Louis McLane began his public career in 1817 when he won election to the House of Representatives. As a reward for his support of Andrew Jackson's successful presidential bid of 1828, he was appointed minister to Great Britain. Two years later, he became Jackson's secretary of the treasury, and he later served as Jackson's secretary of state. After retiring to private life in 1834, he became president of the Morris Canal & Banking Company of New Jersey, and his success in revitalizing that enterprise's sagging fortunes led to the B&O Railroad's decision to make him its second president in 1836.
A B&O employee who came to know McLane well during his twelve-year tenure found him "not a pleasant person" and "at times uncertain." On the whole, however, he proved good for the railroad, and under his leadership the B&O was transformed from a financially troubled operation to a thriving one. Among the most noteworthy advances that McLane oversaw was the completion of track from Harpers Ferry to Cumberland, Maryland, where it made an important linkup with the National Road that went westward into the country's interior.
Charles Bird King (1785-1857)
Oil on canvas, circa 1820
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Robert Milligan McLane