The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Whitney, William Collins

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WHITNEY, William Collins, American capitalist and politician: b. Conway, Mass., 15 July 1841; d. New York, 2 Feb. 1904. He was graduated at Yale in 1863, and at the Harvard Law School in 1865; studied law with Abraham R. Lawrence in New York, and was admitted to the bar in that city. He took an active part in the organization of the Young Men's Democratic Club, and in the proceedings against the “Tweed Ring”; served as corporation counsel of the city in 1875-82, thoroughly reorganizing the law department; and was secretary of the navy in the Cabinet of President Cleveland from 1885 to 1889. In this position he accomplished much in the development of plans for strengthening the naval service, and the “new navy” owes its subsequent increase in considerable part to his progressive policy. He did effective work for the election of Grover Cleveland as governor of New York in 1882, and as President in 1884, and again in 1892, when he was manager of the Democratic campaign. He declined to enter the Cabinet again, preferring to pursue his business career, in which his interests had grown to great proportions. One of his largest enterprises was that which resulted in the consolidation of the various street railway lines in New York City. The Metropolitan Street Railway system was mainly organized by him, and he was a director in many corporations and societies. He was also a man of recreations, was especially interested in the breeding and training of horses, and became the recognized leader of the American turf, for the elevation of which to higher levels of sportsmanship he successfully strove. At the time of his death he was one of the largest landowners in the East, his holdings being in several States, and including a game preserve of 16,000 acres in the Adirondacks. While his main residence was in New York, he also maintained others on his various estates, North and South, as well as a house in London. He left two sons, Harry Payne Whitney and Payne Whitney.