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
Occupation Banker, railroad executive
Years active 1850s—1880s
Known for President, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
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]
Predecessor Chauncy Brooks
Successor Robert Garrett, II

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 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.

Garrett married Rachel Ann Harrisson (1823–1883) and had four children. His first adult residence with his growing family was on Fayette Street, in the heart of the present business district.

Interest in B&O Railroad[edit]

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 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. With the advent of the economic depression known as the Panic of 1857, money became extremely tight.[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 directors 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 Chauncy 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. 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, financier George Peabody (1795-1869).

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.[4]

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."[5]

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, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia; New York City; Albany, New York; Buffalo, New York; Cleveland; Columbus; Indianapolis; and Chicago.[6]

Railroad strikes of 1877[edit]

Garrett was president of the B&O during widespread unrest that occurred as part of the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. On July 20, 1877 he requested that Maryland Governor John Lee Carroll move troops from Baltimore, Maryland to Cumberland, Maryland, where the situation had deteriorated and large crowds had gathered.[7]:62-3 This troop movement erupted in riots in Baltimore, which continued to spread throughout much the country.[8]

Postbellum activities[edit]

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

In 1870 Garrett purchased 1,400 acres in northeast Baltimore and built a summer home that he named "Montebello." It was a Victorian-style wood-frame turreted mansion in what is now the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood. (The mansion was demolished in the early 1900s.[9])

Following the massive nationwide labor strife in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 (which began at a B&O facility), Garrett was one of the organizers of the B&O Employees' Relief Association in 1880.[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 became deeply involved with the Peabody Institute, which George Peabody had created and endowed in 1857, along with several programs and facilities which opened following the Civil War in 1866. Garrett, a trustee of the institute, asked Peabody to persuade Johns Hopkins (1795-1873) to make the bequest that would make possible the Johns Hopkins University in 1876. This was followed by the founding of Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1882, and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1893. Garrett became one of the most active trustees of the university.

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 west side. 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 II (1847-1887) a substantial townhouse on West Mount Vernon Place, later known as the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion.[10]

In 1878 Garrett purchased and gave to his son, T. Harrison, "Evergreen" mansion off North Charles Street above Cold Spring Lane. The mansion was donated by a Garrett family descendant to The Johns Hopkins University in 1942.[11]

Garrett's 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 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.


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 descendants, 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.

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; Zeidman Linda (eds.). The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. pp. 11–27. ISBN 0-87722-823-X. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ John W. Garrett, President, B & O Railroad from the US National Park Service Monocacy National Battlefield website (accessed 14 November 2006)
  6. ^ Scharf, J. Thomas (1967 (reissue of 1879 ed.)). "History of Maryland From the Earliest Period to the Present Day". 3. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press: 656.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. ^ Dacus, Joseph (1877). Annals of the Great Strikes in the United States: A Reliable History and Graphic Description of the Causes and Thrilling Events of the Labor Strikes and Riots of 1877. L.T. Palmer. 
  8. ^ McCabe, James Dabney; Edward Winslow Martin (1877). The History of the Great Riots: The Strikes and Riots on the Various Railroads of the United States and in the Mining Regions Together with a Full History of the Molly Maguires. 
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-30. Retrieved 2014-10-29. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 135. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. 
  • Sander, Kathleen Waters. John W. Garrett and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). xii, 403 pp.
  • 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): 9–15. ISSN 0090-7847. OCLC 1785797. 

External links[edit]