1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Harriman, Edward Henry

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HARRIMAN, EDWARD HENRY (1848–1909), American financier and railroad magnate, son of the Rev. Orlando Harriman, rector of St George’s Episcopal church, Hempstead, L.I., was born at Hempstead on the 25th of February 1848. He became a broker’s clerk in New York at an early age, and in 1870 was able to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange on his own account. For a good many years there was nothing sensational in his success, but he built up a considerable business connexion and prospered in his financial operations. Meanwhile he carefully mastered the situation affecting American railways. In this respect he was assisted by his friendship with Mr Stuyvesant Fish, who, on becoming vice-president of the Illinois Central in 1883, brought Harriman upon the directorate, and in 1887, being then president, made Harriman vice-president; twenty years later it was Harriman who dominated the finance of the Illinois Central, and Fish, having become his opponent, was dropped from the board. It was not till 1898, however, that his career as a great railway organizer began with his formation, by the aid of the bankers, Kuhn, Loeb & Co., of a syndicate to acquire the Union Pacific line, which was then in the hands of a receiver and was generally regarded as a hopeless failure. It was soon found that a new power had arisen in the railway world. Having brought the Union Pacific out of bankruptcy into prosperity, and made it an efficient instead of a decaying line, he utilized his position to draw other lines within his control, notably the Southern Pacific in 1901. These extensions of his power were not made without friction, and his abortive contest in 1901 with James J. Hill for the control of the Northern Pacific led to one of the most serious financial crises ever known on Wall Street. But in the result he became the dominant factor in American railway matters. At his death, on the 9th of September 1909, his influence was estimated to extend over 60,000 m. of track, with an annual earning power of $700,000,000 or over. Astute and unscrupulous manipulation of the stock markets, and a capacity for the hardest of bargaining and the most determined warfare against his rivals, had their place in this success, and Harriman’s methods excited the bitterest criticism, culminating in a stern denunciation from President Roosevelt himself in 1907. Nevertheless, besides acquiring colossal wealth for himself, he helped to create for the American public a vastly improved railway service, the benefit of which survived all controversy as to the means by which he triumphed over the obstacles in his way.