The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1971, Volume 17, Number 3
James E Moss, Editor
David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Leland Stanford: Man of Many Careers. By Norman E. Tutorow. (Menlo Park, Ca., Pacific Coast Publishers, 1971). Notes. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. 317 pages. $9.95.
Reviewed by Edwin T. Coman, Jr., Assistant Professor of Business History, Stanford Graduate School of Business, 1936-1950. Mr. Coman is the
author of Time, Tide and Timber. The 100 Year History of Pope & Talbot, Inc. (Stanford, Ca.,
Stanford University Press, 1949). He has written articles for numerous historical publications including “Sidelights on the Investment Policies of Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker,” published in the Bulletin of the Business History Society, November, 1942. He now resides in La
Jolla, Ca., and continues to write on business history and library topics.
It is amazing that the first definitive biography of Leland Stanford should wait to appear seventy-eight years after his death. Of the “Big Four” of the Central Pacific Railroad, his interests ranged far more widely and his contributions to his state and country were greater than those of his colleagues.
This lacuna becomes even more puzzling when one considers the very detailed two volume biography of Colis P. Huntington by Cerinda W. Evans published in 1954 and David Lavender’s excellent and readable The Great Persuader on the same subject which appeared in 1970. It would almost seem that there was a deliberate attempt to push Stanford into the background.
Therefore, this book is long overdue, especially since all the previous writings about Stanford touch only on a portion of his activities, mainly his railroading. They have been of two extremes, either extremely laudatory or bitterly derogatory. Hubert Howe Bancroft originally wrote a fulsome account of Stanford and then had a falling out with him. As a result there are two different versions of Stanford’s biography appearing in the Chronicles of the Builders of the Commonwealth, one for Stanford and the other for general circulation. George T. Clark in his Leland Stanford, War Governor of California, Railroad Builder and Founder of Stanford University (1931) and Orrin L. Elliott’s Stanford University, The First Twenty-five Years (1937) are friendly accounts but they leave many gaps in the record. Oscar Lewis in the Big Four (1938) gives Stanford very little credit.
Dr. Tutorow has done a remarkable job in writing this full-fledged biography, friendly to his subject but objective in recording Stanford’s failings as well as his achievements. Stanford emerges as neither god nor devil but as a very human individual. This is the first portrayal of Stanford in which the reader can approach him as a person.
Stanford was very much the product of his age. Horatio Alger’s writings were representative of the thinking of the period when it was widely held that any man by hard work, frugality and fair dealing could rise to fame and fortune. Stanford was a firm believer in this creed and often referred to his humble beginnings as a farm boy in upstate New York.
The bitter attacks of Huntington on Stanford in connection with the railroad operations are effectively refuted in this book. Stanford was not the figurehead president of the Central Pacific and the Southern Pacific. He made many contributions to the administration of these railroads, especially in state politics, and the affection of the railroad employees for him is an evidence of his good labor relations. Far from neglecting his duties, he spent many rugged days with the construction crews.
As governor of California he was responsible for sound state finances and was a staunch supporter of Lincoln during the Civil War. In his two terms in the United States Senate he capably, if not brilliantly, represented California.
Outside of his family, Stanford’s most overriding interest was in the land. At his ranches he was ever ready to pour large sums of money to develop improved methods. Despite all his efforts, he failed to produce superior wine at his Vina ranch. However, his methods of breeding and training thoroughbred trotters and racers were both original and highly successful and were widely copied by other breeders. Out of this activity experiments in photography resulted in the first motion picture ever produced, and encouraged Thomas A. Edison to develop the process which made movies possible.
Tutorow brings to light the generosity of Senator and Mrs. Stanford. In addition to the princely gift which founded Stanford University, they gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations and individuals.
When the reader puts this book down he has come to know Stanford as a man of a very practical mind, capable but not brilliant and a person of genuine humanitarian interests. In his business dealings he ostensibly supported laissez-faire but not to the extent of allowing competition to his various business enterprises.
One would expect thoroughgoing research from Dr. Tutorow with his background with the National Archives. This reviewer has a fairly extensive knowledge of the sources for this study and Dr. Tutorow has done an exceptionally thorough job in running down even the most ephemeral references. His bibliography is most impressive. He is to be congratulated on this contribution to scholarship and for giving Leland Stanford his rightful place in the history of California..
This book should be in every college, university and public library because it is an excellent portrayal of a man who contributed much to California.