George Francis Train

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George Francis Train
George Francis Train.jpg
Born (1829-03-24)March 24, 1829
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Died January 5, 1904(1904-01-05) (aged 74)
New York City, New York, US

George Francis Train (March 24, 1829 – January 5, 1904) was an American entrepreneur who organized the clipper ship line that sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco; he organized the Union Pacific Railroad and the Credit Mobilier in the United States in 1864 to construct the eastern portion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and a horse tramway company in England while there during the American Civil War. In 1870 Train made the first of his three trips around the globe, with the last in 1890.

In 1872 he ran for President of the United States as an independent candidate. That year, he was jailed for having defended Victoria Woodhull against obscenity charges for an issue her newspaper had published on an alleged adulterous affair. Despite his many business successes in early life, he was known as an increasingly eccentric figure in American and Australian history.

Early life and education[edit]

George Francis Train was born on March 24, 1829 in Boston, son of Oliver Train and his wife Maria, née Pickering. He had a cousin Adeline, who later became a noted author. His parents and three sisters died in a yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans in 1833 when George was four.[1] He was raised by his strict Methodist grandparents in Boston. They hoped George would become a minister. He attended common schools. He did not go into the ministry as he sought more adventure in his life.

Career[edit]

Train entered the mercantile business in Boston, and made it his career all his life in the United States and in Australia. He initiated numerous new businesses, building the corporate and financial structures to make them work.

In 1860 he went to England to found horse tramway companies in Birkenhead and London, where he soon met opposition. He was also involved in the construction of a short-lived horse tramway in Cork, Ireland.[2] Although his trams were popular with passengers, his designs had rails that stood above the road surface and obstructed other traffic. In 1861 Train was arrested and tried for "breaking and injuring" a London street.[3] He tried again with the Darlington Street Railroad Company in 1862, but it was short-lived and closed in 1865.

Train was involved in the formation of the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) in 1864 during the Civil War. The federal government chartered the railroad for construction of the portion of the Transcontinental Railroad west of the Missouri River. Train was involved in setting up the shadow finance company for the project, the Crédit Mobilier of America, whose principal officers were the same as those of UP. (See below)

That year he left the United States for England. Referring to himself as "Citizen Train", Train became a shipping magnate, a prolific writer, a minor presidential candidate after return to the United States, and a confidant of French and Australian revolutionaries. He claimed to have been offered the presidency of a proposed Australian republic, but declined. During the American Civil War, he gave numerous speeches in England in favor of the Union and denounced the Confederacy.

In 1870 Train made a trip around the globe, which was covered by many newspapers. His exploits likely inspired Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days. His protagonist Phileas Fogg is believed to have been modeled on Train.[4]

In 1890, Train completed his third circumnavigation of the earth in 67 days.[4] A plaque in Tacoma, Washington commemorates the point at which his 1890 trip began and ended. Train was accompanied on many of his travels by George Pickering Bemis, his cousin and private secretary. Bemis later was elected as mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

While in Europe after his 1870 trip, Train met with the Grand Duke Constantine. During that period, he persuaded the Queen of Spain to back the construction of a railway in the backwoods of Pennsylvania; her support provided funding for the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad. He promoted and built new tramways in Britain after some opposition. He overcame this by agreeing to run the rails level with the streets.[5]

On his return to the U.S., Train's popularity and reputation soared. He began promoting the Union Pacific Railroad, with which he had been involved for several years, despite the advice of Vanderbilt, who told him it would never work. Forming a finance company called Credit Foncier of America, Train made a fortune from real estate when the transcontinental railway opened up settlement and development of huge swathes of western America, including large amounts of land in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha and Columbus, Nebraska. He was responsible for building the Cozzens Hotel and founding Train Town in pioneer Omaha.

Train was noted for having created the Crédit Mobilier in 1864, which he started specifically to finance the Union Pacific. While appearing to be a separate, independent company which Union Pacific hired, Crédit Mobilier was staffed by the same officers as the railroad. Train and others created a structure that allowed them to realize outsize profits during the construction of the railroad. The story about the scam and Congressional graft was broken in 1872 by The Sun, a New York newspaper opposed to the re-election of Ulysses S. Grant for president. Eventually the scandals resulted in Congressional and executive federal investigations which implicated numerous congressmen, including James Garfield.[6] Denying the charges, Garfield was elected as president.

In 1872 Train ran for President of the United States of America as an independent candidate. He was a staunch supporter of the temperance movement. That year he was jailed on obscenity charges while defending Victoria Woodhull for her newspaper's reporting the alleged affair of Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, each of whom were married to other people. He was the primary financier of the newspaper The Revolution, which was dedicated to women's rights, and published by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Later years[edit]

As he aged, Train was considered to become more eccentric. In 1873 he was arrested and threatened with being sent to an insane asylum.[7] He stood for the position of Dictator of the United States, charged admission fees to his campaign rallies, and drew record crowds. He became a vegetarian and adopted various fads in succession. Instead of shaking hands with other people, he shook hands with himself, the manner of greeting he had seen in China. He spent his final days on park benches in New York City's Madison Square Park, handing out dimes and refusing to speak to anyone but children and animals.[8]

He became ill with smallpox while visiting his daughter Susan M. Train Gulager in Stamford, Connecticut in 1903.[9]

On January 5, 1904 he died in New York and was buried at a small private ceremony at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. After his death The Thirteen Club, of which he was a member, passed a resolution that he was one of the few sane men in "a mad, mad world."[10]

Marriage and family[edit]

He married and he and his wife had children, including a daughter Susan M. Train. She married a Mr. Gulager.

Publications[edit]

"The story of a remarkable and adventurous life. Mr. Train was at one time one of the best known Americans on the face of the globe. He organized the clipper ship line that sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco; he organized the Credit Mobilier and the Union Pacific Railroad; he was one of the organizers of the French Commune; he built the first street-railway in England; he has been the business partner of queens, emperors, and grand dukes, and the familiar friend of some of the greatest people in the world. His story up to the present is one long romance."[11]


— Publisher's Weekly, Weekly Record of Publications (1902)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Foster, Alan (2001). Around the World with Citizen Train - The Sensational Adventures of the Real Phileas Fogg. Merlin Publishing. pp. 14–16. ISBN 1-903582-11-3. 
  2. ^ Walter McGrath, Tram Tracks Through Cork, Tower Books, Cork, 1981
  3. ^ "Police News," The Times, March 27, 1861
  4. ^ a b "Streetcars named desire ... and some other things too". The Northern Echo. December 31, 2008. Retrieved January 5, 2009. "George Francis Train, who was the inspiration for Around the World in 80 Days, and the driving force behind Darlington's street railroad" 
  5. ^ "Street Tramways," The Times, May 26, 1869
  6. ^ McCague, J. (1964) Moguls and Iron Men: The Story of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Harper and Row. p 135.
  7. ^ "George Francis Train Not to be Sent to an Insane Asylum.". New York Times. March 27, 1873. Retrieved January 5, 2009. "... that George Francis Train, now confined in the Tombs for an obscene paper, ..." 
  8. ^ Foster, A. (2002) Around the World with Citizen Train. Merlin Publishing.
  9. ^ "Went from Mills Hotel to Daughter's Home in Stamford.". New York Times. May 22, 1903. Retrieved January 5, 2009. "George Francis Train, the well-known New Yorker, is ill with smallpox at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Susan M.T. Gulager, in this city. It is a light case and the physicians attending him said to-night that they were hopeful the patient would recover. They admitted, however, that the disease has not yet reached the stage where the outcome could be foretold with any degree of certainty." 
  10. ^ "'Citizen' Train Buried". New York Times. January 22, 1904. Retrieved January 5, 2009. "Services Attended by Representatives of Several Societies. Family Orders Flowers Sent by Friends to be Distributed Among Children in Hospitals." 
  11. ^ R.R. Bowker Company, Publishers' Board of Trade (U.S.), Book Trade Association of Philadelphia, Am. Book Trade Association, and American Book Trade Union (1902). "Weekly Record of New Publications". The Publishers Weekly (New York: , F. Leypoldt) 62 (2): 1007. Retrieved March 1, 2010. 

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