William B. Ogden

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from William Butler Ogden)
Jump to: navigation, search
William Butler Ogden
William B Ogden by GPA Healy, 1855.jpg
1st Mayor of Chicago
In office
Preceded by none
Succeeded by Buckner Stith Morris
Member of the New York State Assembly
In office
January 1, 1835 – December 31, 1835
Constituency Delaware County, NY
Personal details
Born (1805-06-15)June 15, 1805
Walton, New York
Died August 3, 1877(1877-08-03) (aged 72)
New York City, New York
Political party (Before 1860)
Other political
(beginning in 1860)
Residence Chicago, Illinois
Occupation Real Estate Developer

William Butler Ogden (June 15, 1805 – August 3, 1877) was the first Mayor of Chicago.


Ogden was born on June 15, 1805, in Walton, New York. When still a teenager, his father died and Ogden took over the family real estate business. He assisted Charles Butler, his brother-in-law, with business matters related to opening a new building for New York University, attending the law school for a brief period himself. He was a member of the New York State Assembly (Delaware Co.) in 1835.[1] He married Marianna T. Arnot.[2] In 1837-1838 he became the first mayor of Chicago.

Ogden designed the first swing bridge over the Chicago River[3] and donated the land for Rush Medical Center. Ogden was also a founder of the Chicago Board of Trade.[4]

Ogden was a leading promoter and investor in the Illinois and Michigan Canal, then switched his loyalty to railroads. Throughout his later life, Ogden was heavily involved in the building of several railroads. "In 1847, Ogden announced a plan to build a railway out of Chicago, but no capital was forthcoming. Eastern investors were wary of Chicago's reputation for irrational boosterism, and Chicagoans did not want to divert traffic from their profitable canal works. So Ogden and his partner J. Young Scammon solicited subscriptions from the farmers and small businessmen whose land lay adjacent to the proposed rail. Farmer's wives used the money they earned from selling eggs to buy shares of stock on a monthly payment plan. By 1848, Ogden and Scammon had raised $350,000—enough to begin laying track. The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was profitable from the start and eventually extended out to Wisconsin, bringing grain from the Great Plains into the city. As president of Union Pacific, Ogden extended the reach of Chicago's rail lines to the West coast."[5]

In 1853 the Chicago Land Company, of which Ogden was a trustee, purchased land at a bend in the Chicago River and began to cut a channel, formally known as North Branch Canal, but also referred to as Ogden's Canal.[6] The resulting island is now known as Goose Island.


Later Ogden served on the board of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad and lobbied with many others for congressional approval and funding of the transcontinental railroad. After the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act, Ogden was named as the first president of the Union Pacific Railroad. Ogden was a good choice for the first president, but his railroad experience was most likely not the primary reason he was chosen; Ogden was a clever man who had many political connections. When Ogden came to lead the Union Pacific, the railroad wasn't fully funded and hadn't yet laid a single mile of track—the railroad existed largely on paper created by an act of Congress. As part of the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act, Congress named several existing railroad companies to complete portions of the project. Several key areas needed to link the East (Chicago) to the West had none, and hence the Union Pacific was formed by Congress. Ogden was a fierce supporter of the transcontinental railroad at a time of great unrest for the country and was quoted as saying

This project must be carried through by even-handed wise consideration and a patriotic course of policy which shall inspire capitalists of the country with confidence. Speculation is as fatal to it as secession is to the Union. Whoever speculates will damn this project.

As history now shows, eventually Ogden and many others got their wish. Several railroads later, Ogden Flats, Utah, where the Golden Spike was driven, was named for him.

The sarcophagus of William Butler Ogden in Woodlawn Cemetery

In 1860, Ogden switched his loyalty to the Republican Party, which shared his views regarding slavery, although he left the party over a dispute with Abraham Lincoln. Ogden felt that the Emancipation Proclamation was premature. Following his defection from the Republican party, Ogden retired from politics and moved back to his native New York.

On October 8, 1871, Ogden lost most of his prized possessions in the Great Chicago Fire. He also owned a lumber company in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, which burned the same day.

He named his home in the Highbridge, Bronx (named after the bridge now called Aqueduct Bridge over the Harlem River connecting Manhattan and the Bronx) Villa Boscobel. He died there Friday, August 3, 1877. The funeral was held August 6, 1877, with interment following at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx.[7][8][9]

Namesakes of William B. Ogden include a stretch of U.S. Highway 34, called Ogden Avenue in Chicago and its suburbs, Ogden International School of Chicago, which is located on Walton Street in Chicago, and Ogden Slip, a man-made harbor near the mouth of the Chicago River. Ogden Avenue in The Bronx is also named after him, as is Ogden, Iowa.


  1. ^ Merriner, James L. (2004). Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833–2003. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-8093-2571-3. 
  2. ^ "Miss Arnot" seen in obituaries; "Marianna T. Arnot" found at https://archive.org/stream/theogdenfamilyel00vana/theogdenfamilyel00vana_djvu.txt
  3. ^ Merriner, James L. (2004). Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833–2003. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-8093-2571-3. 
  4. ^ Taylor, Charles Henry. History Of The Board Of Trade Of The City Of Chicago. Chicago: R. O. Law, 1917.
  5. ^ "William Butler Ogden". American Experience. PBS. 2003. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  6. ^ Hill, Libby (2000). The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 1-893121-02-X. 
  7. ^ A Representative of America. New York Times (newspaper), August 4, 1877, page 4, column 5.
  8. ^ Obituary. New York Times (newspaper), August 4, 1877, page 4, column 6.
  9. ^ Simple and Impressive Services in St. James' Church at Fordham. New York Times (newspaper), August 7, 1877, page 5.

Further reading[edit]