the inventors, who as a group gained relatively little from their work, the
early telegraph company promoters were the contractors of the first
telegraph lines, who frequently slid into the business because of the
company stock they were paid in for their contracts. Both Ezra Cornell and
Hiram Sibley, the two main factors in the early days of the Western Union
Telegraph Company, were practical men involved with Morse in the
establishment of America’s first telegraph line.
although these early magnates made considerable money in their times, the
Western Union Telegraph Company soon became the play-ball of the mightier
railroad tycoons, William Henry Vanderbilt on one side, Jay Gould and
Russell Sage on the other. As a side effect of this battle of giants for
control of Western Union, which was won by the Gould-Sage faction, another
battle, for control of the speaking telephone technology, was abandoned by
the mighty telegraph trust.
gave Alexander Graham Bell, the (officially acknowledged) American inventor
of the telephone, and his backers, predominantly Bostonians formerly engaged
in the China trade, the opportunity to build an even greater business on the
basis of their more appealing technology.
telephone, first presented at the US Centennial Exposition in 1876, was so
keenly and universally adopted, that within less than thirty years, the
telephone trust, popularly called “Ma Bell” was able to purchase a
controlling interest in Western Union. This it relinquished in 1913, as a
concession to Washington’s anti-trust authorities, in exchange of the
legalization of its monopoly on the telephone business.
the strong growth of American cities, (horse drawn) street railways, still a
curiosity in the 1830s, became an increasingly profitable business and their
franchises, a new source of revenues for corrupt city officials, after they
had disposed of municipal land and water grants. Street railway promoters
were thus necessarily close to the Board of Aldermen in their respective
cities and generous with both, cash and securities, towards those officials
who would grant them the best franchises.
Philadelphia, Peter A. B. Widener, a successful butcher who had made a pile
supplying meat to the Union armies during Civil War, became the Republican
leader in the Twentieth Ward and was appointed to the influential position
of City Treasurer. Using his office and the political influence it conferred
him, Widener along with his partner, William Lukens Elkins, whose initial
wealth stemmed from the oil business, became the predominant factors in
Philadelphia’s street railways.
their initial success in their hometown, Elkins and Widener joined Charles
T. Yerkes, a fellow Philadelphian, in his Chicago (street railway) ventures
and teamed up with William Collins Whitney and Thomas Fortune Ryan in New
his partners, William Collins Whitney did not rise from the ranks of common
people to great riches. He was the descendent of a prominent family from New
England, a lawyer educated at Yale and Harvard. He married the sister of
Standard Oil treasurer Oliver Hazard Payne and entered politics as a reform
Democrat, assisting Joseph Choate and Samuel J. Tilden to fell the infamous
Utility Tycoons >
Index and Introduction :
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