Cornell, Ezra

Cornell, Ezra

Cornell, Ezra, 1807–74, American financier and founder of Cornell Univ., b. Westchester Landing, N.Y. Cornell, who began life as a laborer, was of an ingenious mechanical bent and had a shrewd business mind. He aided in constructing (1844) the telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., over which Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first test message. Having devised the method of stringing wires on poles, he entered into line construction in the East and the Midwest. He was founder, director, and for a time the largest stockholder of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which was formed in 1855 to end cutthroat competition in the field. His interest in agricultural education led to his association in the New York senate with Andrew Dickson White, and together they mapped and secured legislation for founding (1865) Cornell, with a charter embracing many of Cornell's ideas. He made many gifts to the university, including an initial $500,000, and was responsible for the successful financial returns on the university's federal land grant.

Bibliography

See biographies by his son, Alonzo Cornell (1884), and P. Dorf (1952, abr. ed. 1965).

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Cornell, Ezra

(1807–74) capitalist, philanthropist; born at Westchester Landing, N.Y. Originally a carpenter and millwright, he developed a way to insulate telegraph wires attached to wooden poles, then directed the installation of the first telegraph line, from Washington to Baltimore (1844). He joined with other businessmen to form the Western Union Telegraph Company (1855). He built the public library in Ithaca, N.Y., established a model farm, and gave $500,000 for the creation of Cornell University (opened in 1868).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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