The purpose of this website is to pay long-overdue tribute to a distinguished American about whom few people know. Alexander J. Cassatt was one of our country's corporate titans, respected by his peers and oft-adversaries: Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, Gould and other robber barons of the time.
Great care has been given in the development of this website to honor the low-key and dignified manner in which Cassatt conducted his personal and business affairs. He eschewed publicity and fame which he so easily could have had. For this reason, little is known about the man. In the scarce publication and Internet information which is available, descriptors of admiration consistently abound.
In "End of the Line," published in 1978 and the only biography of Cassatt, author Patricia Talbot Davis' opening sentence in the Acknowledgements is: "A biographer's delight is an unheralded hero, and such is Alexander Johnston Cassatt."
The book description on the dust cover goes on to say: "Today the name Cassatt, if remembered at all, is associated with his artist sister, Mary, not with the railroad. He deserves better, and this account attempts to accord him his rightful place in the railroad annals of America."
The integrity and character of Alexander Cassatt is summed up in one paragraph from Patricia Davis' biography of Cassatt. It relates to the difficulties Cassatt faced regarding his vision and plan to build the Hudson and East River tunnels into New York City:
"No franchises would be authorized by these greedy lawmakers (state legislators and Aldermen of NYC) until they had been well bribed. Such a method of acquiring permission to build an intricate transportation system which would benefit the public as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad was abhorrent to Cassatt, against all of his deeply held principles."
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A Giant in American History
Is there such a thing as an "unknown icon?" One thing is certain: Alexander Cassatt's greatness is acknowledged by anyone who has come to know the man even to a small degree.
There is no more compelling testament to this than Jill Jonnes' epic "Conquering Gotham," an account of the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers and the subsequent construction of the magnificent and irreplacable Pennsylvania Station.
He was a giant in the Industrial Age at the turn of the century. He was a peer on equal ground with Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and Morgan. He was one of the few men J.P. Morgan respected. Why? Alexander Cassatt went toe-to-toe with the industrial giants, would not back down, and came out with the results he sought. Very few men could claim this.
How is it he is such an unknown in American history? Alexander Cassatt shunned publicity even in the most triumphant of times, of which he had many. Unlike his contemporaries, he eschewed fame, looking out only for his family, his railroad, his employees, his stockholders ... and his horses.
During his presidency, Pennsylvania Railroad was the greatest corporation in the world.