Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Edward Henry Harriman was born February 28, 1848, in Hempstead, Long Island. A product of Jersey City schools and two years at Trinity School in New York City, he turned to a career on Wall Street but became increasingly interested in railroading. By 1893, after helping reorganize the Erie Railroad, he began rehabilitating other railways.

In December 1897 Harriman joined the board of the bankrupt Union Pacific. A year later he became chairman of the board of directors of the Union Pacific and in ten years put the road in first-class shape. In 1900 Harriman acquired the Southern Pacific but was prevented from entering the northwestern railroad complex by James J. Hill and by his own participation in the Northern Securities Company, which was found guilty of monopoly by the Supreme Court in 1904. Harriman sold his northwestern railroad interests at a substantial profit, which he invested in various railroad companies throughout the country.

This action led the Interstate Commerce Commission to investigate Harriman during 1906 and 1907. The inquiry uncovered the vastness of his ventures and his use of the Union Pacific as a holding company for other railroad corporate funds. The findings of the Interstate Commerce Commission, together with Harriman's interests in both railroads and insurance, not to mention his seeming disdain of public opinion, led Americans to label him a robber baron. Few knew the magnitude of his charitable activities.

Harriman married Mary W. Averell on September 10, 1879, and they had six children. He died on September 9, 1909, at his home in New York.

Liston E. Leyendecker Fort Collins, Colorado

Kennan, George H. Edward Henry Harriman: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922.

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