Seeking the Perfect Organization
E. H. Harriman and the Union Pacific represent the power of concentration in its highest phase. In the furthermost corners of the earth men are working for the benefit of Union Pacific and E. H. Harriman. The secret of it all is that the genius of Mr. Harriman has created a railroad system upon which more than its due portion of the traffic of the world must center. He has made the Union Pacific the main artery of
commerce across the continent and he is reaping the reward of his foresight.
—Wall Street Journal, December 11, 1905
The mighty Pennsylvania Railroad took immense pride in calling itself the standard railroad of the world, but its officers were never so arrogant as to believe that they had nothing more to learn. They were always on the lookout for new ideas and techniques and kept a close watch on what other roads did. In 1908 the Pennsylvania sent a two-man team to inspect the Union Pacific. Their report, based on careful observation, carried a weight of authority far beyond public tributes in newspapers and magazines. It was the opinion of experts, it was private, and it was glowing in its praise of what Harriman had done. 1
Such praise did not come easily to officers of eastern railroads, who tended to view western roads with an air of condescension if not disdain. But the Union Pacific possessed an organization the officers described as “departmental at the top and divisional at the bottom, there being a striking similarity between their organization and our own.” Harriman made it the blueprint for a new and daring vision of how a railroad should be run and the instrument for his obsessive effort to create the perfect machine.
Much of what Harriman accomplished was the brilliant execution of existing ideas. In the case of organization, however, he carved out an original path that many railroad managers rejected as foolhardy. Nor was he ever content with his organization. To keep abreast of what was going on, he sent officers to tour other roads as the Pennsylvania did. As an industry steeped (some would say trapped) in tradition, railroads were not noted for their receptivity to innovation. Harri-