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Macfarlane Transportation Collection Guide

Legal, historical and biographical collection information

What's in a Name?

Railroad Titans or Robber Barons? Visionary industrialists or ruthless capitalists? The history of the American railroad is not without controversy. The powerful men who rose to prominence in the late 19th century were relentless in their search for control over the tracks in their bid to unite the country with its first major transportation system.

Jay Gould and James Fisk Jr., dominated the late Victorian era that gave birth to the ruthless image of the industrial robber baron. "[Gould and Fisk] controlled the Erie Railroad, were part of the Tammany Hall set in New York City, and wrangled with J.P. Morgan over the Albany & Susquehanna Railroad" (Ellen Terrell, Library of Congress, 2012).

There is some discussion as to whether the acts of the representatives in this collection were as heartless as they are sometimes presented, that they were misrepresented by a biased media and jealous rivals. That is left to the reader to decide.

For more information, please see Ellen Terrell's Library of Congress blog: Robber Barons: Gould and Fisk


Depiction of Cornelius Vanderbilt, left, competing with Jim Fisk of the Erie Railroad. Photo Credit: Library of Congress


Depiction of Cornelius Vanderbilt, left, competing with Jim Fisk of the Erie Railroad. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Jay Gould

Jayson "Jay" Gould (May 27, 1836 – December 2, 1892)

"[Gould's] life was a progression. He began as a speculator, a stockmarket manipulator. At the end, he was building railroads, not with a printing press, but with steel, and seeing himself, as perhaps essentially he was, not a pirate, not as a conniving president selling is own stock short, not as a man who was running a road into the ground, in defiance of the bondholders, but as a builder of roads. 'I am not interested in Eastern roads', he said, once. 'I am interested only in roads to the West--I am interested in Mexico'."

From: Jay Gould: His Business Career 1867-1892
Julius Grodinsky, 1957

For more information, please see: Jay Gould (Wikipedia)

From Our Collection

James "Jubilee Jim" Fisk

James "Big Jim", "Diamond Jim", and "Jubilee Jim" Fisk, Jr. (April 1, 1835 – January 7, 1872)

"No being was ever more self-sufficient or self-reliant. He satisfies himself and acts upon his own ideas. If other like it, it is well; if they do not like it, he don't care. Himself was the one he intended to please, not them. The one trait in which he stands almost alone is, that he seems to want everything and everybody in his power, and trusts nobody that he cannot command absolutely."

From, The Life of James Fisk, Jr.
Marshall P. Stafford, 1871

For more information, please see: James Fisk, Jr. (Wikipedia)

From Our Collection

James Jerome Hill

James Jerome Hill "The Empire Builder" (September 16, 1838 – May 29, 1916)

James J. Hill on his philosophy of life.:
"I have always lived the life of a man endeavoring to be usefully busy. The working hours are those in which there is necessary work to be done, whatever time that may require. Spare hours are well spent upon the study of history, literature and art. What ever and he able mind or creative genius has given the instruction for enjoyment of the world is worthwhile. In books and pictures, as in practical things, only the best are worth any kind time and attention…"

From, James J. Hill and the Opening of the Northwest
Albro Martin, 1976

For more information, please see James J. Hill (Wikipedia)

From Our Collection