Yerkes, Charles T.

Yerkes, Charles T. (Tyson)

(1837–1905) railway financier; born in Philadelphia. He opened his own brokerage firm and joined the stock exchange (1859), started his own banking house (1862), and by 1866 had established his brilliance in municipal finance. When a financial "panic" followed the Chicago fire of 1871, Yerkes was caught short as Philadelphia's bond salesman and imprisoned for "technical embezzlement," a two-year sentence of which he served seven months and was pardoned. He recouped his losses, but his reputation in Philadelphia society never recovered. In 1881 he divorced, remarried, and moved to Chicago (1882). There he engineered the construction of the Downtown Union Loop, replacing the old horse-drawn lines with modern rail transportation; but his methods of financing were so corrupt that Illinois took steps to establish municipal, not private, ownership of street railways. Politically and socially ostracized for his "rapacity," he left Chicago in 1899. In 1900 he went to London where he headed the syndicate that built the subway. His main philanthropy was an observatory given to the University of Chicago (1892). Theodore Dreiser's "Cowperwood trilogy"—The Financier (1912), The Titan (1914), and The Stoic (1947)—was based on the life of Yerkes.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.