Railroad mogul and founder of the city of Huntington, Collis Potter Huntington (October 22, 1821-August 13, 1900) was born at Harwinton, Connecticut. Raised in poverty, he left school at age 14 and became a Yankee peddler, traveling through the South to sell watches and other merchandise. Later he opened a general store at Oneonta, New York. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, Huntington went west and became a rich man, not from mining but by selling supplies to the miners.
Starting with an investment of $1,500, Huntington and partners Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker (collectively known to rail historians as the ‘‘Big Four’’) built two giant rail systems, first the Central Pacific and later the Southern Pacific. In 1862, Huntington persuaded Congress to designate the Central Pacific as the western half of the long-dreamed-of transcontinental railroad. It was successfully linked with the rival Union Pacific with the driving of a golden spike at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869.
That same year, Huntington (without his partners) purchased the nearly bankrupt Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and set about extending its tracks from Richmond across southern West Virginia to the Ohio River. There, in 1871, at a site just downstream from the mouth of the Guyandotte River, he established a new city bearing his name. Remembered as one of the great ‘‘robber barons’’ of his era, Huntington also founded the city of Newport News, Virginia, and the Newport News Shipyard.
This Article was written by James E. Casto
Last Revised on December 03, 2012
Evans, Cerinda W. Collis Potter Huntington. Newport News: Mariners' Museum, 1954.
Lavender, David. The Great Persuader. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970.