Invisible Giants: The Empires of Cleveland's Van Sweringen Brothers

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Indiana University Press, Feb 7, 2003 - Transportation - 360 pages
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Invisible Giants is the Horatio Alger-esque tale of a pair of reclusive Cleveland brothers, Oris Paxton and Mantis James Van Sweringen, who rose from poverty to become two of the most powerful men in America. They controlled the country's largest railroad system -- a network of track reaching from the Atlantic to Salt Lake City and from Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico. On the eve of the Great Depression they were close to controlling the country's first coast-to-coast rail system -- a goal that still eludes us. They created the model upper-class suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, with its unique rapid transit access. They built Cleveland's landmark Terminal Tower and its innovative "city within a city" complex. Indisputably, they created modern Cleveland.

Yet beyond a small, closely knit circle, the bachelor Van Sweringen brothers were enigmas. Their actions were aggressive, creative, and bold, but their manner was modest, mild, and retiring. Dismissed by many as mere shoestring financial manipulators, they created enduring works, which remain strong today. The Van Sweringen story begins in early-20th-century Cleveland suburban real estate and reaches its zenith in the heady late 1920s, amid the turmoil of national transportation power politics and unprecedented empire-building. As the Great Depression destroyed many of their fellow financiers, the "Vans" survived through imaginative stubbornness -- until tragedy ended their careers almost simultaneously. Invisible Giants is the first comprehensive biography of these two remarkable if mysterious men.

 

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User Review  - KarenIrelandPhillips - LibraryThing

Mr. Harwood takes a very interesting subject - the lives of the Van Sweringen brothers - and makes it dry as dust. One coan see the bones of a good story, but it never made it. That it's non-fiction is absolutely no excuse. Read full review

Contents

2 The Ideal Suburb
11
3 Mr Smith Sells a Farm
27
4 Mr Smith Sells a Railroad
36
5 Shaping Solid Forms
48
6 A Difficult Birth at the Public Square
58
7 The Beginnings of an Empire
71
8 To the South East and North
85
1924
100
Consummation in Clevelandand a Jolt
188
17 Completions and Complications
200
1930
217
19 Sudden Darkness
234
20 The Rails Roll Downgrade
246
21 A New World
255
22 The Cruelest Year
269
23 The Last Train
281

10 Some Shadows Fleet By
114
11 Building Rebuilding and Juggling
125
The Maverick and the General
141
The Street Fighter
151
An Appalachian Peak in the Rockies
161
Filling Out the Railroad Map
174
New Empires from Old
292
The Ghosts
305
Notes
313
Sources and Acknowledgments
333
Index
337
Copyright

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References to this book

Shaker Heights
Bruce T. Marshall
Limited preview - 2006

About the author (2003)

Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., has concurrently been a railroad historian, writer, photographer, and working railroader. A history graduate of Princeton University, he received his MBA from Columbia University and then spent 30 years in various management positions at the Chesapeake & Ohio and Baltimore & Ohio and their successor, CSX Transportation. He has written 11 books on railroad and electric railway history.

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