Sunday, March 24, 2013

George Francis Train, born March 24, 1829

George Francis Train was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1829, son of Oliver Train and his wife Maria, née Pickering. Oliver Train was a wealthy shipper who had founded a line of packet ships.  When George was four, he and his older sister, Adeline, were orphaned in the yellow fever epidemic of 1833 in New Orleans, which killed their parents and three sisters when the family was visiting the southern port. 

The children were raised by their strict Methodist maternal grandparents, the Pickerings, in Boston. They hoped George would become a minister. He did not go into the ministry as he sought more adventure in his life. He did remain a life-long total abstainer from alcohol and tobacco. At the age of 16, hwent to work for his father's cousin, Enoch Train, who ran packets to Liverpool, England.

In 1843, his sister, Adeline, married Seth Dunbar Whitney, a wealthy merchant who, at 39, ws twenty years older than she. They lived in Milton, Massachusetts,where they raised their family.She wrote mainly for young girls and supported conservative values. She promoted the message of the era that a woman's happiest place is in the home, the source of all goodness. She opposed women's suffrage, and took no part in public life (in accordance with the traditional approach for women expressed in her books.)

George Francis Train was 32 years old when the Civil War began.

Boston, Massachusetts
Train entered the mercantile business in Boston, and made it his career all his life in the United States, England and in Australia

On October 5, 1851, at the age of 22, he married Wilhelmina "Willie" Wilkinson Davis, the daughter of G.T.M. Davis, a railroad executive.

He formed his own company and in 1853 headed with his wife to the gold rush town of Melbourne, Australia, where he was shipping agent, merchant, and insurance man and became involved in building the port facilities.  He also was a correspondent of the Boston Post.  He described his travels back to the United States via Asia and the Middle East in articles for the New York Herald.

Train's wife returned to Boston in 1854 and gave birth to a daughter. He decided to rejoin her and left Melbourne in early November next year, travelling by way of the Orient and the Middle East. His accounts of the trip were sent to the New York Herald, were published in 1857 with his Australian letters as An American Merchant in Europe, Asia, and Australia … and were so well received that Freeman Hunt of the Merchants' Magazine sent him to Europe to report on economic and social conditions.

 In 1860 he went to England to found horse tramway companies in Birkenhead and London, where he soon met opposition. Although his trams were popular with passengers, his designs had rails that stood above the road surface and obstructed other traffic. In 1861 Train was arrested and tried for "breaking and injuring" a London street.

During the American Civil War, he gave numerous speeches in England in favor of the Union and denounced the Confederacy.

Train was involved in the formation of the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) in 1864 during the Civil War. The federal government chartered the railroad for construction of the portion of the Transcontinental Railroad west of the Missouri River. Train was involved in setting up the shadow finance company for the project, the Crédit Mobilier of America, whose principal officers were the same as those of UP.

In the fall of 1867, when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived from New York in wide open Kansas to canvass for woman suffrage, they decided to take the advice of a friend in St. Louis and see if they could get that entrepreneurial dazzler George Francis Train to give them a boost. On October 2, the local committee wired him in Omaha, "Come to Kansas and stump the state for equal rights and female suffrage. The people want you. The women want you." 
Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Train wired back in his breezy way a week later: "Right, Truth, Justice is bound to win. Men made laws, disfranchising Idiots, Lunatics, Paupers, Minors, and added Women as junior partner in the firm. The wedge once inserted in Kansas we will populate the nation with three millions voting women. Shall be with you as soon as our Editorial Party have shot their Buffalo, and seen the Rocky Mountains. Nebraska already allows women to vote in School Committee. If women can rule monarchies they should vote in republics." Susan B. Anthony answered the same day from Lawrence: "God bless you. Begin at Leavenworth Monday, Oct. 21st. Yes with your help we shall triumph." 
Elizabeth Cady Stanton recalled the man in her reminiscences. "Mr. Train was then in his prime a large, fine looking man, a gentleman in dress and manner, neither smoking, chewing, drinking, nor gormandizing. He was an effective speaker and actor, as one of his speeches, which he illustrated, imitating the poor wife at the washtub and the drunken husband reeling in, fully showed. He gave his audience charcoal sketches of everyday life rather than argument. He always pleased popular audiences, and even the most fastidious were amused with his caricatures."

In 1870, Train made a trip around the globe, which was covered by many newspapers. His exploits likely inspired Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eight Days.  His protagonist, Phileas Fogg, is believed to have been modeled on Train.
Phileas Fogg, Illustration for Jules Verne's Novel
While in Europe after his 1870 trip, he persuaded the Queen of Spain to back the construction of a railway in the backwoods of  Pennsylvania; her support provided funding for the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad

Train made a fortune from real estate when the transcontinental railway opened up settlement and development of huge swathes of western America, including large amounts of land in Council Bluffs, Iowa,  and Omaha, Nebraska. He was responsible for building the  Cozzens Hotel.  The 120-room hotel cost $60,000 to build. The hotel was widely regarded as the finest hotel between Chicago, Illinois and San Francisco, California when it was constructed.
Cozzens House Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska
Train was noted for having created the Crédit Mobilier in 1864, which he started specifically to finance the Union Pacific. While appearing to be a separate, independent company which Union Pacific hired, Crédit Mobilier was staffed by the same officers as the railroad. Train and others created a structure that allowed them to realize outsize profits during the construction of the railroad. The story about the scam and Congressional graft was broken in 1872 by The Sun, a New York newspaper opposed to the re-election of Ulysses S. Grant for president. Eventually the scandals resulted in Congressional and executive federal investigations which implicated numerous congressmen, including James Garfield Denying the charges, Garfield was elected as president.
Credit Mobilier Scandal: "Injured Innocents" cartoon in Harpers Weekly
In 1872, Train ran for President of the United States as an independent candidate. He was a staunch supporter of the temperance movement

That year he was jailed on obscenity charges while defending Victoria Woodhull for her newspaper's reporting the alleged affair of Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, each of whom were married to other people. The district attorney ordered him tried for insanity, but several "experts" found him a monomaniac but not insane,  and the jury declared him sane. After that, he assigned his assets to his wife, and lived apparently apart from her in New York. 
Cartoon depicting Victoria Woodhull
 as propnent of "Free Love"

He was the primary financier of the newspaper, The Revolution, which was dedicated to women's rights, and published by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
As he aged, Train was considered to become more eccentric. He stood for the position of Dictator of the United States. He became a vegetarian. Instead of shaking hands with other people, he shook hands with himself, the manner of greeting he had seen in China.
George Francis Train, later in life
In 1890, Train completed his third circumnavigation of the earth in 67 days.  A plaque in Tacoma, Washington commemorates the point at which his 1890 trip began and ended. 

Train was accompanied on many of his travels by George Pickering Bemis, his cousin and private secretary. Bemis later was elected as mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.
George Pickering Bemis

Train spent his final days on park benches in New York City's Madison Square Park, handing out dimes and refusing to speak to anyone but children and animals.  
George Train with children 
in Central Park
According to one report, he used to hold Sunday "services" in Union Square of what he called the Church of the Laughing Jackass. 
George Francis Train Autograph, 1896
He lived at the Mills House No. 1 on Bleecker Street from the time of its establishment in 1897.  Built as a hostel for poor gentlemen, Mills House originally contained 1,500 tiny rooms available at affordable rates and is one of two survivors of three men's hotels built by Darius Ogden Mills, a banker, in New York City.  Each room had an iron bedstead, a hair mattress and pillow, a feather pillow, a chair and a clothes rack; there was no room for anything else. The walls stopped about a foot short of the ceilings, apparently to assure good ventilation. On each floor four toilets and six basins served 182 men, with the main bathrooms on the ground floor. The charge was 20 cents a night, with meals costing an average of 10 to 15 cents a day, perhaps half the rate of a decent boarding house.

Mills House hotels were closed during the day to encourage its residents to seek work. Although the hotel was planned for people of limited means, its quality attracted those from all income levels. The 1900 census taker found clerks, cashiers, janitors, coachmen, laborers, porters, waiters, one acrobat and a doctor, a lawyer and a stockbroker among the residents. (In the mid 1970s, the building was gut-renovated and renamed The Atrium. It has 189 luxury cooperative apartments and furnished suites available for short term rental.)
Mills House No. 1  , New York City
In 1903, Train became ill with smallpox.  He was transported to the home of his daughter, Mrs. Susan M. Train Gulager, in Stamford, Connecticut to recuperate.  
He died in at the Mills House No. 1 in New York City on January 5, 1904, at the age of 74.
After a small private funeral, he was buried at his wife's family mausoleum in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.  The only member of his family at the funeral was his daughter, Susan.  His wife, from whom he had lived apart since 1872, predeceased him in 1879. He was survived by three of his four children.
His cousin, George Beamis, sent a floral arrangement from Omaha.
Gravesite of George Francis Train

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