, Harriman had a lifelong interest in science and natural history. He was particularly interested in ornithology, and he used his wealth to support several expeditions to Alaska and other remote parts of the world to study birds and other wildlife.
- Alaska Expedition: In 1899, Harriman organized and financed a scientific expedition to Alaska, which was one of the largest and most comprehensive natural history expeditions of its time. The expedition was led by noted naturalist John Muir and included several other prominent scientists and naturalists, who collected specimens and made observations that helped to advance the study of Alaska’s wildlife and natural history.
- Yachting Adventures: Harriman was also a passionate yachtsman, and he used his yacht, the SS Arden, to explore the waters of the Arctic, the Pacific, and other remote parts of the world. He was known for his adventurous spirit and his willingness to take risks, and he made several groundbreaking voyages, including a circumnavigation of the world.
- Estate in Arden: Harriman’s estate in Arden, New York, was a reflection of his love of nature and his commitment to scientific research. The estate was home to a museum of natural history, a botanical garden, and a research library, and it was open to the public, making it a popular destination for scientists, naturalists, and other visitors.
- Philanthropic Efforts: Harriman was known for his philanthropic efforts, and he used his wealth to support a wide range of cultural, educational, and scientific institutions. He was particularly interested in supporting scientific research and exploration, and he made generous donations to universities and other institutions to help support their work.