Cornell, Ezra, 1807–74, American financier and founder of Cornell Univ., b. Westchester Landing, N.Y. Cornell, who began life as a laborer, was of an ingenious mechanical bent and had a shrewd business mind. He aided in constructing (1844) the telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., over which Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first test message. Having devised the method of stringing wires on poles, he entered into line construction in the East and the Midwest. He was founder, director, and for a time the largest stockholder of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which was formed in 1855 to end cutthroat competition in the field. His interest in agricultural education led to his association in the New York senate with Andrew Dickson White, and together they mapped and secured legislation for founding (1865) Cornell, with a charter embracing many of Cornell's ideas. He made many gifts to the university, including an initial $500,000, and was responsible for the successful financial returns on the university's federal land grant.
See biographies by his son, Alonzo Cornell (1884), and P. Dorf (1952, abr. ed. 1965).
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