William H. Bancroft

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Biographical Notes

William Hazard Bancroft was a railroader who came to Utah at age 38 in 1878 to manage the interests of Denver & Rio Grande Western. When D&RGW became Rio Grande Western in 1890, Bancroft moved over to the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern, a subsidiary of Union Pacific. When Union Pacific went into receivership in 1893, OSL&UN went with it. Part of the process to restore the financial fortunes of OSL&UN included a separate receivership for the company in 1895, at which time, Bancroft was named as one of the company's receivers. He was already the company's general superintendent, and was seen as the best candidate to help establish a reorganized company with its own organization separate from Union Pacific.

OSL&UN became Oregon Short Line Railroad in 1897, with Bancroft as its vice president and general manager, working from his offices in Salt Lake City. E. H. Harriman took control of OSL in late 1898, and working with the Harriman interests, Bancroft oversaw the development of railroads throughout Utah and Idaho, including the Salt Lake City street car system between 1906 and 1914.

By 1907, Bancroft was the man in charge for all of E. H. Harriman's interests throughout the West, except Southern Pacific in Oregon, California and the Southwest. This included all Harriman lines in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon (except SP lines), and Washington. Bancroft remained as the head of OSL and all of its interests until his death in 1915.

The following comes from the Salt Lake Tribune, July 14, 1907:

W. H. Bancroft's Railroad Career

William H. Bancroft, Vice-President and General Manager Oregon Short Line.

No man stands out more prominently in Western railroad affairs than William H. Bancroft, vice-president and general manager of the Oregon Short Line. With over 2600 miles of one of the most perfectly organized railroad systems in the world under his direct. control, and large directing interests in other lines, Mr. Bancroft is essentially a man of large affairs.

Mr. Bancroft's success is the result of a lifetime of application. Born at Newberg, O., October 20, 1840, he entered railroad service as telegraph operator and ticket clerk with the Michigan Southern railway before he attained his sixteenth year. From May, 1861, to 1869 he was division operator, clerk and dispatcher of the Erie railroad. In the latter year he entered the service of the Kansas Pacific railroad and was successively dispatcher, superintendent's clerk and train dispatcher. It was in October, 1872, that he first assumed executive control when he be came assistant-superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka. & Santa Fe, which position he held until April, 1875, when he assumed the superintendency of the St. Louis, Lawrence & Western railroad. Then for two years he was chief dispatcher for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas.

It was in April, 1878, that Mr. Bancroft came West and associated himself with the Denver & Rio Grande. From '78 to '86 he was superintendent of various divisions of that road, having his headquarters at Salt Lake for a period of that time. For nearly two rears he was receiver of the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and after the adjustment of affairs, from July 29, 1886, to July 1, 1890, he was general superintendent of that road.

In January, 1890, Mr. Bancroft gave his services to the Union Pacific, becoming general superintendent of the Mountain division, with his headquarters principally at Salt Lake City. This position he held until 1897. After the reorganization of Union Pacific affairs by E. H. Harriman, Mr. Bancroft, in March, '97, was named as vice-president and general manager of the Oregon Short Line, which position he now holds. But from January 15 to April, 1904, be was general manager of the Union Pacific railroad and from November, 1904, to February, 1905, he also acted as general manager of the Southern Pacific company. Since his assumption of the direction of Oregon Short Line affairs that system has been greatly enlarged until it now embraces Union Pacific lines west of Green River, Wyoming; Southern Pacific lines east of Sparks, Nevada; all the lines north to Huntington, Ore , and all the branches.

When the San Pedro railroad was organized Mr. Bancroft's wide experience again was recognized and he was named as first vice-president, which position he still retains.

The purchase of the railroad system and power plants of the Utah Light and Railway company by E. H. Harriman in the fall of last year placed additional responsibility upon Mr. Bancroft, and more closely identified him with the material interests of Salt Lake City, as he was the natural selection for the presidency of that organization, with its multiplicity of interests; and he now has before him the creation of a lucrative interurban system.

With so many duties and responsibilities devolving upon him. President Bancroft is indeed a man of large affairs, and affability and courtesy characterize his every act.

The "Bancroft school" has become an axiom in the railroad world. Some of the most prominent and successful railroad men in the country have emerged from Mr. Bancroft's training, hence the application of the phrase.


October 20, 1840
W. H. Bancroft was born in Newberg, Ohio.

Bancroft pursued his railroad career, starting as a telegraph operator, and attaining the position as chief dispatcher for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad.

April 1878
W. H. Bancroft began his career with Denver & Rio Grande Western, serving as superintendent of various divisions of the railroad.

October 27, 1883
"New Superintendent Appointed" on the D.& R.G. Western; Henry Wood has resigned, and W. H. Bancroft takes his place. (Salt Lake Evening Chronicle, October 27, 1883)

March 1884
W. H. Bancroft was Superintendent of D&RGW, when D&RG president Lovejoy tried to replace Dodge as General Superintendent of D&RGW. Palmer wouldn't allow it. (Athearn, page 137)

April 5, 1884
"D. & R. G." "Colonel D. C. Dodge Issues a New Order to the Officials and Employees of the Company." The order included the following: "Mr. W. H. Bancroft, with headquarters at Salt Lake City, is continued in office as Superintendent of the lines of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railway Company in Utah, under the authority of the undersigned; and all subordinate officers, agents and employees will report to him." (Salt Lake Evening Chronicle, April 5, 1884)

August 12, 1884
D&RGW was placed into receivership, with W. H. Bancroft appointed receiver. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, August 13, 1884; Rebel page 147)

August 13, 1884
Two columns on 'Receiver Bancroft', appointed yesterday. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, August 13, 1884)

July 30, 1886
Receiver Bancroft of the D&RGW was discharged by the Court yesterday, and the railway turned over to the company; Bancroft will now be superintendent. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, July 30, 1886)

January (or July) 1890
W. H. Bancroft began his career with Union Pacific, as general superintendent of the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern, known as the "Mountain division," with his headquarters principally at Salt Lake City.

OSL&UN was organized in July 1889, and took possession of the properties of the predecessor companies August 19, 1889.

June 1895
W. H. Bancroft of Salt Lake City was appointed as receiver of the Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern railroad, along with John M. Egan of St. Paul, Minnesota. (Evening Dispatch [Provo], June 11, 1895)

March 1897
W. H. Bancroft was named as vice-president and general manager of the Oregon Short Line.

OSL was incorporated in February 1897, and took possession of bankrupt Oregon Short Line & Utah Northern Railway on March 16, 1897.

February 1902
W. H. Bancroft announced plans to build a new home on South Temple Street, between Twelfth and Thirteenth East streets. The news item included an illustration of the planned home's front. (Salt Lake herald, February 10, 1902)

April 15, 1904
W. H. Bancroft was appointed vice president and general manager of the Union Pacific system. At the same board of directors meeting in New York, E. H. Harriman was appointed as president of Union Pacific, against his wishes. harriman accepted the position with the stipulation that it would only be for one year. (Deseret News, April 16, 1904, "yesterday")

November 4, 1904
W. H. Bancroft was appointed as temporary vice president and general manager of Southern Pacific, replacing C. H. Markham, who had recently resigned. (Deseret News, November 4, 1904, "this morning")

March 2, 1905
W. H. Bancroft was appoint as first vice president of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake railroad, with W. A. Clark of New York as president. J. Ross Clark of Los Angeles was appointed as second vice president. (Deseret News, March 2, 1905, "this afternoon")

October 25, 1905
W. H. Bancroft was shown as president and director of the Union Pacific Equipment Association when it was filed as a corporation in Utah. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 26, 1905, "Wednesday")

October 1906
W. H. Bancroft was named president of Utah Light & Railway after E. H. Harriman purchased the company on October 6, 1906. Management and operation was to be turned over to the Oregon Short Line Railroad, with the same directors and officers. Harriman was reported to having purchased three-fifths of the stock of Utah Light & Railway Company, most of which came from the LDS church. (Inter-Mountain Republican, October 28, 1906, "yesterday")

Utah Light & Railway Company was organized in January 1904 as a consolidation of Utah Power & Light Company, and Consolidated Railway & Power Company, the two largest street car companies in Salt Lake City.

March 18, 1911
A steamship named after William H. Bancroft was launched in Seattle at the Eagle Harbor shipyards. The ship was to be operated in the Alaska fisheries by the Northwestern Fisheries company. J. H. Young was president of Northwestern Fisheries company, as well as Alaska Steamship company. "The vessel is named for Vice President William H. Bancroft of the Oregon Short Line, who has for years been a very warm friend of president Young of these companies." (Salt Lake Tribune, March 19, 1911)

January 4, 1913
W. H. Bancroft's wife Mary, passed away in their home after a severe illness of less than two days. Their home was located at 1207 E. South Temple. Her maiden name was Mary I. Baird, and she was born on June 18, 1848 at Port Jervis, New York. The Bancrofts came to Salt Lake City about "twenty-five years ago." The Bancroft's had two adopted children, Adelaide V., and Marie A., both nieces of Mrs. Bancroft. Mr. Bancroft is shown as the vice president and general manager of OSL, and president of Utah Light & Railway, the street car system in Salt Lake City. (Salt Lake Herald, January 5, 1913, "yesterday afternoon") The Bancrofts were married while Mr. Bancroft was a telegraph operator for the Erie railroad in the East. (Salt Lake Tribune, January 5, 1913)

January 22, 1914
W. H. Bancroft resigned as general manager of Oregon Short Line railroad. Bancroft was to be replaced by E. E. Calvin, currently the vice president in charge of construction and operation of Southern Pacific, effective February 1, 1914. Bancroft would retain his position as vice president of OSL, along with his position as first vice president of the Salt Lake Route, and president of Utah Light and Railway. Reported as being 74 years of age, a year previously, Bancroft had expressed a wish to curtail his work and duties. (Salt Lake Tribune, January 23, 1914)

"The history of the lives of both Mr. Bancroft, the retiring general manager of the Oregon Short Line, and of E E. Calvin, incoming head of the road, shows that both men have attained their high positions by working up from the ranks Mr. Bancroft entered the railroad game as telegraph operator and ticket clerk in 1856. Mr. Calvin began his career in 1871, also as a telegraph operator.

"Mr. Bancroft was employed first as a telegraph operator and ticket clerk for the Michigan Southern railway. Later he became an operator and dispatcher. In 1878 he was appointed superintendent of the Denver & Rio Grande and was appointed receiver of the road in 1884. Later, when the finances of that road were adjusted. he entered the employ of the Union Pacific in 1890. He was put in charge of the mountain division of the Union Pacific, with the title of general superintendent of lines west of Chicago. That was seven years before the Oregon Short Line was divorced from the Union Pacific.

"Previous to his going with the Denver & Rio Grande he had been superintendent, chief clerk and train dispatcher for the Kansas Pacific, assistant superintendent of the Santa Fe route, chief dispatcher of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas and superintendent of the St. Louis, Lawrence & Western Railroad company.

"Mr. Calvin was born October 16, 1858, in Indianapolis, Ind. He began railroading in 1873 and for two years was telegraph operator for the Indianapolis. Cincinnati & Lafayette railway. He then went back to school for a year. From April, 1877, to March, 1882, he was telegraph operator and station agent for the Union Pacific. From then until June 1, 1887, he held the positions of train dispatcher conductor and trainmaster. June 1, 1887, he was made division superintendent of the Missouri Pacific. On February 22, 1891, he took charge as superintendent of the Idaho division of the Oregon Short Line, remaining in that capacity until 1895. He became general superintendent, of the International Great Northern, with headquarters at Tyler, Texas, until March 16, 1897, when he was called to the general superintendency of the Oregon Short Line, with headquarters in Salt Lake.

"From May 15, 1903, until April 1, 1904, he was assistant general manager of the Oregon Short Line, the same position now held by F. H. Knickerbocker. He was sent to Portland in 1904 to take charge Of the Oregon Railroad & Navigation company as vice president and general manager of the road. Until July 15, 1912, he was general manager of the Southern Pacific company, with headquarters in San Francisco. He was then made vice president in general charge of construction and operation, the position he will leave to accept the general managership of the Oregon Short Line."

January 1914
W. H. Bancroft, who was 73 years old at the time, resigned his position as general manager of Oregon Short Line, but retained his positions as vice president of OSL, president of UL&Ry, and vice president of SPLA&SL. (Electric Railway Journal, February 7, 1914, page 338)

Bancroft's position as president of Utah Light & Railway ended when that company was sold in October 1914.

In October 1914, the Harriman system (UP and OSL) sold its interests in Utah Light & Railway company, to a group of eastern capitalists under the name of Electric Bond and Share company, which then organized the Utah Light & Traction company; the new company took possession of the property on September 18, 1914 [date conflict noted].

April 21, 1915
W. H. Bancroft suffered a stroke of apoplexy at his home in Salt Lake City, while taking his morning bath, and had been unconscious ever since. Just three weeks before, he had returned from an extended stay in southern California. (Ogden Standard, April 22, 1915) He did not regain consciousness prior to his death. Bancroft's full name was William Hazard Bancroft. (Ogden Standard, April 23, 1915)

April 22, 1915
W. H. Bancroft died in his home in Salt Lake City. At the time of his death, he was first vice president of the Salt Lake Route, and vice president and general manager of Oregon Short Line. His estate consisted of solely of personal property valued at $30,000, and was left entirely to his two adopted daughters to "share and share alike, as they see fit." (Logan Republican, April 24, 1915, "Thursday"; Salt Lake Herald, May 11, 1915) Bancroft was a thirty-third degree Mason. (Salt Lake Tribune, October 19, 1904)

Born on October 20, 1840, W. H. Bancroft was 74 years old at the time of his death.

Parley L. Williams spoke at Bancroft's memorial service on April 25, 1915, held in the Transportation Club building. Williams said that he and Bancroft had been associates for thirty years, and that "Mr. Bancroft put the Oregon Short Line properties on their feet." (Salt Lake Telegram, April 26, 1915)