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Samuel Spencer.

Samuel Spencer (March 2, 1847 – November 26, 1906) was an American civil engineer, businessman, and railroad executive. With an education interrupted by service in the Confederate cavalry late in the American Civil War, he completed his education at the University of Georgia and the University of Virginia.

Spencer spent his career with railroads, rising through the ranks during the busy growth years of American railroading in the late 19th century. He eventually became president of six railroads, and was a director of at least ten railroads and several banks and other companies.

Although his career was cut short when he was killed in a train wreck in Virginia in 1906, Samuel Spencer is best remembered as the Father of the Southern Railway System. Spencer, North Carolina, site of the North Carolina Transportation Museum, was named in his honor.


In 1869, he began working with railroads as a surveyor, and rose through the ranks, learning many aspects of railroad management. He became superintendent of the Long Island Rail Road in 1878[1][2] and headed the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1887–1888).

In 1889, Spencer left the presidency of the B&O to become a railroad expert working for financier J.P. Morgan of Drexel, Morgan and Company. According to the New York Times, "there was no man in the country so thoroughly qualified on every detail of a railroad from the cost of a car brake to the estimate for a new terminal as Samuel Spencer." [3]

When the bankrupt Richmond and Danville Railroad (R&D) was acquired by Drexel, Morgan and Company in 1894, the new Southern Railway was formed by the financiers from a consolidation of the R&D and the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad.

Tapped to lead the new railroad for Morgan, Spencer became its first president. Under his leadership, the mileage of the Southern Railway doubled, the number of passengers served annually increased to nearly 12 million, and annual earnings increased from $17 million to $54 million. After his death, the Southern grew to became one of the strongest and most profitable in the United States, merging with the also strong and profitable Norfolk and Western Railway in the 1980s to form Norfolk Southern, a Fortune 500 company.

Death in railroad collision[]

Samuel Spencer's career was cut short when he was killed at the age of 59 in a train collision in Virginia on November 26, 1906. According to Southern Railway: Green Light to Innovation, Spencer and some companions were sleeping in car parked on a siding while on a hunting trip in Virginia south of Lynchburg. The parked car was struck by a train which was on the wrong track.


Spencer is credited with leading the Southern Railway and the South during a period of unprecedented growth. After his untimely death, 30,000 Southern Railway employees contributed to pay for a bronze statue of him by sculptor Daniel Chester French, which was dedicated in 1910 and stood for many years at Atlanta's Terminal Station. The statue is currently located in front of the Norfolk Southern Corporation building at 1200 Peachtree Street in midtown Atlanta.

The Southern Railway's Spencer Shops and the town of Spencer, North Carolina were named in his honor. In 1977, the closed Spencer Shops formed the basis of the new North Carolina Transportation Museum.

Additional reading[]

  • Southern Railway's Spencer Shops 1896-1996 by Duane Galloway and Jim Wrinn, TLC Publishing Inc


External links[]

President of Southern Railway
1894 – 1906
Succeeded by
William W. Finley