Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

HOLLADAY, BEN (1820-1887)

A giant in the history of transportation in the United States, Ben Holladay was born into a poor Kentucky family in 1820. In 1836 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he gained practical business experience working as a store clerk, liquor salesman, and tavern keeper. Holladay became seriously involved in the transportation business during the Mexican War in 1846, when he contracted with Gen. Stephen W. Kearny to supply wagons and provisions to the U.S. Army. After the war, he formed a partnership with Theodore W. Warner for transporting supplies to Salt Lake City, where they were sold to westbound emigrants. Holladay prospered greatly through his trade with Brigham Young and the Mormons.

Following the 1857 Mormon War, Holladay capitalized on the Pikes Peak gold rush by associating with the staging firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell. The disruption of the Butterfield Overland Mail during the Civil War provided another business opportunity. In March 1862 he gained control of the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company and its 1,200 miles of stage lines. Holladay improved and expanded the company, increasing the number of stations, obtaining a fleet of new Concord stages, and updating the numerous routes. He also secured government mail contracts amounting to $650,000 annually. By 1866 the Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company extended from Atchison to Denver and Salt Lake City. Nonetheless, Holladay, tired of increasing conflicts with Native Americans and aware that rail transport would soon supplant his stage lines, sold out to Wells, Fargo and Company on November 1, 1866, for $1.5 million cash, $300,000 worth of Wells, Fargo and Company stock, and numerous other perks.

Ben Holladay played a major role in opening up the Great Plains and the West to trade and settlement. While remembered primarily for his success in staging, Holladay held interests in steamships bound for Asia, river-bound stern-wheelers, and numerous western railroads. He also helped establish the Pony Express. Ben Holladay, the flamboyant Stagecoach King, died in Portland, Oregon, on July 8, 1887.

Derrick S. Ward Ventura, California

Frederick, James V. Ben Holladay, the Stagecoach King: A Chapter in the Development of Transcontinental Transportation. Glendale CA: Arthur H. Clark, 1940.

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