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Leland Stanford

In office
January 10, 1862 – December 10, 1863
Lieutenant John F. Chellis
Preceded by John G. Downey
Succeeded by Frederick Low

In office
1885 – 1893
Preceded by James T. Farley
Succeeded by George C. Perkins

Born March 9, 1824(1824-03-09)
Watervliet, New York
Died June 21, 1893 (aged 69)
Palo Alto, California
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jane Elizabeth Lathrop
Alma mater Cazenovia Seminary
Profession Entrepreneur, politician

Amasa Leland Stanford[1] (9 March 1824 – 21 June 1893) was an American tycoon, politician and founder of Stanford University.




Early years

Stanford was born in 1824 in what was then Watervliet, New York (which is now the town of Colonie). He was one of eight children of Josiah and Elizabeth Phillips Stanford. Stanford was raised on family farms in the Lishakill and Roessleville (after 1836) areas of Colonie. The family home in Roessleville was called Elm Grove. The Elm Grove home was razed in the 1940s. His immigrant ancestor, Thomas Stanford, settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in the 17th century.[2] Later ancestors settled in the Mohawk Valley of New York about 1720. Stanford's father was a farmer of some means. Stanford attended the common schools until 1836 and was tutored at home until 1839. He attended Clinton Liberal Institute, in Clinton, New York, and studied law at Cazenovia Seminary in Cazenovia, New York in 1841-45. In 1845 he entered the law office of Wheaton, Doolittle & Hadley in Albany.[2]

Stanford was admitted to the bar in 1848 and then moved to Port Washington, Wisconsin, where he began law practice with Wesley Pierce. His father presented him with a law library said to be the finest north of Milwaukee.[2] On September 30, 1850, he married Jane Elizabeth Lathrop in Albany. She was the daughter of Dyer Lathrop, a merchant of that city, and Jane Anne (Shields) Lathrop.[3] The couple were the parents of one son, Leland Stanford, Jr., born in 1868 when both were middle aged.

In 1850 Stanford was nominated by the Whig Party as Washington County, Wisconsin District Attorney. He was also the founder of a newspaper in Washington County now known as the Washington Herald.


In 1852, having lost his law library and other property by fire, he moved to California during the California Gold Rush. His wife Jane remained in Albany with her family. He went into business with his five brothers, who had preceded him to the Pacific coast. Stanford was keeper of a general store for miners at Michigan Flat in Placer County and later had a wholesale house. He served as a Justice of the Peace and helped organize the Sacramento Library Association, which later became the Sacramento Public Library. In 1855 he returned to Albany to join his wife. Stanford found the pace of Eastern life too slow, and in 1856 he and Jane moved to San Francisco and engaged in mercantile pursuits on a large scale.

Pacific Railroad Bond, City and County of San Francisco, 1865

As one of the Big Four railroad magnates, he cofounded on June 28, 1861, the Central Pacific Railroad, of which he was elected president. His associates were Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins and Collis P. Huntington. In 1861 he was again nominated (the first run was in 1859) to run for Governor of California, and this time he was elected. The railroad's first locomotive was named Gov. Stanford in his honor.[3][4]

As president of the Central Pacific, he directed its construction over the mountains, building 530 miles in 293 days. In May 1868 he joined Lloyd Tevis, Darius Ogden Mills, H.D. Bacon, Hopkins and Crocker in forming the Pacific Union Express Company, which merged in 1870 with Wells Fargo & Company.[5] As head of the railroad company which built the first transcontinental railway line over the Sierra Nevada, Stanford hammered in the famous golden spike in Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869.

While the Central Pacific was still abuilding, Stanford and his associates acquired control of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1868. Stanford was elected president of the Southern Pacific, a post he held (except for a brief period in 1869-70 when Tevis was acting president) until ousted by Huntington in 1890.

Stanford was a director of Wells Fargo & Company from 1870 to January 1884 and, after a brief retirement from the board, again from February 1884 until his death in June 1893.[6]

Muybridge's "The Horse in Motion"

In 1872 Stanford commissioned Eadweard Muybridge to use newly invented photographic technology to establish whether a galloping horse ever has all four feet off the ground simultaneously, which, it was found, they do. This project, which illustrated motion through a series of still images viewed together, was a forerunner of motion picture technology.[7]

Stanford moved to San Francisco in 1874, where he assumed presidency of the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company, the steamship line to Japan and China associated with the Central Pacific.[8]

The Southern Pacific Company was organized in 1884 as a holding company for the Central Pacific-Southern Pacific system. Stanford was president of the Southern Pacific Company from 1885 until 1890, when he was forced out of that post as well as the presidency of the Southern Pacific Railroad by Huntington in revenge for Stanford's election to the United States Senate in 1885 over Huntington's friend, A.A. Sargent. Stanford was elected chairman of the Southern Pacific Railroad's executive committee in 1890, and he held this post and the presidency of the Central Pacific Railroad until his death.[9]

He also owned two wineries, the Leland Stanford Winery, founded in 1869, and run by brother Josiah, and the 55,000 acres (220 km²) Great Vina farm in Tehama County, containing what was then the largest vineyard in the world at 13,400 acres (54 km²), the Gridley tract of 22,000 acres (90 km²) in Butte County and the Palo Alto Stock Farm,[10][11] which was the home of his famous thoroughbred racers, Electioneer, Anon, Sunol, Palo Alto and Advertiser. The Palo Alto breeding farm gave Stanford University its nickname of The Farm. The Stanfords also owned a stately mansion in Sacramento, California which was the birthplace of their only son, and is now the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park, a house museum used for California state social occasions. They also owned a home in San Francisco's Nob Hill district, which was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and which is now the site of the Stanford Court Hotel.


Leland Stanford in 1890

Stanford, a leading member of the Republican Party, was politically active. In 1856, he met with other Whig politicians in Sacramento to organize the California Republican Party at its first state convention on April 30. He was chosen as a delegate to the Republican Party convention which selected US presidential electors in both 1856 and 1860. Stanford was defeated in his 1857 bid for California State Treasurer, and his 1859 bid for the office of Governor of California. In 1860 he was named a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago but did not attend. He was finally elected governor in 1861.[3]

He was the eighth Governor of California, serving from January 1862 to December 1863, and the first Republican governor. A large, slow-speaking man who always read from a prepared text, he impressed his listeners as being more sincere than a glib, extemporaneous speaker.[12][13] During his gubernatorial tenure, he cut the state's debt in half, and advocated for the conservation of forests. He also oversaw the establishment of the California's first state normal school in San José, later to become San José State University. Following Stanford's governorship, the term of office changed from two years to four years, in line with legislation passed during his time in office.

Later, he served in the United States Senate from 1885 until his death in 1893. He served for four years as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, and also served on the Naval Committee. He authored several Senate bills that advanced ideas advocated by the Populist Party of America: a bill to foster the creation of worker-owned cooperatives [14][15], and a bill to allow the issuance of currency backed by land value instead of only the gold standard[16][17]. Neither bill made it out of committee. In Washington, D.C., he had a residence on Farragut Square near the home of Baron Karl von Struve, Russian minister to the United States.

Stanford University

The Memorial Church at Stanford

With wife Jane, Stanford founded Leland Stanford, Junior, University as a memorial for their only child, Leland Stanford, Jr., who died as a teenager of typhoid in Florence, Italy, in 1884 while on a trip to Europe. The University was established by the March 9, 1885 Endowment Act of the California Assembly and Senate, and the Grant of Endowment from Leland and Jane Stanford signed at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees on November 14, 1885 [18]. Besides defining the operational structure of the University, the Grant of Endowment makes only these specific stipulations: "The Trustees ... shall have the power and it shall be their duty:

  • To establish and maintain at such University an educational system, which will, if followed, fit the graduate for some useful pursuit, and to this end to cause the pupils, as easily as may be, to declare the particular calling, which, in life, they may desire to pursue ...
  • To prohibit sectarian instruction, but to have taught in the University the immortality of the soul, the existence of an all-wise and benevolent Creator, and that obedience to His laws is the highest duty of man.
  • To have taught in the University the right and advantages of association and co-operation.
  • To afford equal facilities and give equal advantages in the University to both sexes.
  • To maintain on the Palo Alto estate a farm for instruction in agriculture in all its branches."

Approximately US$20 million (US$400 million in 2005 dollars) initially went into the university, which held its opening exercises October 1, 1891. Its first student, admitted to Encina Hall that day, was Herbert Hoover. The wealth of the Stanford family during the late nineteenth century is estimated at approximately US$50 million ($US1 billion in 2005 dollars).

Personal life

Leland Stanford was an active Freemason. He served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California.

Long suffering from locomotor ataxia, Leland Stanford died of heart failure at home in Palo Alto, California on June 21, 1893, and is buried in the Stanford family mausoleum on the Stanford campus. Jane Stanford died in 1905.[19][20]


Central Pacific locomotives named for Stanford[21][22] were:

The on-campus Stanford Memorial Church is also dedicated to his memory.

Stanford was inducted into the The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts, California Hall of Fame on December 15, 2008. Tom Stanford accepted the honors on his behalf.[23]


  1. ^ Burlingame, Dwight (August 19, 2004). Philanthropy in America: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 456. ISBN 978-1576078600.  
  2. ^ a b c Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, p. 501. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935.
  3. ^ a b c Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, p. 502.
  4. ^ Keith Wheeler, The Railroaders, pp. 60-61. New York: Time-Life Books, 1973.
  5. ^ Noel M. Loomis, Wells Fargo, pp. 199-200. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1968.
  6. ^ Loomis, pp. 215, 255, 270.
  7. ^ Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, revised ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 6.
  8. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. II, p. 129. New York: James T. White & Company, 1899. Reprint of 1891 edition.
  9. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, pp. 503, 504.
  10. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, op. cit.
  11. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, p. 504.
  12. ^ Cleveland Amory, Who Killed Society?, p. 430. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960.
  13. ^ Wheeler, p. 56.
  14. ^ Co-operation of labor: Views of Senator Leland Stanford of California.
  15. ^ Congressional Record, 49 Congress, 2 Sess.: 1804-1805; 51 Congress, 1 Sess.: 2068-2069, 5169-5170, 2 Sess.: 667-668; 52 Congress, 1 Sess.: 468-479, 2684-2686.
  16. ^ The Land Loan Project: Senator Stanford Explains His New Money Scheme, New York Times March 31, 1892.
  17. ^ The Great Question. An interview with Senator Leland Stanford on Money
  18. ^ The Leland Stanford, Junior, University. The Act of the Legislature of California. The Grant of Endowment. Address of Leland Stanford to the Trustees. Minutes of the First Meeting of Board of Trustees.
  19. ^ National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, op. cit.
  20. ^ Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XVII, pp. 504, 505.
  21. ^ Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World. The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869, pp. 115, 117. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
  22. ^ Brian Hollingsworth, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of North American Locomotives, pp. 40-41. New York: Crescent Books, 1984.
  23. ^ Bruce Dancis, "New California Hall of Fame class includes Fonda, Nicholson", Sacramento Bee, May 28, 2008.

External links

Business positions
Preceded by
Executive Committee Chairmen
Southern Pacific Railroad

Succeeded by
Robert S. Lovett


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