William Gibbs McAdoo

1863–1941

William Gibbs McAdoo, son of a UT English professor, entered the university in June 1881 with a major in Latin and scientific studies. During his time at the university, he was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity and played bass drum in the UT band. After he graduated during the 1884-1885 academic year, he went to Chattanooga to become deputy clerk for the US District Court at Chattanooga. He was admitted to the bar in 1885. As a lawyer in the firm of Barr & McAdoo, he became president of the Chattanooga Tool Company.

On May 1, 1890, Knoxville’s first electric streetcar line was formally opened with a ride to Lake Ottosee hosted by McAdoo, as president of the Knoxville Street Railway Company. The original electric streetcar experiment was not financially successful, and a rival entrepreneur gained control of McAdoo’s rails and made them work. In 1897 McAdoo returned to engage in a bitter contest to electrify and control the city’s streetcar lines. His illegal construction crews sparked the Depot Street streetcar riot, in which a McAdoo worker was killed and hundreds, including McAdoo, were arrested. The lost battle for control of the electric streetcar system left him virtually penniless, and he moved to New York City to practice law.

In 1901 he organized and was made president of the New York and Jersey Tunnel Company to complete construction of the pair of tunnels below the Hudson River linking Manhattan and New Jersey (originally begun in 1874 and abandoned for financial reasons). He formed the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Company to operate the tunnels upon completion. The first electric trains ran through the tunnels on January 4 (uptown) and January 5 (Southside). Following the notoriety associated with completion of the Hudson River Tubes (known as the McAdoo Tunnels), McAdoo became a trusted advisor of New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson and was chairman of the 1912 Democratic National Convention that nominated Wilson for president.  In 1914 McAdoo was married for the second time—he had married Sarah Hazelhurst Fleming in 1885—in the White House to Wilson’s daughter, Eleanor. President Wilson appointed McAdoo secretary of the treasury, where he oversaw the formation of the Federal Reserve System. He served as director general of railways during World War I.

In 1919, while working as a lawyer for director D. W. Griffith and actors Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, he was instrumental in founding the Hollywood studio United Artists. He was a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1920 and 1924. He was elected to the Senate from California in 1933 and served until 1938. He published his memoirs, Crowded Years, in 1931.

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  • Title William Gibbs McAdoo
  • Coverage 1863–1941
  • Author
  • Keywords William Gibbs McAdoo
  • Website Name Volopedia
  • Publisher University of Tennessee Libraries
  • URL
  • Access Date May 25, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 23, 2021