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WNYRHS HISTORY - PanAm Expo 1901 - Chapter I

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This is the Second of many historical articles about railroading in the Western New York area, written by Society Historian, Greg Jandura. As more articles are added, old ones will be archived. So sit back, or feel free to print out, and enjoy the rich railway heritage of Western New York.
by: Greg Jandura

McKinley and Prosperity

       As Western New Yorkers and Buffalonians, we are all quite familiar with the tragic assassination of William McKinley, 25th President of the United States, when shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901 during a reception in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition. President McKinley would despite the best medical efforts known at that time briefly recover then take a turn for the worse, dying on September 14, 1901. Not only did we mourn his passing here, as did the nation, but the whole world grieved over this senseless tragic loss. The eyes of the world were on Buffalo!

As there was talk of commemorating the centennial of this event this year, I became quite interested in this subject, the more and more I learned while pouring through the pages of Buffalo's local newspapers getting a first-hand feel for the era and events. What really stood out was the unknown story of the railroads involvement from the election campaign of 1896, and 1900, President McKinley's frequent train travel while in office, the great cross-country journey culminating at the Pan-American Exposition, the funeral train to Washington, DC and lastly to Canton, Ohio. And yes, even Leon Czolgosz's journey to prison for his execution after his trial and conviction was by train.

To get a sense of beginning to this story, we must first go back to the Democratic Presidency of Grover Cleveland who served as both the twenty-second and twenty-fourth President. During his first administration 1885-1889 he had inherited five major domestic problems, involving the Federal Civil Service; Federal pensions; labor unrest; abuses by the railroads in their business methods; high protective tariff and huge treasury surplus of a half billion dollars accumulated since the Civil War. President Cleveland's objective was to lower the tariff. This in turn would discourage Congress from extravagant spending on "plum" political appointments and large pensions paid to Civil War veterans. A tariff reduction would also hopefully bring down the prices on basic commodities.

       As to the labor unrest, this was a time of the emergence of strong unified labor unions demanding higher wages, and shorter hours, which came into conflict with business owners. As to unscrupulous freight making rates by the western railroads, the Interstate Commerce Act became law in 1887 curbing these blatant abuses.

The tariff was the principle issue of the 1888 political campaign. A bill to lower the tariff 7 to 8 percent passed in the House, but not the Senate. The Republican party led the public to believe that Cleveland, who only wanted to reduce the tariff also favored a free-trade policy which would enable foreign manufacturers to undersell American's costing him the election. Benjamin Harrison, twenty-third President of the United States 1889-1893 undid all that Grover Cleveland had worked for by disposing of the huge Treasury surplus through extravagant appropriations for pensions, naval vessels, lighthouses, coastal defenses, and other projects. The McKinley Tariff Bill was enacted raising already high protective tariffs resulting in higher prices on many household commodities. To gain the support of the western states, six had joined the union (Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming) between 1889-1890, the government promised to purchase liberal amounts of mined silver if these Congressmen voted for this legislation. In turn, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 was enacted. The government agreeing to buy 4 1/2 million ounces of silver (nearly the total silver mine output) monthly and issue certificates for the full amounts purchased In 1890. The Sherman Antitrust Act became law declaring illegal "every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy in restraint of trade." In reaction, to high consumer prices, the populace elected a Democratic Congress in 1892 and Grover Cleveland as twenty-fourth President of the United States 1893-1897.

The presidential campaign of 1893 saw the emergence of a new political party "The Peoples Party" more familiarly known as "Populists" formed principally by Western farmers and workers who were members of the National Farmers Alliance. Their platform advocated the free unlimited coinage of silver, government ownership of important utilities, and election of U.S. Senators by popular vote. Grover Cleveland's second term of office was marked by conflict between the working classes of the West pitted against bankers, and large manufacturers in the East. Congress passed another high restrictive tariff on foreign goods and the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the unfair tax burden placed on the well-to-do since the Civil War taking more money out of the average working man's pocket.

"A bitter political battle was fought over repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which required that the U.S. Treasury buy at market value 4,500,000 ounces of silver a month. When by April 15, 1893, the gold reserve in the treasury fell below the $100,000,000 level because silver had been overvalued in relation to gold. President Grove Cleveland and others blamed the Sherman Act for creating too much money. Cleveland called a special session of Congress for Aug. 7, but it was Oct. 30 before both houses of Congress, after much debate, voted repeal. Cleveland was thus able to keep the U.S. on the gold standard, but he alienated members of the Democratic Party who wanted easy credit." (2)

"The administration was a period of industrial depression, high prices, unemployment on a large scale, lockouts and strikes. The most important of the last-named was the strike in 1894 of the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company, who were led by the American Railway Union. The strike to prevent wage cuts, resulted in violence, the destruction of property, and the sending, by President Cleveland, of Federal troops to keep order in Chicago. This resulted in the breaking of the strike by federal injunction, the imprisonment of a number of strike leaders, including the noted labor leader Eugene V. Debs and increasing discontent with the administration on the part of the working classes, particularly the Populists and the radicals among the Democrats." (3)

Further adding fuel to the fire of discontent, "A worldwide financial panic began in the spring of 1893. Sensing weakness in the American economy, foreign investors began withdrawing their capital. Railroads began to go into bankruptcy, the steel industry declined and the banking system was strained to the limit ... By December about 600 banks had failed and by June 1894 no fewer than 194 railroads had gone bankrupt. Unemployment climbed, and by the winter of 1893-1894 there were about 2,500,000 persons out of work. Democrats blamed the high tariff and excess government spending on the Republicans. Gold standard advocates blamed the depression on agitation for more and cheaper money. The populists blamed everything on the gold standard and a shortage of currency. The economy gradually improved, but it was 1897 before it could be said that good times had returned." (4)

The major issue of the presidential election campaign of 1896 was the "free silver question," (coinage of silver at a fixed ratio to the gold coined during the same period 16-1) which sharply divided the East Vs West. Some favored the unlimited coinage of silver while others favored using the gold standard exclusively. The two candidates for the presidency were William Jennings Bryan endorsed by the Democratic, Populist, Silver Republican, and National Silver Party. It was at the Chicago National Democratic Convention that Bryan delivered his infamous "Cross of Gold" speech, arguing the cause for free silver, "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold. "William McKinley was endorsed by the Republican Party". It promised to be a memorable fight and not merely a contest between Democrats and Republicans. On one side stood the "gold-bugs," the men of substance in the community, who had made their mark in business and industry and who had no intention of giving ground before the rising tide of Populism. Arrayed against them were the poorer farmers, mill hands, factory workers, single "taxers", and so-called communists. Anarchists, and Socialists, their heads turned by the lure of silver, their spirits keyed up with a sense of mission, working feverishly without plans, without money, without organization. At one time McKinley believed in both silver and gold as the appropriate standard for American money. McKinley changed his views and adopted the cause of a single standard-gold. Republicans went on record as being unalterably opposed to the free coinage of silver and in favor of putting American money on a "sound" basis. In contrast ... the Democratic Party was tom with dissension. It divided fatally on the money question. Some Democrats stood on the conservative side and were as opposed to the free coinage of silver as were Republican conservatives. Others, especially those who came from the South and West had found themselves drawn toward the ideas of the Populists. Every Democrat knew that victory for the party would depend on its ability to profit from agrarian discontent. The future of the party was at stake, yet it did not seem likely that any one faction would be able to dominate the others in the interest of party unity. (5)

During the presidential campaign of 1896, William Jennings Bryan was the first to campaign extensively by train. "During that race he traveled 18,009 miles by train, making about 3,000 speeches -including 569 major addresses-during the course of dozens of 18 hour days". Sometimes taking side trips by buggy when the train stopped long enough, Bryan made 10 to 20 speeches a day. Bryan's record-24 talks in one day, still stands. In all, Bryan rode for three months in hot wooden coaches and even cabooses to speak to an estimated 5 million people in 27 states. From that very first morning in Nebraska, Bryan hurried to the rear to speak to whatever crowd showed up-and continued speaking until the train eased away. The train crews frequently trotted back to listen until it became necessary to return to their duties ... "Farmers drove horses and buggies up to 100 miles to hear the free-silver advocate. Their wives and daughters brought him home-baked pies and decorated his car with flowers." (6)

William Jennings Bryan made a two day whirlwind tour of Western New York in August, 1896 stopping in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Attica, Homell, Olean, and Celeron. William McKinley however, used a different approach to campaigning. Canton, Ohio became the "Railroad Mecca" of North America as tens of thousands arrived daily by chartered or regular train to hear him speak. "McKinley ran a heavily financed "front porch" campaign. Money was spent lavishly on pamphlets, posters, and buttons. Many state delegations were given train fare to go and see McKinley in Canton. The railroads cooperated by offering reduced rates ... On one day alone, McKinley spoke to some 30,000 Visitors." (7)

       In total, McKinley made an estimated 300 speeches to 1,000,000 visitors in his home town. As from everywhere else, Western New Yorkers flocked to Canton, Ohio. These included a delegation from Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties chartering a 12 car train; over 1,000 real estate men chartering an 18 car train; 150 lumber men from Buffalo and Tonawanda chartering railroad cars as did 75 members of the Buffalo Wheelmens (bicyclists)Club.

William McKinley received 7,035,638 popular votes and 271 electoral votes with William Jennings Bryan receiving 6,467,946 popular votes and 176 electoral votes. The voting was along sectional lines with Bryan carrying most of the South and West. McKinley carried the City of Buffalo, the eight county region of Western New York and New York State as well with about 60% of the popular vote respectively. The election of 1896 remains "critical" because of its lasting import as a milestone in the conflict between agrarian and industrial America.

In the presidential election of 1900, William Jennings Bryan squared off against William McKinley the campaign issue being "imperialist expansion" over the U.S. involving the Philippines and Hawaiian Islands. The incumbent was reelected with 7,219,530 popular votes and 292 electoral votes vs. Bryan winning 6,358,071 popular votes and 155 electoral votes. In the City of Buffalo, McKinley garnered 52% of the popular vote and 58t of the popular vote in the Western New York, eight county region. The majority of the voters had spoken and believed that President McKinley had brought economic prosperity to the nation! (8)

William McKinley was born in the semi-frontier community of Niles, Ohio on 1/29/1843 one of 9 siblings to working class parents. His MS. studies at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. 1860-1861, were cut short by illness. He briefly taught school then enlisted at age 18 in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War rising through the ranks to 2nd Lieutenant and Brevet Major in 1865 under the command of Rutherford B. Hayes. William McKinley who saw considerable action during the war was committed to preserving the Union; was known as Major McKinley up and until his election to the presidency. Admitted to the Ohio bar in 1867, he practiced in Canton, Ohio. He became quite active in politics serving in the House of Representatives 1877-83,1885-91. During his congressional career, McKinley was elected chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which developed financial legislation, and he became a prominent national figure. He also worked for civil-service reform and other liberal measures.

Later, he was elected twice as Governor of Ohio in 1891 and 1893. McKinley married Ida Saxton of Canton, Ohio. The early deaths of their two daughters Katherine 1871-1875 and Ida 1873-1873 plunged her into a nervousness from which she was unable to recover. William McKinley was known for his honesty, toughness, and being able to harmonize divergent views. He also attained national fame as a spokesman for the Republican parties doctrine on tariff protection which he thought would develop and diversify the American economy, create purchasing power among producers, and promote national unity. The one major crisis during his administration was the Spanish-American War.

During his administration, William McKinley traveled extensively by train delivering speeches in a number of major cities, to special interest groups and returned to Canton, Ohio for several visits. He also embarked on several extensive train tours visiting the West in 1897, the Trans-Mississippi Expo in Omaha 1898, the South 1898, and New England in 1899. His most ambitious trip to win support for trust busting and for extending commercial reciprocity would be the 1901 Great Circle Tour of the United States. Starting from Washington, DC. through the Deep South, Far West, Pacific Northwest, and Midwest culminating with a visit to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York on President's Day June 13, 1901.

The President and Mrs. McKinley accompanied by most of his Cabinet, their wives and members of the press-43 in all, would be departing Washington DC. on April 29, 1901 to return on June 15, 1901. "The total distance traveled will be about 10,500 miles, crossing 23 States and 2 Territories, and touching the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and the Great Lakes. Twenty-seven railroads are embraced in the itinerary. Wherever feasible the State capitols were visited. Local programs are covering the cities at which extended stops are made. A feature of the trip will be the substitution of drives (short horse & buggy trips) for receptions, thus more fully accommodating the people then would be possible at a short reception. The Reception Committee will be received at the cities they represent the local various committees having cordially cooperated in this respect, as well as in others, in an endeavor to make the journey of the President and his party a most enjoyable and interesting one. While the President may make short addresses at several of the large cities and at some of the colleges and universities, it is not at all likely that he will make as many speeches as have been delivered in the course of previous trips."

The train will go by way of Alexandria, Charlottesville, Lynchburp, Roanoke, Huntsville, Decatur, Tuscumbia, Corinth, Memphis, Vicksburg, Jackson, New Orleans, Houston, Prairie View, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Phoenix, Redlands, Eos Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Del Monte, San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Burlingame, Oakland, Ocean Beach, Stockton, Sacramento, Redding, Sisson, Ashland, Salem, Portland, Chehalis, Centralia, Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, Ellensburg, North Yakima, Pasco, Wallulu, Walla Walla, Spokane, Butte, Helena, Cinnabar, Yellowstone Park, Anaconda, Pocatello, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Glenwood Springs, Royal Gorge, Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Junction City, Topeka, Lawrence, Baldwin, Ottawa, Kansas City, Davenport, Moline, Rock Island, Chicago, Buffalo and Niagara Falls returning to Washington DC. by way of the Delaware Water Gap. Along the way the President also rode a steamboat on the Mississippi, visited an Arizona gold mine and took part in the launching ceremony of a battleship.

"The train in which President McKinley and his Cabinet will cross the continent on their travel is a marvel of luxury". It will consist of two sleeping, a dining, and a composite car, consisting of a smoking room and baggage compartment. The President will sleep in the magnificent Pullman "Olympia." A description of this car will fill an Oriental Prince with wonder. It contains five private rooms, finished in Mexican mahogany, maple, and koko. The private dining room, at one end, is furnished in Vermillion. Apartments fit for monarchs are provided for the servants.

Silk, satin, plush and velvet are lavishly used in furniture decoration. Onyx and marble fittings are in evidence. Large mirrors and wardrobes are provided. Each private room contains three complete fittings of a bedroom. All have separate toilet rooms. The car is 70 feet long and is used only for the accommodation of nine persons.

The drawing room car is finished in Vermillion, elaborate carved, and the rooms are decorated in ivory and gold. The ceilings are beautifully tinted and the upholstery and draperies are of the finest. Two staterooms connect with the salon by folding doors. Wide vestibules line the smoking car. There is a fine barbershop in it, and a bathroom, with tiled flooring and wainscoting. The smoking room is 21 feet in length, fitted with upholstered chairs, lounges, secretary, cabinets, and library. A buffet is also provided. The exterior of the train is in keeping with the interior splendor.

The Presidential Special sped onward on its transcontinental journey greeted by enthusiastic crowds everywhere. The entire schedule had to be scrapped in California when Mrs. McKinley, an epileptic, began having seizures and was near collapse from blood loss due to an infected finger which first appeared in Texas. A Navy doctor and the family physician lanced the infection aboard the train but she hovered between life and death for the next several weeks. The President canceled all engagements and instead of going back to Washington, DC. They returned to Canton, Ohio for the summer once Mrs. McKinley was able to travel. "The train with the McKinleys using a different private cars departed May 25 and sped across the continent via SP's Central Pacific Line to Ogden, Utah; Union Pacific to Omaha; C&NW to Chicago; and PRR. Virtually all stops were made only for operating reasons; crews were changed a few miles from normal division points to throw off crowds. The original itinerary had called for the tour to end in Buffalo, N.Y., on June 12, after traveling 1,000 miles, but the change necessitated a postponement of that visit until September." (12)


1. "United States History." Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia, 1970 ed.
2. Carruth, Gorton. "What Happened When" Abridged Edition The Encyclopedia of American Facts, 1991 ed.
3. "United States History." Funk & Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia 1970 ed.
5. Smelser, Marshall, and Kerwin, Harry W. Conceived In Liberty: The History of the United States. Garden City Doubleday, 1962.
6. Withers, Bob. The President Travels By Train. Lynchburg: TLC Publishing, 1996.
7. Presidents and Famous Americans. The American Heritage Book 8. New York: Dell Publishing, 1967.
8. The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1989: Scripps Howard, 1989. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, November 1, 1900.
9. "William McKinley." Encyclopedia Americana 1996 ed.
10. "Full Itinerary of The President's Trip West." New York Times 4, April 1901
11. "The Presidential Train." New York Times 5 April 1901, p.I.
12. Withers, Bob. "The President Travels by Train". Lynchburg, TLC Publishing, 1996.

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