Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published January 30 2011
As I Recall: Moorhead borrows name from NP railroad director
22 miles north of Harrisburg, Pa. He was one of four sons and three daughters born to Irish immigrant parents who came to America in 1798.
In his youth, Moorhead was employed by the Pennsylvania public works and at 17 was appointed as a canal supervisor.
In 1840, he was chosen by the governor of Pennsylvania as supervisor of the Allegheny Portage Railroad.
In 1846, President James K. Polk appointed Moorhead as U.S. consul in Valparaiso, Chile. A year later, he was appointed as purchasing agent for the U.S. squadron in the Pacific Ocean.
He was also given responsibility for the U.S. legation in Chile. Moorhead served in these positions until the end of Polk’s term and for two years into the term of President Zachary Taylor.
During this time, gold was discovered in California. At Moorhead’s suggestion, millers in Chile were contracted for all of the flour they manufactured for one year mainly to supply the California market. The flour was exchanged for gold dust.
The result was one of the biggest commercial operations ever known on the Pacific Coast at that time. As many as 500,000 barrels were shipped, most of it to California, by 300 chartered ships. The business ceased in 15 months with a profit
of $5 million.
After returning to the U.S., Moorhead became associated with railroads, eventually including the Northern Pacific. He was also associated with his brother-in-law, financier Jay Cooke, in banking. Cooke was married to Moorhead’s sister, Sarah.
During these years, Moorhead traveled extensively, visiting many European countries, Egypt and the Holy Land.
For both Moorhead and William G. Fargo – the namesake of Fargo – it was their association with the Northern Pacific Railroad as directors that caused the cities so far from where they operated to be named for them. Just as with William Fargo, it is not known if William Moorhead ever visited his namesake.
He died on Jan. 13, 1895.
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