He was vice-president of the Atlantic Coast Electric Railway and the Staten Island Railway, which controlled rail services in New York. He was also partner and director of the "Compañía de Electricidad de Cuba" and partner and vice-president of the Guatemala Railway.
Visionary, controversial, and audacious, Farquhar became the greatest private investor in Brazil between 1905 and 1918. According to the writer and former minister Ronaldo Costa Couto, his empire was comparable to those of Count Francisco Matarazzo and Irineu Evangelista de Souza, The Viscount of Mauá.
The writing on Farquhar is full of contradictions, making it very difficult to sort through the legend, hagiography, and libel found in his biographies
- One can't say that Farquhar was Satan, but we also cannot take an apologist stance, making him into a great icon of entrepreneurship. He was a typical example of old international capitalism..
A book which exalts his deeds—with a few passages that border on hagiography—is The Last Titan – An American Entrepreneur in Latin America—a dissertation by Charles A. Gauld for Stanford University, under the supervision of Professor Ronald Hilton.
The Brazilian magazine Exame, in a review of the book, said:
- Although his admiration of this character is excessive, always treating him as an enlightened capitalist and full of good intentions, Charles Gauld drew from an extraordinary variety of documents and sources....
- king of the Rio Light, the Companhia Telefônica Brasileira and a large number of railways in Brazil, tracks in Russia and coal mines in Central Europe, in addition to sugar mills in Cuba.
It is true that he built and directed numerous businesses in Latin America, many of them in Brazil. His activities were frequently related to governmental concessions and privileges—and to guarantees that governments would receive revenues from the capital invested—which he ably obtained from young and inexperienced local governments, frequently through personal bribery.
A bold and fearless financier, with great experience in the European capital markets, Farquhar considered himself "able to finance anything". According to Gauld, Farquhar "was hungrier for land than anyone in Latin American history since the time of the Incas".
The beginning of the First World War in 1914, cut off his main source of resources and financing, and left Farquhar's already precarious empire—which had created the practicing of issuing debt based on debt—extremely indebted, causing it to crumble. His businesses reached bankruptcy by October 1914. His investors lost all of their capital, and Farquhar was ruined. Despite this setback, he would rise again after the war using the same tactics, to fail again after the 1929 stock market crash. After the revolution of 1930, the government of Getúlio Vargas constrained the areas in which he could work, and Farquhar decided to leave Brazil.
Although the dimensions and scope of his economic activity are impressive due to the large sums of money involved and the fervor of his apparently charitable activities, a more detailed examination of Farquhar's businesses in Brazil shows that they frequently led to the deaths of thousands of native people, the ecological destruction of entire states, abandoned railways, bankruptcies, and even civil wars.
Charles A. Gauld writes:
- "The genius of Farquhar lay more in his vision and capacity to raise money to expand than in the efficient management or cost control in his 38 businesses."
An avid speculator, he bet especially strongly on his own commercial paper. At the beginning of 1913, Farquhar came to realize that he was bankrupt.
Farquhar had a great ability to get himself into trouble with governments and nationalist groups. But the dislike that he provoked was not totally baseless.
Determined and capable in the promotion of his own self-image, he always made an effort to make the press portray his actions as "the example of a highly successful American capitalist, a true icon of American entrepreneurship", a fact which gained him a few admirers.
Among these were Assis Chateaubriand, King of Brasil, who became the owner of the country's largest journalism network. This friendship greatly contributed to favorable reactions to Farquhar's activities. (Chateaubriand later bought O Jornal, in 1924, using funds provided by Farquhar, supposedly as legal fees.)
Progress yes, but with concessions
Percival Farquhar believed that no country in the world could become developed without good hotels and fine cuisine.
To fill these needs in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, Farquhar built in São Paulo the elegant Rotisserie Sportsman and imported from the famous Elisée Palace Hotel in Paris the chef Henri Galon, Fernando de Morais tells us in his book Chatô - O Rei do Brasil (Chatô - The King of Brazil).
Grand Hôtel de la Plage
In 1911, Farquhar purchased from the firm Prado, Chaves & Cia control over the Companhia Balneária de Santo Amaro, founded in 1892 which under the direction of Councillor Antonio Prado had been created to organize a tourist beach resort in the place that is today the center of Guarujá. Farquhar's new business was called Companhia Guarujá.
- GAULD, Charles. Farquhar, o último titã: um empreendedor americano na América Latina. São Paulo: Editora de Cultura, 2006. Tradução Eliana do Vale.
- FAORO, Raymundo. Os Donos do Poder, volume 2. Ed. Globo: São Paulo, 1998 (13ª edição)
- FERREIRA, Manoel Rodrigues. A Ferrovia do Diabo. Ed. Melhoramentos: São Paulo, 1959 e 2005.
- Two New Yorkers Try To Harrimanize South America, The New York Times, 22 de setembro de 1912
- HARDMAN, Francisco Foot é professor na Universidade Estadual de Campinas e author do livro Trem Fantasma - Ferrovia Madeira-Mamoré e a modernidade na selva. Cia das Letras: São Paulo, 2004, 2ª Ed.
- TEICH, Daniel Hessel. Percival Farquhar, o internacionalista - Milionário americano negociava até com Lenin, o líder da Revolução Russa. in O Estado de S. Paulo, Caderno de Economia p. B9, Três Barras - SC, 6 de Março de 2005.
- Hagiography: 1. biography of saints or venerated persons. 2. Idealizing or idolizing biography .
- GAULD, Charles. FARQUHAR - O Último Titã - Um Empreendedor Americano na América Latina. Editora de Cultura: São Paulo, 2006
- HILTON, Ronald, Prof. é um Fellow do Hoover Institute na Universidade de Stanford e Chairman da World Association of International Studies.
- MOLINA, Matías M. O magnata que se tornou mito. Revista Exame, Editora Abril: São Paulo, 02.11.2006
- CARONE, Edgar. A República Velha. Editora Bertrand Brasil: São Paulo, 1ª Edição.
- MORAIS, Fernando. Chatô - O Rei do Brasil. Cia das Letras: São Paulo, 1994, 13ª edição
- TEICH, Daniel Hessel. 50 Milhões de Árvores nos Vagões da ferrovia - Maior serraria da America do Sul derrubou grande parte da floresta de araucárias. in O Estado de S. Paulo, Caderno de Economia p. B9, Três Barras - SC, 6 de Março de 2005.
- GASPARI, Hélio. Grande retrato do rei da privataria Folha de S. Paulo: São Paulo, 9 de Agosto de 2006.
- ALVES Ivan. O Contestado. Estados, posseiros, companhias – todos brigam pela terra. Coleção Os grandes enigmas de nossa história. Otto Pierre Editores: Rio de Janeiro,1982
- ARAÚJO NETO, Adalberto Coutinho de. A experiência sindical dos ferroviários da E. F. Sorocabana nos anos 1930.Tese de Mestrado, Departamento de História da Faculdade de Letras, Filosofia e Ciências Humanas da USP, São Paulo, 2006
- BROMBERGER, H. A. Les chemins de fer exotiques.... Paris, édition du Moniteur économique et financier, 1913 (French)
- Os caçadores de concessões no Brasil e o fantasma de Percival Farquhar; Ceci Vieira Juruá
- HIRST, Mônica. História da Diplomacia Brasileira - A Era Vargas, Ministério das Relações Exteriores.
- A Ferrovia do Contestado
- História de Santa Catarina at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
- Governo de Santa Catarina - Site Oficial do Município de Três Barras
- MACHADO, Paulo Pinheiro. Lideranças do Contestado. Editora Unicamp / FAPESP
- Entre a Revolução e o Corporativismo
- Grande retrato do rei da privataria (Elio Gaspari) Folha de S. Paulo, 9 de Agosto de 2006
- A História da Vale (Companhia Vale do Rio Doce)
- Biografia de Percival Farquhar at the Wayback Machine (archived October 26, 2009)
- O magnata que se tornou mito
- O Estado de S. Paulo - Edições Eletrônicas