The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Ames, Oakes

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AMES, Oakes, American manufacturer and promoter: b. Easton, Mass., 10 Jan. 1804; d. 8 May 1873. The son of a blacksmith who had become a manufacturer of highly reputed picks and shovels, he trained himself in his father's works, and with his brother joined the firm as Oliver Ames & Sons. The opening up of California in 1848 and Australia in 1851 by the gold discoveries created an immense demand for their goods in mining, settlement and railroad building, which raised the firm to the front rank in business and wealth; and in the Civil War they had great contracts for shovels, swords, etc. Mr. Ames was in the Massachusetts executive council 1861, and Congressman 1862 till death. In 1864 the failure of attempts to carry through the nationally exigent Pacific Railroad led President Lincoln's government to call on Mr. Ames to undertake it. He risked financial ruin if it failed, investing $1,000,000 and making his whole fortune responsible for the rest; it could not be expected that he should forego a corresponding profit if it succeeded. The work was finally accomplished by organizing a construction company (see Crédit Mobilier of America), which paid itself largely in stock and bonds of the Union Pacific, practically making the two companies one, and enabling the former to charge the latter its own prices for work and supplies, the government paying the bills. Credit Mobilier stock became enormously valuable, and the directors were charged with cheating the government and using the stock to buy congressional support for the fraud. Mr. Ames' anomalous position as Congressman, director in both companies, contractor for immense supplies to the railroad, and the ablest manager of the whole enterprise, caused the chief fury of the assault to fall on him; and in the tremendous public scandal and investigation which followed he was censured by the 42d Congress and died shortly after. His son Oliver (q.v.), however, induced the Massachusetts legislature to re-examine the case, and on 10 May 1883 (the 14th anniversary of the completion of the railroad) it passed a resolution exonerating Mr. Ames. The Union Pacific Railroad erected a monument to his memory at Sherman, Wyo., the crest of the road, 8,550 feet above the sea.