Unknown Theodore Judah Mattered More Than Famous Leland Stanford in the Success of the Central Pacific

(p. A15) . . . Mr. De Wolk insists that his subject paved the way to a postindustrial revolution. “The way virtually every man, woman, and child in the world would live would be altered permanently,” the author writes. “All because of Leland Stanford’s life.” Nonsense.

The story that Mr. De Wolk tells is of an undistinguished man who had no success on his own as a young adult. But he did have the good fortune of having brothers who set him up with a wholesale grocery shop in Sacramento, Calif. More good luck came his way when Huntington, at the time a fellow shopkeeper, and two other local merchants hatched a railroad company—even though none of them had any railroad experience—and invited Stanford to join as a partner. The vast sums of capital that they would need would be mostly supplied by 30-year bonds issued by the federal government, which also awarded enormous grants of land, gratis.

. . .

The most important person in the company’s founding was altogether excluded from the quintet at the top: Theodore Judah, a young man in his early 30s and the only one among the leadership who had any real experience building railroads. Judah’s surveys of the Sierra Nevada led to the discovery of a feasible passage at Donner Pass. It was Judah’s presentation to prospective investors that emboldened the Sacramento shopkeepers to go into the railroad business.

For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. “BOOKSHELF; Leland Stanford: Life and Myth.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, October 28, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 27, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘American Disruptor’ Review: The Life and Myth of Leland Stanford.”)

The book under review is:

De Wolk, Roland. American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2019.

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