Collis Potter Huntington

Collis Potter Huntington

Huntington, Collis Potter, 1821-1900, American railroad builder, b. near Torrington, Conn. A storekeeper of Oneonta, N.Y., before he went West in the gold rush of 1849, he became a storekeeper in California, and by 1853 he and his partner, Mark Hopkins, were leading Sacramento hardware merchants. Seeing the desirability of a direct route to the silver mines newly opened in what is now Nevada, Huntington, Hopkins, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford organized a railroad company (the Central Pacific). Huntington's financial acumen and success in winning subsidies and favorable legislation from Congress gave him and his partners practical control of transportation in the West. They consolidated their power in forming (1884) the Southern Pacific, of which Huntington was president after 1890. His vast fortune was left mostly to his nephew, Henry Edwards Huntington, except for bequests to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

See O. Lewis, The Big Four (1938, repr. 1963); D. Lavender, Great Persuader (1970).

Collis Potter Huntington (April 16 or October 22 1821 – August 13 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. In Virginia, he was responsible for the development of Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and the incorporation of Newport News, Virginia into an independent city. Another railroad town, the city of Huntington, West Virginia was named in his honor.


Education and early career

Collis Potter Huntington was born in Harwinton, Connecticut, USA in 1821; while some references state his birth date as April 16, others list October 22. 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.

Building the first U.S. transcontinental railroad

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 pursing 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.

Southern Pacific Railroad

He was later involved in the establishment of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was purchased by the Big Four principals of the Central Pacific Railroad in 1868. The railroad's first locomotive, C. P. Huntington, was named in his honor.

Chesapeake and Ohio Railway

Beginning in 1871, he oversaw completion of the 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 coal business for the C&O. In the 1880s, 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 where he established coal piers in at a location which became the City of Newport News in 1896. Nearby, he also founded Newport News Shipbuilding, the largest privately owned shipyard in the United States.

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.

Death, burial

He died in 1900 and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.

Family relationships

Collis Huntington was the son of William and Elizabeth (Vincent) Huntington; born October 22 1821, in Harwinton, Connecticut; he married, first, on September 16 1844, Elizabeth T. Stoddard, of Cornwall, Connecticut. She died in 1883. He remarried on July 12 1884, Mrs. Arabella D. Worsham. He died at his camp, Pine Knot, in the Adirondacks, August 13 1900.

The children of William Huntington and Elizabeth Vincent were

  1. Mary Huntington, born 17 February 1810; married 2 June 1840, Daniel Sammis of Warsaw, New York.
  2. Solon Huntington, born 13 January 1812.
  3. Rhoda Huntington, born 13 October 1814; married 10 May 1834, Riley Dunbar of Wolcottville.
  4. Phebe/Phoebe Huntington, born 17 September 1817; married 4 October 1840, Henry Pardee of Oneonta, New York.
  5. Elizabeth Huntington, born 19 December 1819; married 5 April 1842, Hiram Yaker of Kortright, New York.
  6. Collis Potter Huntington, born 22 October 1820 or 1821 (sources differ on the year).
  7. Joseph Huntington, born 23 March 1823; d. 23 February 1849; never married
  8. Susan L. Huntington, born August 1826; married 16 November 1849, William Porter, M.D., of New Haven, Connecticut
  9. Ellen Maria Huntington, born 12 August 1835; married Isaac E. Gates of Orange, New Jersey

Collis Huntington was the adopted father of Clara Elizabeth Prentice, born in Sacramento, in 1860. She was a niece of the first Mrs. C. P. Huntington, and was adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Huntington. Clara Elizabeth Prentice-Huntington (1860-1928), as she was called, married Prince Francis Edward von Hatzfeldt of Wittenburg, Germany, on October 28 1889. They made their home in England.

Collis Huntington was also the adopted father of renowned hispanist Archer M. Huntington, son of Collis P. Huntington's second wife, by her first husband, who founded a Spanish museum and rare books library The Hispanic Society of America in upper Manhattan, which is still free and open to the public.

Collis was also uncle to another California railroad magnate, Henry E. Huntington, founder of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California and the main force behind the Pacific Electric system in Los Angeles, California.

He was also related to Clarence Huntington, who was a president of the Virginian Railway.


He acquired a substantial collection of art, and was generally recognized as one of the country's foremost art collectors. He left most of his collection, valued at some $3 million, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Places named for Collis P. Huntington

Collis Huntington in popular culture

For reasons that are unclear, he was referred to in Black Beetles in Amber by Ambrose Bierce as "Happy Hunty". Huntington was also referenced in Carl Sandburg's poem, Southern Pacific.


  • Ambrose, Stephen E. (2000). Nothing Like It In The World; The men who built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-84609-8.


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