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Henry Huttleston Rogers – Dictionary of American Biography

Henry Huttleston Rogers

from the Dictionary of American Biography, 1935

Rogers, Henry Huttleston (January 29, 1840 -May 19, 1909), capitalist, was the son of Rowland and Mary Eldridge (Huttleston) Rogers, both of early New England ancestry. His middle name is often given as Huddleston, which appears to have been the earlier form in the family; to this spelling his son and namesake returned. He was born at Mattapoisett, Mass., but was brought up at Fairhaven, near by, where in boyhood he carried newspapers and delivered
groceries. He later served for a time as a railroad brakeman and baggageman. He was twenty-one when the newly discovered oil fields in Pennsylvania drew fortune seekers to that region. Rogers and a friend, Charles P. Ellis, went together to the Oil City district, each having about $600 in savings. They presently built a small refinery at a cost of $1,800, borrowing the additional funds necessary. On a visit to his home town in 1862, Rogers was married to Abbie Palmer Gifford. In Pennsylvania he met several men destined to become leaders in the oil industry, among them Charles Pratt who in 1866 asked Rogers to become associated with him in his refinery business in Brooklyn. There Rogers devised the machinery by which naphtha was first successfully separated from the crude oil-an epochal invention for the industry (Current Literature, July 1909). A patent (No.120,-539) was granted on Oct. 31, 1871.

– When the Rockefellers organized the Standard Oil Company in 1874, they took over the Pratt business and with it Rogers, now recognized as both an expert oil man and an able executive with a genius for organization. He was made chairman of the manufacturing committee of the new corporation, a little later a trustee, and before 1890 he was vice-president. He conceived the idea of long pipe lines for transporting oil, and organized the National Transit Company, the first corporation with such an object. This was his favorite promotion, and he remained president of the company long after the actual technical management of the oil business itself had been given over by him to others so that he and William Rockefeller [q.v.] might devote their time to the operation of the huge financial machine known to Wall Street as ‘Standard Oil.” Either personally or in behalf of this trust, Rogers was interested in several businesses other than oil-gas, copper, steel, banking, and railroads. In 1884 with associates he 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 gas interests was one of warfare, as was his connection with copper. During the ’90’S, when he was virtually the directing head of Standard Oil, he became interested in Anaconda and other copper properties. In 1899 he formed the first $75,000,000 section of the gigantic trust, Amalgamated Copper, which was the subject of such acrid criticism then and for years after-ward. 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 it as a weapon against the Boston & Montana Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company, the guerrilla warfare against certain private interests, the wrecking of the Globe Bank of Boston. Standard Oil’s interest in steel properties led to Rogers’ becoming one of the directors of the United States Steel Corporation when it was organized in 1901. He was long the transportation magnate of Staten Island, being the principal owner of its railroads, traction lines, and ferries. He was a director of the Santa Fe, St. Paul, Lackawanna, Union Pacific, and several other railroads. He was a close associate of E. H. Harriman in the latter’s extensive railroad operations, and when Harriman became interested in the insurance business, Rogers, who had long been a trustee of the Mutual Life, was drawn with him into the scandal and governmental investigation of 1905, but as usual emerged almost unruffled. He sustained his worst tactical defeat, however, in an ouster suit brought by the State of Missouri in 1905, in which he, at first defiant, was forced to testify and admit the Standard’s secret ownership of certain subsidiary oil companies (218 Missouri Reports, I; 116 Southwestern Reporter, 902; see also 224 United States, 270). His last great individual enterprise was the building of the remarkable, low-grade Virginian Railway from the West Virginia coal fields to Norfolk. It was an achievement unique in business annals for one man to build a $40,000,000 railroad on his own resources and credit, and that, too, partly in a time of financial stress, the panic of 1907. But the strain of doing it proved fatal to him. He was at his desk on May 18, 1909, but the next morning, in New York City, suddenly died of an apoplectic stroke. His first wife had died May 21, 1894, leaving four children. He afterward married Emelle (or Emelie) Augusta Randel, the divorced wife of Lucius Hart, who, together with a son and three daughters, survived him.

Rogers was a tall, handsome man of distinguished presence and a curious duality of nature. In business he was known as a man of cold steel; away from business lie was democratic, a faithful friend, a wit and raconteur. Even the bitterest of his enemies testified to the almost hypnotic charm of his presence when he chose to exercise it. To the end of his life some of the humblest of the citizens of his boyhood home remained his intimate friends and called him “Hen.” His summer home was there, and there at week-ends he found his happiest relaxation. He paved Fairhaven’s streets, he gave it a town hall, grammar and high school buildings, a handsome public library, a Masonic lodge building, a costly Unitarian church and parsonage. There he founded the Atlas Tack Company, the largest concern of its kind in America. His fondness for Mark Twain’s writings led to an acquaintance with the humorist, and finding the latter in difficulties because of the failure of his publishers, Rogers practically took charge of his affairs and remained his business manager and counselor until death.

Who’s Who in America, I909; obituaries in all New York evening and morning papers, May 19, 20, 1909; N. Y. World, Mar. 12, Sept. 5, 1907; all New York newspapers of Jan. 6- 8, 1906 when the Missouri suit against Standard Oil was being tried; Harper’s Weekly, May 29, 1909; Nation (N. Y.), May 27, 1909; Current Literature, July 1909; World’s Work, May 1905; Thomas W. Lawson, Frenzied Finance (1905), the most violent of all the criticisms of Rogers ; Ida M. Tarbell, The Hist. of the Standard Oil Company (2 vols., 1904); R. I. Warshow, The Story of Wall Street (1929); Dedication of the Memorial Monument to Henry Huttleston Rogers, Jan. 29, 1912. Town Hall, Fairhaven, Mass. (n.d.) ; George Huddleston, comp., Huddleston Family Tables (1933); information in regard to the spelling of his middle name from his son, Col. Henry H. Rogers.) A. F. H.

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