Grieving parents were sitting beside their dying son’s bed waiting for the inevitable end. The man had fallen into a fitful sleep. He awoke and gazed down at his boy’s lifeless form. Fighting back tears, he said to his wife: "The children of California shall be our children."
The man was Leland Stanford, one of the "Big 4" who built California’s Central Pacific Railroad into the western end of the first U. S. transcontinental railroad line. In the process, he became a millionaire several times over.
Stanford and his wife Jane made a decision to donate millions of dollars in memory of their son who died just short of his 16th birthday. In 1884, they founded and endowed the Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly called "Stanford University." Its doors were opened in 1891. Since then, Stanford has "helped thousands of graduates build successful and meaningful lives" and is regarded as "one of our country’s outstanding educational institutions, " ... an American treasure."
Leland Stanford Sr. was an attorney, a mercantile businessman, and a Republican politician who was elected governor of California in 1861. After his term was completed, he devoted all his energies to the railroad business, serving as president of the Central Pacific until he died in 1893. Under his leadership, track was built from Sacramento, California east through the high mountains to join up with the Union Pacific which had been building its tracks west from Omaha, Nebraska. The two companies’ tracks were finally connected at Promontory Point, Utah on April 10, 1869, as Stanford himself hammered a spike of gold into the final tie, uniting the nation by rail.
Stanford was never hesitant to use his " ... political influence ... (to) insure this privately funded project had all the advantages of public funding."
Stanford and his wife had one son, Leland Jr. He enjoyed playing at their Palo Alto ranch, especially spending time with his miniature railroad and the 400 feet of track in the arboretum adjoining the country home. He also kept dogs and horses and had a considerable knowledge of farm machinery. He was tall, about 5 feet 10 inches (taller than his father), studious, and spoke French fluently. During time spent in Europe, he developed a passion for collecting art and studying archaeology.
In 1884, while the family was vacationing in Italy, Leland Jr. (age 15) came down with typhoid fever. He died at the Hotel Bristol in Florence on March 13, but he lives on through the memorial established by his parents.
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