John Willard Young (JW) was the third son of Brigham Young and Mary Ann Angell. He was born October 1, 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois – the same year Joseph Smith was murdered in Carthage Illinois. From an early age he demonstrated preternatural capabilities for finance and promotion. These gifts, combined with a charismatic personality, would serve him well – until they did not.
The “Moon Shot” of the 19th century – the building of the first transcontinental railroad – captivated the nation – and JW in particular. He clearly grasped the transformational power of the iron horse in terms of time, distance, and business. He intended to leverage this new technology to the benefit of Zion and his own ambitions for power and wealth. Being considered the “favorite” son of Brigham Young offered other advantages as well.
These advantages became self-evident in 1868 when Brigham selected JW to manage the Mormon’s business interests with the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) at just 24 years old. UP contracted with Brigham Young to help construct the railroad from Echo to Ogden. His favored son was to recruit, organize, and supervise the Mormon construction crews.
By all measures, both JW and his laborers performed exceedingly well. Confirming his credibility on this assignment would serve him well – both within the Utah Territory and beyond. JW envisioned the iron rails binding the nation together as a conveyor belt to unleash the economic power of Utah.
His next assignment – construct a railroad from Salt Lake City to Ogden and its connection with the mighty UP. Financing this effort required capital beyond the resources available in the Salt Lake City area. Equipped with the proper connections established in his first railroad endeavor, JW traveled to New York City (NYC) to secure additional funding. He was successful.
Sufficiently capitalized, the first incarnation of the Utah Central Railroad became a reality. During his NYC tenure JW’s infectious nature, financial wizardry, and oratory skills ingratiated him to the monied elite. Over time the lure of NYC would prove irresistible to him, but, always devout, JW regularly attended an LDS church no matter where his travels took him.
The 1880s witnessed JW involved in three Salt Lake City area railroad projects: the Salt Lake City streetcar system, the Salt Lake and Fort Douglas Railway, and the Salt Lake and Eastern Railway. The latter would provide salvation to the burgeoning mining town of Park City. Once again, JW’s “Vision” would prove infectious.
Constructing a railroad from Salt Lake City to Park City via Parley’s Canyon represented engineering and financial challenges. Undeterred, JW tapped both local and NYC-based financial markets to secure the required funding. Park City, Coalville, and Heber City, along with residents of Salt Lake City, presented new markets for Brigham’s “railroading son.” His iron conveyor belt would move coal, wood, ice, salt, ore, mail, equipment, and human cargo seamlessly and profitably up and down Parley’s year-round.
Our next article in this series discusses John Willard Young’s rescue of Park City from the rapacious grip of the UP.