The Railroad Tycoon
Who Built Chicago
A Biography of

William Butler Ogden

Published 2009
By Southern Illinois University Press

go to www.amazon.com

2009 Illinois State Historical Society
William Butler Ogden, born and raised by a pioneer New York family, was truly a man of destiny. He took over his ill father’s lumber and woolens businesses when only sixteen years old; and for fourteen years he improved and expanded his family’s fortune. Devastated by the sudden death of his fiancé, and encouraged by friends to help promote the nascent railroad industry in America, Ogden moved to the small, swampy settlement of Chicago in 1835 when the population barely reached four thousand people.

Old Fort Dearborn, erected in 1803 on the Chicago River at Lake Michigan, was the genesis of the city of Chicago.
A year later, already a heavy investor in Chicago real estate, he became the city’s first mayor. Slowed, but never stopped, by a succession of financial panics that wracked the nation in the mid-1800s, Ogden became one of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens. As a leader of what was known as the city’s business-elite, he was also a principal player in the development of the city’s cultural, charitable and educational sectors.

Ogden built the first railroad out of Chicago, and was the driving force in making the city the railroad capital of the country. His role as the pioneer railroad entrepreneur in America was never questioned; and he was largely responsible for the young nation’s western expansion. He also built and operated the largest lumber empire in the country in central Wisconsin; a huge iron mining and foundry enterprise in Pennsylvania; Chicago’s earliest brewery; Chicago’s most successful real estate company; and a wide range of other business enterprises.

The Galena & Chicago Union Railroad Depot was Chicago's first train depot. Will Ogden was a pioneer in American railroading, and a principal figure in the nation's westward expansion.
Through all this he remained a dedicated family man and provider to his large extended family, although he would not marry until the twilight of his years. He has been called, by leading historians, “Chicago’s founder,” “Railway King of the West,” “an upstart businessman on a heroic scale,” and “one of the dominating figures of the Middle West.” Despite this praise, this book is the first full-length biography on this important American giant.

Home       John Ogden       William B. Ogden       About the Author       Contact