Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Cornell, Ezra
CORNELL, Ezra, philanthropist, b. at Westchester Landing, N. Y., 11 Jan., 1807; d. in Ithaca, N. Y., 9 Dec., 1874. His parents were Quakers, and, although his early educational opportunities were limited to the common schools of Westchester and Madison counties, he was through life a devoted student and became distinguished for his practical and scientific attainments. He settled at Ithaca in 1828, and for many years was employed as manager of the Ithaca Falls mills. The water-power tunnel at Fall Creek, conceived and executed by him, is a monument of his foresight and skill. Becoming associated with Prof. Morse in the early development of the electric telegraph, Mr. Cornell superintended the erection of the first telegraph-line in America, which was opened between Washington and Baltimore in June, 1844. Thereafter, devoting himself to the establishment of telegraph-lines throughout the northern and western states, he became one of the most active and enterprising pioneers in that business, from which he realized a large fortune. He was one of the original founders of the Western union telegraph company, of which he was a director for twenty years, and for much of that period he was the largest individual share-holder. He gave much attention to public affairs, and was especially interested in agricultural development. He attended the first Republican national convention at Pittsburg, Pa., in 1856 as a delegate. He was president of the New York state agricultural society in 1862, represented that society at the international exposition in London, and travelled extensively in Europe. He was a member of the New York state assembly in 1862-'3, and a state senator from 1864 till 1868. Mr. Cornell was the founder of Cornell university at Ithaca.
$500,000, in 1865, was supplemented by contributions of nearly $400,000 from his private means, and more than $3,000,000 realized as the profits of his operation in purchasing and locating public lands for the benefit of the university. In his address at the inaugural ceremonies Mr. Cornell said: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” This comprehensive declaration, adopted as the official motto, and graven upon the seal of the university, has been the inspiration of the authorities in directing its subsequent development. Although young, Cornell university already ranks with the foremost institutions of learning in the United States. The Cornell library in Ithaca was also established by Mr. Cornell, at an outlay of nearly $100,000. The last years of his life were devoted to the building of several railway-lines, to connect Ithaca with the general railroad system of the state, in order to facilitate access to the university town. These enterprises proved highly beneficial to the locality, but the capital invested in them was almost a total loss. — His son, Alonzo Barton, 25th governor of New York, b. in Ithaca, N. Y., 22 Jan., 1832, was educated at the Ithaca academy, at the age of fifteen was a telegraph-operator at Troy, and in the following year became manager of the telegraph-office at Cleveland, Ohio, where he continued three years, after which he was for several years manager of the principal telegraph-office in New York city. In 1862-'3 he was proprietor of the line of steamboats on Cayuga lake, and from 1864 till 1869 was cashier and vice-president of the First national bank of Ithaca. He was a supervisor of the town of Ithaca in 1864-'5. From 1858 till 1866 he served as chairman of the Tompkins county Republican committee, and in 1866-'7 was a member of the Republican state committee. He was one of the first commissioners for the erection of the new state capitol at Albany from 1868 till 1871. He has been a director of the Western union telegraph company continuously since 1868, and was its vice-president from 1870 till 1876. At the Republican state convention in 1868 he was nominated for lieutenant-governor, but was defeated in the election. President Grant in 1869 appointed Mr. Cornell surveyor of customs at New York, which office he resigned to become a member of the New York state assembly in 1873. Although a new member, he was nominated for speaker by acclamation in the Republican caucus, and won high repute as a successful presiding officer. In June, 1870, he was nominated as assistant treasurer of the United States at New York; but he declined the appointment. From 1870 till 1878 he was chairman of the Republican state committee, and became noted as a political organizer of remarkable tact and efficiency. Mr. Cornell was a delegate at large to the Republican national convention at Cincinnati in 1876, and was the leader of the New York delegation. Through his influence nearly the entire delegation was finally recorded for Gov. Hayes, of Ohio, thus insuring his nomination for the presidency. In the canvass Mr. Cornell served as chairman of the state committee, and also as a member of the national executive committee, and devoted himself to the work with great energy. In January following he was appointed naval officer for the port of New York by President Grant. Soon after his accession, President Hayes directed the treasury department to notify Mr. Cornell that he must resign from the state and national committees as a condition of remaining naval officer. Regarding this as an invasion of his civil and political rights, he declined to obey the mandate; whereupon a successor was nominated, but was rejected by the senate. After the adjournment of the senate in July, 1878, the president suspended both the collector (Chester A. Arthur) and the naval officer, and their successors were finally confirmed. At the subsequent elections Mr. Cornell was chosen governor of New York and Gen. Arthur became vice-president of the United States. Gov. Cornell was inaugurated, 1 Jan., 1880, and served three years. His administration was noted for economy in public expenditures, and his vetoes of appropriation bills were beyond all precedent, but gave much satisfaction to the people. Upon his recommendation a state board of health and the state railroad commission were created, women were made eligible for school-officers, a reformatory for women established, and the usury laws were modified. The resignation of the New York senators from the U. S. senate in 1881 provoked a bitter contest for the succession, by which the Republican party was divided into hostile factions. At the convention in 1882, Gov. Cornell was earnestly supported for renomination, but he was opposed by many active politicians, and was finally defeated. So much dissatisfaction was aroused among the Republican masses that the nominees of the party were overwhelmed at the polls by a majority of nearly 200,000, and this result led to the defeat of the Republican party in the following presidential election. On his retirement, Gov. Cornell resumed his residence in New York city.