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William Butler Ogden (June 15, 1805 – August 3, 1877) was the first Mayor of Chicagomarker.

Ogden was born in Walton, New Yorkmarker. When still a teenager, his father died and Ogden took over the family real estate business. He assisted Charles Butler, his brother-in-law, with business matters related to opening a new building for New York Universitymarker, attending the law school for a brief period himself. In 1834, he was elected to the New York state legislature, where he helped build the Erie Canal.

In Chicago

In 1835, Ogden traveled to Chicago to look over land bought by his brother-in-law, Charles Butler, for $100,000. Ogden informed Butler that he had "been guilty of the grossest folly. There is no such value in the land and won't be for a generation." Despite that, Ogden recovered the $100,000 by selling off one-third of the property that Butler had purchased. This experience helped change his impression of the city.

During his term as Chicago's first mayor, 1837–1838, the land rush that had brought him to the Midwest collapsed, but Ogden managed to help the city weather the storm by pledging personal funds and arranging for the city council to issue unsecured scrip.

Ogden designed the first swing bridge over the Chicago Rivermarker and donated the land for Rush Medical Center.

Ogden was a leading promoter and investor in the Illinois and Michigan Canalmarker, then switched his loyalty to railroads. Throughout his later life, Ogden was heavily involved in the building several railroads. "In 1847, Ogden announced a plan to build a railway out of Chicago, but no capital was forthcoming. Eastern investors were wary of Chicago's reputation for irrational boosterism, and Chicagoans did not want to divert traffic from their profitable canal works. So Ogden and his partner J. Young Scammon solicited subscriptions from the farmers and small businessmen whose land lay adjacent to the proposed rail. Farmer's wives used the money they earned from selling eggs to buy shares of stock on a monthly payment plan. By 1848, Ogden and Scammon had raised $350,000—enough to begin laying track. The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was profitable from the start and eventually extended out to Wisconsin, bringing grain from the Great Plains into the city. As president of Union Pacific, Ogden extended the reach of Chicago's rail lines to the West coast."

In 1853, the Chicago Land Company, of which Ogden was a trustee, purchased land at a bend in the Chicago Rivermarker and began to cut a channel, formally known as North Branch Canal, but also referred to as Ogden's Canal. The resulting island is now known as Goose Islandmarker.


Later he served on the board of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad and lobbied with many others for congressional approval and funding of the transcontinental railroad. After the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act, Ogden was named as the first president of the Union Pacific Railroad. Ogden was a good choice for the first president, but his railroad experience was most likely not the primary reason he was chosen; Ogden was a clever man who had many political connections. When Ogden came to lead the Union Pacific, the railroad wasn't fully funded and hadn't yet laid a single mile of track—the railroad existed largely on paper created by an act of Congress. As part of the 1862 Pacific Railroad Act, Congress named several existing railroad companies to complete portions of the project. Several key areas needed to link the East (Chicago) to the West had none, and hence the Union Pacific was formed by Congress. Ogden was a fierce supporter of the transcontinental railroad at a time of great unrest for the country and was quoted as saying

This project must be carried through by even-handed wise consideration and a patriotic course of policy which shall inspire capitalist of the country with confidence. Speculation is as fatal to it as secession is to the Union. Whoever speculates will damn this project.

As history now shows, eventually Ogden and many others got their wish. Several railroads later, Ogden Flats, Utahmarker, where the Golden Spike was driven, was named for him.

On October 8, 1871, Ogden lost most of his prized possessions in the Great Chicago Fire. He also owned a lumber company in Peshtigo, Wisconsinmarker, which burned the same day.

In 1860, Ogden switched his loyalty to the Republican Party, which shared his views regarding slavery, although he left the party over a dispute with Abraham Lincoln. Ogden felt that the Emancipation Proclamation was premature. Following his defection from the Republican party, Ogden retired from politics and moved back to his native New York.

Namesakes of William B. Ogden include a stretch of U.S. Highway 34, called Ogden Avenue in Chicago and its suburbs; Ogden Elementary School, on Walton Place in Chicago; and Ogden Slip, a man-made harbor near the mouth of the Chicago Rivermarker.


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