William Wallace Atterbury

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William Wallace Atterbury
William Wallace Atterbury 9722409e77 o (cropped).jpg
Atterbury circa 1913
Member of the
Republican National Committee
from Pennsylvania
In office
May 12, 1928 – October 10, 1930
Preceded byGeorge Pepper
Succeeded byJay Cooke
Personal details
Born(1866-01-31)January 31, 1866
New Albany, Indiana
DiedSeptember 20, 1935(1935-09-20) (aged 69)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Matilda Hoffman (m. November 13, 1895 – her death in 1910)
Arminia (Rosengarten) MacLeod (m. June 10, 1915 – his death in 1935)
ChildrenMalcolm MacLeod Atterbury (adopted)
George Rosengarten MacLeod Atterbury (adopted)
William W. Atterbury Jr.
Alma materSheffield Scientific School (1886)

William Wallace Atterbury (January 31, 1866 – September 20, 1935)[1][2] was a brigadier general in the United States Army during World War I, who began his career with the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) in 1886 and rose through the ranks to become its tenth president (1925–1935). As director-general of transportation in France during the war, the New Albany, Indiana, native and Yale University graduate was instrumental in reorganizing railroad traffic for more efficient transportation of troops and supplies for the American Expeditionary Forces. He was also known as "The Railroad General". Under his leadership after the war, the Pennsylvania Railroad undertook a $250 million project to electrify major portions of its main line that ran between New York City and Washington, D.C. He also assisted in development of the company's first M1-class steam locomotive.

Atterbury, who was a recipient of the U.S. Army's Distinguished Service Medal, also received honors from France, England, Serbia, and Romania for his wartime military service. In addition, Atterbury was awarded honorary degrees from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University, and Temple University. Camp Atterbury, a former U.S. Army training camp west of Edinburgh, Indiana, and Atterbury Army Airfield (later named Bakalar Air Force Base and the present-day Columbus, Indiana, municipal airport) were named in his memory.

Early life and education[edit]

William Wallace Atterbury was born in New Albany, Indiana, on January 31, 1866.[1][3] He was the seventh son of Catherine Jones (Larned) and John Guest Atterbury, a former lawyer who came Presbyterian missionary minister.[2][4]

Atterbury, the youngest of twelve children, attended Yale University's Sheffield Scientific School, where he received a Ph.B. in 1886.[3][5] While attending Yale, Atterbury was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity.[citation needed]

Marriage and family[edit]

Atterbury married Matilda "Minnie" Hoffman on November 13, 1895, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She died in 1910.[6]

On June 10, 1915, Atterbury married Arminia Clara (Rosengarten) MacLeod of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Atterbury adopted MacLeod's sons, Malcolm and George. William and Arminia had a son named William Wallace Atterbury Jr. (1916–1995). The Atterbury family resided in Radnor, a suburb of Philadelphia.[5]


Early years[edit]

In 1886 Atterbury began work as an apprentice in the Pennsylvania Railroad's shops at Altoona, earning five cents an hour.[2][7] Atterbury rose through the ranks to become general superintendent of motive power at the Altoona Works in 1901, a general manager of the Pennsylvania Railroad's lines east of Pittsburgh in 1903, and a company vice president in charge of transportation in 1909.[2] On May 8, 1912, the railroad company named him a vice president in charge of operations.[3] In 1916 Atterbury also became president of the American Railway Association.[2]

World War I military service[edit]

Brigadier general Atterbury in October 1918.

On August 6, 1917, Atterbury was granted a leave of absence from his position with the Pennsylvania Railroad to join the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I. Atterbury served as the AEF's director-general of transportation. On October 5, 1917, he was commissioned a brigadier general in the United States Army.[2]

Between August 1917 and May 1919, Atterbury supervised construction of harbor facilities and a portion of the railways in France that were assigned to the U.S. Army for maintenance and operation.[8] The troops in France gave him the nickname of "General Attaboy" and he was also known as "The Railroad General."[5][9] Atterbury was discharged from military service on May 31, 1919, and returned to civilian life in Pennsylvania.[3]

Postwar career[edit]

In 1920 Atterbury resumed his career with the Pennsylvania Railroad as vice president in charge of operations.[5] On October 1, 1925, he succeeded Samuel Rea to become the tenth president of the railroad company, a position he held until 1935.[3] During Atterbury's tenure as company president, the Pennsylvania Railroad undertook a $250 million project to electrify a 245-mile (394 km) multi-track main line that ran between New York City and Washington, D.C. Begun in 1928 and completed in 1935, it was the largest capital improvement project ever undertaken by an American railroad company up to that time. In addition, Atterbury assisted in development of the company's first M1-class steam locomotive.[5] Atterbury retired from the railroad in 1935 due to ill health.[2]

Atterbury was also active in Pennsylvania's state politics for several years. He served as a Pennsylvania delegate to the 1920 Republican National Convention and was a member of Pennsylvania's Republican State Committee. According to reports appearing in The Baltimore Sun in 1928 and The New York Times in 1930, he was elected to the Republican National Committee in 1928, but resigned from the post two years later because he refused support Gifford Pinchot, the Republican Party's gubernatorial nominee.[10][11]

Atterbury served as a director on numerous boards of banking and trust institutions, railroad companies, and life insurance firms, among other businesses.[3] He was also active in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Philosophical Society.[12]

Death and legacy[edit]

Atterbury died of apoplexy on September 20, 1935, at Rador, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. His remains are interred at Old Saint David's Churchyard Cemetery in Radnor.[9][13]

On February 16, 1942, the U.S. War Department announced that its new military training camp under construction approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Edinburgh, Indiana, would be named Camp Atterbury in his memory.[8] In April 1943 an air field established near Camp Atterbury was renamed Atterbury Army Airfield. (It was renamed Atterbury Army Air Base in June 1943 and Bakalar Air Base in 1954.) After its deactivation as a military base, the facility began operating as a civilian airfield, known as the Columbus Municipal Airport.[14]

Honors and tributes[edit]

For his service during World War I, the U.S. Army awarded Atterbury a Distinguished Service Medal. He was also designated a Commander of the Legion of Honor (France), a Companion of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath (England), a Commander of the Royal Order of the White Eagle (Serbia), and a Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown (Romania).[5]

Atterbury was awarded an honorary M.A. degree from Yale University in 1911. He also received honorary LL.Ds from the University of Pennsylvania in 1919, Yale University in 1926, Villanova University in 1927, and Temple University in 1929.[3][5]

Atterbury on the cover of Time Magazine in 1933.

A plaque commemorating the career of William Wallace Atterbury, hanging in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, a former Pennsylvania Railroad Station.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Noted rail head, native of city" (PDF). New Albany Tribune. September 21, 1935. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 26, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2011. Cited at New Albany Floyd County Public Library.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "William Wallace Atterbury". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1944. Gale Document Number: GALE|BT2310018570. Retrieved June 26, 2011 – via Fairfax County Public Library.(subscription required) Gale Biography In Context.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Who Was Who in American History - The Military. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1975. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0837932019.
  4. ^ "William Wallace Atterbury" (pdf). Atterbury-Muscatatuck and the Indiana National Guard. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "General William Wallace Atterbury". Indianamilitary.org. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  6. ^ "Minnie Hoffman Atterbury". Findagrave.com. January 14, 2010. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  7. ^ "Business: Atterbury for Rea". TIME. September 28, 1925. Retrieved June 26, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Dorothy Riker, compiler (1952). The Hoosier Training Ground: A History of Army and Navy Training Centers, Forts, Depots, and Other Military Installations Within the State Boundaries During World War II. Indiana in World War II. III. Bloomington: Indiana War History Commission. pp. 20–21.
  9. ^ a b Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Politicians in Railroading in Indiana". PoliticalGraveyard.com. Retrieved January 5, 2016.
  10. ^ "Pepper Refuses Place As Contest Chairman". The Baltimore Sun. June 1, 1928. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  11. ^ "Atterbury Bolts Pinchot Candidacy". The New York Times. October 10, 1930. Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  12. ^ Larry Taulman and Don G. Wertz, eds. (1983). The Atterbury File. Franklin, Indiana: Custer Baker Middle School. pp. 92–93.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  13. ^ John Griffith (January 8, 2006). "William Wallace Atterbury". Findagrave.com. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
  14. ^ Taulman and Wertz, eds., p. 133.


Further reading[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
George Pepper
Member of the Republican National Committee from Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Jay Cooke
Other offices
Preceded by
Samuel Rea
President of the Pennsylvania Railroad
Succeeded by
Martin Clement