Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company (Signed by Russell Sage)
Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company (Signed by Russell Sage)
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Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company
June 29, 1874
9 3/4" (w) by 5 3/4" (h)
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Signed by Russell Sage
The Milwaukee Road--more precisely, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad, or CMSP&P--has an intriguing history, of which the following is only a brief sketch. When it first opened, it was just one of hundreds of the "Granger" railroads that were connecting "the West" to markets in "the East". Keep in mind that this was before the Civil War, and "West" still meant west of the Appalachian Mountains. There was yet no transcontinental railroad, there were no highways, and such "roads" as existed were little more than muddy strips through the woods and prairies.
For many years the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad (as it was called then) was just a regional railroad connecting the city of Milwaukee (on the shore of Lake Michigan) and the adjoining regions of the state of Wisconsin to Chicago and St. Paul, and thereby to the rest of the country. But at the turn of the century there was such a concentration of economic power--what was euphemistically referred to as "the interests"--that the management of the Milwaukee Road became concerned about their survival. They were particularly concerned that in a battle between James Hill of the Great Northern Railway, backed by banker J. Pierpont Morgan, and E. W. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad, backed by the Standard Oil Trust and the Rockefellers, they might lose their access to the Pacific coast ports. The Milwaukee Road needed its own line to the West coast, but how to build it without being thwarted by their competitors was a problem.
As it turned out, the volume of transcontinental rail traffic became more than the existing railways could handle, and "the interests" had no objection when construction of the Pacific Extension began in 1906. Construction from their existing railhead in South Dakota to Puget Sound proceeded quickly, partly because they were able to work on many sections simultaneously, often using the Northern Pacific tracks to bring in heavy equipment and supplies.
Passenger trains across the entire Milwaukee Road system began running in May of 1911 (and continued running until May of 1961, when passenger service was discontinued.) At first the route was over Snoqualmie Pass, as the Snoqualmie tunnel was not completed until 1915. The 55 mile branch from Cedar Falls to Everett was completed in November of 1911.
One of the hallmarks of the Milwaukee Road was its use of electrically powered locomotives. While it was not entirely electrified (only where it crossed the Cascade and Bitterroot Mountains), nor the only railroad to do so (the Great Northern electrified a short section over Stevens Pass,) the Milwaukee Road embraced electrification to such an extent that was commonly regarded as an "electric" railroad.
The Milwaukee Road was built to be the shortest, fastest, and lowest-cost route to the Northwest, with easier grades and curves than the Great Northern and Northern Pacific. Combined with the lower costs of electric operation, it was able to move freight at lower cost than its competition. Given such an advantage at the core of its business, it is not easy to account for why the Milwaukee Road failed. The end may have started in the 1920's when sheer bad luck, some ill-advised acquisitions, and Director disinterest put it under the control of the banks. At the end executive management, and the succeeding bankruptcy trustees, seemed hell-bent on suicide.
The Milwaukee Road's final slide into ruin started when it began neglecting maintenance in order to keep dividends up. This started a vicious cycle: as the track deteriorated derailments increased, speeds had to be reduced, and operating expenses zoomed, while customers and revenues declined, leading to further cost-cutting.
lectric operation over the Cascades was terminated in 1971 (and in the rest of the system in 1974.) Management claimed it could not afford the necessary upgrades. But then it spent the money anyway on new diesel locomotives. The justifications claimed are suspect. The diesel locomotives did not perform quite as well as the electrics, and when the last electric run was made in 1974 diesels cost twice as much to operate as the electric locomotives.
The decline continued. At the end of 1977 the Milwaukee filed for bankruptcy. Three years later came the final act of self-decapitation: the Milwaukee abandoned everything west of Miles City (on the eastern edge of Montana.)
Sage was born at Verona in Oneida County, New York. He received a public school education and worked as a farm hand until he was 15. He started as an errand boy in his brother Henry's grocery in Troy, New York. He had a part interest in 1837–1839 in a retail grocery in Troy, and in a wholesale store there in 1839–1857.
In 1841 Sage was elected as alderman in Troy. He was re-elected to this office until 1848, while also serving for seven years as treasurer of Rensselaer County. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig, and served, with re-election as an Oppositionist, from March 4, 1853 until March 3, 1857. He served on the Ways and Means Committee. Sage was the first person to advocate in Congress for the purchase of George Washington's plantation, Mount Vernon, by the government.
Subsequently, Sage settled in New York City, and engaged in the business of selling puts and calls and privileges on Wall Street.
Olivia Slocum Sage
In 1869, Sage was involved in a legal case concerning the usury laws in New York state, in which he was accused of being the leader of a usury group. He was convicted and fined $500, but his jail sentence was suspended. That year he remarried, to Olivia Slocum of Syracuse, New York.
Sage bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1874, and became known as a financier. At the same time he saw the future of railroads, and secured stocks in western roads, notably the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway. He was president and vice-president for twelve years. By selling such investments, as the smaller roads were bought by major trunk-lines, he became wealthy.
In his later years Sage was closely associated with Jay Gould in the management of the Wabash Railway, St. Louis and Pacific, Missouri Pacific Railroad, Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad and the St. Louis - San Francisco Railway, for which he was director of the corporations. He also served as director for the American cable company, the Western Union Telegraph Company, and the Manhattan consolidated system of elevated railroads in New York City.
Sage was also a director of the Union Pacific Railroad, which was part of constructing the transcontinental railroad. Together with other major investors (and railroad robber barons of the nineteenth century), he made a fortune. He was a director and vice-president in the Importers and Traders' National Bank for twenty years, and also a director in the Merchants' Trust Company and in the Fifth Avenue Bank of New York City.
In 1891, Henry L. Norcross entered the office of Sage at 71 Broadway in Manhattan, claiming he needed to discuss railroad bonds. Norcross gave Sage a letter demanding $1,200,000, which Sage declined to pay. Norcross was carrying a bag of dynamite, which exploded, killing Norcross, wounding Sage, and severely wounding William R. Laidlaw, Jr., a clerk for John Bloodgood and Co. who happened to be in the office. Afterward Laidlaw sued Sage, alleging that he had used him as a shield against Norcross. Disabled for life, Laidlaw aggressively pursued the lawsuits, winning $43,000 in damages after four trials, but a Court of Appeals reversed the award. Sage never paid any settlement and was publicly criticized as a miser because of his great fortune.
Legacy and Honors
Olivia Sage devoted a major portion of the money she inherited from her husband to philanthropy, including buildings and other memorials to him. She commissioned Ralph Adams Cram, a leading architect, to design Russell Sage Memorial Church, and for Louis Tiffany to create a large stained glass window as a memorial. Built in 1908, the church was located in Far Rockaway, Queens, where the family had a summer home.
In 1907 she established the Russell Sage Foundation, and in 1916 founded Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. In addition she gave extensively to the Emma Willard School and to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, her husband's home town.
During World War II the Liberty ship SS Russell Sage was built in Panama City, Florida, and named in his honor.
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