Asa Whitney

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This article is about the New York City merchant. For the manufacturer of railroad wheels, railroad engineer and Erie Canal commissioner, see Asa Whitney (canal commissioner).

Asa Whitney (1791 – August 1874 Washington, D.C)[1] was an American merchant and transcontinental railroad promoter.


Whitney lived in New Rochelle, New York, just to the north of New York City where he was a highly successful dry-goods merchant.[2]

He was one of the first backers of an American transcontinental railway. As early as 1830 Whitney became enthralled with railroads and foresaw their future role in business and transport. While on a buying trip in England, he rode on the newly opened Liverpool and Manchester Railway. A trip to China in 1842-44 impressed upon Whitney the need for a transcontinental railroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific.[3][4]

When Whitney returned to the United States in 1844, he realized the benefits from such an undertaking, and spent a great deal of money trying to get the Congress to take up the project. Congressman Zadock Pratt presented his proposal to Congress. In 1849, he published A Project for a Railroad to the Pacific. For years he continued to write revised memorials and take expeditions through what was then known as Indian Territory to support his cause.

Whitney was finally instrumental in securing appropriations in 1853 for the first surveys of the northern, southern, and middle routes.[5] Later Whitney's dream was realized through the efforts of Theodore Judah. In the end, Whitney lived to see his dream realized in 1869 with the opening of the Union Pacific.[6]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Herbert B. Nichols, Historic New Rochelle New Rochelle, New York: Board of Education, 1938.
  3. ^ Whitney, Asa. "Family:Whitney, Asa (1797-1872)". Wiki Archives. Wiki. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Loomis, Nelson. "Asa Whitney: Father of Pacific Railroads". Internet Digital Archive. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1889). "Whitney, Asa, merchant". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  6. ^ Seymour Dunbar, A History of Travel in America.

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