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Thomas Alexander Scott


IT is greatly to the honor of most of our leading business men, as well as of some of our statesmen, that they are emphatically self-made men. Unfavored by fortune in their youthful days, struggling, perhaps, with gaunt penury, and while thirsting for knowledge as ravenously as the traveller in the desert thirsts for the cooling spring, they have been denied the opportunity to enter its halls and slake that thirst, and have been detained at the bench, the counter, or the manufactory, struggling wearily for a bare pittance for their 
own needs, or the support of those dear to them. If there is any one person endowed with all his natural faculties, who is excusable for not endeavoring to acquire a good and thorough 
education, that person is the child, who, after toiling through the long day to and even beyond his strength, finds that his only opportunity of improvement is in the evening hours. The more honor then would we bestow on the young clerk, mechanic or machinist, who, notwithstanding intense weariness of body, seeks most zealously for the opportunities of improvement. And when a lad thus struggles and fights his way up through difficulties which would appall an ordinary mind, and takes his position among the world's great men, he deserves to be reckoned as a hero. It is in this class that Colonel Thomas A. Scott has won and maintained his position.

THOMAS ALEXANDER SCOTT was born in the village of Loudon, Franklin county, Pennsylvania, December 28th, 1824. Of his early childhood we know little. It must have been one of poverty and narrowness, for in a large family, of which he was one of the youngest children, he attended the village school for but a short time, and had but a single teacher, Robert Kirby, of Loudon. His father died when he was but ten years of age, and even before that time had been striving to earn a living as clerk in a little country store. At his father's death his home was broken up, and he went to reside with an elder married sister, near Waynesborough, Franklin county, whose husband had a small store, in which Thomas was employed for eighteen months. From thence he went for a short tune to Bridgeport, in the same county, where an elder brother was engaged in trade. A few months later he had obtained a situation with a good firm in Mercersburg. When he was fourteen years old, another brother-in-law who had been appointed collector of tolls on the State road at Columbia, sent for him to be his clerk, and a year or two after he became a clerk in the extensive warehouse and commission establishment of the Messrs. Leech, of Columbia, where he remained until 1847. 

During all these thirteen or fourteen years, he had sought in every way possible to train himself for a business life. Intensely fond of study, he yet subordinated his study to his employer's interests, and did everything with an order, system and judgment which would have been highly creditable to a man of' twice his years. Everywhere his quickness and energy, his correctness, ability and integrity inspired all who had to do with him with confidence in his business character and uprightness. In 1847, he came to Philadelphia as chief clerk under A. Boyd Cummings, collector of tolls at the eastern end of the public works. He did not become connected with the Pennsylvania Central Railroad until 1850, when he was appointed general Agent of their Mountain or Eastern Division at Duncanville. When the Western Division was opened he was transferred to that, and remained there until the health of General Lombaert, the Superintendent of the road, failed, when he was called to take his place. In 18G0, on the death of the Hon. William B. Foster, Vice-President of the road, Mr. Scott was elected to that position, and it was from that time that the Pennsylvania Central railroad began to comprehend its position and facilities as a great trunk road. The executive ability, order, method and enterprize of the new Vice-President had here for the first time their legitimate field of exercise, and the road began at once to take its appropriate place as one of the four great highways which were competing for the traffic of the continent.

But there was higher work than this for Mr. Scott to undertake. The civil war had commenced, and our War Department was inadequate with its antiquated and contracted machinery to manage the affairs of an army of more than a million men scattered over half a continent. Mr. Scott's executive ability was already known at Washington, and he was called thither as Assistant Secretary of War, having special charge of the transportation of troops, and their movement from one section of the country to another. He was at one time directed by the President to take possession of all the railroad lines of the Central States, and combine them into one harmonious whole, so as to render the Government service both rapid and certain. No other man had ever attempted so extensive a control of railroads as this, and it is safe to say, that there were not half-a-dozen men in the country who could have done it successfully. The late Secretary of War, Hon. Edwin M. Stanton, was one of the most tireless workers who ever occupied that position, and he had first and last at least a dozen assistants, all of them men of remarkable business capacity, but most of them broke down under the tremendous strain of the work which the war produced. Mr. Stanton was accustomed to say, that the only two assistants he ever had whom he could not kill with over-work, were Thomas A. Scott and Charles A. Dana.

Returning to his work as Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Central, Colonel Scott (he had received a staff commission from the War Department began at once to develop the vast capacity for work there was in him, and while most men would have found the management of that great road and its connections with the West sufficient to occupy all their time and thoughts, to him it was mere play. Ile accepted the Presidency of the "Pennsylvania Company," the corporation by which the entire system of roads west of Pittsburgh, which are 
owned or leased by the Pennsylvania Central, is operated, and in that capacity he controls and manages over 4000 miles of railroad. He took the Presidency of the Union Pacific Railway, when its affairs were in a condition of great confusion, and in a few short months brought them out into an assured success. He is the right arm and successful manager of the "Southern Railway Security Company," in which, profiting by his experience during the war, he has brought into one orderly and harmonious system, and under one general control, the larger part of the Southern railroads, greatly to their advantage and that of the public. He has taken an interest as counsellor and manager in many other great railway enterprises, among which we may name the Kansas Pacific, the Denver Pacific, the Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge, the Northern Pacific, the Texas Pacific, and other railways, including several on the Pacific coast.

There must be a limit somewhere to the business capacity of even a man of Colonel Scott's comprehensive and methodical mind. We do not know that he has reached or even approached that limit, but when a man has the care of some ten thousand miles of railway on his mind, when it depends upon his movements whether a capital of four hundred or live hundred millions of dollars shall prove profitable or unprofitable, it certainly behooves that man to keep his head "level." Much may be accomplished, and undoubtedly in his case much is accomplished, by the rare power he possesses of dismissing at will all care and anxiety from his mind. In his "off" hours, no man is more blithe, gay and hearty than he. To see him on such occasions you would hardly suppose that anything more serious than the tie of his cravat or the fit of his gloves ever occupied his mind; but there comes a time sooner or later, when the spectre of brooding thought will not down at a man's bidding; when he cannot shake off care so easily, and then the overwrought brain revenges itself for its excessive toil, and the man must rest or die. From such a fate, we trust, this noble-hearted and greatly gifted son of Pennsylvania may long be spared, to be a blessing not only to the State but to the nation.

Colonel Scott is not an active politician, and, indeed, cares but little for political questions. He has warm friends in both parties, but has generally when voting at all voted with the Republicans. In the multiplicity of names mentioned for the Presidency, at a time of such general political upheaval, it is not surprising that a man of his rare executive ability should have been thought of, but he himself has no aspirations in that direction. It is said that some months ago some anxious politicians approached him on the subject, and lie replied, with a merry twinkle of his eye, and an evident allusion to his well-known propensity to taking long leases on every railroad within his reach: "No, gentlemen, I cannot afford it; time is altogether too short. If I could have a ninety-nine years' lease, I might think of it."


Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872  

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