Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago

“The Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago: A Biography of William B. Ogden” (Jack Harpster)

Looks to be an interesting book, I just bought myself a copy

William Butler Ogden, born and raised by a pioneer New York family, was truly a man of destiny. He took over his ill father’s lumber and woolens businesses when only sixteen years old; and for fourteen years he improved and expanded his family’s fortune. Devastated by the sudden death of his fiancé, and encouraged by friends to help promote the nascent railroad industry in America, Ogden moved to the small, swampy settlement of Chicago in 1835 when the population barely reached four thousand people.

Old Fort Dearborn, erected in 1803 on the Chicago River at Lake Michigan, was the genesis of the city of Chicago.

A year later, already a heavy investor in Chicago real estate, he became the city’s first mayor. Slowed, but never stopped, by a succession of financial panics that wracked the nation in the mid-1800s, Ogden became one of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens. As a leader of what was known as the city’s business-elite, he was also a principal player in the development of the city’s cultural, charitable and educational sectors.

Ogden built the first railroad out of Chicago, and was the driving force in making the city the railroad capital of the country. His role as the pioneer railroad entrepreneur in America was never questioned; and he was largely responsible for the young nation’s western expansion. He also built and operated the largest lumber empire in the country in central Wisconsin; a huge iron mining and foundry enterprise in Pennsylvania; Chicago’s earliest brewery; Chicago’s most successful real estate company; and a wide range of other business enterprises.

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from the book jacket blurb:

William Butler Ogden was a pioneer railroad magnate, one of the earliest founders and developers of the city of Chicago, and an important influence on U.S. westward expansion. His career as a businessman stretched from the streets of Chicago to the wilds of the Wisconsin lumber forests, from the iron mines of Pennsylvania to the financial capitals in New York and beyond. Jack Harpster’sT he Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago:A Biography of William B. Ogden is the first biography of one of the most notable figures in nineteenth-century America.

Harpster traces the life of Ogden from his early experiences as a boy and young businessman in upstate New York to his migration to Chicago, where he invested in land, canal construction, and steamboat companies. He became Chicago’s first mayor, built the city’s first railway system, and suffered through the Great Chicago Fire. He had diverse business interests that included real estate, land development, city planning, urban transportation, manufacturing, beer brewing, mining, and banking, to name just a few. Harpster, however, does not simply focus on the business mogul; he delves into the heart and soul of the man himself—Ogden was a dedicated family man, a noted raconteur, a respected philanthropist, and a friend to many of the era’s rich and powerful.

The Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago is a meticulously researched and nuanced biography set against the backdrop of the historical and societal themes of the nineteenth century. It is a sweeping story about one man’s impact on the birth of commerce in America. Ogden’s private life proves to be as varied and interesting as his public persona, and Harpster weaves the two together into a colorful tapestry of a life well and usefully lived.

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