Image: Union Station, Chicago, 1941.
“Charles Tyson Yerkes Jr. was an American financier. He played a major part in developing mass-transit systems in Chicago and London.
Yerkes was born into a Quaker family in the Northern Liberties, a district adjacent to Philadelphia, on June 25, 1837.
In 1881 Yerkes traveled to Fargo in the Dakota Territory in order to obtain a divorce from his wife. Later that year, he remarried and moved to Chicago. There, he opened a stock and grain brokerage but soon became involved with planning the city’s public transportation system. In 1886, Yerkes and his business partners used a complex financial deal to take over the North Chicago Street Railway and then proceeded to follow this with a string of further take-overs until he controlled a majority of Chicago’s street railway systems on the north and west sides. Yerkes was not averse to using bribery and blackmail to obtain his ends.
In 1899, Yerkes sold the majority of his Chicago transport stocks and moved to New York.
In August 1900, Yerkes became involved in the development of the London underground railway system after riding along the route of one proposed line and surveying the city of London from the summit of Hampstead Heath. He established the Underground Electric Railways Company of London to take control of the District Railway and the partly built Baker Street and Waterloo Railway; Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway; and Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. Yerkes employed complex financial arrangements similar to those that he had used in America to raise the funds necessary to construct the new lines and electrify the District Railway (today known as the District line). In one of his last great triumphs, Yerkes managed to thwart an attempt by J. P. Morgan to enter the London underground railway field. Yerkes did not live to see his London tube lines in operation. The now Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines opened in 1906, a few months after his death, and the Charing Cross line (today part of the Northern line) the following summer.
Yerkes died in New York 1905, of kidney disease. The events of Yerkes’ life served as a blueprint for the Theodore Dreiser novels, The Financier, The Titan and The Stoic, in which Yerkes was fictionalized as Frank Cowperwood.
The crater Yerkes on the Moon is named in his honor.
Yerkes and his wife Mary were painted by his favorite artist Jan van Beers (National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.). A year after Yerkes’ death, his widow married playwright and raconteur Wilson Mizner.”