Leland Stanford (1824
) was a rail baron
governor, U.S. senator
and the founder of Stanford University
Born to a wealthy farming family in upstate New York, Stanford received the finest education money could buy, becoming a lawyer in 1848. In 1852 he moved west with his new wife Jane to California, where he made a fortune selling mining equipment to gold rushers.
Stanford was elected governor in 1861 and played a crucial role in keeping California loyal to the Union during the Civil War. He also shamelessly used his political clout to advance his financial projects.
Stanford's biggest business endeavor was his railroad holdings. As one of the "Big Four", along with Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington and Charles Crocker, Stanford brought about the completion of the western half of the transcontinental railroad. Stanford himself drove in the golden spike that connected the two halves at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1861.
Stanford's great wealth afforded him a lavish lifestyle. He maintained enormous vinyards, traveled all over the world, and operated an 8000 acre horse farm near Palo Alto, CA. The death of his fifteen-year-old son Leland Jr. in 1884 prompted Stanford and his wife to found and endow Leland Stanford Junior University in his memory, so that the "children of the California" could receive the education he never was able to have.
In 1885 Stanford became a U.S. Senator, which he remained until his death in 1893.