Whitney, Asa, 1797–1872, American merchant and transcontinental railroad projector, b. North Groton, Conn. He entered the mercantile business in New York City, acted as a foreign buyer for several years, and then was (1842–44) a merchant in China. Upon his return, he toured (1844–51) the United States, carrying on an extensive publicity campaign urging the construction of a railroad from Chicago to the Pacific; he also petitioned (1845) Congress to support his plan. Whitney's proposed route from Lake Michigan through South Pass to the Pacific was not accepted mainly because of the growing sectionalism before the Civil War. He also presented to the British in 1851 an unsuccessful plan for a Canadian transcontinental railroad. He retired in 1852, a decade before the U.S. Congress passed an act for the construction of a transcontinental railroad. He wrote National Railroad Connecting the Pacific (1845) and A Project for a Railroad to the Pacific (1849).
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