Author: Emily Brodman, Stephanie Chan, Killeen Hanson, and Richard White
While the makeup of a single railroad's board of directors changed year to year, powerful families often moved from board to board, sat on multiple boards at once, or had multiple family members sit on the same board simultaneously. Individual names and positions may have changed each year, yet certain families maintained influence on railroad boards of directors for decades.
This visualization tracks the movements of five families in Boston that all had interests in the same three railroad companies: Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, Atlantic & Pacific, and Mexican Central. Certain families tended towards loyalty to one railroad while others consistently held seats on all three boards. All five families had a family member as a founder of the American Loan and Trust Company, incorporated in Boston in 1880.
Board membership did not denote control over management of a corporation as much as it meant that director's had access to inside information that was critical for investment. In an age when public information was often partial or false, it was essential for large investors to have trusted people on boards. Important investors tended to trust friends and family members; a close network of railroad directors might form a trust company with friends and family to better act on their investment information. The emergence of bureaucratic corporations did not mean the end of insider networks based on family and kinship.
Burr (Isaac T. and C.C. Burr) Isaac Tucker Burr served as president of the National Bank of North America in Boston from 1881 for much of the 1880s and 1890. His brother, Charles Chauncey Burr, replaced him for one year on the board of Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.
Cheney (Benjamin P. Cheney and Benjamin P. Cheney, Jr.) Benjamin Pierce Cheney first worked as a station agent and stagecoach driver, but eventually became one of the early directors of both Wells Fargo and the firm that became American Express. Benjamin P. Cheney held the highest number of director-years from 1872 to1891. His son, Benjamin P. Cheney, Jr. appeared once on the board of Mexican Central.
Nickerson (Thomas Nickerson, Joseph Nickerson, Albert L. Nickerson) Thomas Nickerson left his lucrative shipping and mercantile business in 1870 to enter the railroad business. His son, Albert, and his brother, Joseph, joined Thomas on multiple boards.
Strong (William Barstow Strong) William Barstow Strong began his career in the railroads as a station agent in 1855, eventually rising to become president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in 1881, a position he held until his retirement in 1889. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe expanded to become 7,000 miles long during his tenure as president, making it the largest railroad in the country.
Wade (Levi C. Wade) Levi Clifford Wade was an attorney and member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. After 1880, Wade's law practice dealt exclusively with railway law, after which he was made official counsel for Atlantic and Pacific, Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and Mexican Central.
How to Run a Transcontinental Railroad