Henry Gassaway Davis’s West Virginia Central Railroad became the backbone of his growing empire of timber and coal companies.
Davis’s closest friend, Johnson N. Camden, a tall, reserved oil developer from Parkersburg, built two railroads into the mountains.
Davis and Camden bought land and formed businesses together and seized the reigns of political power in West Virginia. The two industrialists turned political influence into an art form. Handing out campaign contributions, private loans to politicians and newspaper editors and all-important government jobs.
On election day their agents handed out cash and bottles of moonshine. A little whiskey does more good with our hill people, said one, than all the speeches we can give. Davis lobbied his fellow delegates on behalf of the B&O, handing out free rail passes to political supporters.
John A. Williams: In West Virginia, business and politics became intertwined in a way that was not typical of most of the other states. There were people who saw opportunities to make some money. The problem was they needed capital. People were always tempted to use political influence as a means of gaining economic capital. Now that happened in every town and in every county seat in West Virginia. Local guys who had access to power traded that power for a share, a minority share, in the economic development that was going on.