Thomas C. Durant Biography

Thomas Clark Durant was an American investor and railroad executive who played a pivotal role in the creation of the first railway that spanned the western United States. Serving as vice president of the Union Pacific railroad, he was instrumental in connecting it with the Central Pacific railroad. Durant also set up the financial structure that led to the infamous Crédit Mobilier scandal. Originally from Massachusetts, he became a highly successful railroad promoter in the mid-west. Despite being forced to resign after the completion of the railroad, Durant continued to passionately advocate for its success.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Thomas Clark Durant
  • Died At Age: 65
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Hannah Heloise Trimble
    • Father: Thomas Durant
    • Mother: Sybil Durant
    • Siblings: Charles Wright Durant, William F. Durant
    • Children: Héloïse Durant Rose, William West Durant
  • Born Country: United States
  • Investors: American Men
  • Died on: October 5, 1885
  • Place of Death: Warren County
  • U.S. State: Massachusetts
  • More Facts:
    • Education: Albany Medical College

Childhood & Early Life

Thomas C. Durant was born on February 6, 1820, in Lee, Massachusetts, USA. His parents were Thomas Durant and Sybil Durant, and he had at least two brothers, Charles Wright Durant and William F. Durant. He attended Albany Medical College and graduated cum laude in 1840 with a medical degree. However, he soon quit the field of medicine and pursued other career opportunities.


After leaving medicine, Durant joined his uncle’s grain exporting company, Durant, Lathrop and Company, in New York City. He then entered the railroad industry and began his career as a broker for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. During this time, he met Henry Farnam, his future partner. Together, they established a contracting company called Farnam and Durant.

In 1853, Durant and Farnam obtained the commission to oversee the construction of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad (M&M) and obtained major land grants to construct Iowa’s first railroad. Durant also hired Abraham Lincoln as a private attorney to advocate for a wooden railroad bridge over the Mississippi River. This acquaintance with Lincoln would later prove beneficial for Durant when President Lincoln chose his Union Pacific to serve as the starting point of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

Durant gained a ruthless reputation and was known for manipulating friends and foes alike for his own advantage. He accumulated funds, obtained resources, and ensured the passage of favorable national legislation as the general agent for the UP Eastern Division. He also artificially raised the value of his M&M stock and made strategic stock purchases to connect the Transcontinental Railroad to his own rail line.

Durant’s most criminal activity was the establishment of Crédit Mobilier of America. In 1864, he and his partner George Francis Train purchased the Pennsylvania Fiscal Agency and renamed it Crédit Mobilier. The company supervised the UP’s construction contracts and Durant convinced Congress to increase the size of land grants for the railroad. He and his partners embezzled funds by increasing the cost of construction.

Durant’s career as a robber baron came to an end when he was dismissed from Crédit Mobilier in 1867 and sacked from the Union Pacific by President Ulysses S. Grant. He faced multiple lawsuits from partners and investors and lost a significant amount of his assets during the Panic of 1873. He later established a new railroad company, Adirondack Railroad, but continued to face legal troubles.

Family & Personal Life

Thomas C. Durant was married to Hannah Heloise Trimble and they had two children together. Their son, William West Durant, became an architect, and their daughter, Héloïse Durant Rose, was a poet, dramatist, and critic.

Death & Legacy

Thomas C. Durant passed away on October 5, 1885, in Warren County, New York, at the age of 65. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. In the AMC series ‘Hell on Wheels’, Durant is portrayed by actor Colm Meaney.

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