John W. Garrett

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John W. Garrett
John W. Garrett.jpg
Born (1820-07-31)July 31, 1820
Baltimore, Maryland
Died September 26, 1884(1884-09-26) (aged 64)
Deer Park, Maryland
Net worth USD $15 million at the time of his death ($3.7 billion adjusted for 2012 inflation, approximately 1/715th of US GNP)[1]

John Work Garrett (July 31, 1820 – September 26, 1884), was an American banker, philanthropist, and president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O).

In 1855, he was named to the board of the B&O, and in 1858, became its president, a position he held until the year he died. His tenure was marked by his support for the Union cause during the Civil War, the expansion of the railroad to reach Chicago, Illinois, and his struggles with the Pennsylvania Railroad over access to New York City. Several places are named in his honor.

Early life[edit]

After attending with his brother Henry, Boisseau Academy in Baltimore, and later at age fourteen, the secondary prep school for Lafayette College and continuing to the college in Easton, Pennsylvania,[2] Garrett began working as a clerk and apprentice in his father's banking and financial services firm, founded 1819, Robert Garrett and Company, (later Robert Garrett and Sons), at the age of nineteen in 1839. His father Robert [Sr.], had come from Ireland as a young boy in 1801 with his parents and family, including his father who died at sea during the transit. Along with Henry, the young Garrett sons learned the business from the ground up such as how to tan leather from the teamster Alexander Sharp as their father did, mastered salting pork and packing madder and Spanish whiting in barrels. When his brother stayed in Baltimore, John Work headed west to expand the business over the mountains. Like his father before him, he learned the geography with first-hand travels through Virginia into Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and beyond. This taught him that the importance for Baltimore's port lay in the western states and the trade to come east. The company's fleet of Conestoga wagons carried food and supplies west over the Cumberland Trail towards Kentucky and Tennessee and the old National Road, west from Baltimore to Cumberland, Maryland and further to Ohio and the territorial capital at Vandalia, Illinois, near the Mississippi River. From their business and store then located on Howard Street, they supplied products to be sent to western general stores such as flints, chocolate and chalk, receiving in turn, ginseng, snakeroot and whiskey. The brothers sponsored new projects, building warehouses and hotels such as the Howard House and the Eutaw House on the westside. With the end of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, they turned attention to the new American Southwest and California, causing the largest steamship then ever built in Baltimore, "The Monumental City", which soon made regular runs down the Chesapeake Bay to New Orleans, and San Francisco. The company added to its fleet and expanded its mercantile and financial business to South America and Europe. In later years, the Garrett business with succeeding generations expanded into railroads, shipping, and banking, built a landmark skyscraper of thirteen stories (tall for those days) designed in a variety of then popular styles such as the Chicago, Commercial/ Vernacular and Renaissance Revival by noted architects J.B. Noel Wyatt and William G. Nolting in 1913 in downtown Baltimore's financial district on the eastside at the southwest corner of Water and South Streets, nine years after the devastation of the central business district by the Great Baltimore Fire of February 1904. The firm, led by his descendents, endured into 1974, along with its famous earlier rival Alex. Brown & Sons of 1800. In 1981, the old Garrett company's headquarters were purchased by a well-known local law firm, Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger and Hollander who began a substantial historically-minded restoration and renovation which was completed in January 1984.

Garrett began purchasing the stock of B. & O. during a difficult period when the railroad was contending with the completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal paralleling the Potomac River from Georgetown near Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland and internal conflicts created by its part private and public ownership. Of the 30 members of the B. & O.'s board of directors, 18 were selected by the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore. In 1854, the Baltimore City Council extended a five million dollars emergency loan to the struggling railroad's growing construction debt as the line pushed westward over the Appalachian Mountains. When an economic depression hit known as the "Panic of 1857", money became extremely tightened.[3] Brother Henry Garrett had been serving as a B. & O. director for some time and in 1847, John Work joined him. During the special directors board meeting, well-reported in the local newspaper "The Sun" on November 17, 1858, with extensive debate and controversy between those di4ctors wishing to keep the line in private hands, and those representing the interests of the state and city governments, an election was held. By a vote of 16 to 14, Garrett was elected over incumbent executive Chauncey Brooks of "Cloverdale", who represented the state interests. Following a motion of board member and largest stockholder since 1847, Johns Hopkins, (1795-1873), and chairman of the financial committee, Garrett became the new president of the B.& O. Railroad. Hopkins was a Maryland native, who became a hardware wholesale merchant on South Charles Street and made his substantial fortune in Baltimore. The Garrett Company and the B.& O. interests also had strong ties to the London-based George Peabody & Company, and through their business interests, Garrett and George Peabody, (1795-1869), (also a Massachusetts-born merchant, financier who made his fortune in Baltimore during the 20 years he spent there, later moving and expanding to New York City and finally London where he became the richest man in America) became close friends. Garrett became deeply involved with the Peabody Institute which the international financier created and endowed in 1857 along with several programs and facilities which opened following the Civil War in 1866, followed after his death by the George Peabody Library in 1878.

Garrett married Rachel Ann Harrisson (1823–1883) and had four children. His daughter, Mary Elizabeth Garrett, (1854-1915), a civic activist, philanthropist in her own right and suffragist, helped found the Bryn Mawr School, the Baltimore Museum of Art, (1914), and secured the admission of women to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as a condition of her bequest to supplement the endowment of Hopkins' from twenty years before, which enabled the new Hopkins medical college to be one of the first co-educational schools in the country in 1893. John Work's first adult residence with his growing family was on Fayette Street (in the heart of the present business district). Later as many well-to-do families moved to more spacious and luxurious residences, they acquired a semi-detached mansion in a neighborhood then known as "Garrett Park" near Franklin Square on the westside. Unfortunately a later house fire resulted in the dramatic rescue of the two Garrett boys who were taken to the imposing nearby residence of Gen. George H. Steuart (militia general). Garrett purchased and gave to his son, Robert, a substantial townhouse on West Mount Vernon Place[4] (later known as the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, also the Engineering Club of Baltimore, after 1962) opposite the Washington Monument which was later expanded to two neighboring houses and added a brownstone façade, after Robert's death by his widowed wife and her second husband, Dr. Henry Jacobs, towards the end of the 19th Century, becoming the largest and most finely appointed mansion in Baltimore. Garrett purchased and gave to his son, T. Harrison, "Evergreen" mansion[5] off North Charles Street above Cold Spring Lane (between the later campuses of the Roman Catholic women's school, College of Notre Dame of Maryland of 1896 and the neighboring Jesuits men's institution Loyola College, which moved north in 1934), which was later donated by a Garrett family descendant to the The Johns Hopkins University and "Montebello" a later 1870's era Victorian-style wood-frame turreted mansion in the northwestern vicinity of present-day 33rd Street and The Alameda (Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood in northeast Baltimore) along with another of the same name as an earlier near-by 1799 Federal-era uniquely-styled mansion of General Samuel Smith, (1752-1839), U.S. Senator and previous Representative/"Congressman", Baltimore City Mayor and commander of Maryland state Militia forces in the War of 1812 during the British attack against the city in the Battle of Baltimore.

The Civil War[edit]

The B. & O. got an early taste of the Civil War during abolitionist John Brown's raid on the Federal armory in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia (in those days still part of Virginia). Garrett learned that raiders had stopped a train at Harper's Ferry, and sent a telegram to the U.S. Secretary of War.[3] Federal troops with U.S. Marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee, (U.S. Army), from Arlington House, Virginia across the river from the Capital, were sent to put down the rebellion on a special B. & O. train. Garrett had previously always considered the B. & O. to be a "Southern railroad", and had originally pro-South sympathies. However, his business sense, with possibly political and economic acumen (and his anger at seeing Confederates tearing up his railroad) made him side with the Union and the policies of President Abraham Lincoln, and under his direction, the B. & O. was instrumental in supporting the Federal government, as it was the main rail connection between Washington, D.C. and the northern and western states.[6]

Garrett is particularly remembered for his part in the July 1864 Battle of the Monocacy through Frederick, Maryland, during the third Confederate invasion of the North. Agents of the railroad began reporting Confederate troop movements in western Virginia and its Shenandoah Valley under General Jubal Early eleven days prior to the battle, and Garrett had their intelligence passed to authorities in the U.S. War Department and to Major General Lew Wallace, (later noted author of the historical novel "Ben Hur") who commanded the department that would be responsible for defense of the area. As preparations for the battle progressed, Garrett provided transport for Federal troops and munitions, and on two occasions was contacted directly by President Lincoln for further information. Though Union forces lost this battle, the two-day delay allowed Ulysses S. Grant, was then engaged in the campaign further south against the Confederate capital, Richmond and a siege against nearby Petersburg to detach several Federal regiments from his substantial forces and send them up north on the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River, to successfully repel the Confederate attack by Gen. Early's corps on Washington at the Battle of Fort Stevens on the northwestern outskirts of the capital two days later, (witnessed by a Presidential visit to the front). After the battle, Lincoln paid tribute to Garrett as "The right arm of the Federal Government in the aid he rendered the authorities in preventing the Confederates from seizing Washington and securing its retention as the Capital of the Loyal States."[7]

Garrett was a confidant of President Lincoln, and often accompanied him on his visits to battlefields in Maryland.[2] In 1865, Garrett organized the funeral train that took the body of the assassinated president from Washington to Springfield, Illinois, a long several-week excursion that included stops and ceremonies with processions throughout the North in Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Chicago.[8]

Postbellum activities[edit]

After the war, Garrett acquired three gunboats that had been used in the blockade service and refitted them into packet ships, establishing the first regular line service from Baltimore, Maryland, to Liverpool, Pennsylvania. He was also associated with several telegraph companies.[2]

Following the massive nation-wide labor strife in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, (which began and especially hit the B. & O., Garrett in 1880 was one of the organizers of the B. & O. Employees' Relief Association.[2] The B. & O. provided its initial endowment and assumed all administrative costs. Worker coverage included sickness, indefinite time for recovery from accidents, and a death benefit.[3] In 1884, Garrett was instrumental in negotiating the loans which allowed the B. & O. to extend its main line northeast to Philadelphia and through connections with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad to reach New York City, to compete further with the northeastern dominant line, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central.

Garrett, a trustee of the Peabody Institute, asked its founder, George Peabody, (1795-1869), to persuade Johns Hopkins, (1795-1873), to make the bequest that would make possible the The Johns Hopkins University in 1876 and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1882, followed by the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1893. Garrett became one of the most active trustees of the university.

Several places are named in Garrett's honor, including:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  2. ^ a b c d Hall, Clayton Colman (1912). Baltimore: Its History and Its People 2. Lewis Historical Publishing Co. pp. 458–461. 
  3. ^ a b c Fee, Elizabeth (1991). "Evergreen House and the Garrett Family: A Railroad Fortune". In Fee, Elizabeth; Shopes, Linda; and Zeidman, Linda (eds.). The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 11–27. ISBN 0-87722-823-X. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Summers, Festus P. (1993) [First published 1939]. The Baltimore and the Ohio in the Civil War. Gettysburg, PA: Stan Clark Military Books. ISBN 978-1-879664-13-5. 
  7. ^ John W. Garrett, President, B & O Railroad from the US National Park Service Monocacy National Battlefield website (accessed 14 November 2006)
  8. ^ Scharf, J. Thomas (1967 (reissue of 1879 ed.)). "History of Maryland From the Earliest Period to the Present Day" 3. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press. p. 656.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 135. 
  • Bowditch, Eden Unger (2001). Growing Up in Baltimore: A Photographic History. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-1357-1. OCLC 48216339. 
  • "About Us". Garrett State Bank. Archived from the original on 2005-02-11. Retrieved 2005-03-02. 
  • Ingham, John N. (1983). Biographical Dictionary of American business leaders. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23907-X. OCLC 8388468. 
  • "Biography of John Work Garrett". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Thomson Gale. 2005. Retrieved 2005-03-02. 
  • Treese, Lorett (2003). Railroads of Pennsylvania: Fragments of the Past in the Keystone Landscape. Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-2622-3. OCLC 50228411. 
  • White, John H, Jr. (Spring 1986). "America's Most Noteworthy Railroaders". Railroad History (154): p. 9–15. ISSN 0090-7847. OCLC 1785797. 

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