Invisible Giants
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2003 Railroad History Award, Railway & Locomotive Historical Society

Invisible Giants is the Horatio Alger-esque tale of a pair of reclusive Cleveland brothers, Oris Paxton and Mantis James Van Sweringen, who rose from poverty to become two of the most powerful men in America. They controlled the country's largest railroad system—a network of track reaching from the Atlantic to Salt Lake City and from Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico. On the eve of the Great Depression they were close to controlling the country's first coast-to-coast rail system—a goal that still eludes us. They created the model upper-class suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, with its unique rapid transit access. They built Cleveland's landmark Terminal Tower and its innovative "city within a city" complex. Indisputably, they created modern Cleveland.

Yet beyond a small, closely knit circle, the bachelor Van Sweringen brothers were enigmas. Their actions were aggressive, creative, and bold, but their manner was modest, mild, and retiring. Dismissed by many as mere shoestring financial manipulators, they created enduring works, which remain strong today. The Van Sweringen story begins in early-20th-century Cleveland suburban real estate and reaches its zenith in the heady late 1920s, amid the turmoil of national transportation power politics and unprecedented empire-building. As the Great Depression destroyed many of their fellow financiers, the "Vans" survived through imaginative stubbornness—until tragedy ended their careers almost simultaneously. Invisible Giants is the first comprehensive biography of these two remarkable if mysterious men.

Oasis in a Gritty City
The Ideal Suburb
Mr. Smith Sells a Farm
Mr. Smith Sells a Railroad
Shaping Solid Forms
A Difficult Birth at the Public Square
The Beginnings of an Empire
To the South, East, and North
Taking Stock: 1924
A Horseback Ride in the Park
Building, Rebuilding, and Juggling
Consolidation Anarchy (I): The General and the Bear
Consolidation Anarchy (II): The Street Fighter
The Summit (I): An Appalachian Peak in the Rockies
The Summit (II): Filling Out the Railroad Map
The Summit (III): Consummation in Cleveland—and a Jolt
Completions and Complications
Taking Stock: 1930
Sudden Darkness
The Rails Head Downgrade
A New World
The Cruelest Year
The Last Train
Epilogue (I): New Empires from Old
Epilogue (II): The Ghosts
Sources and Acknowledgments



Publié par
Date de parution 07 février 2003
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253110602
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0500€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Invisible Giants
The Van Sweringens triumph in Cleveland. For almost forty years, the 52-story Terminal Tower was the tallest building outside New York City. From here, the brothers administered their huge railroad, real estate, and transit enterprises. At the right is the Vans 1918 Hotel Cleveland, the earliest element in the Terminal complex; at the left is their Higbee Company department store . Frank A. Wrabel collection
Invisible Giants
The Empires of Cleveland s Van Sweringen Brothers
Herbert H. Harwood, Jr.
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
601 North Morton Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47404-3797 USA
Telephone orders 800-842-6796
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2003 by Herbert H. Harwood, Jr.
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Harwood, Herbert H.
Invisible giants : the empires of Cleveland s Van Sweringen brothers / Herbert H. Harwood, Jr.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Van Sweringen, Oris Paxton, 1879-1936. 2. Van Sweringen, Mantis James, 1881-1935. 3. Businessmen-Ohio-Biography. 4. Real estate development-Ohio-Cleveland-History. 5. Railroads-Ohio-History. 6. Cleveland (Ohio)-History. I. Title.
HC102.5.V36 H37 2003
1 2 3 4 5 08 07 06 05 04 03
1 Oasis in a Gritty City
2 The Ideal Suburb
3 Mr. Smith Sells a Farm
4 Mr. Smith Sells a Railroad
5 Shaping Solid Forms
6 A Difficult Birth at the Public Square
7 The Beginnings of an Empire
8 To the South, East, and North
9 Taking Stock: 1924
10 Some Shadows Fleet By
11 Building, Rebuilding, and Juggling
12 Consolidation Anarchy I: The Maverick and the General
13 Consolidation Anarchy II: The Street Fighter
14 The Summit I: An Appalachian Peak in the Rockies
15 The Summit II: Filling Out the Railroad Map
16 The Summit III: Consummation in Cleveland-and a Jolt
17 Completions and Complications
18 Taking Stock: 1930
19 Sudden Darkness
20 The Rails Roll Downgrade
21 A New World
22 The Cruelest Year
23 The Last Train
24 Epilogue I: New Empires from Old
25 Epilogue II: The Ghosts
Sources and Acknowledgments
It was the most important single event in the city s history. Actually, it was only a dedication ceremony for a railroad passenger terminal, the sort of celebration cities constantly stage to baptize some new edifice or other civic achievement. But symbolically it commemorated much more.
On June 28, 1930, Cleveland, Ohio, dedicated the new Cleveland Union Terminal. What the event really celebrated, though, was Cleveland s visible transformation from a nondescript midwestern industrial city to a showcase of visionary urban and suburban planning and its ascension to national economic power through its control of the country s largest transportation system. All of that had happened almost at once, and all of it was done at the hands of two extraordinary men-the brothers Van Sweringen.
All the usual civic dignitaries were there, of course, along with railroad presidents and executives of Cleveland s steel and manufacturing industries-2,500 of them in all. Not present were the Van Sweringen brothers. They were home listening to the affair on the radio. Nobody who knew them was at all surprised; it was simply their way. It was said that they were afraid they would be called upon for speeches, and there was probably truth in that. The fact was, though, that they almost never appeared before large groups for any reason and, besides, wanted no part of personal glorification.
They were enigmas in their own time and are more so now-two shy, tightly bonded, almost reclusive bachelor brothers who seemingly came out of nowhere and suddenly were counted among the country s economic rulers. In 1930, they controlled 30,000 miles of railroads reaching from the Atlantic to the Rockies and from Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico, plus trucking companies, shipping companies, and warehouses-and they had planned and built two nationally admired models of innovative urban and suburban development. What was being dedicated on this day aptly demonstrated that last variation of the Van Sweringen vision.
The new Cleveland Union Terminal was no ordinary bigcity railroad station. Commodious inside, it was virtually invisible outside, and there lay the essence of the vision. Here in Cleveland s historic heart was an entire new city designed as a single integrated, interconnected unit. From below the station concourse, trains took Clevelanders to most places in the East and Midwest and, through connections, to virtually any place in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. And very soon, it was anticipated, city dwellers would also board rapid transit trains here for anywhere nearby. (Immediately outside were local streetcars reaching all parts of the city. Soon these, too, would be placed underground as part of the complex.) Already, one rapid transit line delivered them directly to what already had become one of the country s best-known and most exquisitely planned upper-class suburbs, Shaker Heights-also a Van Sweringen creation. Perhaps it is superfluous to say that the brothers had built the rapid transit line exclusively to serve Shaker Heights.
Above the terminal was the tallest office building outside New York City, which housed-among many other things-the headquarters of the vast Van Sweringen transportation and real estate empires. Also over the top of the terminal were three other office buildings, a large hotel, and the city s premier department store-along with restaurants, banks, smaller stores, and indoor automobile parking-all of them interconnected and flowing into one another. The complex also included generous provision for more office buildings, the city s central post office, a theater, and more large retail businesses.
In short, the Union Terminal development pulled together intercity and urban transportation and all forms of city commerce into one huge structural unit. It was a radical and unique conception which in one stroke reestablished the city s center and made it the new focus of the city s life. Indeed, it was unlike anything elsewhere at the time and was destined to be so in the future; although imitated in part, nothing else went so far in uniting all forms of urban life and transportation on this scale. Now, with travelers taking to the air and roads, it could never again be exactly duplicated.
Sadly, the Union Terminal ceremony was symbolic in another way: It was the turning point in the Van Sweringen story. Remember the year: 1930. To put the best light on it, the times were uncertain, although most people, including the brothers, thought that the worst was pretty much over and that the expansion could quickly resume. Instead, the story ended in a shambles, with still grander visions unfulfilled.
In its essentials, it was a somewhat typical story of the time: Oris Paxton Van Sweringen and Mantis James Van Sweringen were born in rural Ohio in the late nineteenth century to a footloose father who was more adept at producing children than income. Eventually the family drifted to Cleveland, where the two boys went to work after the eighth grade to help support the family and subsequently stumbled through a succession of jobs and business ventures that went nowhere. Then something took hold. Shortly after the turn of the century they became suburban real estate promoters-obscure, but with interesting ideas and methods. On the eve of World War I, they added railroading to their ventures, taking in a cast-off regional line and breathing new life into it. Fourteen breathtaking years later they not only controlled the country s largest single rail network but were poised to put together the first truly coast-to-coast line. And at the same time, of course, they had remade Cleveland s physical face in their image and to their lofty standards.
If their rise was fast, the fall was faster. The Great Depression tore apart the underpinnings of their empire-or rather empires, since there were several. Still, they remained amazingly adept and creative and somehow managed to hold everything together-until the struggle literally killed them. They died prematurely and, as in life, close together; afterward they quickly vanished from consciousness. But they had built well, and afterward the corporate power structure they created lived on in other hands, while many of their railroads and physical works survived and prospered as strong entities on their own.
So much for the simple outline. Inside it is a bewilderingly complex maze of separate stories running in parallel: the planning and building of Shaker Heights and its rapid transit line, the vision of the Union Terminal complex and the battles to build it, the acquisition of one railroad system after another, the management and rebuilding of the railroads, the legal and regulatory p

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