19th Century politician and railroad tycoon. Best known as the founder of Stanford University. Leland Stanford was born into affluent circumstances in 1824 near Albany, New York. He attended school until adolescence before being tutored at home in his teens. In his later teens he attended Clinton Liberal Institute and Cazenovia Seminary in New York State. On completion of his studies at these institutions, he became a clerk in the Albany law firm of Wheaton, Doolittle and Hadley; he was admitted to the bar in 1848. He then moved to Port Washington, Wisconsin to set up his own practice. His practice was successful but, in 1852, his offices and library were destroyed by fire. He traveled to northern California alone via the Isthmus of Panama, where he joined his five brothers who had become prosperous merchants selling equipment to gold miners. Within three years he was able to buy out his brothers and return back east to get his wife. Settled in California, he entered local politics as a Republican, first as a Justice of the Peace, followed by unsuccessful campaigns for State Treasurer in 1857 and Governor in 1859. He won the office two years later when the Democratic vote was split between unionist and secessionist factions. He played a significant role in keeping California in the Union during the Civil War. In Stanford’s day “conflict of interest” was an unknown concept in American public life, so despite being governor, he still pursued his private business affairs. He was one of the 'Big Four,' with Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington and Charles Crocker, who planned to build the eastbound section of the planned transcontinental railroad. To this end, his position as governor allowed him to secure huge investment funds and land grants from the state to further the project. After retiring from the governorship in 1863, Stanford became president of the Central Pacific Railroad. He held this post until his death. He also was a major shareholder and president of the Southern Pacific and invested in a number of construction companies engaged in railroad construction. Notably, in 1869, the eastbound Central Pacific and westbound Union Pacific railroads met at Promontory, Utah, completing the transcontinental railroad. Stanford was present at the ceremony and is reputed to have swung the silver sledge hammer that drove in the golden spike to complete the connection of the lines. Stanford became hugely wealthy due to his involvement in the booming railroad industry. He built a mansion in San Francisco, operated vineyards in prime wine producing territory and owned a horse-raising ranch in Palo Alto, California. In 1884, on a trip to Europe, his son Leland Stanford Jr, contracted typhoid fever and died at the age of 15. It prompted Stanford to found and endow a university in his son's memory. Stanford University, near Palo Alto, opened in 1891 and is now one of the world’s leading universities. In 1885, Stanford was appointed to the U.S. Senate by the legislature. He was re-elected by the legislature in 1891 and died in 1893.
Bio by: Edward Parsons
Jane Elizabeth Lathrop Stanford
1828–1905 (m. 1850)