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History of the St Andrew's Society of the State of New York
Biographies: John S. Kennedy



Thirty-first President
1879-1882; 1884-1887.

The name of the thirty-first President is well and widely known in financial circles throughout the United States and Canada, and it may conservatively be stated that few other Scotsmen in this country have held more representative positions than John Stewart Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy is the fifth son of John Kennedy and Isabella Stewart, and was born on the 4th January, 1830, at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland.

During his infancy his parents removed to Glasgow and his earliest recollections are of that city, where he received a common school education. He left school when only thirteen years of age to enter a shipping office as clerk, and served in that capacity for four years, attending morning and evening classes during this period with a view to complete his education. In 1847 he secured a position as salesman with the Mossend Iron & Coal Company, in whose service he remained for the next three years.

In 1850 the late William Bird, of the firm of William Bird & Company, of London, then extensively engaged in the iron and metal trade, during a visit to Glasgow met Mr. Kennedy and offered him the position of the firm’s representative in the United States and Canada. Accepting this proposition, Mr. Kennedy arrived in New York on the 29th June, 1850, and establishing headquarters in that city, spent the next two years in extended travel, visiting all the leading cities in Canada and the United States, from Quebec to New Orleans.

He returned to Glasgow in the autumn of 1852 to take charge of the branch office of the firm in that city, a position which had been previously held by a brother who was accidentally drowned, and remained there until near the close of 1856.

While there was every prospect of a successful business career in Glasgow, Mr. Kennedy felt that opportunities were limited in the old country and that there was a much wider field and greater scope in the United States, and he therefore determined to return to New York, which he did at the end of December, 1856, and has made it his permanent home ever since.

In January, 1S57, he formed a partnership with Mr. Morris K. Jesup. the firm being known as M. K. Jesup & Company, for the transaction of a business in railroad iron and materials, but which eventually drifted into banking, and in 1862 he founded a branch of the business in Chicago, under the firm name of Jesup, Kennedy & Company. Both these firms had a most successful career, and during his connection with them Mr. Kennedy was obliged to travel extensively in the West looking after the interests of clients in the East and in Europe, who were creditors, bondholders, or held stock in many of the Western railroads. In the course of these years he attended to the foreclosure of the mortgages and reorganization of the Toledo, Logansport & Burlington Railway Company, now a part of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company’s Western System, and was for a time Director and President of the reorganized company. He also acted as President of the Cedar Falls & Minnesota Railroad Company and built the road from Cedar Falls to the Minnesota State Line—now part of the Iowa System of the Illinois Central Railway. Appointed by Congress one of the incorporators of the Union Pacific Railway Company, he took part with the late Honorable Samuel J. Tilden, the Honorable William B. Ogden and other financiers in organizing the company at Chicago under its Congressional charter.

After ten years of strenuous business life, Mr. Kennedy, finding himself in the possession of what was then a substantial fortune, withdrew from both firms in 1867 and remained out of business for a year, spending much of that time in European travel.

A retired life, however, did not appeal to his active temperament, and on returning to New York in the autumn of 1868, he established a banking firm of J. S. Kennedy & Company, and for the next fifteen years continued to devote himself to financial affairs of magnitude and importance. During this period of his career Mr. Kennedy acted as Director, and for a time as President, of the International & Great Northern Railroad Company of Texas, and when the company became financially embarrassed after the panic of 1873, he became chairman of the committee appointed to reorganize it. He was also for some years a Director and Vice-President of the Cincinnati, LaFayette & Indianapolis Railroad Company, now forming part of the "Big Four” system, and took a prominent part in effecting its reorganization after it had gone into bankruptcy in 1870.

In 1872 Mr. Kennedy united with the late Sir William John Menzies, of Edinburgh, in organizing the Scottish-American Investment Company, which was one of the first and most successful companies of the kind ever established in Scotland. His firm acted as agent of the company in this country, and it has paid semi-annual dividends each year regularly since its organization. This company has an able and conservative Board of Directors in Edinburgh, is still in a flourishing condition, and its stock sells at a high premium.

In 1881 Mr. Kennedy became a member of the syndicate and took an active part in the negotiations which resulted in a contract with the Canadian Government for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, running from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. After the Canadian Parliament had granted the necessary charter and the company was organized, he became a Director, and his firm in New York became the financial and transfer agents. Mr. Kennedy also formed the syndicate which took the first $10,000,000 of bonds the company issued, and afterward a syndicate which subscribed for and purchased $30,000,000 of its stock.

When the City of Glasgow Bank failed so disastrously in 1878, bringing distress upon so many innocent stockholders through their liability to creditors being unlimited, the liquidators appointed by the Court to wind up its affairs found a large amount of its assets consisted of the stock and bonds of American Railroads. Accordingly they placed the affairs of the Bank in this country in Mr. Kennedy’s hands, giving him full power of attorney. These assets were valued at about $2,000,000, but within a year Mr. Kennedy so handled them that he realized and remitted to the liquidators over $3,000,000.

Finding his private enterprises assuming such proportions and exacting so much of his time and attention. Mr. Kennedy on the 1st December, 1883, retired from the firm, leaving the business to his nephew, J. Kennedy Tod, and other junior partners, who continued under the firm name of J. Kennedy Tod & Company. Since then Mr. Kennedy has confined his activities to his extensive and valuable railroad and other interests in the United States.

When the Central Railroad of New Jersey became practically bankrupt in 1886 Mr. Kennedy was appointed by the United States Court one of the Receivers, his associate being Joseph S. Harris, of Philadelphia, afterward President of the Reading Railway Company. The Receivers held and operated the road and its coal properties for fifteen months, and so reorganized the executive and administrative staff that when they retired from the direction, the road was free from financial embarrassment, earning all its fixed charges and on the high road to its present prosperity.

The most noteworthy of the organizations with which Mr. Kennedy has been connected, and which to-day has developed into one of the greatest railroad systems in the West, was the old St. Paul & Pacific Railroad of Minnesota. Succeeding the late Honorable Samuel J. Tilden as trustee of the mortgages of this railway and acting as agent for the Dutch bondholders, Mr. Kennedy took charge of the property and operated it as trustee in possession for about two years. After the Dutch interests were sold to a private syndicate, he foreclosed the mortgages and handed the property over to the associated owners, who promptly reorganized it as the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company. Thereafter, his firm acted as the financial and transfer agents of the road, floating its bonds and stock in the New York market, and for some years Mr. Kennedy served as a Director and Vice-President, acting also as Trustee of its first and second mortgages. This railway was the parent and eventually became part of the Great Northern Railway Company’s system.

The history of this system is one of the marvels of American railway development. Its present greatness was foreseen by the small group of men consisting of George Stephen, now Lord Mount-Stephen, Donald A. Smith, now Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal; Commodore N. W. Kittson and James J. Hill, who purchased the bonds of the old road from the committee of bankers in Amsterdam representing the bondholders, and made them the basic foundation for one of the greatest railways in the world. Men of power in the financial world, they were quick to recognize the strategic importance of the parent road, which had become hopelessly bankrupt, and invested the capital at their command in the enterprise, in order to develop a great transcontinental railway which should parallel and rival the then existing lines. Their most sanguine hopes and calculations, however, were far surpassed by the rapid growth and greatness of this railway system.

At the present time the Great Northern has a capital stock of $150,000,000 with a current market value of about $400,000,000, and its profits warrant the recognition of over $100,000,000 direct and indirect bonded obligations as gilt-edged investments. The trackage runs over 6,100 miles, traversing the States of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. As a trunk-line it extends from St. Paul up the great wheat belt of the Red River Valley and across the mineral and lumber districts of Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The road exerts a commanding influence upon the Northern Pacific and Puget Sound coast traffic as well as enjoying extraordinary advantages in trade to the Far East through its Northern Steamship Company, whose steamers ply between Seattle, Japan and China.

For years the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific Railways, the two great parallel roads interested in the development and control of the Northwestern traffic and trade, were active and powerful rivals, and their hostility was such that a bitter railway rate-war became imminent in 1809. Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan, the head of the reorganized Northern Pacific, however, realized that such a war would work great disaster upon the business and financial world, and seriously cripple the development of the Northwest, and that an offensive and defensive alliance between these two great systems would place them in a commanding position. The moment was a critical one, and the directorate of the two rival roads had assumed an attitude as aggressive as it was antagonistic. About this time Mr. John S. Kennedy became a member of the Board of Directors of the Northern Pacific Railway Company. As the close friend of James J. Hill. President of the Great Northern Railway Company, his election was construed as an intention to harmonize the two systems, the stockholders being largely the same in both companies. This surmise proved correct, the outcome being the Northern Securities Company, incorporated amongst other purposes for holding a majority of the stock of the two railway companies. The history of this holding company is well known, and its fight in the Courts for the legality of its existence has been almost a national question.

Throughout his entire career Mr. Kennedy has been identified with some of the most important financial and railway enterprises and syndicates, and under his firm guidance and sound judgment almost all his ventures have earned for himself and his associates large returns.

In spite of the constant demands of these important financial affairs upon his time and attention, Mr. Kennedy has always found an hour to devote to charitable and educational work, and no name more frequently appears upon the executive lists of educational and charitable organizations and institutions than his own. Perhaps his most important contribution to charitable work is the United Charities Building, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Twenty-second Street, erected at a cost of over $750,000, wherein the various public charities of this city are brought under one roof. Such a building was long needed, and has been of the greatest economic advantage in the administration of public and private relief. In addition to the above gifts, Mr. Kennedy has recently donated the sum of $250,000 to endow the School of Philanthropy under the auspices of the Charity Organization Society.

To name all of the companies with which Mr. Kennedy has been identified would fill many pages, but at the present time he is a Director and Member of the Executive Committee of the Northern Pacific Railway Company; of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railway Company, and of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wavne & Chicago Railway Company, and is also a Director of the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad Company, the Massillon & Cleveland Railroad Company, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway Company, the New Brunswick Railway Company, and the Manhattan Bank Company. He is a Trustee of the United States Trust Company, the Central Trust Company, the Title Guarantee & Trust Company, the Hudson Trust Company, Columbia College and the Provident Loan Society.

No institution has more benefited by his administrative ability and generosity than the Presbyterian Hospital, of which Mr. Kennedy has been President for over twenty years, and during that time has contributed not less than $750,000 for new buildings and other purposes. President of the Board of Trustees of the Lenox Library for several years prior and up to the time of its consolidation with the Astor Library and the Tilden Trust, it was largely due to his influence and wisdom that the consolidation was made possible, and he is now a trustee and one of the Vice-Presidents of the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Mr. Kennedy is furthermore Senior Vice-President and ex-officio member of the Executive Committee of the New York Chamber of Commerce; President of the Board of Trustees and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the United Charities; President of the Board of Trustees of Robert College and of the American Bible House, both at Constantinople, Turkey; Vice-President of the New York Society for the Ruptured and Crippled; President of the Spence School Company and of the Central Syndicate Building Company; and Vice-President of the New York Oratorio Society. For years he has been a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is now one of the Vice-Presidents.

Although of domestic habits and tastes, Mr. Kennedy has always been a factor in the social and club world, and his name will be found in the lists of The Century Association, the Metropolitan, Union League, City, Downtown, Grolier and New York and the Atlantic Yacht Clubs.

Fond of all outdoor life, fishing is the only sport to which Mr. Kennedy ever turned his attention. He began fishing for trout when a schoolboy and has indulged in that favorite pastime ever since. Some twenty-five or thirty years ago he took to salmon fishing in Canada and has gone thither every fishing season since, except when absent abroad. He is a member and has for many years been President of the well-known Restigouche Salmon Club, and is also a member of the Cascapedia Club of Canada. The waters controlled by these two clubs furnish the finest salmon and trout fishing south of Labrador. Mr. Kennedy is also a member of the Jekyl Island and the South Side Sportsmen’s Clubs.

Throughout his life Mr. Kennedy always maintained the deepest interest in and devotion to his native land, and in particular to Saint Andrew’s Society, so representative of Scottish character and tradition, and his enthusiasm for the welfare and progress of this organization has never abated.

He was elected a member of the Society on the 30th November, 1857, and became a life member in 1866. He served as a Manager from 1864-67; 1869-72; as Second Vice-President from 1872-76; as First Vice-President from 1876-79; and as President on two separate occasions, 1879-82 and 1884-87. Thereafter he has occupied an honored place as Chairman of the Standing Committee from 1888 to the present time.

His contributions and donations to the Society have been numerous and marked by a discrimination as wise as it was generous. Some years ago he caused to be erected at his own expense a fine granite monument on the burial plot of the Society in Cypress Hills Cemetery, and throughout his entire connection with the Society his name appears on every list of contributions for charitable relief.

Perhaps no quality is more characteristic in Mr. Kennedy than his ability to form a ready and sound judgment upon matters of moment. No matter how difficult or complicated a question may arise, he can at once grasp the salient points and determine upon the proper solution. This faculty of deciding correctly, coupled with great activity and determination of mind, a keen sense of right and fearlessness of execution, have made him a strong figure in the history of American railway finance.

To those who have enjoyed the hospitality of his city home or that of his beautiful country residence, “Kenarden Lodge,” at Bar Harbor, Maine, he has been a courteous and gracious host, full of anecdote and reminiscence, spiced with one of the most delightful Scottish accents to be heard out of the “Land o’ Cakes.”

Mr. Kennedy married on the 14th October, 1858, at Elizabeth, New Jersey, Emma Baker, the daughter of the late Cornelius Baker and Jenette Ten Eyck Edgar, but had no issue.

His portrait is reproduced from a photograph now in his possession.


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