Leland Stanford - Business in United States of America
Identification: Politician, railroad president, and university founder
Born: March 9, 1824; Watervliet, New York
Died: June 20, 1893; Palo Alto, California
Significance: Stanford was a California governor, U.S. senator, and successful businessman. As president of the Central Pacific Railroad, he was one of the “Big Four” California railroad barons who built the first transcontinental railroad. He later used his million-dollar fortune to found Stanford University.
Growing up in rural New York, Leland Stanford became a lawyer before moving to California in 1852 with his wife, Jane. He became wealthy as a merchant to the miners of California’s gold rush. After a term as Republican governor of California, he was selected president of the Central Pacific Railroad. Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis Huntington were the “Big Four” railroad barons, whose extensive business interests dominated California after the U.S. Civil War. Their financial and political might allowed them to complete an audacious project—the building of the transcontinental railroad—with Stanford himself driving in the Golden Spike on May 10, 1869.
After the ravages of the Civil War, the transcontinental railroad represented the figurative and actual tying together of the nation, opening the West to rapid business development. In 1885, Stanford was appointed to the U.S. Senate, where he farsightedly favored worker-owned labor cooperatives. After the death of their only son, Leland and Jane devoted their vast estates, farms, ranches, wineries, and fortune to founding Stanford University in his honor. Stanford University opened in 1891. Attracting national attention, Stanford persuaded former President Benjamin Harrison to become the first law professor of the university in 1893. A man of many accomplishments, Stanford’s greatest legacy is perhaps Stanford University, as America’s outstanding universities have become central engines of American business growth.
See also: education; railroads; robber barons.