Business Magnates, Industrialists, Railroad Tycoons, Capitalists, Financiers
Collis Potter Huntington
Collis Potter Huntington

Collis Potter Huntington (1821-1900) war einer der Big Four (großen Vier) im Eisenbahnbau im Westen der USA (zusammen mit Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins und Charles Crocker),die die Southern Pacific Railroad und andere wichtige Eisenbahnstrecken errichteten.

Collis Potter Huntington wurde 1821 in Harwinton, Connecticut geboren. Er war ein erfolgreicher Geschäftsmann aus Sacramento und er half die Central Pacific Railroad in den 1860ern zu finanzieren. Diese wurde 1869 mit der Union Pacific Railroad in einem Festakt durch einen goldenen Schwellennagel verbunden und daraus entstand die erste transkontinentale Eisenbahnverbindung in Nordamerika. Später war Huntington in der Errichtung der Southern Pacific Railroad involviert.

Ab 1871 überwachte er den Bau der Chesapeake and Ohio Railway durch Virginia und West Virginia bis zum Ohio River. Huntington gründete die nach ihm benannte und geplante Stadt Huntington in West Virginia und die Kohlenpiere im Warwick County in Virginia. Hier entstand 1896 die Stadt Newport News. Er gründete auch die Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, die größte private Schiffswerft der USA.

Er starb 1900 und wurde auf dem Friedhof Woodlawn Cemetery in der Bronx (New York) beigesetzt.

Collis war auch mit einem anderen Eisenbahnmagnaten aus Kalifornien verwandt: Henry E. Huntington, dem Gründer der nach ihm benannten Bibliothek in San Marino in Kalifornien und die wichtigste Person hinter der Pacific Electric Railway, die in Los Angeles vor allem Nahverkehrsaufgaben übernahm.

Verwandt war er auch mit Clarence Huntington der Vorsitzenden der Virginian Railway.

Collis Potter Huntington (1821–1900) was one of the Big Four of western railroading (along with Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker) who built the Central Pacific Railroad as part of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad. Huntington then helped lead and develop other major interstate lines such as the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, which he was recruited to help complete. The C&O, completed in 1873, fulfilled a long-held dream of Virginians of a rail link from the James River at Richmond to the Ohio River Valley. The new railroad facilities adjacent to the river there resulted in expansion of the former small town of Guyandotte, West Virginia into part of a new city which was named Huntington in his honor.

Next, turning attention to the eastern end of the line at Richmond, he was responsible for the C&O's Peninsula Extension in 1881-82 which opened a pathway for West Virginia bituminous coal to reach new coal piers on the harbor of Hampton Roads for export shipping. He also is credited with the development of Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, as well as the incorporation of Newport News, Virginia as a new independent city. After his death, both his nephew Henry E. Huntington and his stepson Archer M. Huntington continued his work at Newport News, and all three are considered founding fathers in the community, with local features named in honor of each.

Much of the railroad and industrial development Collis P. Huntington envisioned and led are still important activities in the early 21st century. The Southern Pacific is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad, and the C&O became part of CSX Transportation, each major U.S. railroad systems. West Virginia coal still rides the rails to be loaded aboard colliers at Hampton Roads, where nearby, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding operates the massive shipyard.

Collis Potter Huntington was born in Harwinton, Connecticut, USA on April 16, 1821. His family farmed and he grew up helping. In his early teens, he did farm chores and odd jobs for neighbors, too, saving his earnings. At age 16, he began traveling as a peddler. About this time, he visited rural Newport News Point in Warwick County, Virginia in his travels as a salesman. It was later to become quite clear that he never forgot the untapped potential of the location he observed where the James River emptied into the large harbor of Hampton Roads. In 1842 he and his brother established a successful business in Oneonta, New York, selling general merchandise.

When he saw opportunity blooming in America's West, he set out for California, and established himself as a merchant in Sacramento at the start of the California Gold Rush. Huntington succeeded in his California business, too, and it was here that he teamed up with Mark Hopkins selling miners' supplies and other hardware.

In the late 1850s, he and Hopkins joined forces with two other successful businessmen, Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, to pursue the idea of creating a rail line that would connect the America's East and West. In 1861, these four businessmen (sometimes referred to as The Big Four) pooled their resources and business acumen, and formed the Central Pacific Railroad company to create the western link of America's transcontinental railway system. Of the four, he had a reputation for being the most ruthless in pursuing the railroad's business and the ouster of his partner, Stanford.

On May 10, 1869, at Promontory, Utah, the tracks of the Central Pacific Railroad joined with the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad, and America had a transcontinental railroad. The joining was celebrated by the driving of the golden spike.

The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies had received massive loans from the U.S. government to build the transcontinental railroad—on gentle terms, but Huntington persuaded a friendly member of Congress to introduce a bill excusing the companies from repaying the money, amounting to $130 million (nearly $3 billion in 2007 money). This plot was defeated in part due to the advocacy of Ambrose Bierce and the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst.

Beginning in 1865, he was also involved in the establishment of the Southern Pacific Railroad with the Big Four principals of the Central Pacific Railroad. The railroad's first locomotive, C. P. Huntington, was named in his honor. With rail lines from New Orleans to the Southwest and into California. Southern Pacific grew to more than 9,000 miles of track. It also controlled 5,000 miles of connecting steamship lines.

Following the American Civil War, efforts were renewed to fulfill a long-held desire of Virginians for a canal or railroad link between Richmond and the Ohio River Valley. With considerable financial assistance from the Virginia Board of Public Works, the Virginia Central Railroad and a state-owned link through the Blue Ridge Mountains had been completed along this route as far as the upper reaches of the Shenandoah Valley when the War interrupted progress.

Officials of the Virginia Central, led by company president Williams Carter Wickham, realized that they would have to get capital to rebuild from outside the economically devastated South, and attempted to attract British interests, without success. Finally, Major Wickham succeeded in getting Collis Huntington interested helping to complete the line.

Beginning in 1871, he oversaw completion of the newly-formed Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) from Richmond across Virginia and West Virginia to reach the Ohio River. There, he established the planned city of Huntington, West Virginia. He became active in developing the emerging southern West Virginia bituminous coal business for the C&O.

Beginning in 1865, Huntington had been acquiring land in Virginia's eastern Tidewater region, an area not served by extant railroads. In 1880, he formed the Old Dominion Land Company, and turned these holdings over to it.

Beginning in December 1880, he led the building of the C&O's Peninsula Subdivision which extended from the Church Hill Tunnel in Richmond east down the Virginia Peninsula through Williamsburg to the southeastern end of the Peninsula on the harbor of Hampton Roads in Warwick County, Virginia. Through the new railroad and his land company, coal piers were established at Newport News Point.

It may have taken more than 50 years after Virginia's first railroad operated for the lower Peninsula to get a railroad, but once work started, it progressed quickly. In a manner he had previously deployed, notably with the transcontinental railroad, and the line to the Ohio River, work began at both Newport News and Richmond. The crews at each end worked toward each other. The crews met and completed the line 1.25 miles west of Williamsburg on October 16, 1881 although temporary tracks had been installed in some areas to speed completion. This was just in the nick of time because Huntington and his associates had promised they would provide rail service to Yorktown where the United States was celebrating the centennial of the surrender of the British troops under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, an event considered most symbolic of the end of American Revolutionary War. Only 3 days after the last spike ceremony, on October 19, the first passenger train from Newport News took local residents and national officials to the Cornwallis Surrender Centennial Celebration at Yorktown on temporary tracks which were laid from the main line at the new Lee Hall Depot to Yorktown.

No sooner had the tracks to the new coal pier at Newport News been completed in late 1881 than the same construction crews were put to work on what would later be called the Peninsula Subdivision's Hampton Branch, which ran easterly about 10 miles into Elizabeth City County toward Hampton and Old Point Comfort, where the U.S. Army base at Fort Monroe was situated to guard the entrance to the harbor of Hampton Roads from the Chesapeake Bay (and the Atlantic Ocean). The tracks were completed about 9 miles to the town which became Phoebus in December 1882, named in honor of its leading citizen, Harrison Phoebus. The new branch line served both the older Hygeia Hotel and the new Hotel Chamberlain, popular destinations for civilians. During the first half of the 20th century, excursion trains were operated to reach nearby Buckroe Beach, where an amusement park was among the attractions that brought church groups and vacationers.

At the formerly sleepy little farming community of Newport News Point, he set about other developments locally there, notably building the landmark Hotel Warwick and founding the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, which became the largest privately owned shipyard in the United States.

Huntington is largely credited with vision and the combination of developments which created and built a vibrant and progressive community. The 15 years of rapid growth and development led to the incorporation of Newport News, Virginia as a new independent city in 1896, one of only 2 in Virginia to have ever been so formed without developing first as an incorporated town.

Near the tracks of the C&O's Hampton Branch was a normal school dedicated primarily in its earliest years to training teachers to provide educational opportunities for the South's African-Americans who were mostly illiterate newly freed former slaves. Most southern blacks had been denied opportunities for education literacy by laws before the Civil War. The school which grew to become modern-day Hampton University was led by former Union General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. Perhaps the best known of General Armstrong's students was a youth named Booker T. Washington, who himself became a renowned educator as the first principal of another school in Alabama which became Tuskegee University. When Sam Armstrong suffered a debilitating paralysis in 1892 while in New York, he returned to Hampton in a private railroad car provided by Collis P. Huntington, with whom he had collaborated on black-education projects.

In the lower Peninsula, Collis and other Huntington family members and their Old Dominion Land Company were involved in many aspects of life and business, and schools, museums, libraries and parks are among their many contributions. In Williamsburg, Collis' Old Dominion Land Company owned the historic site of the 18th century capitol buildings, which was turned over to the ladies who were the earliest promoters of what became the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA). This site was later a key piece of the Abby and John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s massive Restoration of the former colonial capital city which became Colonial Williamsburg, one of the world's major tourist attractions.

Collis also did not neglect his namesake city at the other end of the C&O. In order to supply freight cars to the C&O, and by extension to the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads as well, Huntington was a major financier behind Ensign Manufacturing Company, basing the company in Huntington, West Virginia, directly connecting to the C&O; Ensign was incorporated on November 1, 1872.

After Collis' death in 1900, his nephew, Henry E. Huntington, assumed leadership of many of his industrial endeavors. He and other family members also continued and expanded many of his cultural and philanthropic projects.

He died at his camp, Pine Knot, in the Adirondack Mountains on August 13, 1900. He is interred in a grandiose private mausoleum at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

Stock certificate of the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad Company, issued 1882, hand signed by Collis Potter Huntington as president
Stock certificate of the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern Railroad Company, issued 1882, hand signed by Collis P. Huntington as president