The Edward Harriman Story
EDWARD H. HARRIMAN (1848-1909):
E. H. Harriman was born in Hempstead, New York, son of an Episcopal
clergyman. At age 14, he began work as an office boy in a New York
brokerage house: 8 years later he bought his own seat on the New York
In 1879, Harriman married Mary Averell, the daughter of the president of the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad.
In 1881 Harriman bought control of the Sodus Bay and Southern Railroad, a short line running south from the shore of Lake Ontario. He improved the line, then set the New York Central and Pennsylvania bidding against each other for it. Pennsy bought it, and Harriman soon went after a larger railroad, the Illinois Central.
By 1883 he was on the IC's board of directors and within a few years he had left the brokerage house he had established and became vice-president of the road. He launched an expansion program for the Illinois Central but looking ahead, was able to curtail it so the railroad could weather the Panic of 1893. In 1898 Harriman took over the Union Pacific. In 1901 Harriman bought the Southern Pacific and shortly afterward bought the Central Pacific. He rounded out his system with the Chicago & Alton and the Central of Georgia. He attempted to buy first the Burlington and then the Northern Pacific but was thwarted by James J. Hill of the Great Northern. In 1908 he came to the rescue of the chronically troubled Erie and added that to his empire.
Harriman was not one to buy a railroad for a quick profit. He believed that the financial yield would be considerably greater if the railroad's property was improved and its affairs well managed. Harriman established standards for locomotives, cars, bridges, structures, signals, and even such items as paint and stationery.
Harriman's financial interest in the Union Pacific passed to his son, W. Averell Harriman, who was chairman of the Union Pacific's board from 1932 to 1946. The younger Harriman was also on the IC's Board until 1960, and was well known for his work in politics and international relations.
Portions of this text were
drawn from: The Historical Guide to North American Railroads,
compiled by George H. Drury, Librarian, TRAINS MAGAZINE,