Leland Stanford

Amasa Leland Stanford (March 9, 1824  June 21, 1893) was an American industrialist and politician. A member of the Republican Party, he served as the 8th governor of California from 1862 to 1863 and represented California in the United States Senate from 1885 until his death in 1893. He and his wife Jane were also the founders of Stanford University, which they named after their late son.[1] Prior to his political career, Stanford was a successful merchant and wholesaler who built his business empire after migrating to California during the Gold Rush. As president of the Central Pacific Railroad and later the Southern Pacific from 1885 to 1890, he held tremendous power in the region and a lasting impact on California.[2][3][4][5][6] Stanford is widely considered a robber baron.[2][3][4][5][6]

Leland Stanford
Stanford circa 1870
United States Senator
from California
In office
March 4, 1885  June 21, 1893
Preceded byJames T. Farley
Succeeded byGeorge Clement Perkins
8th Governor of California
In office
January 10, 1862  December 10, 1863
LieutenantJohn F. Chellis
Preceded byJohn Gately Downey
Succeeded byFrederick Ferdinand Low
Personal details
Amasa Leland Stanford

(1824-03-09)March 9, 1824
Watervliet, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 21, 1893(1893-06-21) (aged 69)
Palo Alto, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican (from 1856)
Other political
Whig (until 1856)
(m. 1850)
ChildrenLeland Stanford Jr.
Alma materCazenovia Seminary
ProfessionBusinessman, politician

Early life and career

Leland Stanford was born in 1824 in what was then Watervliet, New York (now the Town of Colonie). He was one of eight children of Josiah and Elizabeth Phillips Stanford. Among his siblings were New York State Senator Charles Stanford (1819–1885) and Australian businessman and spiritualist Thomas Welton Stanford (1832–1918). His immigrant ancestor, Thomas Stanford, settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in the 17th century.[7] Later ancestors settled in the eastern Mohawk Valley of central New York about 1720.

Stanford's father was a farmer of some means. Stanford was raised on family farms in the Lisha Kill and Roessleville (after 1836) areas of Watervliet. The family home in Roessleville was called Elm Grove. The Elm Grove home was razed in the 1940s. Stanford attended the common school 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 to 1845. In 1845, he entered the law office of Wheaton, Doolittle, and Hadley in Albany.[7]

A historical marker was erected in Port Washington, WI in 2014 to honor Leland Stanford's residency

After being admitted to the bar in 1848, Stanford moved with many other settlers to Port Washington, Wisconsin, where he began a law practice with Wesley Pierce.[8] His father presented him with a law library said to be the finest north of Milwaukee.[7] In 1850, Stanford was nominated by the Whig Party as Washington County, Wisconsin district attorney.

Marriage and family

On September 30, 1850, Stanford married Jane Elizabeth Lathrop in Albany, New York. She was the daughter of Dyer Lathrop, a merchant of that city, and Jane Anne (Shields) Lathrop.[9] The couple did not have any children for years, until their only child, a son, Leland DeWitt Stanford, was born in 1868 when his father was forty-four.[10]


Photo of a monument in Michigan Bluff, California

In 1852, having lost his law library and other property to a fire, Stanford followed his five brothers to California during the California Gold Rush. His wife, Jane, returned temporarily to Albany and her family. He went into business with his brothers and became the keeper of a general store for miners at Michigan City, California, later the name changed to Michigan Bluff in Placer County; later he 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, but found the pace of Eastern life too slow after the excitement of developing California.

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

In 1856, he and Jane moved to Sacramento, where he engaged in mercantile pursuits on a large scale. He was one of the four merchants known popularly as "The Big Four" (or among themselves as "the Associates"), who were the key investors in Chief Engineer Theodore Dehone Judah's plan for the Central Pacific Railroad. The five of them incorporated it on June 28, 1861, and Stanford was elected as its president. The other three associates were Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis P. Huntington.

The Central Pacific's first locomotive, named Gov. Stanford in his honor, is preserved on static display at the California State Railroad Museum, in Sacramento.[9][11][12]

Stanford ran unsuccessfully for governor of California in 1859. He was nominated again in 1861 and won the election. Due to the Great Flood of 1862, he had to row to his inauguration in a rowboat.[13] He served one term, then limited to two years.

In May 1868, he joined Lloyd Tevis, Darius Ogden Mills, H.D. Bacon, Hopkins, and Crocker in forming the Pacific Union Express Company. It merged in 1870 with Wells Fargo and Company.[14] Stanford was a director of Wells Fargo and Company from 1870 to January 1884. After a brief retirement from the board, he served again from February 1884 to his death in June 1893.[15]

Also in May 1868, he started the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company (now Pacific Life) and served as its first president from 1868 to 1876.

Leland Stanford and the officers of the CPRR in 1870

While the Central Pacific was under construction, Stanford and his associates in 1868 acquired control of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Stanford was elected president of the Southern Pacific, a post he held until 1890 (except for a brief period in 1869–1870 when Tevis was acting president) when he was ousted by Collis Huntington.

As head of the railroad company that built the western portion of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" from Sacramento eastward over the Sierra Nevada mountains in California to Nevada and Utah, Stanford presided at the ceremonial driving of "Last Spike" in Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. The grade of the CPRR met that of the Union Pacific Railroad, which had been built westward from its eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska. He was even given the honor of driving the final spike.

Stanford moved with his family from Sacramento to San Francisco in 1874, where he assumed presidency of the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company, the steamship line to Japan and China associated with the Central Pacific.[16]

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 Collis Huntington, the company's ranking vice president and the corporate directorate. That was thought to be retaliation for Stanford's election to the US Senate in 1885 over Huntington's friend, Aaron A. Sargent.[17]

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.[17]

He is widely considered a robber baron.[2][3][4][5][6]

Other interests

He owned two wineries, the Leland Stanford Winery in Alameda County founded in 1869, and run and later inherited by his brother Josiah, and the 55,000 acres (223 km2) Great Vina Ranch in Tehama County, containing what was then the largest vineyard in the world at 3,575 acres (14 km2) and given to Stanford University.[18]

Muybridge's The Horse in Motion, 1878

Stanford was also interested in horses and owned the Gridley tract of 17,800 acres (72 km2) in Butte County. In Santa Clara County, he founded his Palo Alto Stock Farm.[16][19] He bred Standardbred horses to be raced as trotters, including his chief sire, Electioneer (sired by Hambletonian)[20] and his winning offspring: Arion,[21] Sunol,[22] Palo Alto, and Chimes[23] (out of Stanford's best known dam Beautiful Bells[24]); and Thoroughbreds for flat racing. In 1872, Stanford commissioned the photographer Eadweard Muybridge to undertake scientific studies of the gaits of horses at a trot and gallop at the Agricultural Park race track in Sacramento. Images of the horses' feet were captured there, later moving to his Palo Alto Stock Farm. He wanted to determine if the horses ever had all four feet off the ground at the same time. The result was the proto-film Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (1878). As the Palo Alto breeding farm was later developed into the Stanford University, the university was nicknamed "The Farm."


The Stanford residence in Palo Alto, 1888

The Stanfords retained ownership of their mansion in Sacramento, where their only son was born in 1868. Now the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park, the house museum is also used for California state social occasions. The Stanfords' home in San Francisco's Nob Hill district was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; the site is now occupied by the Stanford Court Hotel. The Stanford residence at the Palo Alto Stock Farm became a convalescent home for children in 1919 (the forerunner of the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital) and was torn down in 1965.[25][26]


Stanford in 1890.

Stanford was politically active and became a leading member of the Republican Party. In 1856, he met with other Whig politicians in Sacramento on April 30 to organize the California Republican Party at its first state convention. He was chosen as a delegate to the Republican Party convention that 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 elected governor in a second campaign in 1861.[9]

Governor of California

He was the eighth Governor of California, serving from January 1862 to December 1863, and the first Republican governor. Due to the Great Flood of 1862, the governor was said to have needed to row in a boat to his own inauguration. 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.[27][28]

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 Jose, later to become San Jose 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.

Native Americans

The ongoing eradication of the Native Americans living in California continued under his administration.[29][30] He did sign into law an act reversing part of the 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that allowed the enslavement of Native Americans.[31] However, he also continued the prosecution of the Bald Hills War in Northern California.

Chinese immigrants

The gold strike in California had brought a large influx of newcomers into the territory, including Chinese immigrants, who faced persecution.[32] Anti-Chinese sentiment became a political issue over time. In a message to the legislature in January 1862, Governor Stanford said:

To my mind it is clear, that the settlement among us of an inferior race is to be discouraged by every legitimate means. Asia, with her numberless millions, sends to our shores the dregs of her population. Large numbers of this class are already here; and, unless we do something early to check their immigration, the question, which of the two tides of immigration, meeting upon the shores of the Pacific, shall be turned back, will be forced upon our consideration, when far more difficult than now of disposal. There can be no doubt but that the presence among us of numbers of degraded and distinct people must exercise a deleterious influence upon the superior race, and to a certain extent, repel desirable immigration.[33]

Stanford was initially acclaimed for such statements, but lost support when it was revealed that his Central Pacific Railroad was also importing Chinese workers to construct the railroad.[34]

United States Senator

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 on the Naval Committee. He was president and director of the Central Pacific Railroad the entire time he sat in the Senate. He authored several Senate bills that advanced ideas advocated by the People's Party: a bill to foster the creation of worker-owned cooperatives,[35][36] and a bill to allow the issuance of currency backed by land value instead of only the gold standard.[37][38] Neither bill made it out of committee. In Washington, DC, he had a residence on Farragut Square near the home of Baron Karl von Struve, Russian minister to the US.

Stanford University

The Memorial Church at Stanford University is dedicated to the memory of Leland Stanford.

With his 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 fever in Florence, Italy, in 1884 while on a trip to Europe. The university was established by 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.[39]

The Stanfords donated approximately 40 million United States Dollars[40] (equivalent to $1,206,000,000 today) to develop the university, which held its opening exercises on October 1, 1891, and was intended for agricultural studies. Its first student, admitted to Encina Hall that day, was Herbert Hoover, who went on to become the 31st US president. The wealth of the Stanford family during the late 19th century is estimated at $50 million (equivalent to $1,629,000,000 today).

Worker co-operatives

Stanford had ideas of Stanford University employee ownership for more than thirty years before giving them expression in his plans for the university, proposals as a Senator, and in interviews with the news media.[41]

Personal life

Stanford was an active Freemason[42] from 1850 to 1855, joining the Prometheus Lodge No. 17 in Port Washington, Wisconsin. After moving west, he became a member of the Michigan City Lodge No. 47 in Michigan Bluff, California.[43] He was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in California.

Long-suffering from locomotor ataxia, Leland Stanford died of heart failure at home in Palo Alto, California, on June 21, 1893.[44] He was buried in the family mausoleum on the Stanford campus. Jane Stanford died in 1905 after being poisoned with strychnine.[16][17]

Legacy and honors

  • In 1862 California volunteer troops re-building a military post at the confluence of the San Pedro River and Aravaipa Creek in Arizona Territory named the post Fort Stanford after the governor. However, the post later reverted to its former name, Fort Breckenridge, and in 1866 became Camp Grant.
  • Central Pacific locomotives named for Stanford[45][46] were:
    • Gov. Stanford, a 4-4-0 locomotive built in 1863 by the Norris Locomotive Works in Philadelphia and brought to San Francisco by sailing vessel. This engine is preserved at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
    • El Gobernador, a 4-10-0 locomotive built in the Central Pacific shops in Sacramento in 1884. Found to be disappointing in its performance as a freight hauler, it was scrapped in July 1894.
  • The Stanford Memorial Church on the university campus is dedicated to him.
  • 2008, Stanford was inducted into The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts, California Hall of Fame. A relative, Tom Stanford, accepted the honors on his behalf.[47]
  • Mount Stanford, located in California's Sierra Nevada, is named in his honor.[48]

In fiction

Leland Stanford and Stanford University, fictionalized as Grover Linden and Linden University respectively, feature in Michael Nava, Lay Your Sleeping Head (2016), a mystery novel, the plot of which revolves in part around the fate of the Linden, i.e., Stanford, fortune.

See also


  1. Burlingame, Dwight (August 19, 2004). Philanthropy in America: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 456. ISBN 978-1-57607-860-0 via archive.org.
  2. Tuterow, Norman E. (2004). The governor: the life and legacy of Leland Stanford, a California colossus, Volume 2. Arthur H. Clark Co. p. 1146.
  3. Carlisle, Rodney P., ed. (April 2009). Handbook to Life in America, Vol. 4. Facts on File. p. 8.
  4. Cummings, Bruce (2009). Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power. Yale University Press. p. 672.
  5. Lindsay, David (2005). Madness in the Making. Universe. p. 214.
  6. Goethals, George R.; et al. (2004). Encyclopedia of Leadership, Vol. I. Sage Publications. p. 897.
  7. Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. XVII. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1935. p. 501.
  8. "Port Washington Downtown Historic District". LandmarkHunter.com.
  9. Powers, William H. (1929). "Dictionary of American Biography". Science. XVII (1805): 121–2. Bibcode:1929Sci....70..121P. doi:10.1126/science.70.1805.121. PMID 17813847.
  10. "Jane Stanford: The woman behind Stanford University". Stanford University. Archived from the original on May 21, 2016. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  11. Wheeler, Keith (1973). The Railroaders. New York: Time-Life Books. pp. 60–61.
  12. Dieberg, Timothy S.; Strapac, Joseph A. (1987). Southern Pacific Company Steam Locomotive Compendium. Huntington Beach, CA: Shade Tree Books. pp. 25, 33. ISBN 0-930742-12-5.
  13. Zhong, Raymond (August 15, 2022). "Why the 'Big One' Could Be Something Other Than an Earthquake". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 18, 2022.
  14. Loomis, Noel M. (1968). Wells Fargo. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. pp. 199–200.
  15. Loomis 1968, pp. 215, 255, 270.
  16. The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Vol. II (reprint ed.). New York: James T. White & Company. 1899 [1891]. p. 129.
  17. Powers, William H. (1929). "Dictionary of American Biography". Science. XVII (1805): 121–122. Bibcode:1929Sci....70..121P. doi:10.1126/science.70.1805.121. PMID 17813847.
  18. Pinney, Thomas (1989). A History of Wine in America from the Beginnings to Prohibition. Vol. 1. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06224-5.
  19. Powers, William H. (1929). "Dictionary of American Biography". Science. XVII (1805): 121–2. Bibcode:1929Sci....70..121P. doi:10.1126/science.70.1805.121. PMID 17813847.
  20. "ELECTIONEER | Harness Museum". harnessmuseum.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  21. "ARION | Harness Museum". harnessmuseum.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  22. "SUNOL | Harness Museum". harnessmuseum.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  23. "CHIMES | Harness Museum". harnessmuseum.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  24. "BEAUTIFUL BELLS | Harness Museum". harnessmuseum.com. Retrieved July 6, 2018.
  25. "History, Mission and Values". Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. Archived from the original on August 1, 2013.
  26. "Jane L. Stanford: Timeline". Stanford University. Archived from the original on October 4, 2014.
  27. Amory, Cleveland (1960). Who Killed Society?. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 430.
  28. Wheeler 1973, p. 56.
  29. Madley, Benjamin (2016). An American genocide : the United States and the California Indian catastrophe, 1846-1873. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300230697.
  30. "California's little known genocide".
  31. Magliari, Michael F. (May 1, 2012). "Free State Slavery: Bound Indian Labor and Slave Trafficking in California's Sacramento Valley, 1850–1864". Pacific Historical Review. 81 (2): 155–192. doi:10.1525/phr.2012.81.2.155. Retrieved February 8, 2022.
  32. Asbury, Herbert (2008). The Barbary Coast. Basic Books. p. 143.
  33. Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence (1991). The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. University of Illinois Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-0252062261 via Internet Archive. The presence of numbers of that degraded and distinct people would exercise a deleterious effect upon the superior race.
  34. Asbury 2008, p. 145.
  35. Stanford, Leland (May 4, 1887). "Co-operation of Labor". New York Tribune. Special Collection 33a, Box 7, Folder 74, Stanford University Archives. PDF
  36. 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.
  37. "The Land Loan Project: Senator Stanford Explains His New Money Scheme". The New York Times. March 31, 1892. (subscription required)
  38. The great question: an interview with Senator Leland Stanford on money. worldcat.org. OCLC 7456711.
  39. "The Leland Stanford, Junior, University". archive.org. 1885. 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.
  40. "Stanford Estate Worth Seven Millions". The Evening News. April 5, 1905.
  41. Altenberg, Lee (Winter 1990). "Beyond Capitalism: Leland Stanford's Forgotten Vision". Sandstone and Tile. Vol. 14, no. 1. Stanford, California: Stanford Historical Society. pp. 8–20. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  42. "Famous men members of Masonic Lodges". American Canadian Grand Lodge ACGL. Archived from the original on November 17, 2018.
  43. Denslow, William (June 15, 2007) [1957]. 10,000 Famous Freemasons. Vol. IV. New Orleans: Cornerstone Book Publishers. p. 390. ISBN 978-1-887560-06-1.
  44. "Leland Stanford". Kate Field's Washington. Vol. 7, no. 26. June 28, 1893. p. 403.
  45. Ambrose, Stephen E. (2000). Nothing Like It in the World. The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863–1869. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 115, 117.
  46. Hollingsworth, Brian (1984). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of North American Locomotives. New York: Crescent Books. pp. 40–41.
  47. Dancis, Bruce (May 28, 2008). "New California Hall of Fame class includes Fonda, Nicholson". Sacramento Bee.
  48. Erwin G. Gudde, California Place Names, University of California Press, 2010, ISBN 9780520266193, page 373.
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