Alexander Cassatt

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Alexander J. Cassatt
Portrait of Alexander Johnston Cassatt.jpg
Alexander Cassatt somewhere between 1890 and 1900
Born(1839-12-08)December 8, 1839
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
DiedDecember 28, 1906(1906-12-28) (aged 67)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting placeChurch of the Redeemer Cemetery,
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
OccupationRailroad executive
Years active1866-1906
Known forPresident of Pennsylvania Railroad
Spouse(s)Lois Buchanan (1847–1920)
ChildrenEdward Buchanan Cassatt (1869–1922)
Katherine Kelso Cassatt (1871–1905)
Robert Kelso Cassatt (1873–1944)
Elsie Foster Cassatt (1875–1931)
RelativesMary Cassatt, sister
HonorsSS A. J. Cassatt

Alexander Johnston Cassatt (December 8, 1839 – December 28, 1906) was the seventh president of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), serving from June 9, 1899, to December 28, 1906.[1][2] The painter Mary Cassatt was his sister.

Family and early life[edit]

Alexander Cassatt was born on December 8, 1839, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the eldest of seven children born to Robert Simpson Cassat (later Cassatt), and his wife Katherine Cassatt, the former Katherine Kelso Johnston.[3] The elder Cassatt was a successful stockbroker and land speculator. He was descended from the French Huguenot Jacques Cossart, who came to New Amsterdam in 1662. Alexander's younger sister was the impressionist painter Mary Cassatt.[4]

His mother Katherine came from a banking family. She was educated and very well read.[5] It was said that of the seven children Alexander most resembled his mother in "appearance and temperament."[3]

In 1856 he entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to study Civil Engineering where his senior thesis was entitled "Review of Pressure Turbine."[3] After graduating in the summer of 1859, Robert Cassatt took Alexander to see a former neighbor from Lancaster Pennsylvania, James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States.

By the fall of 1860, Alexander had secured a position as a surveyor or rodman by the Georgia Railroad. By the time the State of Georgia voted to secede from the Union in January 1861, Cassatt had abandoned his work as surveyor on the Dalton-Knoxville line of the Georgia Railroad and returned to Pennsylvania without seeing any military service during the Civil War.[3]


Pennsylvania Railroad[edit]

Frequently referred to as A. J. Cassatt, the great accomplishment under his stewardship was the planning and construction of tunnels under the Hudson River to finally bring PRR's trunk line into New York City. His purchase of a controlling interest in the Long Island Rail Road and the construction of tunnels under the East River created a PRR commuter network on Long Island. Unfortunately, Cassatt died before his grand Pennsylvania Station in New York City was completed.

Pennsylvania Station, New York, NY (1911, demolished 1963).

Cassatt joined the PRR in 1861 as an engineer and rapidly rose through the ranks. He was a vice president in 1877 when the Pittsburgh Railway Riots broke out in 1877, and had become Pennsy First Vice-President by 1880.[6]:326 He was disappointed to be passed over for the presidency and resigned from the company in 1882.

During his absence he devoted his time to horse raising but still was able to organize a new railroad the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad (NYP&N), that connected southern markets with the north. Despite no longer being an executive with PRR, he was elected to the PRR's board of directors and was recalled in 1899 to serve as president.[7]

Cassatt more than doubled the PRR's total assets during his term, from $276 million to $594 million, while Track and equipment investment increased by almost 150 percent. The route from New York through Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Altoona to Pittsburgh was made double-tracked throughout; to Washington, D.C., four-tracked—Pennsy's "Broad Way." Many other lines were double-tracked; almost every part of the system was improved. New freight cutoffs avoided stations; grade crossings were eliminated, flyovers were built to streamline common paths through junctions, terminals were redesigned, and much more. Cassatt initiated the Pennsy's program of electrification which led to the road being the United States' most electrified system.

Cassatt was succeeded as Pennsylvania Railroad president by James McCrea.

Civil engineer[edit]

In the Spring of 1861, Cassatt had been hired as part of the Engineer Corps of the Pennsylvania Railroad, again as a rodman where he worked on the Connecting Railway.[3]

It is unknown how Cassatt managed to avoid the Pennsylvania militia draft during the Union mobilization in this period but in 1864, Cassatt was transferred to Renovo, Pennsylvania, as a resident engineer to work on the middle division of the Philadelphia and Erie railroad.[3] In 1866, Cassatt became superintendent of motive power and machinery for the Oil Creek and Allegheny River Railway, recently reorganized in 1864 as the Warren and Franklin Railroad which was growing rapidly due to the discovery of oil in the region and coal mining.[3]

In 1867, Cassatt was appointed as superintendent of motive power and machinery for the Pennsylvania railroad in Altoona with a salary of $3,000 per year ($2019=55,000) when a trainman made less than $10 a week ($2019=200).[3]

Sometime during Cassatt's tenure as superintendent, he married Lois Buchanan, daughter of the Rev. Edward Y. Buchanan and Ann Eliza Foster. Lois Buchanan was a niece of James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States, and through her mother, a niece of songwriter Stephen Foster.[8] The couple had two sons and two daughters.

Chesterbrook Farm[edit]

Cassatt's Rittenhouse Square townhouse at 202 South 19th St., Philadelphia, PA (demolished 1972). Now the site of The Rittenhouse Hotel.

Cassatt was a horse enthusiast and fox hunter who owned Chesterbrook Farm, outside Berwyn, Pennsylvania, where he bred Thoroughbred racehorses. The 600-acre (240 ha) property is today the site of a subdivision with office buildings and homes using the Chesterbrook Farm name. The original main barn designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness has been maintained and restored. (Furness also designed Cassatt's Rittenhouse Square townhouse.)[citation needed]

Cassatt initially raced under the pseudonym, Mr. Kelso, and his horses as from the Kelso Stable.[9] He owned the 1886 Preakness Stakes winner, The Bard, and the 1889 Belmont Stakes 1889 winner, Eric. As well, he bred the winner of the 1875, 1876, 1878, and 1880 Preakness Stakes and Foxford, who won the 1891 Belmont.[citation needed]

In addition to flat-racing his Thoroughbreds, in 1895 Cassatt helped found the National Steeplechase Association to organize competitive steeplechase racing. He was also responsible for the introduction of the Hackney pony to the United States. In 1878 he acquired 239 Stella in Britain and brought her to Philadelphia. In 1891, Cassatt and several fellow Hackney enthusiasts founded the American Hackney Horse Society. The organization and registry continues to this day, with its headquarters now in Lexington, Kentucky.[citation needed]


Cassatt died in 1906 at his Rittenhouse Square townhouse in Philadelphia, after a six-month illness.[10]:279 He was interred in the Church of the Redeemer Cemetery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His widow died in 1920.[10]:315


In World War II, the United States liberty ship SS A. J. Cassatt was named in his honor.[citation needed]

The street crossing the former Pennsylvania Railroad tracks at Berwyn station is named Cassatt Avenue. Gramercy Mansion in Baltimore, Maryland, was built by Alexander Cassatt in 1902.[citation needed]

In 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad erected a statue of Cassatt, by Adolph Alexander Weinman, in a niche at New York City's new Pennsylvania Station.[11] An inscription below the niche read:

ALEXANDER JOHNSTON CASSATT · president pennsylvania railroad company · 1899–1906 · whose foresight, courage and ability achieved · the extension of the pennsylvania railroad system · into new york city[12]

The statue is currently located at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Alexander Cassatt Lived in Altoona; Brief History and Reminiscence of One of Pennsylvania Railroad's Presidents". Altoona Tribune. December 15, 1916. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  2. ^ "Alexander J. Cassatt" (PDF). The New York Times. June 18, 1899. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Davis (1978), p. 9.
  4. ^ Rubinstein, Charlotte Streifer (1982). American women artists : from early Indian times to the present. Boston, Mass. u.a.: Hall u.a. ISBN 0816185352.
  5. ^ Pollock (1998), pp. 281-82.
  6. ^ Klein, Phillip; Hoogenboom, Ari (1980). A History of Pennsylvania. Penn State Press. ISBN 0271002166.
  7. ^ Joseph S. Kennedy (January 12, 2003). "Pennsylvania Railroad came of age under legendary leader Alexander Johnston Cassatt..." The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  8. ^ "Niece of President Buchanan Dead". The New York Times. April 25, 1906. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  9. ^ "Mr. A. J. Cassatt to retire" (PDF). Pittsburgh Post. October 21, 1889. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 4, 2013. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  10. ^ a b Mathews, Nancy Mowll (1994). Mary Cassatt: A Life. New York: Villard Books. ISBN 0-300-07754-8.
  11. ^ Staff (July 27, 1910). "Cassatt Statue in Station. The Only One to Stand in the New Pennsylvania Terminal Here". The New York Times.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Ujifusa, Steven (May 29, 2013). "Alexander Johnston Cassatt: The Man Who Spanned the Hudson". City of Philadelphia. Retrieved February 5, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Frank Thomson
President of Pennsylvania Railroad
Succeeded by
James McCrea