William Butler Ogden 18051877

Alexander Hesler (18231895)
Albumenized salted-paper print, c. 1857

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


Seated at the center in this group portrait is William Butler Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago and later the first president of the Union Pacific Railroad. Arriving in Chicago in 1835, Ogden was skeptical about the new town’s future. Yet he soon came to believe that Chicago was well situated to grow into the industrial and transportation hub of the Midwest. Achieving this goal required significant investment in the regional infrastructure, and Ogden was aggressive in helping to build roads, railways, canals, and bridges.

Having made a fortune in real estate, he invested in various new businesses and inventions, including Cyrus McCormick’s reaper—a piece of machinery that would revolutionize agricultural production in the Midwest and on the plains. Given his experience with railroads, his political connections, and his enthusiasm for a transcontinental line, Ogden was named the first head of the Union Pacific after its incorporation in 1862.