edward h harriman

E. H. Harriman


Edward Henry Harriman (February 20 1848September 9 1909), better known as E. H. Harriman, was a railroad executive. He was born in Hempstead, New York, the son of Orlando Harriman, an Episcopal clergyman, and Cornelia (Neilson) Harriman. His great-grandfather, William Harriman, emigrated from England in 1795 and engaged successfully in trading and commercial pursuits.

As a young boy, Harriman spent a summer working at the Greenwood Iron Furnace in the area owned by the Parrott family that would become Harriman State Park. Due to tight family finances, he had to quit school at age 14 to take a job as an errand boy on Wall Street in New York City. His rise from that humble station was meteoric. By age 22, he was a member of the New York Stock Exchange. And, by age 33, he focused his energies on acquiring rail lines.

In 1879 he married Mary Williamson Averell, the daughter of William J. Averell, a banker of Ogdensburg, New York, who was president of the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad Company. This relationship aroused his interest in up-state transportation and two years later his career as a rebuilder of bankrupt railroads began with a small broken-down railroad called the Lake Ontario Southern which he renamed the Sodus Bay & Southern, reorganized, and sold with considerable profit to the Pennsylvania.

In 1885 Harriman learned that the 7863-acre (31.8 km²) Parrott family estate was for sale. He bought it for $52,500 and named it Arden (now a hamlet in Tuxedo, New York). Over the next several years he purchased an additional twenty thousand acres (80 km²), almost forty different parcels of land, and built forty miles of bridle paths to connect them all. It was from this estate that his widow would donate ten thousand acres (40 km²) to New York state to start Harriman State Park in 1910.

Harriman was nearly fifty years old when in 1897 he became a director of the Union Pacific Railroad. By May 1898 he was chairman of the executive committee, and from that time until his death his word was law on the Union Pacific system. In 1903 he assumed the office of president of the company. From 1901 to 1909, Harriman was also the President of the Southern Pacific railroad. The vision of a unified UP/SP railroad was planted with Harriman.

At the time of his death Harriman controlled the Union Pacific, the Southern Pacific, the Saint Joseph and Grand Island, the Illinois Central, the Central of Georgia, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and the Wells Fargo Express Company. Estimates of his estate ranged from $200 million to $600 million. It was left entirely to his wife.

The Harriman Alaska Expedition

In 1899, Harriman financed and accompanied a scientific expedition to catalog the flora and fauna of the Alaska coastline from its lush southern panhandle to Prince William Sound. Among the scholars who joined him were John Burroughs, John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Edward Curtis, Trevor Kincaid, Albert Fisher, Robert Ridgway, Charles Keeler, Frederick Coville, Frederick Dellenbaugh, William Emerson Ritter and Clinton Hart Merriam. They made the trip on a luxuriously refitted 250-foot steamer called the "George W. Elder."


When Harriman died in 1909, naturalist John Muir (who had joined him on his 1899 Alaska expedition) wrote his eulogy. He concluded, "In almost every way, he was a man to admire."

The Union Pacific Harriman Dispatch Center in Omaha, Nebraska is named for Edward H. Harriman.

In 1913, his widow created the E. H. Harriman Award to recognize outstanding achievements in railway safety. The award has been presented on an annual basis since then.

His estate, Arden, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

In popular culture

Harriman is mentioned in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the commercial baron who, annoyed by how frequently the film's eponymous bandits stole money from trains travelling Harriman-controlled frontier railways, sent bounty hunters after the pair and outfitted a specially-equipped train. In the movie The Wild Bunch, railroad man named 'Harrigan' similarly hires bounty hunters and outfits a special train to track down the outlaws.

Harriman was also featured in the computer game Railroad Tycoon II, as a computer AI character.

Notable children


  • George Kennan, E. H. Harriman: A Biography (2 vols., 1922)
  • Otto H. Kahn, Edward Henry Harriman (1911), reprinted as "The Last Figure of an Epoch: Edward Henry Harriman," in Our Economic and Other Problems (1920)
  • John Muir, Edward Henry Harriman (1911)
  • B. H. Meyer, A Hist. of the Northern Securities Case (1906)
  • "In the Matter of Consolidations and Combinations of Carriers," Interstate Commerce Commission Reports, XII (1908)
  • Wm. Z. Ripley, Railroads: Finance and Organization (1915)
  • George Kennan, E. H. Harriman's Far Eastern Plans (1917)
  • Articles and estimates of his life and work in Cosmopolitan, Mar. 1903, July 1909; Moody's Mag., Oct. 1906, Oct. 1909; Am. Rev. of Revs., Jan. 1907, Oct. 1909; McClure's Mag., Oct. 1909, Jan. 1911; N. Y. Times and N. Y. Sun, Sept. 10, 1909; Railway World, Sept. 17, 1909.
  • Myles, William J., Harriman Trails, A Guide and History, The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, New York, N.Y., 1999.

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