Scots who put up the money

to develop the American West

notes from an exhibition at the Cowan Institute: Penicuik Town Hall 14+21 January 2006

 CHARLES COWAN: Penicuik papermaker in later life

-his nephew founded Scottish American Investments (SAINTS)

In July 1867 William John Menzies (Alexander Cowan’s eldest grandson) took his uncle Charles Cowan the Penicuik papermaker to America.  Menzies had been there before, during the Civil War in 1864, and he wanted his uncle to see the sights and all the opportunities for trading and investment. 

The Cunarder SS Cuba

Setting off from Liverpool in the Cunard steamship Cuba, they passed safely through the drifting icebergs off the fog-bound coast of Nova Scotia, spent a few hours at Halifax, and disembarked at Boston. From there they travelled by rail to New York where they stayed at the Clarendon Hotel, visited the “magnificent” new Central Park, the public buildings and the great charitable institutions, looked at Butler’s papermills at nearby Paterson, spent a charming day in the Long Island campagne and took an overnight rail trip to Washington, where they left their calling cards for President Johnson at the White House.  

New York's Central Park –a wonder to behold

Then on to Philadelphia, back to Massachusetts to visit the many papermills around Springfield on the vast Connecticut river then up the Hudson in a huge “floating palace” with hundreds of sleeping berths, to Saratoga Springs and on to Niagara, Hamilton, Detroit and Chicago, returning via Green Bay, Marquette and Sault St Marie, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec. They saw the sights, met the merchants, looked at the transport and trading, checked out the opportunities.


Thanks to the genius of William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), the transatlantic telegraph was in its first successful year of operation.  The United States and Canada were booming, fuelled by the speed of communications.

The benefits for business were enormous.  This trip, and later ones, led William Menzies to start the Scottish American Investment Company in 1873, mainly to finance the great railroads being pushed out from Chicago and the Midwest towards the Pacific.


John Cowan of Beeslack, Penicuik papermaker and SAINTS investor


So successful were these Scottish American investments, placed by John Stewart Kennedy, Menzies’ Scots-born agent in New York, that the Clydesdale Bank joined in to trade the City of Glasgows unsaleable US railroad stocks using Kennedy’s undoubted expertise.


 Agent for SAINTS and the Clydesdale Bank in New York


 John Stewart Kennedy’s magic touch helped to recoup the banks heavy losses and render a tidy profit.  Connected only by trust and the telegraph, these Scots on both sides of the Atlantic funded the railroads that opened up the West: the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul, the St Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba, and the Canadian Pacific. 


Quite a few Midlothian folk emigrated to join Scottish American projects. Thomas Young, son of the man who built the Cowans’ gasworks at Valleyfield, took his new wife from Loanhead across the Atlantic.  They settled in Emmetsburgh, Iowa  a new Edinburgh beyond the Mississippi  to build houses for the Scottish American Land Company there in 1881.  Running the land company in Emmetsburgh were sons of Alexander Peddie the Edinburgh physician and John Dick Peddie the Edinburgh architect.


Clara Anderson enjoying a game with her physician husband Alexander Peddie.


Tom Young, Mary Struthers and their first children in Emmetsburgh:

-A great-granddaughter came to the Cowan Institute last year.



Back in New York, the commissions from William J Menzies and the Clydesdale Bank helped John Stewart Kennedy to build up a fortune of 2 million dollars by 1882, and 67 million by his death in 1909.  It was a fortune he reinvested in the future by massive bequests to a string of charities, the New York Public Library, the New York Presbyterian Hospital, to Columbia and Glasgow Universities and to African-American and Ottoman-American causes.  He had no children.  


Saul Engelbourg and Leonard Bushkoff: “The Man Who Found the Money: John Stewart Kennedy and the Financing of the Western Railroads” was published in East Lansing USA by Michigan State University Press, 1996.



Clydesdale In Penicuik         PENICUIK HOME       KOSMOID HOME



Helena Independent  :Helena, Montana : July 20, 1925




    Emmetsburg, Iowa, July 19 -(By Associated Press)-  Madame Garcia, crystal gazer, who is credited with the predictions of President Harding's election and death, as well as the recent southern California earthquake, guessed wrong when she set Friday and Saturday as the date for the destruction of Emmetsburg, Iowa. The town is still here tonight.

     A number of families left their homes over the two day period and numerous farmers are said to have refused to come here to trade yesterday, but aside from the loss to business men, and some evidence of jumpiness on the part of nervous citizens, nothing has happened.

     The prediction, said to have originated in Washington, was published here by a local newspaper last week.


Clydesdale In Penicuik         PENICUIK HOME       KOSMOID HOME



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