Arthur Stilwell Biography
Arthur E. Stilwell built more than 2300 miles of new railroad in his lifetime, adding more than a billion dollars to the economy of the southwest.
Arthur Edward Stilwell, was the son of Charles H. and Mary Augusta (Pierson) Stilwell, of English Descent. Charles and Mary were very prominent citizens. Charles had been a medical doctor but gave up his practice to enter the jewelry business. His grandfather was Hamblin Stilwell, one of the builders of the Erie Canal. Hamblin also helped build the New York Central Railroad. Arthur was born October 21, 1859, in Rochester, New York. Arthur was a sickly child and due to poor health did not attentd school beyond the fourth grade.
At fourteen young arthur left home and persuaded one of his family's former Rochester neighbors, George Darling, to employ him as a Billiard Room Cashier in St. Louis. His first salary would be sixty dollars per month. He soon left there and gained employment at Bradstreet's Commercial Agency as head of their mailing department. From there he moved to New York City to be a floor walker in a novelty store.
Three months later, his mother asked him to return home. His father had made a bad business venture and the family had been forced to sell their house and move to an apartment. Arthur had been left four hundred dollars by his grandfather, and with his father's permission he bought a printing plant in Smith's Arcade. He sold by day and learned the printing trade by night. He soon became successful.
Arthur held many jobs over the years but he was primarly a promoter and a salesman. His various jobs sent him to many locations. While working for Seaboard Airline Railroad, he got an annual pass to use the trains to Petersburg. There he met and married Jennie Wood on June 10, 1879 at Five Forks Courthouse in Virginia.
Stilwell then became a salesman for Travelers Insurance Companty of Hartford, Connecticut. While employed there he developed two new concepts in the insurance field, an annuity-coupon endowment-retirement income policy and a policy that combined life and accident insurance. Because the concepts were new, Arthur's manager was not at first receptive to the idea. When Arthur presented his idea to the president of the company his new plans were approved with the stipulation that Arthur receive fifty cents a thousand on all new policies, as long as he stayed with the company. This was a very successful venture and Arthur was promoted to agent of the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Arthur Stilwell left an extremely successful career with Travelers Insurance Company to form the Guardian Trust Co. This company built low cost homes and allowed the home owners to pay on the installment plan. After initial success with private homes the company quickly moved into industrial mortagage banking with similiar success.
Because of Arthur's success, the former mayor of Kansas City approached Stilwell to join his railroad building enterprise. Like his Grandfather before him, Arthur Stilwell had a love of railroads. Stilwell's first investment in railroad proved to be very profitable for his investors. He went on to build more than 2300 miles of new railroad in his lifetime, founding some forty cities, towns, and villages and adding more than a billion dollars to the economy of the southwest. He organized 41 companies of various kinds.
Although most of his backers became rich, Stilwell backed every endeavor with his own funds and never became lastingly rich.
Stilwell also found time to write and publish books and also wrote a hymn. He was a financier and a philanthropist. He believed in visions, spirits, voices and omens. He claimed that all of his writing was dictated to him by voices from the spiritual world. In his book, Live and Grow Young, he said, "All my life, even when a child, I have received messages from the spirit world and they have greatly influenced my life...I was warned by my nightly advisors not to make Galveston the terminal of the Kansas City Southern Road because that city was destined to be destroyed by a tidal wave, which prediction was fulfilled, tragically, four years later. Thereupon, I constructed the City of Port Arthur, Texas, and built the Port Arthur Ship Canal and harbor under the same guidance, not deviating from the plans revealed to me in any way."
Arthur Stilwell became an invalid as a result of a elevator accident in New York City. He died on September 26, 1928 at his home on West End Avenue after an illness of sixteen days. He was 68 years old. His remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered to the four winds according to his wishes. He left an estate of one thousand dollars.
Thirteen days later his widow Jennie, dressed in her finest clothes walked out of the window of their twelfth story Manhattan apartment. Her suicide note said that after 49 years she could not bear to be without her Arthur.