Erie Railroad

Upon completion in 1851, the Erie was valued at $43,000 per mile, exclusive of equipment. President Benjamin Loder planned a record-breaking celebration to mark the completion of his line, at the time the longest in the country. The two special trains which made the trip from Piermont to Dunkirk on May 14 and 15, 1851 carried 298 invited statesmen, including President Millard Fillmore, 4 members of his cabinet, and a number of presidential hopefuls, such as former Governor William H. Seward, Stephen A. Douglas and Secretary of State Daniel Webster.

At his own request the Secretary rode in a rocking chair securely fastened on an open flat car. Bundled up in a steamer rug, with a bottle of Medford rum for company, Webster said he wanted to miss none of the scenery. This line is also known to be the first to use the telegraph to dispatch trains, as then superintendent Charles Minot took advantage of a parallel telegraph line set up earlier by Ezra Cornell. This practice was soon adopted by all railroads. The struggle for control of the Erie in the decade after the Civil War was one of the most spectacular chapters of nineteenth-century American finance. Once he was in control of the New York Central, Commodore Vanderbilt naturally was interested in the future of the Erie, his major competitor.

At the time, the Erie was controlled by “Uncle Daniel” Drew, along time rival of Vanderbilt in the steamboat business. Drew had invested heavily in the Erie in 1854, the same year that Mrs. Silas Horton had prevented a rail disaster by flagging down an Erie train with a pair of her red woolen drawers. In 1867, with the Commodore buying more and more Erie stock, Drew enlisted the Jim Fisk and Jay Gould to complete the now famous swindle. The trio unloaded 100,000 crisp new shares (converted from Erie bonds) on the old man. Feeling cheated, Vanderbilt called in a favor from his good friend, Judge George C. Bernard, who issued a warrant for the trio’s arrest. The trio ferried across the Hudson and found safety in Taylor’s Hotel in Jersey City. Surrounded by $6,000,000 in cash, more unsold bonds, and a large body of guards commanded by Fisk. Gould hurried to Albany and with the assistance of Senator “Boss” William M. Tweed (and $500,000 in kickbacks), legalized the whole affair. The Commodore retreated in defeat and was left to say that his trouble with the Erie “has learned me it never pays to kick a skunk.”

Erie Railroad

Sort by: