His involvement in the Republican Party induced an interest
in the railroad issue. In November 1860 Huntington attended
a lecture on the subject. Afterward he invited the speaker to
meet in private. The scheme laid out by Theodore Judah tantalized
the storekeeper. Judah's survey enabled construction of a wagon
road into Nevada Territory, on which Huntington could charge
tolls. Better yet, the new Republican administration might reward
the survey and subsequent lobbying efforts with the keys to
the Pacific railroad. Huntington sensed a fantastic opportunity.
If he was wrong, he'd still have the wagon road. There was little
to lose. Huntington agreed to invest and brought in Hopkins,
Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker to do the same. From this
initiative sprang the Central Pacific Railroad Company.
Huntington's experience as a businessman made him a master calculator
with a hardened exterior. Inside raged a fierce pride that did
not easily forget its wounding. He did not hide displeasure
when overlooked for the presidency of the Central Pacific. The
decision led to a fracture with Judah, whose severance from
the railroad Huntington implicitly encouraged. Over the years,
tensions grew with friends as well. Conflicts came to a head
when former governor Stanford, acting as the Central Pacific's
emissary to Utah Territory, ignored Huntington's entreaties
to grab the Wasatch coal fields.
Issues of communication often vexed the Central Pacific Associates.
In early 1864 Huntington took up residence in Manhattan. East
coast representation was crucial to the railroad's success,
because Eastern industry provided raw construction material
and supplies. Purchasing iron by the thousands of tons and securing
its passage to California were among the titular vice president's
primary responsibilities. Letters between the Associates traveled
by ship and overland across the Isthmus of Panama; requests
for fresh supplies reached Huntington in New York two or three
weeks after leaving California. In early 1868 the Hudson and
East Rivers froze just as Huntington received a desperate entreaty
for iron and steam engines. The remarkable impasse prevented
him from filling the order, nearly paralyzing construction as
Huntington filled the crucial role of Central Pacific lobbyist.
He became a frequent visitor to Washington, where he midwifed
railroad legislation. Like the Union Pacific's man in Washington,
Oakes Ames, Huntington sprinkled money around the Capitol. He
donated thousands of dollars to campaigns, retained legislators
as attorneys, and put lobbyists on the Central Pacific payroll.
Huntington enjoyed backroom politics, but he was cautious. He
could easily sense the impact Union Pacific's questionable finances
and the Crédit Mobilier's movements had across Capitol
Hill. "As the Union Co. are so very corrupt it has to a
considerable extent demoralized the Road being built under the
Pacific R.R. Act," he cautioned partner E. B. Crocker,
"and I should not be surprised if Congress should order
a committee to overhaul all the Co's., and while I know everything
is All Right with the C.P. I would be very careful that the
Co's. Books should make it plain that any one could so see it."
Huntington would never be punished for distributing favors,
much less caught. In 1873 he regretfully informed Congressional
investigators that the Central Pacific books, though All Right,
had been destroyed when the company moved offices.
Huntington delighted in vexing the Union Pacific where he could.
He maintained an espionage network, frequently updating California
colleagues on their competitor's progress and problems. A born
persuader, he was also crafty. When pressuring Secretary of
the Interior Orville Browning to approve his proposed Utah line,
Huntington commuted between New York and Washington every day
for a week, so as not to betray his effort on Capitol Hill.
He was in his New York office every morning and home again every
night. A typical example of his determination, the ruse blinded
competitors to his efforts. In the race
to acquire Utah territory he was cutthroat. Grossly misrepresenting
Central Pacific headway, he snatched ownership of the town of
Ogden from under the nose of the Union Pacific.
of an Empire
Living on an empire founded on the success of the Central Pacific,
Huntington outlasted all his former Associates. He died in 1900,
at the turn of the century his railroad project had helped to
Potter Huntington was born the sixth of what would
be nine children on October 22, 1821 in Harwinton, Connecticut.
In 1842, he and his brother established a successful general
store in Oneonta, New York. At the start of the Gold
Rush, he and Mark Hopkins began selling hardware and
supplies to miners in Sacramento. In the late 1850s, he and
Hopkins joined Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker to pursue
the idea of creating a railway that would connect America's
coasts. In 1861, the four men founded the Central Pacific
Railroad company to build the western portion of the
first North American transcontinental railway system. On May
10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah, the Chinese-built tracks of the
Central Pacific joined the tracks of the Union Pacific
Railroad. The event was celebrated by driving a last
Huntington later got involved in the Southern Pacific
Railroad and its first locomotive was named C.
P. Huntington. Starting in 1871, he oversaw construction
of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway across Virginia
and West Virginia, connecting Richmond with the Ohio River.
He established the planned city of Huntington, West Virginia,
as well as the coal piers in Warwick County, Virginia at a location
which became the City of Newport Newsin 1896. He founded Newport
News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (now Northrop
Grumman), the largest privately owned shipyard in the
world. He said, "we shall build good ships here. At a profit
- if we can. At a loss - if we must. But always good ships."
He died at his camp, Pine Knot, in the Adirondacks on August
13, 1900 and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. He
married Elizabeth Stoddard in 1844. She died in 1883 and he
married Arabella Worsham the following year.
Huntington acquired a substantial collection of art in his life,
and was generally recognized as one of the country's foremost
art collectors. He left most of his collection, valued at some
$3 million, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in
New York. (link) His nephew, Henry E. Huntington, also a California
railroad magnate, founded the Huntington Library, Art
Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California
and was the main force behind the Pacific Electric system in
Huntington Hotel, on top of San Francisco's
Nob Hill, sits where Huntington's mansion stood until destroyed
by the earthquake of 1906. www.huntingtonhotel.com
the Big Four, Huntington had a reputation for being
the most ruthless in business. Ambrose Bierce called him - Happy
Hunty - in Black Beetles in Amber.