Born 26 September 1848 in Baltimore, Maryland
Died 30 November 1931 in New York (Manhattan), New York
Buried Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland
Elected 4 March 1899 at age fifty
The transportation industry described Henry Walters as a railway man of the old school; meaning that he was one of the few notable survivors of the period 1901 and 1902, which stands out quite by itself in railway history. On the arrival of that “era of combination” Walters, who had risen from the ranks in a railway service of nearly twenty years, had just reached the first place on the Atlantic Coast Line. Those were days of quick changes in the railway map. Under his personal initiative, the company grew within a year from a system of 1790 miles to one of nearly 9,000. The achievement placed Walters in the front line of what used then to be called our railway magnates.
The “consolidation movement” in which Walters won his fame was not quite the same race for combination as that which excited the Stock Exchange four or five years ago; for at least the purpose of consolidation was approved in 1927 and 1928, both by the new Transportation Act and by the Commerce commission. In 1902, the law was pretty much prohibitive, and the railways were jauntily indifferent to the law. The so-called “promoters” of the period—the word had found its place in Wall Street’s lexicon two years before—bought what they pleased, kept what they liked and paid for it as best suited them; in mortgage indebtedness, in “collateral trust bonds” or in stock of “holding companies.” The natural climax of this joyous sport with other people’s money was, on the one hand, such deadlocks of competing purchasers as the famous “Northern Pacific corner”; on the other, the snatching at stocks of nearly all independent railways by professional freebooters of Wall Street, with a view to blackmailing or “holding up” the large prospective buyers. That was what happened to Walters and the Atlantic Coast Line. He had fixed his eye on the Louisville & Nashville, but had not yet made connections. The Louisville was offering $5,000,000 new stock, and apparently every one who thought of subscribing had “gone short” of existing Louisville shares on the Stock Exchange, expecting to “cover” with the new shares allotted to him. A notorious Wall Street adventurer of that day, John W. Gates, to whom a string of mushroom trust companies would lend whatever he wanted for whatever purpose, took it into his head to “squeeze the shorts,” and kept on buying in the Stock Exchange as long as they resisted. When his clerks had finished straightening out the books in the small hours of the morning, Gates discovered that he actually owned the Louisville. He flaunted his new acquisition in the face of the Atlantic Coast Line and of its eminent bankers, who at once applied to Gates such pressure as is known to Wall Street. In the end he graciously allowed them to buy his stock on his own terms, after a reputed scene of merry impudence, and was believed to have pocketed $10,000,000 profit on the “deal.” But the Coast Line issued bonds and paid the price.
In his subsequent quarter-century of railway management, Walters was known as a competent and highly conservative executive. He became a noted art collector, with a private museum at Baltimore which was one of the city’s treasures. New York’s artistic circles knew him as intimately as its railway fraternity did; he was long trustee both of our Metropolitan Museum and of our public library.
Alexander Dana Noyes
1932 Century Association Yearbook