Henry Huttleston Rogers
|Henry Huttleston Rogers|
January 29, 1840|
|Died||May 19, 1909
New York City
Youth and education
Henry Huttleston Rogers was born into a working-class family in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, on January 29 1840. He was the son of Rowland Rogers, a former ship captain, bookkeeper, and grocer, and Mary Eldredge Huttleston Rogers. Both parents had roots back to the pilgrims, who arrived in the 17th century aboard the Mayflower. His mother's family earlier had used the spelling "Huddleston" rather than "Huttleston," and Henry Rogers' name is often misspelled using this earlier version.
The family moved to nearby Fairhaven, Massachusetts, a fishing village just over the bridge from the great whaling port, New Bedford. Fairhaven is a small seaside town on the south coast of Massachusetts. It borders the Acushnet River to the west and Buzzards Bay to the south. Fairhaven was incorporated in 1812 and was already steeped in history when "Hen" Rogers was just a boy. Fort Phoenix is in Fairhaven. There, during the American Revolution, British troops once stormed the area. Also within sight of the fort, the first naval battle of the American Revolution took place on May 14, 1775.
In the mid 1850s, whaling was already an industry in decline in New England. Competition from Scandinavian water men and the emergence of petroleum and later natural gas as a replacement fuel for lighting in the second half of the 19th century caused a much further decline.
Henry Rogers' father was one of the many men of New England who changed from a life on the sea to other work to provide for their families. As a teenager, Hen Rogers carried newspapers and he worked in his father's grocery store, making deliveries by wagon. He was only an average student, and was in the first graduating class of the local high school in 1857. Continuing to live with his parents, he hired on with the Fairhaven Branch Railroad, an early precursor of the Old Colony Railroad, as an expressman and brakeman, working for 3-4 years while carefully saving his earnings.
Seeking his fortune
In 1861, 21-year-old Henry pooled his savings of approximately US$600 with a friend, Charles P. Ellis. They set out to western Pennsylvania and its newly discovered oil fields. Borrowing another US$600, the young partners began a small refinery at McClintocksville near Oil City. They named their new enterprise Wamsutta Oil Refinery.
The old Native American name " Wamsutta" was apparently selected in honour of their hometown area of New England, where Wamsutta Company in nearby New Bedford had opened in 1846, and was a major employer. The Wamsutta Company was the first of many textile mills that gradually came to supplant whaling as the principal employer in New Bedford.
Rogers and Ellis and their tiny refinery made US$30,000 their first year. This amount was more than three entire whaling ship trips from back home could hope to earn during an average voyage of more than a year's duration. Of course, he was regarded as very successful when Rogers returned home to Fairhaven for a short vacation the next year.
Abbie, Henry and Anne in Pennsylvania
While vacationing in Fairhaven in 1862, Rogers married his childhood sweetheart, Abbie Palmer Gifford, who was also of Mayflower lineage. She returned with him to the oil fields where they lived in a one-room shack along Oil Creek where her young husband and Ellis worked the Wamsutta Oil Refinery. While they lived in Pennsylvania, their first daughter, Anne, was born in 1865.
In Pennsylvania, Rogers was introduced to Charles Pratt (1830–91). Born in Watertown, Massachusetts, Pratt had been one of eleven children. His father, Asa Pratt, was a carpenter. Of modest means, he spent three winters as a student at Wesleyan Academy, and is said to have lived on a dollar a week at times. In nearby Boston, Massachusetts, Pratt joined a company specializing in paints and whale oil products. In 1850 or 1851, he came to New York City, where he worked for a similar company handling paint and oil.
Pratt was also a pioneer of the natural oil industry, and established his kerosene refinery Astral Oil Works in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, New York. Pratt's product later gave rise to the slogan, "The holy lamps of Tibet are primed with Astral Oil". He also later founded the Pratt Institute.
When Pratt met Rogers at McClintocksville on a business trip, he already knew Charles Ellis, having earlier bought whale oil from him back east in Fairhaven. Although Ellis and Rogers had no wells and were dependent upon purchasing crude oil to refine and sell to Pratt, the two young men agreed to sell the entire output of their small Wamsutta refinery to Pratt's company at a fixed price. This worked well at first. Then, a few months later, crude oil prices suddenly increased due to manipulation by speculators. The young entrepreneurs struggled to try to live up to their contract with Pratt, but soon their surplus was wiped out. Before long, they were heavily in debt to Pratt.
Charles Ellis gave up, but in 1866, Henry Rogers went to Pratt in New York and told him he would take personal responsibility for the entire debt. This so impressed Pratt that he immediately hired him for his own organization.
Moving to New York, oil refining
Pratt made Rogers foreman of his Brooklyn refinery, with a promise of a partnership if sales ran over fifty thousand dollars a year. Henry, Abbie, and young Anne moved to Brooklyn. The Rogers family continued to live frugally and he worked very hard. Abbie brought his meals to the "works," and often he would sleep but three hours a night rolled up in a blanket by the side of a still. Rogers moved steadily from foreman to manager, and then superintendent of Pratt's Astral Oil Refinery.
As promised, Pratt gave Rogers an interest in the business. In 1867, with Henry Rogers as a partner, he established the firm of Charles Pratt and Company. In the next few years, Rogers became, in the words of Elbert Hubbard, Pratt's "hands and feet and eyes and ears" (Little Journeys to the Homes, 1909). As their family grew, Henry and Abbie continued to live in New York City, but vacationed frequently at Fairhaven.
While working with Pratt, Rogers invented an improved way of separating naphtha, a light oil similar to kerosene, from crude oil. He was granted U.S. Patent # 120,539 on October 31, 1871.
Fighting, joining Rockefeller
In the early 1871-72, Pratt and Company and other refiners became involved in a conflict with John D. Rockefeller, Samuel Andrews, and Henry M. Flagler (of Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler) and the infamous South Improvement Company. South Improvement was basically a scheme to obtain secret favorable net rates from Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) and other railroads through secret rebates. The unfairness of the scheme outraged many independent oil producers and owners of refineries far and new alike.
The opposition among the New York refiners was led by Henry Rogers. The New York interests formed an association, and about the middle of March 1872 sent a committee of three, with Rogers as head, to Oil City to consult with the Oil Producers' Union. Their arrival in the oil regions was a matter of great satisfaction to the local oil workers. Working with the Pennsylvania independents, Rogers and the New York delegation managed to forge an agreement with the railroads, whose leaders eventually agreed to open their rates to all and promised to end their shady dealings with South Improvement. The independent oil men were most exultant, but their joy was to be short-lived. Rockefeller and his associates were busy trying another approach, which frequently included buying-up opposing interests.
In 1874, Rockefeller approached Pratt with his plans of cooperation and consolidation. Pratt talked it over with Rogers, and they decided that the combination would benefit them. Rogers formulated terms, which guaranteed financial security and jobs for Pratt and himself. John D. Rockefeller quietly accepted the offer on Rogers' exact terms. Charles Pratt and Company (including Astral Oil) was one of the important independent refiners to become part of the Standard Oil Trust. Pratt's son, Charles Millard Pratt (1858 to 1913), became Corporate Secretary of Standard Oil.
Standard Oil Trust: Rogers in contradictory roles
Around 1874, the Pratt & Company oil interests, including Rogers who helped negotiate the deal, had joined John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil organization. By 1890, Rogers had become one of the key men, a vice president and chairman of its operating committee. His later interviews with investigative journalist Ida M. Tarbell beginning in 1902 would later help bring what was by then also known as the Standard Oil Trust under additional regulatory control.
Typical of his seemingly dualist nature, Rogers both helped build and operate Standard Oil, and through his interviews with Tarbell, he (perhaps unintentionally) helped bring it under better control in the public interest.
Building Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller
Standard Oil was an oil refining conglomerate whose predecessor companies were founded by marketeer John D. Rockefeller, chemist Samuel Andrews, and other partners beginning in 1863. Borrowing heavily to expand his business, he drew five big refineries including the business concern of Henry Morrison Flagler into one firm, Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler. By 1868, what was to become Standard Oil was the world's largest oil refinery.
In 1870, Rockefeller formed Standard Oil Company of Ohio and started his strategy of buying up the competition and consolidating all oil refining under one company. It was during this period that the Pratt interests and Henry Rogers were brought into the fold. By 1878 Standard Oil held about 90% of the refining capacity in the United States.
In 1881 the company was reorganized as the Standard Oil Trust. The three main men of Standard Oil Trust were Henry H. Rogers, William Rockefeller and, the most important, John D. Rockefeller.
Oil and Gas Pipelines
Petroleum pipelines were first developed in Pennsylvania in the 1860s to replace transport in wooden barrels loaded on wagons drawn by mules and driven by teamsters. This mule-drawn transportation was expensive and fraught with difficulties: leaking barrels, muddy trails, wagon breakdowns and mule/driver problems.
The first successful metal pipeline was completed in 1865, when Samuel Van Syckel built a four-mile pipeline from Pithole, Pennsylvania, to the nearest railroad. This initial success led to the construction of pipelines to connect crude oil production, increasingly moving west as new fields were discovered and Pennsylvania fields declined, to refineries located near major demand centers in the Northeast.
When Rockefeller observed this, he began to acquire many of the new pipelines. Soon, his Standard Oil companies owned a majority of the lines, which provided cheap, efficient transportation for oil. Cleveland, Ohio, became a centre of the refining industry principally because of its transportation systems.
Rogers conceived the idea of long pipelines for transporting oil and natural gas. In 1881, the National Transit Company was formed by Standard Oil to own and operate Standard's pipelines. The National Transit Company remained one of Rogers' favorite projects throughout the rest of his life.
East Ohio Gas Company (EOG) was incorporated on September 8, 1898, as a marketing company for the National Transit Company, the natural gas arm of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. The company launched its business by selling to consumers in northeast Ohio gas produced by another National Transit subsidiary, Hope Natural Gas Company.
Rubber-manufacturing city Akron, Ohio, was the first to take advantage of the lower prices for natural gas. It granted the East Ohio Gas Company a franchise in September 1898, the same month that the company was founded. During the winter of 1898–99, the National Transit Company built a 10-inch wrought iron pipeline that stretched from the Pipe Creek on the Ohio River to Akron, with branches to Canton, Massillon, Dover, New Philadelphia, Uhrichsville, and Dennison. The first gas from the pipeline burned in Akron on May 10, 1899.
Andrew Carnegie, long the leading steel magnate of Pittsburgh, retired at the turn of the 20th century, and refocused his interests on philanthropy. His steel holdings were consolidated into the new United States Steel Corporation. Standard Oil's interest in steel properties led to Rogers' becoming one of the directors when it was organized in 1901.
Regulating Standard Oil: Ida M. Tarbell
In 1890 the U.S. Congress passed Sherman Antitrust Act. This act is the source of all American anti-monopoly laws. The law forbids every contract, scheme, deal, conspiracy to restrain trade. It also forbids inspirations to secure monopoly of a given industry. Standard Oil Trust attracted attention from antitrust authorities and the Ohio Attorney General filed and won an antitrust suit in 1892.
Unwanted attention was also drawn to the Standard Oil Trust by Ida M. Tarbell, an American author and journalist, known as one of the leading muckrakers.
Tarbell had been born in Erie County, Pennsylvania. As a child, she lived in what became Rouseville, Pennsylvania. This was only a short distance from Henry Rogers' Wamsutta Oil Refinery at McClintocksville, which was also in Cornplanter Township in Venango County. However, they were apparently not destined to meet for another 37 years.
Ida Tarbell's father had been forced out of business around 1872 by the South Improvement Company scheme, perpetrated by those who built Standard Oil. In 1894, she was hired by McClure's magazine. She soon turned to investigative journalism, and was the first to really use investigative reporting, as we know it today, redefining this in-depth technique of writing. Ida's method was to use various documents concerning Standard Oil, accompanied by interviews of employees, competitors, lawyers and experts on the topic. Tarbell and her fellow staff members Ray Stannard Baker and Lincoln Steffens became a celebrated muckraking trio.
Tarbell became acquainted with Rogers, who by then was the most senior and powerful director of Standard Oil, through his friend, Mark Twain, who arranged a meeting. Meetings between Tarbell and Rogers began in January of 1902 and continued regularly over the next two years. Tarbell would bring up various case histories and Rogers would provide for her an explanation, documents and figures concerning the case. Rogers, wily and normally-guarded in matters related to business and finance, may have been under the impression her work was to be complimentary. He was apparently uncustomarily forthcoming. However, Tarbell's interviews with Rogers formed the basis her negative exposé of the nefarious business practices of the massive Standard Oil organization. Following extensive interviews with Rogers, Tarbell's investigations of Standard Oil for McClure's, ran in 19 parts from November 1902 to October 1904. They were collected and published as The History of the Standard Oil Company in 1904. The book placed fifth in a 1999 list of the top 100 works of journalism in the 20th century.
Although public opposition to Rockefeller and Standard Oil existed prior to Tarbell's investigation, it fueled public attacks on Standard Oil and in trusts in general. Her book is widely credited with hastening the 1911 breakup of Standard Oil. They had never played fair, and that ruined their greatness for me, Tarbell wrote about the company.
The Standard Oil Trust was broken up after the United States Supreme Court declared the company to be an "unreasonable" monopoly under the Sherman Antitrust Act on May 15, 1911. However, the owners remained in charge of the smaller companies which made up four of the Seven Sisters.
Standard Oil was often not appreciated by the public. It developed a reputation among many for dubious business practices, including subduing competitors and engaging in illegal transportation deals with the railroad companies to ensure it could undercut its competitors' prices. Standard Oil, formed well before the discovery of Spindletop in Texas and a demand for oil other than for heat and light, was well placed to control the growth of the oil business. It was perceived that it did this by ensuring it owned and controlled all aspects of the trade.
Rogers joined in the organization of holding companies aimed at controlling natural gas production and distribution. In 1884, with associates, Rogers formed the Consolidated Gas Company, and thereafter for several years he was instrumental in gaining control of great city plants, fighting terrific battles with rivals for some of them, as in the case of Boston. Almost the whole story of his natural gas interests was one of business warfare.
During the 1890s, Rogers became interested in Anaconda and other copper properties in the western United States. In 1899, with William Rockefeller, and Thomas W. Lawson, he formed the first $75,000,000 section of the gigantic trust, Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, which was the subject of much acrid criticism then and for years afterward. In the building of this great trust, some of the most ruthless strokes in modern business history were dealt: the $38,000,000 "watering" of the stock of the first corporation, its subsequent manipulation, the seizure of the copper property of the Butte & Boston Consolidated Mining Company, the using of the latter as a weapon against the Boston & Montana Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company, the guerrilla warfare against certain private interests, and the wrecking of the Globe Bank of Boston.
A holding company aimed at controlling copper production and distribution, Amalgamated Copper controlled the copper mines of Butte, Montana and later became Anaconda Copper Company.
Transit: Staten Island, NY
On July 1, 1892, Staten Island, New York's first trolley line opened, running between Port Richmond and Meiers Corners. Trolleys, which cost only a nickel a ride through most of their existence, help facilitate mass transit across the Island by reaching communities not serviced by trains. Henry H. Rogers was long-known as the Staten Island transit magnate, and was also involved with the Staten Island-Manhattan Ferry Service and the Richmond Power and Light Company.
Rogers was also close associate of E. H. Harriman in the latter's extensive railroad operations. He was a director of the Sante Fe, St. Paul, Erie, Lackawanna, Union Pacific, and several other large railroads. However, he also involved himself in at least three West Virginia short-line railroad projects, one of which would grow much larger than he probably anticipated.
Ohio River Railroad
In mid-1890s, Rogers became president of the Ohio River Railroad, founded by Johnson Newlon Camden, a United States Senator from West Virginia who was also secretly involved with Standard Oil. Charles M. Pratt and Rogers were two of the largest owners and the Ohio River Railroad's General Manager was C.M. Burt. Its General Solicitor was former West Virginia governor William A. MacCorkle. The owners wished to sell the railroad, which was losing money.
Under Rogers' leadership, they formed a subsidiary, West Virginia Short Line Railroad, to build a new line between New Martinsville and Clarksburg to reach new coal mining areas, into territory already planned for expansion by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O). The expansion plans had the desired effect of essentially forcing B&O to purchase the Ohio River Railroad to block the competition in the new coal areas. The Ohio River Railroad was sold to B&O in 1898.
Kanawha and Pocahontas Railroad Company
The Kanawha and Pocahontas Railroad Company was incorporated in West Virginia in 1898 by either a son of Charles Pratt or the estate of Charles Pratt. Its line ran 15 miles from the Kanawha River up a tributary called Paint Creek. Once again, new coal mining territory was involved. Rogers, acting on behalf of Charles Pratt and Company negotiated its lease to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) in 1901 and its sale to a newly formed C&O subsidiary, Kanawha and Paint Creek Railway Company, in 1902.
His final achievement, working with partner William N. Page, was the building of the Virginian Railway (VGN), which eventually extended 600 miles from the coal fields of southern West Virginia to port near Norfolk at Sewell's Point, Virginia in the harbour of Hampton Roads.
Initially, Rogers' involvement in the project began in 1902 with Page's Deepwater Railway, planned as an 80-mile short line to reach untapped coal reserves in a very rugged portion of southern West Virginia, and interchange its traffic with the C&O and/or the N&W. The Deepwater Railway was probably intended for resale in the manner of the earlier two West Virginia short lines. However, if so, the ploy was foiled by collusion of the bigger railroads, who agreed with each other to neither purchase it or grant favorable interchange rates.
Page was the "front man" for the Deepwater project, and it is likely the leaders of the big railroads were unaware that their foe was backed by the wealthy Rogers, who did not give up a good fight easily. Instead of abandoning the project, Page and Rogers secretly developed a plan to extend their new railroad all the way across West Virginia and Virginia to port at Hampton Roads. They modified the Deepwater Railway charter to reach the Virginia-state line. A Rogers coal property attorney in Staunton, Virginia formed another intrastate railroad in Virginia, the Tidewater Railway.
The battle for the Tidewater Railway's rights-of-way displayed Rogers at his most crafty and ingenious. He was able to persuade the leading citizens of Roanoke and Norfolk, both strongholds of the rival Norfolk and Western, that his new railroad would be a boon to both communities, secretly securing crucial rights-of-way in the process. In 1907, the name of the Tidewater Railway was changed to The Virginia Railway Company, and it acquired the Deepwater Railway to form the needed West Virginia-Virginia link.
Financed almost entirely from Rogers' own resources, and completed in 1909, instead of interchanging, the new Virginian Railway competed with the much larger Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and Norfolk and Western Railway for coal traffic. Built following his policy of investing in the best route and equipment on initial selection and purchase to save operating expenses, the VGN enjoyed a more modern pathway built to the highest standards, and provided major competition to its larger neighboring railroads, each of whom tried several times unsuccessfully to acquire it after they realized it could not be blocked from completion.
When completed, the Virginian Railway was called by the newspapers "the biggest little railway in the world" and proved both viable and profitable. However, the time and enormous effort Rogers expended on the project continued to undermine his already declining health, not only because of his Herculean work but also because of the uncertain economy of the period. And he was forced to pour many of his own assets into the railroad.
On July 22, 1907, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Over a period of about five months, he gradually recovered. In 1908, he put the remaining financing in place needed to see his railroad to completion.
Many historians consider the Virginian Railway to be one of Henry Rogers' greatest legacies. The 600-mile Virginian Railway (VGN) followed his philosophy regarding investing in the best equipment and paying it employees and vendors well throughout its profitable history. It operated some of the largest and most powerful steam, electric, and diesel locomotives throughout its 50-year history. Chronicled by rail historian and rail photographer H. Reid in The Virginian Railway (Kalmbach, 1961), the VGN gained a following of railway enthusiasts which continues to the present day.
The VGN was merged into the Norfolk & Western in 1959. However, almost all of the former VGN mainline trackage in West Virginia and about 50% of that in Virginia is still in use in 2006 as the preferred route for eastbound coal trains for Norfolk Southern Corporation due to the more favorable gradients while crossing the Allegheny Mountains' continental divide and the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Roanoke, while most westbound traffic of empty coal cars uses the original Norfolk and Western main line.
Business summary: "Hell Hound"
Rogers was an energetic man, and exhibited ruthlessness, and iron determination. In the financial and business world, world he could be grasping, greedy, operating under a flexible code that often stretched the rules of both honesty and fair play. On Wall Street in New York City, he became known as "Hell Hound Rogers" and "The Brains of the Standard Oil Trust." He was considered one of the last and great " robber barons" of his day, as times were changing. Nevertheless, Rogers amassed a great fortune, estimated at over $100 million. He invested heavily in various industries, including copper, steel, mining, and railways.
Much of what we know about Rogers and his style in business dealings were recorded by others. His behaviour in public Court Proceedings provide some of the better examples and some insight. Rogers' business style extended to his testimony in many court settings. Before the Hepburn Commission of 1878, investigating the railroads of New York, he fine-tuned his circumlocutory, ambiguous, and haughty responses. His most intractable performance was later in a 1906 lawsuit by the state of Missouri, which claimed that two companies in that state registered as independents were actually subsidiaries of Standard Oil, a secret ownership Rogers finally acknowledged.
In Marquis Who's Who for 1908, Rogers listed more than twenty corporations of which he was either president and director or vice president and director.
Henry H. Rogers is in the top 25 wealthiest men in America of all time. According to The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates - A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present published by two business professors in 1996, Rogers is #22, ranking ahead of J.P. Morgan, #23, Bill Gates #31, William Rockefeller #35, Warren Buffett #39, J. Paul Getty #67, and Frank W. Woolworth #82.
A kinder side
There were two very distinct aspects which characterized Rogers' seemingly dualist personality. Biographers have noted that, while pitiless in business deals, in his personal affairs, there was a much kinder side. In those matters, he was both warm and generous.
Some of the other most self-made robber baron types of the late 19th century became well-known for becoming philanthropists after ending their business careers. Most notable perhaps of these was Rogers' friend from business interests Andrew Carnegie. However, unlike Carnegie and others, the kinder side of Rogers seems to have also been there throughout his life.
A modest man, some of his other kindness and generosity became known for the most part only after his death. Examples are found in looking over the lives and writings of Helen Keller, Mark Twain, and Booker T. Washington. However, nowhere was the kinder side more apparent when he was alive than in his hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Beginning in 1885, seaside Fairhaven received a number of architectural gifts from the Rogers family.
These included a grammar school, Rogers School, built in 1885. The Millicent Library was completed in 1893 and was a gift to the Town by the Rogers children in memory of their sister Millicent, who had died in 1890 at the age of 17.
Abbie Palmer (née Gifford) Rogers presented the new Town Hall in 1894. The George H. Taber Masonic Lodge building, named for Henry's boyhood mentor and former Sunday-school teacher, was completed in 1901. The beautiful gothic Unitarian Memorial Church was dedicated in 1904 to the memory of Henry Rogers' mother, Mary Huttleston (née Eldredge) Rogers. The Tabitha Inn was built in 1905, and a new Fairhaven High School, affectionately called "Castle on the Hill," was completed in 1906.
Henry Rogers drained the mill pond to create a park, installed the town's public water and sewer systems, and served as superintendent of streets for his hometown.
Many years later, Henry H. Rogers' daughter, Cara Leland Rogers Broughton (Lady Fairhaven), purchased the site of Fort Phoenix, and donated it to the Town of Fairhaven in her father's memory.
Family and Children
Abbie and Henry Rogers had five children, four girls and a boy. Another little son had died at birth. Their oldest daughter, Anne Engle Rogers, was born in 1865 in Pennsylvania.
The family moved to New York in 1866. Daughter Cara Leland Rogers was born in Fairhaven in 1867, Millicent was born in 1873, followed by Mary (a.k.a. Mai) in 1875. Their son, Henry Huttleston Rogers Jr., was born in 1879, and was known as Harry.
1894: A new Town Hall and family tragedy
The following text about Mrs. Rogers is from the Millicent Library, Fairhaven Massachusetts.
"Mother of six children, Mrs. Rogers is represented as having been of a quiet and retiring disposition, completely devoid of the ostentation often associated with great wealth. Contemporary photographs attest to a shy and gentle charm of feature, and she is known to have cherished a deep affection for Fairhaven and a nostalgia for the simple ways of her childhood.
"She was, therefore, delighted to become the donor of Fairhaven's beautiful new 'Town House', and on February 22nd and 23rd, 1894, she attended dedication exercises and received graciously at the splendid Dedication Ball, in the first gala functions marking the opening of the new building.
"It was not given those attending these happy festivities to know that - but three months later - in May, 1894, this gentle woman was to die in New York City after an operation performed to save her life."
Abbie Palmer Gifford Rogers died unexpectedly on May 21, 1894. Her childhood home, a two-story, gable-end frame house built in the Greek Revival style has been preserved. It is made available for tours of Fairhaven, where she and her husband grew up and left many other legacies to the town and its inhabitants.
Second wife, death
In 1896, Henry Rogers was remarried Emelie Augusta Randel Hart, a divorcée, and New York socialite, but had no children with his second wife.
On May 19, 1909, he died suddenly of another stroke, barely 6 weeks before full operations were scheduled to begin on his Virginian Railway, and only two days short of fifteen years after his beloved Abbie, and also in New York City. After a funeral at the First Unitarian Church in Manhattan, his body was transported to Fairhaven by a New Haven Railroad train. There, he was interred beside Abbie in Fairhaven's Riverside Cemetery.
Late life friendships, Kanawha
After Abbie's death, Rogers developed close friendships with two other famous Americans: Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington, and was instrumental in the education and rise to fame of Helen Keller. Urged on by Twain, Rogers and his second wife financed a college education for the remarkable Ms. Keller.
In 1899, Rogers had a luxury steam yacht built by a shipyard in the Bronx. The Kanawha, at 471-tons, was about 200 feet long and manned by a crew of 39. For the final ten year of his life, Rogers entertained friends as they sailed on cruises mostly along the East Coast of the United States, north to Maine and Canada, and south the Virginia. With Mark Twain among his frequent guests, the movements of the Kanawha attracted great attention from the newspapers, the dominant public media of the era. Cruises on the Kanawha also provided a private setting for what was later revealed to be a relationship of much greater importance than mere friendship and socialization with Dr. Washington.
In 1893, a mutual friend introduced Rogers to humorist Mark Twain. Rogers reorganized Twain's tangled finances, and the two became close friends for the rest of Rogers' life.
By the 1890s, Twain's fortunes began to decline; in his later life, Twain was a very depressed man, but still capable. Twain was able to respond "The report of my death is an exaggeration" in the New York Journal, June 2 1897. He lost 2 out of 3 of his children, and his beloved wife, Olivia Langdon, before his death in 1910.
Twain also had some very bad times with his businesses. His publishing company ended up going bankrupt, and he lost thousands of dollars on one typesetting machine that was never finished. He also lost a great deal of revenue on royalties from his books being plagiarized before he even had a chance to publish them himself. Things looked pretty grim financially until he met Henry Rogers in 1893.
Rogers and Twain enjoyed a mutually beneficial friendship which was to last for more than 16 years. Rogers' family became Twain's surrogate family and he was a frequent guest at the Rogers townhouse in New York City. Earl J. Dias described the relationship in these words: "Rogers and Twain were kindred spirits - fond of poker, billiards, the theatre, practical jokes, mild profanity, the good-natured spoof. Their friendship, in short, was based on a community of interests and on the fact that each, in some way, needed the other."
While Twain openly credited Rogers with saving him from financial ruin; there is also substantial evidence in their published correspondence that the close friendship in their later years was mutually beneficial. Their letters back and forth are so interesting and insightful that they were published in a book, Mark Twain's Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers, 1893-1909.
In the written exchanges between the two men, there are pleasant examples of Rogers' sense of fun as well as Twain's well-known sense of humor.
There was a standing joke between them that Twain was inclined to pilfer items from the Rogers household whenever he spent the night there as a guest. Two of the many letters provide an illustration:
In a letter sent to Mrs. Rogers by Twain, he notes that while packing his things after a visit, he found that he had put in
- "some articles that was laying around .......two books, Mr. Rogers' brown slippers, and a ham. I thought it was one of ourn. It looked like one we used to have, but it shan't occur again, and don't you worry. He will temper the wind to the shorn lamb, and I will send some of the things back if there is some that won't keep. Yores in Jesus, S.L.C."
The reply to Twain was a letter written by Henry Rogers on October 31, 1906. It reads:
- "Before I forget it, let me remind you that I shall want the trunk and the things you took away from my house as soon as possible. I learn that instead of taking old things, you took my best. Mrs. Rogers is at the White Mountains. I am going to Fairhaven this afternoon. I hope you will not be there. By the way, I have been using a pair of your gloves in the Mountains, and they don't seem to be much of an attraction."
In April of 1907, they traveled together in Rogers' steam yacht Kanawha to the Jamestown Exposition held at Sewell's Point near Norfolk, Virginia in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown Colony.
Although by this late date, both men were in marginal health, Twain returned to Norfolk with Rogers in April 1909, and was the guest speaker at the dedication dinner held for the newly completed Virginian Railway, a "Mountains to Sea" engineering marvel of the day. The construction of the new railroad had been solely financed by industrialist Rogers.
When Rogers died suddenly in New York City on May 20, 1909 of an apoplectic stroke, the humorist had been on his way by train from Connecticut to visit Rogers. When Twain was met with the news at Grand Central Station the same morning by his daughter, his grief-stricken reaction was widely reported. Although he served as one of the honored pallbearers at the Rogers funeral in New York later that week, he declined to ride the funeral train from New York on to Fairhaven for the internment. Albert Bigelow Paine, in his book Mark Twain: A Biography wrote that Twain "could not undertake to travel that distance among those whom he knew so well, and with whom he must of necessity join in conversation."
Twain himself died less than one year later. He wrote in 1909, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it." And so he did.
Helen Keller's Education
Helen Keller was a remarkable woman who, although deaf, and blind, made a name for herself as writer and humanitarian. She became another of Rogers' closest friends. In May 1896, at the home in New York City of editor-essayist Laurence Hutton, Rogers and Mark Twain first saw Ms. Keller, who was then sixteen years old. She had profited under the tutelage of her gifted teacher-companion, Anne Sullivan, and when she was twenty, passed with distinction the entrance examination to Radcliffe College.
In a letter to Mrs. Emile Rogers, Twain praised "this marvelous child" and hoped that Helen would not be forced to retire from her studies because of poverty. He urged Mrs. Rogers to speak to Rogers himself, to remind him of their first sight of Ms. Keller at Hutton's home and to speak also "to the other Standard Oil chiefs" to see what could be done for the meritorious Miss Keller.
Rogers was generously responsive. He and his wife helped make possible a college education for Helen Keller at Radcliffe. They even provided her, for many years after, with a monthly stipend.
That she was grateful is obvious in the dedication of her book, The World I Live In, which reads, "To Henry H. Rogers, my Dear Friend of Many Years." On the fly leaf of Rogers' own copy of the book, she wrote, To Mrs Rogers The best of the world I live in is the kindness of friends like you and Mr Rogers
Booker T. Washington
Another friend was Booker T. Washington. Around 1894, Rogers attended one of the famous educator's speeches at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The next day, Rogers contacted Washington, and invited him to come to 26 Broadway in his Standard Oil office to meet with him. Washington later wrote that Rogers said that he had been surprised that no one had "passed the hat" after the speech the previous night. With the common ground of their relatively humble beginnings and early life, the seeds of a friendship between the two famous men had been sown.
Washington became a frequent visitor to Rogers' office, to Rogers' 85-room mansion in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, and was an honored guest aboard Rogers' yacht, the Kanawha. Their friendship extended over a period of 15 years.
Although Rogers had died suddenly a few weeks earlier, in June 1909, Dr. Washington went on a previously arranged speaking tour along the newly completed Virginian Railway. He rode in Rogers' personal rail car, "Dixie", making speeches at many locations over a 7-day period.
Dr. Washington told his audiences that his recently departed friend had urged him to make the trip and see what could be done to improve relations between the races and economic conditions for African Americans along the route of the new railway, which touched many previously isolated communities in the southern portions of Virginia and West Virginia, including passing close by the community where Washington had been born over 50 years earlier.
Some of the places where Dr. Washington spoke on the tour were (in order of the tour stops), Newport News, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lawrenceville, Kenbridge, Victoria, Charlotte Courthouse, Roanoke, Salem, and Christiansburg in Virginia, and Princeton, Mullens, Page and Deepwater in West Virginia. One of his trip companions recorded that they had received a strong and favorable welcome from both white and African American citizens all along the tour route of the new railroad.
It was only after Rogers' death that Dr. Washington felt compelled to revealing publicly some of the extent of Rogers' contributions. These, he said, were at that very time "funding the operation of at least 65 small country schools for the education and betterment of African Americans in Virginia and other portions of the South, all unknown to the recipients." Also, known only to a few trustees at Dr. Washington's insistence, Rogers had also generously provided support to institutions of higher education, including Tuskegee Institute and Hampton Institute.
Dr. Washington later wrote that Rogers had encouraged projects with at least partial matching funds, as that way, two ends were accomplished:
- The gifts would help fund even greater work.
- Recipients would have a stake in knowing that they were helping themselves through their own hard work and sacrifice.
Rogers' example of both concern for Negro education and the concept of matching funds may well have influenced Julius Rosenwald, another self-made man from a modest background who also befriended Booker T. Washington, and beginning in 1911, contributed many millions to build thousands of Rosenwald Schools in many states, in a sense, continuing the work Rogers and Washington began long after both were dead.
In Fairhaven, the Rogers family gifts are located throughout the town. These include Rogers School, Town Hall, Millicent Library, Unitarian Memorial Church and Fairhaven High School. A granite shaft on the High School lawn is dedicated to Rogers. In Riverside Cemetery, the Henry Huttleston Rogers Mausoleum is patterned after the Temple of Minerva in Athens, Greece. Henry, his first wife Abbie, and several family members are interred there.
In 1916, Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company launched the SS H.H. Rogers, a Pratt-class tanker of 8,807 tons with a capacity of 119,390 barrels of oil. It was operated by Panama Transport Co., a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey. During World War II, on February 21, 1943, it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic Ocean 600 miles off the coast of Ireland while en route from Liverpool, England to the United States. All 73 persons aboard were saved.
In Virginia and West Virginia, former employees, area residents, and enthusiasts of the Virginian Railway consider the entire railroad to have been a memorial to him. Almost 50 years after it was merged into a competitor, Mr. Rogers' railroad still has a remarkable following and retirees meet weekly and answer questions via the Internet, one of the most active Yahoo! railway enthusiasts groups, with over 800 members. One passenger station has been restored in Suffolk, Virginia, a replica built and museum established in Princeton, and work is underway on a larger former VGN station in Roanoke.
In 2004, Rogers' initials (and those of VGN co-founder William Nelson Page) were engraved by hand by volunteers into new rail laid in Victoria, Virginia. Above it sits one of the finest extant VGN Class 10-A cabooses, built by the company's own employees in the VGN's Princeton Shops, and carefully restored over a period of many years by members of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) chapter in Roanoke. Full-equipped, it offers visitors to the former division point railroad town an interpretive display of the business conducted in a caboose along the historic right-of-way, and is a favorite of school groups.
Earl J. Dias has written one of the better commentaries published about Henry Huttleston Rogers:
- "What is the final verdict on Rogers?
- "First of all, he was a child of his times - an era that historian Howard Mumford Jones has dubbed 'the Age of Energy'. It was a time during which Americans of vast wealth, the Rockefellers, the Goulds, the Pratts, the Harrimans, the Archbolds, exploited and experimented with ideas, styles, fads, and each other. And, surprisingly, they also made invaluable contributions to libraries, schools, universities, charities, and the like. In fact, these rip roaring capitalists were striking examples of the gleeful swashbuckling, the innocence and guilt of what Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner called 'The Gilded Age.'
- "Perhaps the central truth about Rogers was that he was a role player, a born actor. From his experiences on the Phoenix Hall stage in Fairhaven in his youth, he learned the art of being theatrical in the dramatic situations that cropped up in his life.
- "In the business world he was the 'man of steel': hard, shrewd, ruthless, giving no quarter.
- "In his social life, he was amicable, popular, charismatic, a boon companion, a genial host."
Although he had a hand in developing many natural resources, in the final analysis, perhaps the greatest American resource Henry Rogers valued and sought to develop to its potential was the human one.