E.H. Harriman's most ambitious project was to rescue the bankrupt and
failing Union Pacific system in 1897, a company which was already
legendary for being part of the original transcontinental railroad.
Harriman quickly set to changing the culture at UP, restructuring its
heavy debt, and pouring millions of dollars into upgrading the
railroad's property. Under Harriman Union Pacific saw its main line between Omaha,
Nebraska and Granger, Wyoming entirely double-tracked, a more efficient
route scaling Sherman Hill (located in Wyoming), significant line
relocations to improve grades and curves, and an updated, automatic
signaling system. It was during Harriman's tenure that the Union
Pacific became its own transcontinental railroad, connecting to Los
Angeles via Ogden, Utah in 1907.
One reason for Harriman's success as a railroad manager was his call for streamlining operations and standardization, notably with a company's fleet of freight and passenger cars. During Harriman's years the Union Pacific never looked back as he truly had changed the culture at the railroad. It has remained well managed and maintained virtually since his tenure. In 1901 Harriman had quite an empire of railroads in the west including, along with the Union Pacific, the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific. However, in 1904 he was sued by President Theodore Roosevelt and the Supreme Court forced Harriman to break up his empire.
However, still under the management of the Union Pacific after this incident, he moved eastward and took over management of the Chicago & Alton, Central of Georgia, and even the Erie Railroad in 1908. The Erie would be Harriman's final management as a railroad magnate as he passed away in September of 1909. His reputation as a ruthless railroad baron was mostly based on conjecture by the general public as they only saw the end result and millions of dollars he earned for managing so many companies. In truth, he was anything but as he worked tirelessly to maximize a railroad's efficiency and make it as profitable as possible, taking great pride in doing so. To read more about the early life of Mr. Harriman please click here.
Harriman remains a legendary figure at Union Pacific today as the
railroad's primary dispatching center in Omaha is named directly after
him, the Union Pacific Harriman Dispatch Center. If you would like to read more about the life and background of Mr. Harriman the book The Life and Legend of E. H. Harriman by author Maury Klein, which provides a detailed look at his career and considerable influence within the railroad industry. The book is published by University of North Carolina Press and is more than 500 pages in length. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing the title please visit the link below which will take
you to ordering information through Amazon.com.