Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Railroad Monopolies

The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.

“Railroad corporations subsidized hundreds of newspapers, sometimes buying them outright, and if they did not own an influential newspaper they offered subtle bribes to its editors, reporters, and correspondents…From the lowliest local elections to the national campaigns, the railroads were always involved, using their power to defeat any candidate suspected of being hostile to them.”

--Dee Brown, “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: Railroads in the West”

Railroad monopolies. No, I’m not talking about the popular board game. I’m talking about the fact that huge railroad companies like the Santa Fe and the Pacific Electric once owned and controlled huge tracts of land in the United States, including Orange County.

Fullerton is named after George Fullerton, president of the Pacific Land Improvement Company, which was owned by the Santa Fe Railroad Company. Many towns in Orange County, like Fullerton, were hugely profitable for the railroad companies, as they got land grants from the government, and could charge basically whatever they wanted to ship people and commodities east and west. And the railroad companies did not just get the rail lines, they got the land around the rail lines, and all its coal and oil and minerals and prime real estate.

Another Orange County railroad tycoon was Henry E. Huntington, whom Huntington Beach is named after. Historian Leo J. Friis writes, “The extension of the Pacific Electric Railway lines into Orange County created a new impetus for urban development. Henry E. Huntington laid the foundation of his rail empire in 1901.”

Dee Brown writes, “With their control of local and national governments, the railroad owners operated their lines almost free of taxes, paying nothing at all on their unpatented land grants.”

And who built these railroads? Immigrants, mainly, Brown writes, “During the pioneer days of the transcontinental railroad, more than six times as many railroad men as passengers were killed or injured in accidents.”

Wait a minute. Large corporations in bed with the government, screwing over the common man? Hmmm. That seems to still be going on today. See www.occupywallstreet.org. Dee Brown ends his admittedly depressing history of the railroads in America with a quote from a pioneer traveler, “Some day in this country…it will be decided that railroads are to be run for the public, and for their benefit and accommodation. Corporations and monopolies, cliques and combinations, may, for a time, oppress and hinder the people; but there always comes a day when the public assert, and, asserting, maintain their rights."

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2 comments:

  1. this is fascinating considering that, at Angel Stadium today, every third-grader in orange county was given a book called Nothing Rhymes with Orange, an orange county history story book written by the first CEO of the OCTA... http://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Rhymes-Orange-Stan-Oftelie/dp/0979741963

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  2. History is certainly written by the "winners." I want to write a history of the "losers."

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