Henry H. Rogers

Template:Infobox Biography Henry Huttleston Rogers (January 29 1840May 19 1909), was a United States capitalist, businessman, industrialist, financier, and philanthropist. He was one of the key men in John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust. He later developed the Virginian Railway, while one of his Standard Oil associates, Henry Morrison Flagler developed the Florida East Coast Railway. Both railroads formed part of today's US rail network.

Born into a working class family in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts on Buzzard's Bay. The family moved to nearby Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where he carried newspapers and he worked in his father’s grocery store as a teenager, and was in the first graduating class of the local high school. He hired on with the Old Colony Railroad as a brakeman, working for several years and saving his money.

In 1861, he pooled his $600 savings with a friend, and set out for western Pennsylvania to the newly discovered oil fields, where he found and developed his fortune, associating himself with Charles Pratt, whose firm in turn later became part of the Standard Oil Trust.

He was married to his childhood sweetheart Abbie Gifford Rogers for over 30 years until her death; they had four children. Rogers was an energetic man, and amassed a great fortune, estimated at over $100 million. He invested heavily in various industries, including copper, steel, mining, and railways.

His final achievement, working with partner William N. Page, was the building of the Virginian Railway (VGN) from the coal fields of southern West Virginia to port near Norfolk at Sewell's Point, Virginia in the harbor of Hampton Roads.
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Financed almost entirely from Rogers’ own resources, it competed with the Chesapeake & Ohio and Norfolk & Western Railways for coal traffic. Built following his policy of investing in the best route and equipment on initial selection and purchase to save operating expenses, the VGN enjoyed a more modern pathway built to the highest standards, and provided major competition to its larger neighboring railroads, each of whom tried several times unsuccessfully to acquire it.

Although Rogers died just as the railroad was completed, the 600 mile Virginian Railway followed his philosophy throughout its profitable history. It operated some of the largest and most powerful steam, electric, and diesel locomotives throughout its 50 year history, resulting in a following of railway enthusiasts which continues to the present day. The VGN was merged into the Norfolk & Western in 1959. Much of the former VGN trackage in Virginia is still in use in 2004 as the preferred route for eastbound coal trains for Norfolk Southern Corporation.

The diverse Rogers, who was at times known as a fierce businessman nicknamed ‘hell hound Rogers’, was also a modest but generous philanthropist who apparently never forgot his roots.

humorist Mark Twain
humorist Mark Twain
He gave generously of time and money to his hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where he helped fund a church, public schools, and dedicated the Millicent Library in memory of his young daughter Millicent who had died at the age of 17. In 1893, he became friends with Mark Twain, whose finances he helped reorganize. He and his wife helped make possible a college education for Helen Keller.

Rogers also developed a friendship of over 15 years with former slave and educator Dr. Booker T. Washington. It was only after the multi-millionaire's death that Dr. Washington said he felt compelled to reveal publicly some of the extent of Henry Rogers' contributions for his causes. Those funds, he said, were at that very time, paying for the operation of at least 65 small country schools for the education and betterment of African Americans in Virginia and other portions of the South, all unknown to the recipients. Known only to a few trustees, Rogers had also generously provided support to institutions of higher education.

Dr. Washington later wrote that Henry Rogers had encouraged projects with at least partial matching funds, as that way, two ends were accomplished:

1. The gifts would help fund even greater work.
2. Recipients would have a stake in knowing that they were helping themselves through their own hard work and sacrifice.

In the final analyisis, perhaps the greatest American resource Henry Rogers valued and sought to develop to its potential was the human one.

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