Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Railway Patriot

Thomas Alexander Scott (1823-1881)

"After my return to Pittsburgh it was not long before I made the acquaintance of an extraordinary man, Thomas A. Scott, one to whom the term 'genius' in his department may safely be applied." ---Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie was only seventeen years old on February 1, 1853 when he started working for railway executive Thomas Alexander Scott at the Pennsylvania Railroad. Carnegie earned $35 a month as Mr. Scott’s private secretary and personal telegrapher.

A few years later, on October 2, 1855, Scott introduced the future steel magnate to the world of business by making Carnegie’s first investment for him in the Adams Express Company. When Carnegie later received a white envelope containing a check for $10 from Adams Express, he remembered that day for the rest of his life. "It gave me the first penny of revenue from capital---something that I had not worked for with the sweat of my brow. Eureka! I cried. Here's the goose that lays the golden eggs,” remembered the young Carnegie. Any discussion of Andrew Carnegie’s extraordinary financial success as one of the greatest American industrialists in the late 19th century is incomplete without mention of his mentor Thomas Alexander Scott.

Mr. Scott and his protégé Carnegie attracted national attention for their work on the Pennsylvania line and Scott was summoned to Washington D.C. in 1861 with the outbreak of the Civil War to assist with the movement of Union troops and munitions. Later that same year Scott was appointed the first ever Assistant Secretary of War and his duties included the supervision of all government railway and transportation lines.

Not well known is that fact that shortly before this period, on February 22, 1861, Thomas A. Scott participated in a covert operation responsible for arranging the safe passage of Abraham Lincoln from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. for his inauguration. In order to confuse the potential assassins of the Baltimore Plot, he cut all the telegraph wires entering Harrisburg, PA so that no news of Lincoln's movements could be telegraphed. Scott then reunited the severed wires at daybreak on February 23 and the plotters never knew of the President-elect’s bold journey. An unharmed Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States less than two weeks later.

(photo credit: Portrait of Colonel Thomas Alexander Scott by W. M. Chase)