Stanford, Leland

views updated May 18 2018

Stanford, Leland

Central Pacific Railroad


Leland Stanford combined his legal knowledge, business ability, and political influence to become one of California's leading citizens in the nineteenth century. With three colleagues, he established the Central Pacific Railroad, which built the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad, and served as its president from 1861 until his death in 1893. The Big Four, as they came to be known, earned an estimated profit of $54 million from that venture alone. Stanford later served as president of the Southern Pacific Corporation for five years.

Stanford also had a distinguished political career. He served one term as the California's first Republican governor in 1861 and was instrumental in keeping the state loyal to the Union during the Civil War. He later served as a U.S. senator until his death in 1893.

As a memorial to his deceased 15-year-old son, Stanford established the Leland Stanford, Jr. University in Palo Alto, better known as simply Stanford University, by donating land and funds worth approximately $30 million.

Personal Life

Leland Stanford was born on March 9, 1824, in Watervliet, New York. He was the fourth son of Josiah and Elizabeth (Phillips) Stanford. The family could trace its American roots back to Thomas Stanford (or Staniforth), who lived in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1644. Stanford's father was a prosperous farmer who also worked as a contractor in the building of bridges, roads, and railroads.

Stanford's early education was typical of the period, a combination of formal schooling and home tutoring. He began to study law at the age of 20 and in 1845 entered the law office of Wheaton, Doolittle & Hadley in Albany, New York. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1847, but he moved to Port Huron, Wisconsin, the next year to open his own law office. He stayed there until 1852, when his law office burned down.

Stanford decided to join three of his brothers in Sacramento, California, where they had a successful business selling mining and agricultural supplies. They helped him establish a mining store in Cold Springs, which proved unsuccessful. He then opened a general store in Michigan Bluff. Finally, in 1856 he moved to Sacramento and became a partner in his brothers' business.

Stanford married Jane Elizabeth Lathrop of Albany, New York, in 1850. They had one son, Leland Stanford, Jr., who by all accounts was a sickly boy. While he was touring Europe with his parents, he contracted typhus and died in Florence, Italy, at the age of 15. After Leland, Jr.'s death, his father decided to establish a university in memory of his son. After consulting with Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard, Stanford established the Leland Stanford, Jr. University in Palo Alto, which opened in 1891.

Stanford's many interests outside of business and politics included operating the world's largest vineyard at the 59,000-acre Vina Ranch near Sacramento. When the extremes of climate proved unsuitable for wine production, they began producing brandy. On his 9,000-acre Palo Alto ranch, Stanford devoted himself to raising some of the world's fastest race horses. To prove that a horse lifted all four of its hooves off the ground, he commissioned photographer Edward Muybridge to set up a battery of cameras triggered by trip wires to photograph a trotting horse. Muybridge was able to project the still images so the horse appeared to be moving, an early example of "filmmaking." Both ranches were eventually donated to Stanford University.

Stanford was also a noted art collector, acquiring paintings, sculpture, and other art objects to adorn his residences in San Francisco and Palo Alto. His San Francisco house was destroyed after his death in the earthquake and fire of 1906.

Career Details

Once in Sacramento, Stanford became interested in politics. A Republican in a predominantly Democratic state, he suffered defeat in 1857 when he ran for state treasurer, and again in 1859 when he ran for governor. In 1861 he was successful in his bid for the governorship, taking advantage of a split in the Democratic Party caused by the outbreak of the Civil War. During his single term, Stanford successfully kept the evenly divided state loyal to the Union. It was around this time that he developed a friendship with President Abraham Lincoln, whom he had met as a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago.

In 1861 Stanford, together with Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker, formed the Central Pacific Railroad with Stanford as president. Stanford handled the legal and governmental affairs of the railroad. When President Lincoln signed an act pledging federal support for a transcontinental railroad, it was the Central Pacific Railroad that was assigned to construct the portion from Sacramento east to meet the Union Pacific Railroad, which was building the portion west from Omaha, Nebraska. Stanford persuaded the California legislature to give more than $750,000 to the cash-starved Central Pacific to allow it to build part of the first transcontinental railroad. For its part, the Central Pacific would get five miles of land on either side of the track it laid and up to $48,000 per mile. When the transcontinental was completed in 1869, Stanford and his associates were some $54 million richer.

The Big Four, as Stanford and his associates were known, went on to pursue other interests in rail and water transportation. They formed the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1870 to purchase and build railroad lines south from San Francisco. The company later completed a second transcontinental railroad from California to New Orleans. The Big Four eventually established a virtual monopoly over transportation in California, and in 1885 they formed the Southern Pacific Corporation as a holding company for their interests. Stanford served as its president from 1885 to 1890.

Stanford began devoting less time to his railroad interests around 1870, when his son was born. He spent more time at his Vina and Palo Alto ranches and on the education of his son. He and his wife took Leland, Jr. on a grand tour of Europe in 1885, where he contracted typhus and died.

Following his son's untimely death, Stanford decided to establish a university in his honor. He said, "I was thinking that since I could do no more for my boy, I might do something for other people's boys in Leland's name." He persuaded the California legislature in 1885 to pass an act enabling the establishment of a university. His $30 million endowment to the university consisted of the 9,000-acre Palo Alto ranch, the 59,000-acre Vina Ranch, the Stanford home in San Francisco, the 22,000 acre Gridley ranch, other real estate, and interest-bearing securities. When the Leland Stanford, Jr. University opened to students in the fall of 1891, its president was David Starr Jordan from Indiana University. The campus featured Spanish mission-style buildings designed by Charles A. Coolidge and landscaping by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

With renewed political ambitions, Stanford ran for the U.S. Senate in 1885 and defeated A.A. Sargent, who was a personal friend of one of the Big Four, Collis P. Huntington. Huntington and Stanford disagreed over Stanford's political career, and in 1890 Huntington managed to have Stanford replaced as president of Southern Pacific. Stanford was reelected to a second term in the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in 1893 at the age of 69.

Social and Economic Impact

Stanford's philanthropy, principally through the establishment of Stanford University, has made his legacy the biggest of the Big Four, who are remembered today largely by the banks and hotels in California that bear their names. While Stanford himself did not live to see the university grow and prosper, it has become recognized as one of the finest universities in the United States.

As a co-founder and president of the Central Pacific Railroad, Stanford was responsible in part for running one of the most successful transportation monopolies in U.S. history. The economic impact of the completion of two transcontinental railroads was substantial, as people and goods were able to travel westward more easily from the South and the Midwest. It contributed greatly to the expansion of the West and the commerce of the nation. Within California, the building of that state's railroad infrastructure was largely accomplished by companies in which Stanford played key roles.

Chronology: Leland Stanford

1824: Born.

1845: Entered first law office.

1847: Admitted to New York Bar.

1848: Relocated to Port Huron, Wisconsin, to practice law.

1856: Became partner in brothers' business in Sacramento.

1857: Entered California politics.

1861: Elected first Republican governor of California.

1861: Organized Central Pacific Railroad (CPR) with three colleagues and became president of the company.

1869: CPR completed the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad, and Stanford drove in the last gold spike at Promontory, Utah, on May 20.

1885: Elected U.S. senator from California.

1891: Leland Stanford, Jr. University opened in Palo Alto, California, as a memorial to Stanford's deceased son.

1893: Died.

Politically, Stanford was an effective lobbyist, if not unselfish, on issues of concern to him. He also gained considerable influence through his friendship with President Lincoln.

Sources of Information


Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

Hutchison, John N. "Leland Stanford's Great Vina Ranch." Wines and Vines, March 1993.

McGuire, William, and Leslie Wheeler. American Social Leaders. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1993.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. New York: James T. White & Co., 1891. Reprint, Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms, 1967-71.

Snow, Richard F. "Biggest of the Four." American Heritage, December 1987.

Story of the Great American West. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1977.

Stanford, Leland

views updated May 17 2018


Leland Stanford (182493) was an industrialist and politician who amassed a large fortune from the development of the railroad industry in the west. He was one of the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad Company that helped build the first transcontinental railroad. He also served as governor of California and as a United States Senator. He donated a large portion of his fortune to found Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Leland Stanford was born on March 9, 1824, in Watervliet, New York, the fifth of eight children. Stanford received a sound education; he first studied at the Clinton Liberal Institute and then at Cazenovia Seminary in New York. After finishing school he began working in a law office and he was admitted to the bar in 1848. He later established his own practice in Port Washington, Wisconsin but a fire destroyed it in 1852 and Stanford decided not to rebuild his practice. Instead he moved to California, where his brothers had already settled, to join their business of selling supplies to miners.

It was in California that Stanford first became involved in politics. He actively participated in the formation of the California Republican Party, and he ran unsuccessfully for State Treasurer in 1857. Despite this loss Stanford continued to pursue a career in politics and in 1859 he ran for governor of California but lost again. However, in 1861 Stanford won the gubernatorial election by a plurality, due to a split in the Democratic Party. His most important political act as governor was keeping California in the Union during the American Civil War (186165).

Around the time when Stanford was elected governor he also became interested in the possibility of building a transcontinental railroad. He joined forces with Collis P. Huntington (18211900), Charles Crocker (182288), and Mark Hopkins (181478) to form the Central Pacific Railroad Company in 1861. Stanford and his associates were referred to as the Big Four. They were eventually responsible for building the western half of the first transcontinental railroad. Stanford served as president of the company from its formation until his death.

The Big Four had little knowledge of the railroad industry and very little capital to invest in the venture so they relied on their political talents and connections to support the project. As governor of California Stanford approved several public grants for the railroad work done in his state. In addition he used his political contacts to acquire generous federal grants for the railroad, which included land grants for railroad construction and loans for financing the project. Stanford generated large sums of public money for a company in which he had a major personal interest as a stockholder.

When his term as governor ended in 1863 Stanford devoted all of his energy to the railroad industry. At that time the Central Pacific began building its part of the transcontinental railroad with construction of tracks eastward from Sacramento, California. The Union Pacific Railroad Company built the westward line from Omaha, Nebraska and the two lines met at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869. The Central Pacific laid 1,086 miles of track, while the Union Pacific had built 689, which was advantageous for Central Pacific, because government subsidies were based on mileage. The Big Four profited nicely from this venture, however, great hardships were encountered before the project was accomplished; many lives were lost. Construction crews consisting mainly of Chinese immigrants worked through two harsh winters in the high Sierras. The goal was to complete the project as quickly as possible.

Once that rail line was completed Stanford and his associates developed other rail and water transportation systems in California. They bought out competing lines such as the California Pacific Railroad Company and the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad. They organized the Southern Pacific Railroad, of which Stanford served as director from 1882 to 1893. This company built a second transcontinental railroad from California to New Orleans.

The Big Four believed that their business could remain profitable only if they maintained their rail monopoly in California. Their policy was one of aggressive defense by which they would prevent competitors from forming other entry points into the state. They also purchased major river and ocean shipping lines. The Big Four dominated the railroad industry in the 1890s; their company was frequently criticized for being a "monopolistic octopus." Nonetheless Stanford personally remained popular among the public.

After 1870 Stanford became less involved in the daily activities of the railroad company and he retreated to his ranch in Palo Alto, California. In 1885 he returned to political life and was elected to the United States Senate. As a U.S. Senator, Stanford advocated private rights in business. He opposed the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 because it allowed for government regulation of businesses. Stanford also served on minor congressional committees and supported popular legislation such as the exclusion of Chinese laborers, industrial co-operatives, and soft money. He represented California in the Senate until his death in 1893 at the age of 69.

Leland Stanford accumulated a fortune from his railroad interests. Stanford was not known for his philanthropy but he donated to particular charities to ensure his family name would become an institution. In 1885 Stanford's 15-year-old son died of typhoid fever while on vacation in Europe. Stanford was keenly interested in the boy's education and as a memorial to his son Stanford provided a 20 million-dollar endowment to found the Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto. The school opened in 1891 and grew to become one of the country's most prestigious universities.

See also: California, Central Pacific Railroad, Monopolies, Railroad Industry, Transcontinental Railroad


Clark, George Thomas. Leland Stanford: War Governor of California, Railroad Builder and Founder of Stanford University. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1931.

Lewis, Oscar. The Big Four: The Story of Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins, and Crocker, and of the Building of the Central Pacific. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1938.

McGuire, William, and Leslie Wheeler. American Social Leaders. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1993.

Snow, Richard F. "Biggest of the Four." American Heritage, December 1987.

Tutorow, Norman E. Leland Stanford: Man of Many Careers. Menlo Park, California: Pacific Coast Publishers, 1971.

Leland Stanford

views updated May 17 2018

Leland Stanford

Leland Stanford (1824-1893), American railroad builder and politician, was one of the founders of the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads and served as California's governor and then U.S. senator.

Leland Stanford, born on March 9, 1824, in Watervliet, N.Y., was one of eight children of a prosperous farmer who also dabbled in various local bridge and road contracts. Leland received a formal education until the age of 12, had 3 years of tutoring at home, and then returned to school. He became an apprentice in an Albany law office and 3 years later gained admission to the bar.

In 1848 Stanford opened a law office at Port Washington, Wis.; meanwhile, his brothers sensed the lure of fortune in California and opened a mercantile business in Sacramento. In 1850 Stanford married Jane Elizabeth Lathrop. Two years later his law office burned down, and he decided to relocate in California. His brothers helped him establish a mining store in Cold Springs, but it did not do well so he opened a business at Michigan Bluff, which was successful. He also engaged in mining on a small scale.

In 1856 Stanford moved to Sacramento, where he started business with a brother and quickly entered politics. He met defeat in a race for Republican state treasurer in 1857, and 2 years later he lost the gubernatorial contest. His golden opportunity came in 1861, when the Civil War split the Democratic party, and he won the governor's office with less than the combined vote of his two Democratic opponents. Though he served only one term, he was able to keep California in the Union. His administration also encouraged the passage of several acts designed to aid the proposedtranscontinental railroad, in which he had a large financial interest.

In 1861 Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins organized the Central Pacific Railroad, which built east to join the westward-progressing Union Pacific Railroad. The two joined at Promontory Point, Utah, in May 1869. Stanford became president of the Central Pacific, Huntington handled eastern financial and political arrangements, Crocker supervised construction, and Hopkins looked after company finances. Stanford's excellent reputation in California allowed the Central Pacific access to considerable sums of construction money. Also, as a stockholder in the construction companies, he enjoyed great personal profit.

Stanford remained president of the Central Pacific until his death. In 1870 the Southern Pacific was incorporated to build in southern California and eventually to reach New Orleans, La. Fourteen years later a holding company, the Southern Pacific Company, merged the Southern Pacific Railroad, Central Pacific, and others into one combine. Stanford was president of the combine from 1885 to 1890.

In 1890 Stanford and Huntington split over Stanford's renewed political ambitions. After he left the governor's office in 1863, he had remained active in influencing legislation in California. In 1885 he had declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate and had defeated A. A. Sargent on a strictly party vote. Sargent was a personal friend of Huntington, and in 1890 Huntington managed to have Stanford replaced as Southern Pacific president. Stanford's senatorial career was undistinguished.

Stanford endowed a new institution, the Leland Stanford Junior University, in 1885 in memory of his son, who had died at the age of 15. Stanford died in Palo Alto on June 21, 1893.

Further Reading

No recent work on Stanford has appeared. Two biographies are George T. Clark, Leland Stanford, War Governor of California, Railroad Builder and Founder of Stanford University (1931), and Hubert H. Bancroft, History of the Life of Leland Stanford (1952). Stanford's role in the Central Pacific is examined in Oscar Lewis, The Big Four (1938).

Additional Sources

Lewis, Oscar, The big four: the story of Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins, and Crocker, and of the building of the Central Pacific, New York: Arno Press, 1981, 1938.

Regnery, Dorothy F., The Stanford House in Sacramento: an American treasure, Stanford, Calif. (P.O. Box 2328, Stanford University, Stanford 94305): Stanford Historical Society, 1987. □