Ezra Cornell (Ezra Cornell)

Ezra Cornell

Businessman, Education Administrator, and Entrepreneur. He was the founder of Western Union and a co-founder of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Born in Westchester Landing, New York to Quaker parents, his father was a potter. He was raised in DeRuyter, New York and worked as a carpenter, traveling throughout New York. In 1831 he was disowned by the Quakers for marrying outside of the faith to a “world’s woman,” a Methodist by the name of Mary Ann Wood. They settled in Ithaca and he became the manager of a mill at Fall Creek, New York. He then purchased the patent rights to a new type of plow and set about marketing it in Maine and Georgia. In 1842 he devised a special plow that was used to lay pipe and telegraph wire in a ditch and cover it back up but condensation in the pipe coupled with poor wire insulation proved unsuitable and stringing wires from telegraph poles became the accepted method. He made his fortune in the telegraph business as an associate of Samuel F.B. Morse, having gained his trust by constructing and stringing the telegraph poles between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland, as the first ever telegraph line of substance in the US. To address the problem of telegraph lines shorting out to the ground, he invented the idea of using glass insulators at the point where telegraph lines are connected to supporting poles. After joining with Morse, he supervised the erection of many telegraph lines, including a portion of the New York, Albany & Buffalo line in 1846 and the Erie and Michigan Telegraph Company connecting Buffalo, New York to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1849 he became president of the company. A Republican, he served in the New York State Assembly from 1862 until 1863 and in the New York State Senate from 1864 until 1867. After retiring from Western Union, he became a philanthropist, endowing the Cornell Library, a public Library for the citizens of Ithaca. In 1865 hand Andrew Dickson White co-founded Cornell University through a charter from the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act. He then entered the railroad business but did not fare well due to the Panic of 1873. He began construction on his Ithaca mansion, Llenroc (his surname spelled backwards) but died at the age of 67 before it was completed. He was the father of Alonzo B. Cornell, who served as Governor of New York from 1880 to 1882. (bio by: William Bjornstad)  Family links:  Parents:  Elijah Cornell (1771 – 1862)  Eunice Coleman Barnard Cornell (1788 – 1857)  Spouse:  Mary Ann Wood Cornell (1811 – 1891)*  Children:  Alonzo Barton Cornell (1832 – 1904)*  Franklin Cuthbert Cornell (1837 – 1908)*  Oliver Hazard Perry Cornell (1842 – 1911)*  Siblings:  Ezra Cornell (1807 – 1874)  Elijah B Cornell (1808 – 1889)*  Mary Cornell Robertson (1818 – 1897)*  Deborah Cornell Wood (1820 – 1909)*  Jane Cornell Finch (1831 – 1892)* *Calculated relationship


  • January, 11, 1807
  • USA


  • December, 12, 1874
  • USA


  • Sage Chapel
  • USA

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