When the railway mileage of the country is in the control of ten men, will those ten men be found willing to yield their personal preferences and interests to the general good enough and often enough to maintain unity of purpose? Or will personal ambitions, jealousies, annoyances over outside matters, or other complications disintegrate community of ownership until instead of harmony, railway wars break out between great systems instead of between local roads?
—Wall Street Journal, April 5, 1901
One requirement for those who aspire to greatness is the ability to think the unthinkable, conceive plans so audacious that no one suspects they are even being considered, and then execute them fearlessly. During the frantic spring of 1901, as the Burlington slipped into Hill's hands, Harriman jumped to a response that seemed as logical to him as it did fantastic to others: if he could not buy the Burlington directly, he would get it by buying one of the buyers.
The Great Northern was out of the question; Hill and his friends clutched it too tightly. The Northern Pacific had outstanding $80 million in common and $75 million in preferred stock. Hill and Morgan controlled only about $35 or $40 million of this in the belief that no one was demented enough to go after a $155 million railroad in the open market. The flaw in this reasoning was that it underestimated Harriman, who had both the resources and the nerve for such a campaign. He still had $60 million of the $100 million convertible bonds issued to buy the Southern Pacific. More important, he also had Schiff and Stillman behind him. 1
Shortly after his fruitless appeal to Bacon early in April, Schiff started buying Northern Pacific stock. Ordinarily large purchases attracted attention, but the market had been seized by one of its periodic feeding frenzies. There were large transactions in Milwaukee stock, fueling rumors that the Union Pacific was buying the road, and in Union Pacific itself, sparking rumors that Hill or the Vanderbilts would soon own it. This activity camouflaged Schiff's buying. By late April he had picked up $25 million of preferred and $27 million of common. Harriman sent him back for more, but Schiff could find little on a fast-rising market. 2
These large transactions aroused no suspicion. Morgan had boarded the