May 27, 1874: Death of the namesake of Thomson Township

On this day in 1874, the man for whom Thomson Township takes its name—J. Edgar Thomson—died in Philadelphia. Thomson was an industrialist best known as the “Father” of the Pennsylvania Railroad. During his 22-year reign as the railroad’s president, the Pennsylvania grew from 250 miles to more than 6,000, and stretched from New York and Baltimore to Chicago and St. Louis. According to the book Esko’s Corner, Thomson was born on February 10, 1808, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, he had little formal schooling but learned engineering principles and surveying from his father, a civil engineer. Thomson was just 19 when he got his start by helping to survey and lay out a new line near Philadelphia in 1827. By the time he was 26, he was chief engineer of the new Georgia Railroad. Thomson became president of the Pennsylvania in 1852. With Jay Cooke and others, he invested heavily in the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, completed in 1870. In 1871 Thomson and his associates took control of the Union Pacific and in 1872 they controlled the Union Pacific and five other rail systems—the world’s largest conglomerate. Thomson’s empire began to crumble with the Financial Panic of 1873, as did Thomson’s health. While the Pennsylvania Railroad was able to avoid bankruptcy, Thomson had a series of heart attacks that lead to his death. The following year, his protégé, Andrew Carnegie opened his first steel mill in 1875 near Pittsburgh; he named it the Edgar Thomson Steel Works.

J. Edgar Thomson. (Image: Esko Historical Society)