Leland Stanford, Stanford And Leland discussed on WNYC Programming
Welcome back to innovation Hub and Sarah Miller. This is a story about a family. It's also a story of outrageous fortune, political self dealing and great tragedy. And I'm going to start with the tragedy because that's how the family is largely remembered. Today It happened in Italy, where a California couple was on vacation with their son. They had been trying to have a child for 18 years, and then finally they have Leland and he was, by all accounts, not only a really nice kid, but he was rather precocious in many different ways. A highly intelligent, remarkable child. Anybody would have loved him. Roland Walk is a historian who teaches at San Francisco State University. But while they were on a grand tour of Europe, he succumbed to typhoid at age 15. This was an enormous heartbreak is anybody whose experience or been around anybody who's experienced the death of a child? Can begin to understand is it's It was horrific for them. Jenny and her husband, who like his son was named Leland had everything money could buy. But the death of their 15 year old was devastating. The writer Mark Twain said that Leland Sr at once lost all interest in life. So the couple made a decision that reverberates to this day a decision to memorialize Leland by creating a school named after him, and they had this huge ranch 8000 acres in Palo Alto, California, and that's where they began the university. It is legally. Leland Stanford junior. University, Leland Stanford Jr had been slated to attend Harvard, but instead, his death began a Siri's of events that created a new powerhouse university. And an area around it. Silicon Valley that would change the modern world. Ironically walk, says Leland, Stanford senior who had actually made the piles of money that it would take to start this new university. Was, if anything, an anti intellectual, He was either expelled or he dropped out of three successive Secondary schools, so he didn't have what we would have today's the equivalency of a high school diploma. He was an absolute failure. There's no way that he was gonna even be able to be allowed to take a tour of the Stanford University campus today, but just because the elder Stanford seemed ill suited to start a university That didn't stop him. Being Underqualified had never stopped him. It hadn't stopped him from embarking on a scandalous political career or an exploitive business career. It hadn't stopped him from becoming a technological pioneer so powerful, he fundamentally change this country. This was the absolute not only high tech of the time, but the massively so you could think about is Google Apple Facebook all rolled into one. What Leland Stanford did through a bunch of shifty means, which we will get Teo. Is Nick the country together with railroads. At the time, it seemed impossible laying tracks through mountain ranges all the way out to the West that would have created a network country. But the technology seemed about his remote is the Internet. Stanford, though, got it done. The federal government was completely well, certainly the northern forces of the federal government completely behind financing a transcontinental railroad. Not only because the civil war was taking place, and they were afraid of losing the West to become a slave state that also they were concerned about their was a Mormon insurrection, and they worried about another separatist movement there. The story of Leland Stanford is not well known, but it says a lot about how much and in some ways how little America has changed. Roland Walk, is the author of the book American Disruptor, The scandalous Life of Leland Stanford, and he says Stanford would come to be worth more than the state he was helping to mold California. And he would do it in part by truly being a self made man and in part by stealing from Californians and from federal taxpayers. Stanford was from New York he'd lived in Wisconsin, but his life got really colorful when he arrived in San Francisco during the gold rush. Where things were a little different from how they are now think of a dystopian back in all, if you will. We're talking about a place. Where was 95% men who are here to make a quick buck and we're making quick bucks. The fortunes that were rolling into San Francisco from the Goldfields were enormous, so the spending of money on particularly gambling And some of the gambling was really horrific. For example, the original mission mission Dolores, here in San Francisco, was the site of where they would bring in grizzly bears and bulls and put him in a marina and let them fight to death. And they would all be cheering and throwing bets down. The streets were just completely filthy, that rats everywhere. Fires were taking place engulfing the entire little Pueblo, which became a huge boom town on a very regular basis. There were prison ships off the coast, where they use the abandoned ships of people coming around the horn and across the Pacific from China, for example. It wasn't the kind of place that you would want to bring your mother in law into this world steps. Stanford, A man who by this time had failed at a lot. His brothers were already out in California, and they decided Stanford should open a store catering to gold miners. Which is when things started to get sketchy and very, very lucrative. So he goes up there, and he opens up a little Stanford brother store where he starts selling cigars and liquor and and mining equipment and stuff like that. But Stanford had managed to become a lawyer when he was Wisconsin. So he went to the county supervisors. They're in that county, which would been plaster county at the time, and he said to them, You know what you need a justice of the peace. Why don't you appoint me justice of the peace? And they said, Okay, sure, You could be justice of the peace, So they're showing his first rials. Signs of being able to be not only an entrepreneur but conflating. Public office with his ability to make money ran his courtroom in Hiss Saloon, He opened up a saloon. Where better, Where better to run a courtroom really than in a saloon. You would have looked forward to that is a former reporter. I think that would have been a great story, but perhaps by today's standards, even by The standards of those days. That was a pretty remarkable and brazen thing to dio. But obviously he made a lot of money, and it taught him an important lesson. You know, putting these two things together. Having political power using that leveraging a little bit for my own private fortune seems to work pretty well. And that was a profound lesson for him. That lesson would become most helpful when a young engineer named Theodore Judah came a lot. Duda had pitched the venture capitalists of San Francisco, though they probably didn't call themselves that then on a great discovery he had made he had found a pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A past that could complete the network of railroads linking the U. S. But for a while, no one seemed to care. So then he goes up to Sacramento, and he goes to a small group of businessman and he says, Hey, you know, here's this great plan, and they all say thanks, but no thanks. But in the back of the room There's this guy named Collis Huntington and call us Huntington to say, very wily trader who also came out right after the beginning of the gold rush and call us Huntington had a store right next to Stanford store. And he saw Stanford is a guy who made a really great front man. If they were going to get some government money, maybe Stanford could be going to some political office. So they said, Hey, you want to be my partner, Leland Stanford and a couple of the guys. Hopkins and Crocker. And come up to the office like tomorrow night and tell us about your plan. This way. Leland Stanford was introduced to the possibility of cashing in on this marvelous big high tech. Entrepreneurial enterprise of the Early part of 18 late 18 fifties. So you know, I've heard all my life as I think Many people have about robber barons like Vanderbilt and Carnegie. You say, Though Stanford might have been more successful than many of the people that we've heard of as having sort of built America, Um, you know, in the sort of second half of the 18 hundreds Why was he more successful? And and then? You know, why isn't he in that pantheon? Well, of course, we have to define success. And everybody has a completely different idea of success, right? But if we're going to measure business success, I sort of an Ah Normative, you know, standard way He had many more employees than any Carnegie's or any Rockefeller, said 12 15. Some estimate the 20,000 employees working under him.