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Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago

Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago

A Biography of William B. Ogden

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Jack Harpster


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
328 pages, 6 x 9, 26 illustrations


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About the Book

William Butler Ogden was a pioneer railroad magnate, one of the earliest founders and developers of the city of Chicago, and an important influence on U.S. westward expansion. His career as a businessman stretched from the streets of Chicago to the wilds of the Wisconsin lumber forests, from the iron mines of Pennsylvania to the financial capitals in New York and beyond. Jack Harpster’s The Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago: A Biography of William B. Ogden is the first chronicle of one of the most notable figures in nineteenth-century America.

Harpster traces the life of Ogden from his early experiences as a boy and young businessman in upstate New York to his migration to Chicago, where he invested in land, canal construction, and steamboat companies. He became Chicago’s first mayor, built the city’s first railway system, and suffered through the Great Chicago Fire. His diverse business interests included real estate, land development, city planning, urban transportation, manufacturing, beer brewing, mining, and banking, to name a few. Harpster, however, does not simply focus on Ogden’s role as business mogul; he delves into the heart and soul of the man himself.

The Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago is a meticulously researched and nuanced biography set against the backdrop of the historical and societal themes of the nineteenth century. It is a sweeping story about one man’s impact on the birth of commerce in America. Ogden’s private life proves to be as varied and interesting as his public persona, and Harpster weaves the two into a colorful tapestry of a life well and usefully lived.


Jack Harpster spent forty-three years working in the newspaper industry in Southern California and Nevada before retiring in 2002. He then began working as a writer and has published nine books and more than forty essays and articles. Harpster lives in Reno, Nevada.


“This is a much needed full-length biography of William Butler Ogden, an uncommon doer who helped to shape Chicago, the Midwest and the   American railroad network.  The ‘real’ Ogden comes alive, a personality that previously has not been fully revealed.”—H. Roger Grant, author of Visionary Railroader: Jervis Langdon Jr. and the Transportation Revolution

"Readers interested in the development and precipitous rise to prominence of Chicago in the nineteenth century will encounter Jack Harpster's The Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago as a captivating, probing, and also a problematic account of the investor and urban planner William B. Ogden...Harpster's keen focus on the ebbs and flows in Ogden's life leaves unexplored avenues of inquiry into the connections between his actions, character, experiences, and Chicago's complex social matrix he did so much to shape."--Jason Kozlowski, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society