William Orton (businessman)

William Orton

William Orton, President of Western Union from 1867 to 1878.
Born (1826-06-14)June 14, 1826
Cuba, New York
Died April 22, 1878(1878-04-22) (aged 51)
New York City, New York
Resting place Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York
Alma mater New York State Normal School (now the State University of New York at Albany)
Occupation Business executive
Years active 1847–1878
Known for President, Western Union Telegraph Company, 1867–1878
Political party Republican[1]
Religion Episcopal[2]
Spouse(s) Agnes J. Gillespie
Children Jessie
William, Jr.
M. Virginia

William Orton (June 14, 1826 – April 22, 1878) was an American businessman who served as president of the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Early life and career

William Orton in 1882's "The Royal Road to Wealth: How to Find and Follow It".

William Orton was born in Cuba, New York on June 14, 1826.[3] He was trained as a printer and worked on a newspaper in the village of Cuba. He graduated from the State Normal School (now the State University of New York at Albany) in 1847, and received his certification as a teacher.[4]

He taught at a school in Cuba, and then moved to Geneva to become a clerk in a bookstore. In 1852 Orton moved to Buffalo, where he became a partner in a publishing company called Derby, Orton & Miller.

In 1858 Orton moved to New York City to become a partner in another publishing company, Mulligan & Orton. This firm went out of business two years later, with Orton moving to the bookselling and publishing firm of J. G. Gregory & Co. as managing clerk.

A Republican and supporter of the Union during the American Civil War, Orton was elected to New York City's Common Council in 1860, and served one term.[5]

From 1862 to 1865 he was federal Collector of Revenue for the 6th district of New York.[6] In 1865 Orton was appointed Commissioner of Internal Revenue, but he served at this post in Washington, D.C. for only four months before resigning to resume his business career.[7][8]

Orton was appointed president of the United States Telegraph Company in the fall of 1865.[9] When this company merged with Western Union in 1866 Orton was appointed Western Union's vice president.[10] He also studied law, and attained admission to the bar in 1867.[11] In 1867 Jeptha Wade resigned as president of Western Union, and Orton succeeded him.[12] In addition to his position at Western Union, Orton was president of the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company,[13] International Ocean Telegraph Company, and Atlantic and Southern Telegraph Company.[14]

In 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant offered the position of Collector of the Port of New York to John Augustus Griswold, who declined. Grant then offered to nominate Orton, who also declined. Griswold and Orton both recommended Chester A. Arthur, who received the appointment.[15]

Orton was a delegate to the 1872 and 1876 Republican National Conventions.[16]

He was active in the Episcopal Church, and served as a vestryman at New York City's Church of the Holy Apostles.[17]

Death and burial

Orton died at his home in New York City on April 22, 1878.[18] He was buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.[19] He was succeeded by Norvin Green as the head of Western Union.[20]


In 1852 Orton married Agnes J. Gillespie of Buffalo. They were the parents of eight children: Jessie; Alice; William, Jr.; James; Agnes; M. Virginia; Robert; and Grosvenor.[21]


  1. Proceedings of the National Republican Conventions of 1868, 1872, 1876 and 1880. Minneapolis, MN: Charles W. Johnson. 1903. pp. 196, 307.
  2. "Death notice, William Orton". The Independent. New York, NY. April 25, 1878. p. 16.
  3. Ruthven, Noel (March 1, 1881). "Our Monster Telegraph System". Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Volume 11. New York, NY. p. 263.
  4. Johnson, Rossiter (1904). The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Volume VIII. Boston, MA: The Biographical Society. p. Orton-Osbon.
  5. Stevens, John Austin, Jr., Secretary (1862). Proceedings at the Mass Meeting of Local Citizens on Union Square, New-York. New York, NY: George F. Nesbitt & Co. p. 8.
  6. Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States, Volume XIII. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1887. p. 13.
  7. "Promotion of Hon. William Orton". New York Times. New York, NY. May 22, 1865.
  8. "Resignation of Mr. Orton". New York Times. New York, NY. November 1, 1865.
  9. "Testimony, Hearings Before the United States Commiossion on Industrial Relations". The Commercial Telegraphers' Journal, Volumes 13-14. Chicago, IL. January 1, 1915. p. 328.
  10. Phalen, William J. (2015). How the Telegraph Changed the World. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-7864-9445-3.
  11. Reid, James D. (1879). The Telegraph in America. New York, NY: Derby Brothers. p. 783.
  12. "Editorial Notes". Magazine of Western History, Volume 13. New York, NY: Magazine of Western History Publishing Co. November 1, 1890. p. 130.
  13. Anderson, Kelly C. (1994). Thomas Edison. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books. p. 31.
  14. Disturnell, John (1876). New York As It Was And As It Is. New York, NY: D. Van Norstrand. p. 195.
  15. Doyle, Burton T.; Swaney, Homer H. (1881). Lives of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Washington, DC: Rufus H. Darby. p. 188.
  16. Proceedings of the National Republican Conventions of 1868, 1872, 1876 and 1880. Minneapolis, MN: Charles W. Johnson. 1903. pp. 196, 307.
  17. "Death notice, William Orton". The Independent. New York, NY. April 25, 1878. p. 16.
  18. "Death of William Orton". New York Times. New York, NY. April 23, 1878.
  19. "William Orton's Funeral". New York Times. New York, NY. April 26, 1878.
  20. Hochfelder, David (2012). The Telegraph in America, 1832–1920. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-4214-0747-0.
  21. Orton, Edward; Orton, Edward Francis Baxter (1896). An Account of the Descendants of Thomas Orton of Windsor, Connecticut. Columbus, OH: Nitschke Brothers. p. 150.
Business positions
Preceded by
Jeptha Wade
President of the Western Union Telegraph Company
Succeeded by
Norvin Green
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 9/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.