Charles Tyson Yerkes

Born 1837, Died December 29, 1905

Charles Tyson Yerkes made his fortune in Philadelphia before moving to Chicago in 1881. He got started in business when he was just 8, buying some soap at 6 cents a pound, and selling it to stores for 9 cents a pound.1 Yerkes was a office boy at 15, stock broker at 22, banker at 25, and in prison at 34 for misapplying funds.2

Just five years in Chicago, he was able to buy control of the North Chicago City Railway. He spent the next dozen years building up a monopoly over public transportation. His profitable methods included poor service and cars that were falling apart. Alongside this, he made no excuses for his rampant bribing of officials and questionable actions.3

Using his influence and considerable fortune, Yerkes was able to get the legislature to enact "eternal monopoly" bills in 1895. These would give Yerkes 99 year franchises to use the Chicago streets for his transit lines - for free. Yerkes attempted to bribe Governor Altgeld, but he refused. In response, Yerkes did everything he could to unseat Altgeld, which he succeeded in.

The next governor, John R. Tanner, signed legislation giving Yerkes 50 year franchises, instead of 99. However, on December 19, 1898, this was voted down, much to Yerkes chagrin. He then left Chicago for London, where he headed the men who dug the underground.4

He died December 19, 1905, leaving an estate of $2.1 million.5

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