Thomas A. Scott

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Thomas A. Scott

Thomas Alexander Scott (December 28, 1823 – May 21, 1881) was an American businessman. He was the fourth president of what was the largest corporation in the world, the Pennsylvania Railroad, during the middle of the 19th century. In connection with his railroad interests, he also took a leading role in crafting what eventually became the Compromise of 1877, which marked the end of Reconstruction following the Civil War.

Early life[edit]

Scott was born in Fort Loudoun, Pennsylvania. He joined the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1850 as a station agent, and by 1858 was general superintendent. It was during this time that a young Andrew Carnegie began working for the Pennsylvania Railroad under the supervision of Scott. Their association continued through the Civil War and for some time after, until Carnegie turned his full attention to iron and steel. In 1860, Scott became the first Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. From 1871 to 1872, he was President of the Union Pacific Railroad and assumed the Presidency of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1874. The Pennsylvania Railroad expanded from a state line railroad to a transportation empire in the 1860s and 1870s.


The charter issued in 1846 by the state to the Pennsylvania Railroad was an attempt to diffuse power within the organization by giving executive authority to a committee responsible to stockholders. By 1878, however, power had been centralized in the hands of the officers led by John Edgar Thomson and Scott.[1]

Scott was notoriously secretive about his business dealings, conducting most of his business in private letters and instructing his business partners to destroy them when read.

Historians have explained the successful partnership of Scott with J. Edgar Thomson in terms of the melding of their opposite personality traits: Thomson, the engineer, cool, deliberate, and introverted; Scott, the financier, daring, versatile, and a publicity-seeker. In addition, were their common experiences and values, their agreement on the importance of success, Thomson's paternalism, and the financial stability of the Pennsylvania Railroad.[2]

After the war Scott was heavily involved in investments in the fast-growing trans-Mississippi line, with long-term plans for a rail that united the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Scott took a special interest in mentoring aspiring railroad men, such as Andrew Carnegie; Scott taught him the basics of railroading, investment, and management and had a great impact on his later business life.

Civil War[edit]

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin called on Scott for his extensive knowledge of the rail and transportation systems of the state. Scott received a staff commission as a colonel, and in August 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Scott as Assistant Secretary of War. The next year, he helped organize the Loyal War Governors' Conference in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Later on, Scott took on the task of equipping a substantial military force. He assumed supervision of government railroads and other transportation lines, and made the movement of supplies and troops more efficient and effective in the war effort on behalf of the Union. In one instance, he engineered the movement of 25,000 troops in 24 hours from Nashville to Chattanooga, turning the tide of battle once more to a Union victory. Scott also recommended Lincoln travel covertly by rail to avoid Confederate spies and assassins.[3]


In the aftermath of the Civil War, the southern states wanted their economic infrastructure restored and the railroads competed to acquire and construct lines in the south. Federal assistance was desired by both interest groups, but the Credit Mobilier scandal had made this difficult. Scott made a proposal that came to be called the "Scott Plan" by which largely Democratic Southern politicians would give their votes in Congress and state legislatures for government subsidies for various infrastructure improvements, including in particular, an enterprise headed by Scott, the Texas and Pacific Railway. Scott employed the expertise of Grenville Dodge in buying the support of newspaper editors as well as various politicians in order to build public support for the subsidies. The Scott Plan became the basis for the Compromise of 1877, which included an end to the Federal occupation of the South and its concomitant impact on African Americans in that region.

The Scott Plan was derailed by the political maneuvering of a competing railroad and the Texas and Pacific Railroad never reached past El Paso, Texas. The financial panic and economic depression in 1873 further acted as an obstacle to Scott’s dream of a transcontinental railroad, as did the Credit Mobilier Scandal, which made Congress unwilling to grant railroad companies land grants in the west. He suffered a stroke in 1878, which hindered his ability to work, and had lost his crucial partner Thomson in 1874. Despite Scott’s best efforts to make the company more efficient, Pennsylvania Railroad continued to lose money in the 1870s, and cost reduction and pay cut initiatives caused riots in Pittsburgh that caused millions of dollars of damage.[4]

University of Pennsylvania Endowments[edit]

Scott and his widow made a variety of endowments in his name at the University of Pennsylvania, including:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ward (1975)
  2. ^ Ward (1976)
  3. ^ Kamm, Samuel Richey, The Civil War Career of Thomas A. Scott, University of Pennsylvania, 1940.
  4. ^ Ingham, John N., Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders: N-U, Greenwood Press, 1983.
  5. ^ Nitzsche, George Erasmus (1918), University of Pennsylvania: Its History, Traditions, Buildings and Memorials; Also a Brief Guide to Philadelphia (7th ed.), Philadelphia: International Printing Company, p. 155, OCLC 65488397 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ward, James A. "J. Edgar Thomson And Thomas A. Scott: A Symbiotic Partnership?," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, January 1976, Vol. 100 Issue 1, pp 37–65
  • Ward, James A. "Power and Accountability on the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1846-1878," Business History Review, Spring 1975, Vol. 49 Issue 1, pp 37–59
  • White, Richard. "Corporations, Corruption, and the Modern Lobby: A Gilded Age Story of the West and the South in Washington, D.C.", Southern Spaces, 16 April 2009. online
  • Woodward, C. Vann. Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction, (1956)

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by
Oliver Ames, Jr.
President of Union Pacific Railroad
Succeeded by
Horace F. Clark
Preceded by
J. Edgar Thomson
President of Pennsylvania Railroad
1874 – 1880
Succeeded by
George Brooke Roberts