Harriman, Edward H.

Edward H. Harriman (1848-1909) was a railroad financier whose Northern Securities Company tangled with President Theodore Roosevelt and lost.  E. H. Harriman rose from relatively obscure origins to become one of the nation’s leading investors and railroaders. 

Born to an Episcopalian clergyman on February 20, 1848, in Hempstead, New York, Harriman wanted to pursue a career in business from an early age.  He went to work on Wall Street at fourteen, running errands and rising through the ranks.  At 22 he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, and nine years later married Mary Averell, whose father owned a small railroad in upstate New York.  This connection sparked an interest in the railroad industry, and Harriman purchased a shortline of his own, which he later sold at a profit.

His work in upstate New York gained Harriman the respect and friendship of prominent railroaders.  One of these, Stuyvesant Fish, placed him on the board of the Illinois Central Railroad, of which Fish was president, in 1883.  Harriman learned about the industry and, in 1887, became president of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Harriman sought to gain a direct route to Chicago for his Union Pacific.  He tried to buy the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, but was foiled by James J. Hill.  After a bidding war for Hill’s Northern Pacific, Harriman agreed to cooperate in the formation of Northern Securities Company, a holding company which effectively controlled railroading from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.  Because he thought it was a monopoly, in 1904 President Roosevelt asked his Justice Department to bring suit against the Northern Securities Company using the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  Roosevelt then had the authority he needed to dismantle the company, the first major example of trust busting of his administration.

E. H. Harriman died in 1909.  One of his legacies was the extensive catalog of flora and fauna from an expedition to Alaska he financed in 1899 for John Muir, George Bird Grinnell, and other naturalists.