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Arthur Edward Stilwell, Railroad Entrepreneur and Visionary



He Built a Big Railroad and Lost It in Wall Street. 
Inspired by Christian Science he Built Another.

By J. W. Morrison.

     "He was a dreamer of dreams.  He wrought not."  Thus pityingly speaks the world of the visionary who pointed out the way but could not lead.  Once in a generation, perhaps, there comes a dreamer of dreams who breathes the breath of life into his  dream children, and the world says: --

     "Behold, there is a genius."

     Such a one there has arisen in the West.

     Little enough is there of romance in the sordid life of the average American millionaire.  When the summons comes that makes deaf to the call of the exchange and closes the ear to the voice of the ticker the kindly biographer tells of the Midas touch that turned to gold the dross of unremitting toil and self-denial.  Too often it is required of him that he be a forgiving, forgetting biographer whose pen wavers and stops before the chapter is reached wherein is told how the man of millions bounded upward by placing his foot on the neck of his fellow man.

     But there is a man in the West who has evolved a wonderful philosophy.  To this man the laws of God are as good to live by as to die by.  This man, Arthur Edward Stilwell, president of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway, believes he has made a success, not in spite of taking his religion into his business, but because of it.  It goes with him to his office.  When his mo tor car takes him to his beautiful home in the evening it is there also.

     By this time you, reader, doubtless have conjured up the picture of a man of cant and dogma.  Nothing is further from the truth.  There is no cheerier, happier man than Arthur Edward Stilwell.  Christian Science controls his life.  He says that the religion of Mrs. Eddy is the key to whatever of success there has been in his life.

     It is not often necessary to deal with religious topics in discussing the life of a successful man of affairs.   The exception to the rule is the excuse for the prominence given to them in this instance.

     And since nature starts a man by having him brought into the world, it is here necessary to admit that, while the West claims Arthur E. Stilwell, he belongs to the great Empire State.  Rochester gave him birth forty-nine years ago.  His father was Charles Stilwell.

     But it was from his grandfather that he inherited his peculiar tact energy and ability in the management of large affairs.  This grandfather, Hamlin Stilwell, was a man of affairs.  He was head of the canalboat combination that flourished in the days when mule power was rapid transit, and when the canalboat fell from its high estate he was wise enough to get in on the ground floor in the railroad business, and he became a director of the New York Central.  Also, he was the first reform Mayor in the country, a citizens' movement putting him in the Mayoralty chair in Rochester.

     One day the grandfather chatted with the young Arthur after the manner of grandfathers.

     "Well, young man," quoth he, "what are you going to do when you grow up?"

     The answer was quick and decisive.

     "I am going out West and build a big railroad."

     Grandfather Stilwell left a big fortune.  Before his grandson got big enough to handle any of it unfortunate investments ate it up.

     Right here the life story of Arthur Edward Stilwell reads painfully like ditto marks for the careers of those whose names fill Bradstreet's and Dun's.  Realizing the necessity, he purchased a small printing press and started out.


     He was two years a husband when he landed in Kansas City at twenty-one and started a print shop.  An attack of typhoid and the advice of doctors to seek a change of scene sent him to Chicago, where he introduced photo-engraving to the West.

     And then it was life insurance.  Before he had been in the business long it looked mighty bad for that big Western railroad.  Life insurance appeared to be the thing for which a beneficent Providence gave A. E. Stilwell as an especial forte.  His salary didn't climb.  It soared.  So inoculated did he become with the insurance serum that he invented forms for it that are now used by all insurance companies.

     But there lurked in the young man's mind a germ of honesty that grew and grew.  One day he went to the president of the particular company which was dealing out his pay envelope and advised a change of base in regard to certain practices.  Arthur Edward was "fired" and "fired" promptly.  He wasn't surprised.  In fact, he had expected it.  But he had about $20,000, and with that he decided to build his railroad.


     And in the meantime, cured by Christian Science of a spinal disease which had been pronounced incurable, he had adopted that religion.  Nothing being ever half way done with him, his religion became part of his everyday life.

     Stilwell had never given up the idea of making Kansas City the starting point for his railroad.  Taking a pencil and a map, he drew a line "straight as the crow flies" from the Western Missouri metropolis to the Gulf of Mexico.  He found that the line ran through a country where there were plenty of steel rails and railroad ties in the embryonic state, but mighty few of them placed in such juxtaposition as to be available for the purposes of commerce.

     "There is my railroad," said he.


     And so he began to realize on the youthful dream he had dreamed.  A company was formed and he began to sell bonds.  And he sold them, too, at first.  Then the panic of 1893 came along and money flowed in like molasses in January.

     And then Stilwell showed the daring and faith that were in him.  Taking passage on a liner, he went to Europe.  And of all the Continent he, unbacked, almost a boy in years, picked out Holland -- conservative, slow going Holland -- for his field of operations.  He talked to the rich burghers of the land of dikes, and when Stilwell talks men believe.  Twenty million dollars was the fruit of his efforts.  Twenty million dollars to an unknown  youth from a distant land!

     The road was built.  George M. Pullman believed in the youthful magnate.

     "I will be personally responsible for your equipment to the amount of five million dollars," said the builder of sleeping cars.

     And then George M. Pullman died.  To the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf, the Stilwell line, that meant reorganization.  A reorganization meant Wall street.  Wall street meant the elimination of upstart railway magnates who did not ask its advice.  They took Stilwell's road away from him.  They did more.  They even rechristened it and called it the Kansas City Southern.

     Out in Kansas City they felt sorry for Stilwell.  As a sort of salve for his injured feelings it was agreed by the business men of the town that they would give him a testimonial in the form of a banquet.  Privately they agreed that they would make the obsequies as cheerful as possible.

     So they had flowers and music, and the men who were good at forming pleasant phrases stood up and told what Stilwell had done for Kansas City and how grateful Kansas City ought to be, and then as a final balm they brought forth a loving cup that was to solace Stilwell as much as possible for the loss of his railroad.

     Of course it was up to Stilwell to reply, and the banqueters shifted uneasily in their seats and cast uneasy glances about when the inevitable could not be put off any longer.  They were not anxious to be treated to an exhibition of their friend's grief.

     But there was no sign of grief in the face of this man who arose before them to the full height of his six feet and stood smiling at them.  There were no tears in his voice when he said: --

     "I would much prefer to have the friendship of Kansas City than to be president of the Pittsburg and Gulf."

     And before he sat down he remarked: --

     "I have another project in mind.  It's another road, and I will be in a position to announce its destination in a few days."

     The diners could scarce believe their ears.  Talking it over on the way home the consensus of opinion was summed up in the remark: --

     "Well, I'll bet he makes it go.  You can't stop Stilwell."

     And this is what Stilwell had done.  Instead of sulking in his tent he had taken a pin, a map and a string, placed the pin on Kansas City, tied the string to the pin and drawn a circle.  His experiment brought out the remarkable fact that a point on the Pacific coast of Mexico was five hundred miles nearer to Kansas City than is San Francisco.  If you don't believe it try it yourself.  Perhaps you are railroader enough to appreciate what a saving of five hundred miles of rail haul means.  Stilwell knew.

     "There's my next road," said he.

     And that is the road, the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient, 1629 miles long, that he is building now.  In that road there is not one cent of Wall street money.  There are millions of dollars in it that were put there by the Hollanders who invested in the Kansas City Southern.  There are millions in it that were put there by men who bought one share or two shares or half a dozen.  There are more millions there that were put there by the rich men of Old Mexico.

     For Mexico believes in Stilwell.  The doors of Diaz's palace swing open to him always and when he visits the States of the Southern Republic the Governors have the military bands at the depot to welcome him.

     And now we must inevitably come back again to Mr. Stilwell's religious side.  It is a part of his plan to make periodical trips over his road with stockholders gathered from all parts of two continents.  These excursions are made in the most splendid style.  At the rear of the train is Mr. Stilwell's truly magnificent private car.  Any persons on the train who happen to stroll back to this car in the evening -- and any and all are welcome to do so -- will see the top of a roller desk thrown back and there will be displayed there a pipe organ of wonderful volume for its size.  A young man will sit down at the organ, Christian Science hymn books will be produced for all who wish to join and there will be a song service that drowns the rattle and roar of the train.


     And as the leaves of the book are turned it may be that there will be found a typewritten song pasted therein.  Then is revealed another side of Mr. Stilwell's nature.  He is a writer of hymns.  If anyone requests it the organist will take up the strain of, possibly, "The Bethlehem Babe," which runs: --

On Christmas day in Bethlehem town,
     In days of long ago,
The glory of the Heavens came down
     To kiss the earth below.
That kiss of God was for a child
   Who in a manger lay,
A wond'rous child, so sweet, so mild,
   Who came to show the way.


When twilight's shades are deepening fast
   Bright visions come to me:
I see Him walking in the past
   Beside the peaceful sea.
I see the lame, the deaf, the blind,
   Relying on His Grace,
Full peace and health and comfort find
   When they behold His face.

This Bethlehem Babe, of humble birth,
   Became our saviour dear;
Where'er He went upon the earth
   He banished pain and fear.
He stilled the waves and walked the sea,
   The multitude was fed,
Obedient to His high decree
   The grave gave up its dead.

     Mr. Stilwell does not confine his song writing to religious themes, nor are songs the only product of his pen.  He has written plays and fiction, and when the occasion seems to demand it he can get out and make a political speech, and a good one at that.


     His home, in Armour boulevard, is one of the most beautiful in Kansas City.  A feature of it is a splendid pipe organ.  Loving music as he does, Mr. Stilwell does not believe that he alone should enjoy it.  Holding such views, one of his pleasures is to hire some musical organization, such as the Thomas Orchestra, bring it to Kansas City at his own expense and give free concerts in Kansas City's Convention Hall, which seats 15,000 persons.

     When called on at one of these concerts for a speech he said: --

     "Kansas City is a great railroad centre, a city of great packing houses, a great manufacturing city, a city of the most handsome boulevards in the United States and a city of fine homes.  It has been the dream of my life to make it a great musical centre."

     Such is Arthur Edward Stilwell, dreamer of dreams and doer of deeds.  When h is Kansas City, Mexico and Orient road is finished it will be one of the greatest railroads in the world.  It will bring the trade of the Orient to the territory along its route.

     But after the Orient road, what?  None who knows him believes that that will be the end of his endeavors.  Restless, far seeing, creative, there are yet greater works for him to do.

September 27, 1908

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