Arthur Stilwell

Born: Oct. 21, 1859 in Rochester, New York

Died: Sept. 26, 1928

Arthur Edward Stilwell, the founder of Port Arthur, was born in Rochester, New York. He left home at fourteen and persuaded a family friend, George Darling, to employ him as Billiard Room Cashier of his Southern Hotel, in St. Louis, at $60 per month.

After his father lost most of the family’s money through poor investments, Stilwell returned home. He took the $400 his grandfather left him and bought a printing plant in Smith's Arcade. Six months later, Stilwell joined Williamson and Highy, stationers and law-blank printers in Rochester, as a commercial traveler (salesman).

Stilwell next became a commercial traveler for Travelers' Insurance Co. of Hartford, Connecticut. He invented a coupon annuity life-insurance policy, which was adopted by both the Penn Mutual and Travelers' Life Companies. It later came into use in a modified form with every life insurance company in the United States. He became the state agent for the Travelers' Insurance Company but eventually resigned and moved to St. Louis. This move paid off, and although Stilwell had left behind a lucrative career in insurance, he was able to form the one million dollar Guardian Trust Company within a year.

 

Guardian Trust built homes for buyers who made down payments of at least 20% in cash and then paid off the balance in ten annual installments.

 

Stilwell's first investment in railroads was in the Kansas City Suburban Belt in 1888. He went on to build more than 2,300 miles of new railroad in his lifetime, founding some forty cities and adding more than a billion dollars to the Southwest's economy. He led the resettling of the municipality of Port Arthur as part of his planned city as the southern terminus of his Kansas City, Pittsburg, and Gulf Railroad, the predecessor to the Kansas City Southern Railway. Stilwell named Port Arthur after himself.

 

He organized 41 companies of various kinds, with a combined investment of $60 million (over a billion dollars today) and lived to see them pay out more than $160 million (3.5 billion) in dividends and profits (estimating the purchasing power of an 1880s dollar at about $22 today).

 

Stilwell backed every endeavor with his own funds, but he never became lastingly rich. His crowning achievement was to serve as president of a railroad to the Gulf, which he designed, financed. After being forced out of various investments, Stilwell began to write and publish books. "Cannibals of Finance" attacked John Gates, Harriman, and Thalmann, the men who forced the KCP&G (Kansas City Southern) into receivership.

These “cannibals” may have been less predatory than Stilwell made them out to be, as Stilwell himself was notably unstable. He claimed that all of his business ventures were dictated to him by voices from the spiritual world. His decision to take his railroad to what would become Port Arthur, he claimed, was based on a prophetic warning that a tidal wave would strike Galveston. Four years later, in 1900, the most devastating hurricane in the United States' history devasted the city.

 

Arthur Stilwell died of apoplexy on September 26, 1928, in New York at the age of 68. Stilwell’s fortunes had crumbled by the time. Less than two weeks later, his wife committed suicide. Dressed in her best clothes, she walked out the window of their 12th floor Manhattan apartment. The Stilwells were said to have left an estate of only $1,000. The cremated remains of the Stilwells have never been found.

Tex Ritter Portrait
Tex Ritter Portrait