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Collis Potter Huntington Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: --
Date: circa 1978

Biographical History

Collis P. Huntington was born on October 22, 1821, in Harwinton, Connecticut, the sixth of nine children of Elizabeth and William Huntington. After a brief and perfunctory education, he was apprenticed at age fourteen to a neighboring farmer and the following year to a local grocer. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, he was an itinerant note collector in the South.

In 1842, Huntington purchased a partnership in his brother's hardware store in Oneonta, New York. It was here that he married Elizabeth Stoddard in 1844. In 1849, he went to California by way of Panama with a group of Oneontans. He entered the hardware business in Sacramento, and by 1855 was joined by Mark Hopkins in the hardware firm of Huntington & Hopkins, one of the largest of its kind on the West Coast. This partnership lasted until 1867.

With Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, a dealer in dry goods, and Leland Stanford, a grocer, Huntington was one of the founders of California's Republican Party. He worked for the admission of California as a free state in 1850, and later supported Abraham Lincoln for president.

A Railroad Tycoon

Huntington's railroad career began in 1861 when he, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker and others formed the Central Pacific Railroad Company. In 1862 the company received a loan from the Federal government to build the western end of the first transcontinental railroad. A further incentive was provided in 1864 when Congress promised to give the company 12,800 acres of adjoining Federal lands for each mile of track laid; the Central Pacific received some 9,497,600 acres. Finally in May, 1869, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific connected in Utah and the first transcontinental railroad was completed.

In December, 1862, Huntington moved to New York City to serve as financier, purchasing agent, legal adviser, and Washington lobbyist for the Central Pacific. As soon as the transcontinental line was completed, Huntington began to purchase twenty-three separate railroad companies in California. Although he thought of selling his Central Pacific stock in 1871, he was already far too involved in building and acquiring transportation systems to quit the field. The financial panic of 1873 put him under great financial strain, but neither he nor the Central Pacific defaulted on their loans.

In the late 1870's Huntington was instrumental in financing and building the Southern Pacific system. Completed in 1883, the Southern Pacific ran from California to New Orleans. Eventually the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific systems were consolidated into one transcontinental railroad company with 9,000 miles of tracks and 16,000 miles of water transportation systems. Huntington succeeded Leland Stanford as president of the Southern Pacific Company in 1890. In 1892, Henry E. Huntington, Collis' nephew, became vice-president of the company and increasingly carried on his uncle's business enterprises.

During the building of the Southern Pacific, Huntington also served as president and director of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company. When this company was sold at a foreclosure sale in 1878, Huntington purchased the road and continued to manage it until 1888 when he sold his shares and the company was reorganized. The eastern terminus of the Chesapeake & Ohio was Newport News, Virginia, where Huntington later established the Chesapeake Dry Dock & Construction Company. The western terminus of the road was Huntington, West Virginia. Both of these cities, built under the supervision of Huntington, were built on property owned by land companies controlled by Huntington.

A Baron of Finance and Political Lobbying

Huntington's financial interests in railroads, steamship companies, land companies, as well as many manufacturing and construction companies, made him an extremely powerful financial figure. His influence an Congress was considerable. As such, during his thirty-nine years as a railroad financier and builder, Huntington faced opposition from both Congress and the press. In 1887, for instance, the Interstate Commerce Commission outlawed rebates, while the United States Pacific Railway Commission was investigating to determine whether Leland Stanford and Huntington had used bribery with Congressmen to obtain favorable railroad legislation. These charges were never proved. Huntington was such an adroit lobbyist that he could obtain preferential legislation at the same time as he was being investigated by Congress.

Philanthropic Activities

Philanthropy is an aspect of Huntington's life which is little known. He established the Huntington Industrial Works at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, of which he was a trustee. He financially aided Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute. Huntington was an avid book collector and connoisseur of fine art. His art collection was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His fortune went into the founding of such institutions as the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Hispanic Society of America, and the Mariners' Museum.

Family History

In September, 1844, Huntington married Elizabeth Stoddard. Having no children of their own, they adopted Mrs. Huntington's niece, Clara Prentice, later the Princess Clara von Hatzveldt. Elizabeth Huntington died in 1883 and in 1884 Huntington married Mrs. Arabella Duval Yarrington Worsham and adopted her son, Archer Milton. Collis P. Huntington died suddenly on August 13, 1900, at the age of seventy-nine. Arabella Huntington later married her late husband's nephew, Henry E. Huntington, and died in New York on September 16, 1924.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Collis P. Huntington Papers have been arranged into four series: Incoming correspondence (1856-1904), Letterpress copy books (1868-1901), Legal and financial records (1797-1901), and Personal papers (1862-1901). Each of these series is described in detail below.

By far the most important and most voluminous parts of this collection consists of Huntington's business and personal correspondence, contained in Series I and II -- some 129,000 pages of incoming correspondence, 1856-1904, and some 112,000 pages of letterpress copy books (259 volumes) of outgoing correspondence, 1868-1901. The correspondents are primarily railroad financiers, officials and administrators, congressmen, lobbyists, industrialists, bankers, lawyers and engineers. A summary of the contents of the correspondence by decade is given below, and a selected index to correspondents is also available.

The highlight of the correspondence comprises the letters of Huntington and those of his five main associates, David D. Colton, Charles Crocker, Edwin B. Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Leland Stanford. The correspondence of these six men opens in 1868 and continues to the years of their deaths. Their letters deal with both business and personal matters including construction, maintenance and operation of their railroads, and their problems in public relations and legislative restrictions. Important correspondents include the following:

Incoming correspondence, 1856-1904 (microfilm reels 1 - 54), is arranged chronologically by year, month, and day, with undated items placed at the end of the month, year, or at the end of all the correspondence. Enclosures were microfilmed following their letter of transmittal. Included with the incoming correspondence are postcards, telegrams and cablegrams, telegraph tapes, memoranda, abstracts of letters, printed notices in letter form, and letters forwarded to Huntington by members of his staff.

Although the incoming correspondence begins in 1856, the bulk of the correspondence starts in 1867 and 1868. Incoming letters are addressed primarily to Huntington, with others addressed to Isaac Edwin Gates, his brother-in-law and private secretary, or to members of his New York office staff.

Over the years, Huntington's correspondence indicates the use of several cipher systems. Although the cipher code books are not available in this microfilm edition, there are many letters with word keys to Substitution codes. Cipher telegrams are generally accompanied by a translation.

Aside from the incoming correspondence, other locations in the collection contain correspondence. Correspondence relating to particular pieces of real estate and court cases was filed with these records in Series III. Series IV, Personal Papers, includes an autobiographical letter written by Huntington in 1899. This series also contains four printed volumes (90A-D) of Huntington's correspondence with his business associates.

Letterpress Copy Books, 1868-1901 (microfilm reels 1 - 35) contain copies of outgoing correspondence, 1868-1901. Nearly every volume has an alphabetical index arranged by last name or business name of the addressee. Each index was microfilmed at the beginning of each volume. The volumes are arranged into 34 groups (i.e., company or individual name) and then chronologically within each group. Only in a very few instances is this chronological order disrupted by a missing volume.

The 34 groups of letterpress copy books vary in size. Five of these groups concern the almost day-to-day accounts of the building of the Central Pacific Railroad: Central Pacific Railroad Company, Vols. 1 - 19; Central Pacific Railroad Company (Collis P. Huntington to Charles Crocker, Charles F. Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, et. al.), Vols. 20 - 36; Central Pacific Railroad Company (Isaac E. Gates), Vols. 45 - 110; Contracting and Building Company, Vols 141 - 149; and telegrams, Vols. 257 - 259.

Other significant groups of letterpress copy books relate to the Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, the Southern Pacific Company, and the Elizabethtown, Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad Company. A complete citation for each volume can be found in the Complete Reel List (available in hard copy only, please contact the repository listed above for more information).

Legal and Financial Records, 1797-1901 (microfilm reels 1 - 23) includes material previously from the years 1863-1901. This series is divided into two sections, namely, Corporate, 1869-1900, and Personal, 1797-1901.

Corporate records, 1869-1900, include financial and business records for 34 companies in which Huntington had an interest. The files in this small section are arranged alphabetically by company name. The Complete Reel List (available in hard copy only, please contact the repository listed above for more information) lists each company. The types of records in this section include stock certificates, memoranda, articles of agreement, comparative statements of rates among railroads, bonds, court records, option agreements, mortgages, indentures, inventories, and numerous addition types of financial records.

Personal records, 1797-1901, are subdivided into Account Books, Civil Suits, Personal Bills, Real Estate, Miscellaneous.

Account books: begins with 19 volumes (35-53) of Huntington's personal financial records including cash books, 1875-1890; day books, 1871-1876; journals, 1886-1898; and ledgers, 1890-1893. Related to these volumes are 4 investment ledgers, 1876-1902 (63-66), and 5 record books of loans payable and receivable, 1867-1900 (67-71).

Civil suits: An important category in this section is court case records of civil suits, 1879-1897 (54-62), which directly or indirectly relate to Huntington. These records include printed court records, depositions, holograph notes by defense lawyers, correspondence, and supporting materials which include account books, statements of account, deposit tags, check books, and lists. The individual case records are arranged alphabetically by case name. Where volume required, materials relating to a case were arranged by type of record.

Two court cases require special mention. The largest group of records relate to the 1883 civil suit brought by Ellen M. Colton (Mrs. David D.) against Leland Stanford et. al (56). Mrs. Colton believed that the Central Pacific Railroad Company had swindled her out of company securities owned by her late husband. The case, which lasted 2 years, resulted in 24 printed volumes of court testimony, as well as a quantity of material prepared by the defense lawyers and a quantity of David D. Colton's personal financial records. The other important case represented is Edward J. Muybridge v. Leland Stanford, 1883 (59A-59D). In 1872 Muybridge was commissioned by Stanford to photograph a horse at full gallop in order to determine if at any point all four feet were off the ground. The film indicated there was such a point. Subsequently Stanford published some of these photographs and attempted to secure a patent on the design of the photographic apparatus used by Muybridge. Muybridge sued on the grounds that credit had not been given for his published photographs and that since he designed the apparatus, Stanford was not entitled to a patent. It is unclear why these court case records appear in Huntington's papers.

Personal bills: Huntington's personal bills and receipts, 1863-1900 (72), are arranged into loose bills, 1863-1895, which are arranged chronologically by year and month; and three volumes of chronologically arranged mounted bills, 1892-1900. These bills are primarily for personal and household expenses. Included are bills Huntington received in furnishing his various residences.

Real estate: Huntington's real estate records, 1797-1901 (73-124), consist of correspondence, bills, receipts, indentures, contracts, bills of sale, mortgages, deeds, vouchers, maps, blueprints, and two volumes (123-124) of property accounts. Bills dealing with real estate may also be found among personal bills. The real estate records are arranged alphabetically by locale: by state, City and street address, in that order. Among New York City property ' it is important to note that arrangement is alphabetical by the spelling of numbered street names.

Of particular interest are the records dealing with the purchase and furnishing of the Nob Hill home of David D: Colton (74), as well as documents relating to the design, construction, decoration, furnishing, and maintenance of Huntington's palatial residence at 2 West Fifty-Seventh Street in New York City (100). The collection also contains materials regarding the remodeling of Huntington's country home at Throgg's Neck (112). There are materials dealing with the design and construction of a chapel in memory of Huntington's mother in Harwinton, Connecticut (79), and records of construction and operating expenses for a public library and reading room maintained by Huntington in Westchester, New York (113).

Miscellaneous: This material includes statements of account, 1869-1900 (125-126), miscellaneous financial records, 1872-1898 (127), and a copy of Huntington's will, 1897 (128).

The statements of accounts include the following records. Huntington's accounts with Huntington-Hopkins, Central Pacific Railroad Company, Southern Pacific, and Pacific Improvement Company. Comparative statements of accounts of Leland Stanford, Huntington, estate of Mark Hopkins, Mrs. M.F. Searles, Charles Crocker, and Stillman & Hubbard with the Pacific Improvement, Southern Development, and Southern Pacific companies. Statements of cash receipts and disbursements for the accounts of Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mrs. M.F. Searles, and Charles Crocker. Individual statements of account of Mrs. M.F. Searles with the Pacific Improvement Company, Leland Stanford with the Pacific Improvement Company, and Arabella D. Huntington with the Southern Pacific Company.

There are, in addition, a list of loans to C.P. Huntington an Wells, Fargo & Company Express stock; a list of properties in which Stanford, Huntington and Charles Crocker had interests; a comparative statement of the assets of the estate of Mark Hopkins, December 31, 1878, and of Mrs. M.F. Searles, December 31, 1887; a readjustment of notes of Stanford, Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mrs. Searles with the Pacific Improvement Company; and a statement of account between Stanford and Huntington arising from Stanford's subscription to the Contracting & Building Company and his interest in the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Syndicate.

Personal Papers, 1862-1901 (microfilm reels 1 - 3) are arranged into the following sections: biographical material, material relating to Collis P. Huntington's business and philanthropic interests, miscellaneous, memorabilia, and printed matter. Each section will be described in detail.

Biographical material, 1862-1899 (1-4), includes a lang autobiographical letter written to James Speyer, December 6, 1899; autobiographical notes by Huntington edited by Charles Nordhoff; genealogical material collected by the Rev. E.B. Huntington; and Huntington's personal memorandum book, 1862-1868.

Material relating to Collis P. Huntington's business and philanthropic interests, 1865-1900 (5-54), are arranged alphabetically by company name and include minutes, reports to stockholders and boards of directors, prospectuses, lists, printed circulars, reports, resolutions, proposals, maps, and blue prints. There is no more than one folder of material for each company. There are some important business records in this section that relate to Huntington's broad business interests.

Miscellaneous records, 1885-1898 (55-60), include railroad reports, reports an possible financial ventures, and stock exchange statements.

Memorabilia, 1875-1934 (61-82), includes newspaper clippings, 1879-1934; photographs of Huntington; specifications for Huntington's private railroad cars and his steam yacht; and an index to transportation articles and references in the New York Tribune, 1875-1902. A complete list of all entries is provided in the Complete Reel List (available in hard copy only, please contact the repository listed above for more information).

Printed matter, 1873-1899 (83-96), includes primarily pamphlets relating to Huntington's railroad interests. The pamphlets are arranged alphabetically by title. The Complete Reel List (available in hard copy only, please contact the repository listed above for more information) provides a full bibliographic entry for each printed item.

Of particular importance are four volumes of printed correspondence published between 1891 and 1894 in a very limited edition. These four volumes contain edited versions of letters, 1867-1879, exchanged between Huntington and his associates, David D. Colton, Charles Crocker, Charles F. Crocker, Edwin B. Crocker, and Leland Stanford. In many instances these printed letters can be compared to the originals in Series I & II, which sometimes carry pencil notations such as "Don't Print". These letters are not indexed.

Arrangement of the Collection

See Scope and content above. Note that Boxes 199-218 no longer exist; their contents have been transferred to phase boxes (Oversize packages 1-24).


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

The entire collection is also available on microfilm, both at Syracuse University and at numerous other academic institutions across the country.

A microfilm version of the Collis P. Huntington Papers (Microfilm #5022) is available.

See also the following:

Anna Hyatt Huntington Papers
Arabella Huntington Papers
Archer Milton Huntington Papers
Huntington Estate Papers

Subject Headings


Ames, Oakes, 1804-1873.
Anthony, Susan B. (Susan Brownell), 1820-1906.
Armstrong, S. C. (Samuel Chapman), 1839-1893.
Axtell, Samuel B. (Samuel Beach), 1819-1891.
Blaine, James Gillespie, 1830-1893.
Bonn, William B.
Boruck, Marcus D. (Marcus Derckheim), 1833 or 4-1895.
Boyd, John.
Cesnola, Luigi Palma di, 1832-1904.
Chandler, William E. (William Eaton), 1835-1917.
Colton, David Douty, 1832-1878.
Conness, John.
Crocker, Charles F.
Crocker, Charles, 1822-1888.
Crocker, E. B. (Edwin Bryant), 1818-1875.
Echols, John.
Flagg, John Henry, 1843-1911.
Fox, Francis W.
Franchot, Richard.
Gates, Isaac Edwin.
Gilman, F. N.
Gorham, George Congdon, 1832-1909.
Gould, Jay, 1836-1892.
Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885.
Hopkins, Mark, 1813-1878.
Huntington, Collis Potter, 1821-1900 Archives.
Judah, Anna Pierce, 1828-1895.
Miller, Edwin H.
Mills, William H.
Prince, L. Bradford (Le Baron Bradford), 1840-1922.
Sargent, A. A. (Aaron Augustus), 1827-1887.
Sherrill, Charles H.
Stanford, Jane Lathrop, 1828-1905.
Stanford, Leland, 1824-1893.
Stewart, William M. (William Morris), 1827-1909.
Storrs, James.
Strong, William B.
Towne, Alban Nelson, 1829-
Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915.
Wickham, Williams Carter, 1820-1888.
Williams, George Washington, 1849-1891.
Woodward, J. H.

Corporate Bodies

Central Pacific Railroad Company.
Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company.
Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (Va.)
Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.
Southern Pacific Railroad Company.
United States., Interstate Commerce Commission.


California, History, 1850-1950.
Capitalists and financiers, United States.
Palaces -- United States.
Philanthropists -- United States.
Railroad law -- United States.
Railroads -- California.
Railroads -- Freight -- Rates.
Railroads -- History.
Railroads -- United States.
Railroads and state -- United States.
Upper class -- United States.


United States -- History -- 1865-1898.
United States -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
United States -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.

Genres and Forms

Account books.
Bills of sale.
Blueprints (reprographic copies)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Ledgers (account books)
Letterpress copybooks.
Maps (documents)
Receipts (financial records)
Stock certificates.


Capitalists and financiers.

Decade summaries of correspondence


The correspondence of the 1860s deals mainly with the financing and construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. There is no correspondence dealing with the legislative maneuvers which brought the transcontinental railroad into being, rather the letters begin after construction on the Central Pacific had already begun. There are numerous cost estimates and time schedules for the completion of the road, as well as discussions of the land grant provisions for construction. Chinese laborers were brought to California to build the Central Pacific and mention is made of both their industriousness and an occasional strike for better wages. The take over of the Western Pacific Railroad by the Central Pacific is detailed in this period. Many of the telegrams between Huntington, Stanford, Hopkins, and Edwin and Charles F. Crocker are in cipher, though the translation is often supplied. In these early years of the Central Pacific the associates occasionally make personal comments about one another.

Huntington's attempt, ultimately unsuccessful with the defeat of a Congressional bill in 1873, to obtain Goat Island in San Francisco Bay as the western terminus for his road is discussed in the 1860s as are the various routes by which the Central Pacific could cut through the Sierras.

Once the road was completed in 1869, Huntington received many requests for passes, from U.S. Senators and fellow railroad officers to authors and missionaries. The requests for passes continue throughout the years. Letters of introduction from job-seekers are numerous. Monthly earnings reports from the Central Pacific begin and continue throughout this period.

The provision of the federal subsidy by which the railroad would carry the mails and troops comes under fire almost immediately after the completion of the road. The associates voice their complaint that they received too small a compensation from the government. This topic occupies their correspondence on and off for about ten years.

The correspondence for the 1860s also concerns the hardware business of Huntington and Hopkins which the two partners sold to their clerks in 1867. The letters from the reorganized Huntington, Hopkins and Co. outline the profits Huntington derived from the one-tenth interest he retained.


The 1870s witness the expansion of Huntington's roads, particularly the Chesapeake and Ohio and the Southern Pacific. The officers of the various roads report their monthly earnings, and comment on problems in both construction of new roads and upkeep of completed roads due to weather, accident, or an occasional robbery. They also lament the lack of qualified locomotive engineers, conductors, and motive power. Manufacturers of railroad materials, rails, iron, lumber, locomotives and rolling stock, solicited business from Huntington's lines, while producers of foodstuffs and dry goods sought preferential rates.

Donations were sought by a number of groups such as colleges, missionary societies and the like. Few of these people received money from Huntington though a notable exception was the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Huntington was always sympathetic to the lot of blacks in the United States and favored education as the way to self-sufficiency. Huntington built a sawmill for the Institute and annually donated scholarships. The letters of Samuel C. Armstrong, principle of the Hampton Institute, testify to the aid Huntington gave. Huntington later helped Booker T. Washington, a Hampton Institute graduate himself, to establish Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

In 1872 the Credit Mobilier scandal is a topic of discussion. So too is the Contract and Finance Company which was the Central Pacific's counterpart of the Union Pacific's Credit Mobilier Company. The railroad owned the construction company to which it awarded inflated contracts thereby pocketing huge profits and at public expense as it was government money. The railroad, in effect, created its own middle man which it could then control. Charles F. Crocker was the middleman for the Contract and Finance Company.

The opening of the transcontinental railroad put a crimp in the profits of those steamship companies who transported goods from the Orient around the Cape. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company, which was partially owned by stock speculator and manipulator Jay Gould, in 1874 refused to send goods by way of the railroads. Huntington countered by forming his own steamship line to feed Asiatic goods to the Central Pacific.

Realizing he would need the cooperation of Gould, who owned the Union Pacific, Huntington formed the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company with Gould. Shortly thereafter the Pacific Mail Steamship Company began again to ship goods by rail.

Huntington's lang range plan to build a transcontinental railroad wholly owned by himself was in part influenced by a desire to avoid problems, such as the above with Gould. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad was planned as the eastern end of such a road. Monthly reports on the progress and earnings of the Chesapeake and Ohio are found in the correspondence. There are also references to the building of Huntington, West Virginia, which Huntington intended as the western terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio. In expanding the Chesapeake and Ohio westward Huntington bought out financially troubled railroads, the first of which was the Elizabethtown, Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad. The correspondence of John Echols and attorney William Breckinridge detail both the construction and legal problems surrounding the Elizabethtown, Lexington and Big Sandy Railroad, where virtually any sizable town in Kentucky through which it passed started a legal battle over the right of way.

There appears in the incoming correspondence personal letters to Huntington from friends and relatives, though not in any volume. Beginning in 1876 and continuing on and off through 1893 there are letters from Mrs. Anna Judah, widow of surveying engineer Theodore Judah. Judah became involved with California railroads in 1854 when he surveyed a route for the Sacramento Valley Railroad and later surveyed a route for the San Francisco and Sacramento Railroad. Judah also acted as a Lobbyist for the latter road trying to entice prospective stockholders and advocating Federal aid to build intra-state feeder lines which would insure traffic for the proposed transcontinental railroad. In 1859, Judah helped organize a statewide convention on the building of the Pacific Railroad, which then sent him to Congress to lobby for the transcontinental.

Supporters of the railroad in California were divided over which route the transcontinental should follow. The route would determine the terminus of the road, in effect determing what area of California would reap financial benefits. In 1860, Judah set about to form his own railroad company and among the prospective stockholders in Sacramento was Collis P. Huntington, by this time a well-to-do and respected businessman. Judah sought money to complete the survey of the line and lay enough track to satisfy the federal subsidy provisions. After much discussion Huntington and Mark Hopkins each invested $1500 and took Judah in as an equal partner.

By June of 1861 the associates of the Central Pacific Railroad Company filed articles of incorporation with the secretary of state of California. Leland Stanford, soon to be governor of California, was elected president; Huntington, vice-president; Judah, chief engineer; and Mark Hopkins, treasurer. Judah surveyed the line and lobbyed in Congress. When the associates subscribed to the Central Pacific stock they did so on the margin system. In 1863, Huntington called for additional funds from the stockholders in order to complete enough track to get federal money. Judah sold his interest in the company to Charles F. Crocker for $10,000, while retaining an open option to buy further shares. In November 1863, Judah and his wife Anna sailed for New York to raise money. Theodore contracted tropical fever while crossing through Panama and died shortly after his arrival in New York.

Anna Judah always feit it was her husband's efforts which allowed Huntington and his associates to build the transcontinental railroad which made them all very wealthy men and said so in her letter to Huntington. Apparently Anna would write numerous appeals after which Huntington would advance her money usually as a mortgage on some of her property.

Among the correspondents of the 1870s is Huntington's nephew, Henry Edward Huntington. Though Henry would later become an officer of the Southern Pacific Railroad and marry his uncle's widow, only his early correspondence is represented in this series. Henry's early letters ask his Uncle Collis for money to start a business. While inspecting the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, Huntington purchased a saw mill in St. Albans, West Virginia, and put Henry in charge in partnership with Richard Franchot, chief congressional lobbyist for the Central Pacific. After returning to the family business in Oneonta, New York, for a few years, Henry reappears as an engineer on the western extension of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.

Lobbyist Franchot, formerly a Congressman from Schenectady, New York, who had served on the House Select Committee on the Pacific Railroad, kept Huntington informed of Congressional actions regarding railroads.

John Boyd was another of Huntington's congressional "look outs" on Congress whose official title in 1875 was "Ass't Doorkeeper in the Capitol Building." Boyd and Franchot sent reports to Huntington concerning the various bills before Congress affecting his railroads. By these reports Huntington knew who his friends were in Congress and also whom he should try to influence. John Boyd often sent newspaper clippings relevant to Huntington's interests. When Richard Franchot died in 1876, Charles Sherrill took his position with the official title "Advisor and Agent of the Central Pacific Railroad in the City of Washington before Congress and the Departments."

David D. Colton joined the associates in 1873 and was soon made president of the Rocky Mountain Coal and Iron Company of Wyoming. By mid-1874, Huntington realized Colton's talents and sent him to Washington to work as a lobbyist for the Southern Pacific. There are many of Colton's letters in this series; they cover the period from 1873 to his death in 1878.

Beginning in the 1870s and continuing to the end of the correspondence are letters calling for interest payments on Central Pacific bonds, as well as the bonds of Huntington's other roads. Some came from large investment houses such as Speyer & Co. in Germany who held millions of dollars of bonds in Huntington's railroads. Other calls for interest payments came from banks, both large and small, law firms seeking redress for their clients, and private investors. There are a few letters from Congressmen asking Huntingtn's advice on what stocks and bonds would be safe purchases.

The letters of Charles F. Crocker and Mark Hopkins testify to the problem of raising cash to pay both interest on the bonds and to continue construction on new lines. Congress early realized that if railroads had difficulty paying interest on their bonds they would also have difficulty paying their debts to the government. Congress passed the Thurman Act which created a sinking fund to which the railroads would contribute out of their net earnings to repay government loans. The Thurman Act is a topic of discussion in the letters of Boyd and Sherrill in 1878.

A man of Huntington's position, head of an expanding railroad empire, could command an influence in both national and local politics. For example, in 1878, when Samuel Axtell and T.B. Catron, respectively governor and U.S. attorney for the Territory of New Mexico, are threatened with removal they write to Huntington and ask him to use his influence to protect their jobs.

As mentioned above, Huntington had as one of his aims the construction of a transcontinental rail system wholly owned by himself. Thomas Scott, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, had the same goal. In 1868 Scott met with Huntington and told him of his plan to build a transcontinental railroad along a southerly route terminating in the proposed Southern Pacific Railroad, which at that time was only a paper road. Scott offered to buy out Huntington's interest with a small piece of Scott's proposed construction company (the Central Pacific was not yet completed). Huntington begged off and completed his own negotiations for the Southern Pacific. Scott's next attempt at his own transcontinental system came in 1870 with the Texas Pacific Railroad Bill which is discussed in the correspondence. The bill would allow Scott to build new roads and buy up old ones and gave him a virtual monopoly on Texas roads.


The 1880s see the further expansion of Huntington's railroads. Details leading to Huntington gaining a controlling interest in the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad can be found in the correspondence, particularly in the letters of Thomas Peirce, president of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad. Control of this line gave Huntington the foothold he needed in Texas (for which the Southern Pacific had no charter to build), and effectively stopped the Texas and Pacific which was now owned by Jay Gould.

By this time in the correspondence there are a myriad of letterheads for Huntington's railroads and construction companies. The construction companies were set up along the same lines as the now defunct Contract and Finance Company (which had been dissolved in 1873). The Pacific Improvement Company was Huntington's construction company for the Southern Development Company in New Mexico. The Chesapeake and Ohio's construction firm was the Contracting and Building Company, which built the Maysville and Big Sandy extension of the Chesapeake and Ohio. Details leading to the takeover of the Maysville and Big Sandy Railroad can be found in the correspondence. The problems of buying land and obtaining rights of waycontinued in Kentucky.

The development of Newport News begins in this period. Huntington planned Newport News as both a harbor terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio and as a ship building and dry dock center. As with the railroads there soon began monthly progress reports and then monthly earnings reports. There is also correspondence dealing with the building of the Southern Pacific Railroad in Arizona and New Mexico.

In 1882, Boyd and Sherrillreported an a bill to limit Chinese immigration. This bill was of importance to Huntington as it would limit his supply of cheap labor to build his railroads. The lobbyists also report on congressional action to forfeit land grants to the railroads on which proposed lines had not yet begun. Huntington also received letters and flyers from inventors and distributors of new safety gear, such as air brakes, improved car couplers, railroad crossing gates, and even a patented passenger car spittoon. Mrs. David D. Colton brought suit against the Central Pacific in 1882. When her husband joined the associates he was offered twenty thousand shares in both the Central and Southern Pacific Railroads in return for which he signed a note for one million dollars which would fall due in October 1879. After Colton's death in 1878, bookkeepers discovered that Colton had misappropriated company funds in anticipation of his inability to pay the million dollar note. Huntington, Stanford, and Crocker told Mrs. Colton they would cancel the note if she turned over the securities that her husband held in their companies. They assured her this was a fair bargain as the securities were not worth a million dollars. She then agreed. When Mrs. Colton read newspaper accounts of the value of the estate of Mark Hopkins she believed she had been swindled and brought suit. While she ultimately lost her case she gave much ammunition to Huntington's detractors by reading many of Huntington's letters to her husband into the court record. The letters gave accounts of money Huntington paid to Congressmen, as well as his efforts to manipulate legislation. Letters concerning Mrs. Colton's case are numerous.

Evidence of philanthropy on Huntington's part are scant. As mentioned above, Huntington donated money to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Alabama. There is also correspondence from Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute. Apparently Huntington also gave money to the Pacific Theological Seminary in California, and there are letters that indicate donations to the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York. L. di Cesnola of the Metropolitan Museum of Art sought and received a number of donations to obtain desired individual items or collections for the museum.

The election of Leland Stanford to the U.S. Senate in 1885 put a wedge between Stanford and Huntington that was never fully removed. Huntington had supported his long-time friend and political associate Aaron A. Sargent for the Senate seat and had even persuaded Stanford and Sargent to bury their lang standing feud. When the California electorate returned a Republican majority to the state legislature, Huntington fully expected that Stanford would support Sargent. Instead Stanford ran for the seat and was elected. Huntington feit betrayed and relations between the two were never quite the Same.

Charles Sherrill died in 1887, and John Boyd took over as chief congressional lobbyist. Among the topics discussed in his correspondence of the late 1880s were a proposed investigation of the Pacific railroads by Congress, and the Interstate Commerce Commission's efforts to regulate the railroads.

Inquiries about the interest payments due an bonds of Huntington's companies continue from the New York, Brussels, and Frankfort offices of Speyer and Company. Huntington travelled to Europe in 1887 in an effort to pacify European bondholders whose main complaints were late interest payments and annual company reports which were not quite so annual or accurate. Huntington wrote many letters to his secretary Isaac Edwin Gates while he was in Europe and these appear in this series.


In the 1890s Huntington became involved with railroads in Africa. Huntington had lang been sympathetic to the plight of blacks in the United States and was a fervent supporter of the earlier anti-slavery movement. He invested in railroads in Africa (the Congo Railroad and the British East Africa Company) because he feit that the railroad would bring civilization to Equitorial Africa and thereby help to end the slave trade. Huntington's involvement with the anti-slavery movement can be followed in the letters of Francis W. Fox and Sir William Mackinnon.

The correspondence for this decade presents the situation that while Huntington made the avowed aim of taking politics out of the railroads he became more and more involved in politics particularly in California. The letters of William Mills show how Huntington manipulated public opinion by purchasing newspapers and attempting to influence others; this at a time when there was much anti-railroad feeling in California. Mills' letters give a day-to-day account of California politics.

Lobbyist Boyd kept Huntington informed of the actions of the Congressional investigations of the railroads. In 1893, Huntington was called to testify before the committee, yet there is little mention of this in the correspondence. Among the topics that occupied the correspondence during the 1890s was the Panic of 1893. Its effects in California are detailed in the letters of William Mills; banks closed, money was tight, and interest payments were due. The associates turned to Stanford for assistance, but he died and his estate was tied up in probate. The question of the free coinage of silver is discussed with William M. Stewart, U.S. Senator from Nevada. The Pullman Strike of 1894 is discussed in letters from Mills. The strike had little effect in California, but it did muck to feed anti-railroad feelings there. Agitation in California against the railroads is mentioned in the correspondence, while in Congress debate continued over a Funding Bill by which the railroads would repay their debts to the government.

The correspondence of the latter part of the 1890s deals mainly with the day-to-day business of running an enormous railroad and steamship empire. One of the last additions to this empire was the Raquette Lake Railway, which allowed Huntington to visit his retreat in the Adirondacks.

By the time of his death on August 13, 1900, Huntington had an interest in the following companies of which this is by no means a complete list:

The incoming correspondence ends with letters of condolence to Issac Edwin Gates from friends and business associates on the death of his friend and employer.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Collis Potter Huntington Papers
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Table of Contents


Letterpress copybooks

Legal and financial records

Personal papers



Note on alternate formats:

The entire collection is also available on microfilm, both at Syracuse University and at numerous other academic institutions across the country.