Image: a sculpture at Nantes of “Young Jules” (2005) by Élisabeth Cibot (the young Jules Verne looking out across the port and the Loire river that inspired his later writings).
“George Francis Train (March 24, 1829 – January 5, 1904) was an American entrepreneur who organized the clipper ship line that sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco; he also organized the Union Pacific Railroad and the Credit Mobilier in the United States in 1864 to construct the eastern portion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and a horse tramway company in England while there during the American Civil War.
Train married Wilhelmina Wilkinson Davis in 1851, with whom he had four children, including daughter Susan M. Train Gulager.
In 1870 Train made the first of three widely publicized trips around the globe. He believed that a report of his first journey in a French periodical inspired Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days; protagonist Phileas Fogg may have been modeled on him.
In 1872, he ran for president of the United States as an independent candidate. That year, he was jailed on obscenity charges while defending eugenicist and suffragist Victoria Woodhull against charges regarding an article her newspaper had published on an alleged adulterous affair. Despite business successes in early life, he was known as an increasingly eccentric figure in American and Australian history.
In 1860 he went to England to found horse tramway companies in Birkenhead and London, where he soon met opposition. He was also involved in the construction of a short-lived horse tramway in Cork, Ireland. Although his trams were popular with passengers, his designs had rails that stood above the road surface and obstructed other traffic. In 1861 Train was arrested and tried for “breaking and injuring” Uxbridge Road in London. He tried again with the Darlington Street Railroad Company in 1862, but it too was short-lived, closing in 1865.
As he aged, Train became seemingly more eccentric. In 1873, he was arrested and threatened with institionalization in an insane asylum.
He stood for the position of dictator of the United States, charged admission fees to campaign rallies, and drew record crowds. He became a vegetarian and adopted various fads. Instead of shaking hands with other people, he shook hands with himself, a manner of greeting he claimed to have seen in China. He spent his final days on park benches in New York City’s Madison Square Park, handing out dimes and refusing to speak to anyone but children and animals.
In 1890, Nellie Bly traveled around the world in 72 days, instigating Train to do a second circumnavigation of the earth in the same year. He completed the trip from Tacoma, Washington and back in 67 days 12 hours and 1 minute, a world record at the time. A plaque in Tacoma commemorates the location where the 1890 trip began and ended. Train was accompanied on many of his travels by George Pickering Bemis, his cousin and private secretary. Bemis later was elected as mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.
In 1892, the town of Whatcom, Washington offered to finance yet another trip around the world in order to publicize itself. Train finished this trip in a record 60 days.
He became ill with smallpox while visiting his daughter Susan M. Train Gulager in Stamford, Connecticut in 1903.
On January 5, 1904, Train died of heart failure in New York. At the time of his death, he was living in a cheap lodging house named the Mills Hotel. He was buried at a small private ceremony at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. After his death The Thirteen Club, of which he was a member, passed a resolution that he was one of the few sane men in “a mad, mad world.” “.