Thomson, J. Edgar

Thomson, J. (John) Edgar

(1808–74) engineer, railroad president; born in Springfield Township, Pa. He learned engineering from his father, started with the Pennsylvania Engineer Corps, and by 1830 was in charge of an engineering division. After studying advanced transportation in Europe, he became chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad (1832). In 1847 he joined the newly incorporated Pennsylvania Railroad to locate the tracks through the Allegheny Mountains, a feat that opened a route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh by 1854. President of the railroad (1852–74), he bought the state's system of canals and rails (1857) and acquired other railroads that extended the Pennsylvania Railroad to Chicago. He was also instrumental in the creation of the American Steamship Company (1870). Active in Philadelphia civic affairs, he established a foundation, supported by his estate, called the St. John's Orphanage to educate and maintain the daughters of railroad men killed while on duty.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.