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Jervis Langdon, Jr.
Jervis Langdon, Jr. was born in 1905 in Elmira, New York. Following graduation from Cornell University in 1927, Langdon launched his railroad career in an entry-level position with the Lehigh Valley. But upon the advice of his uncle, who was the road’s president, Langdon returned to Cornell to earn a law degree. As a young lawyer for the Lehigh, he focused mostly on tax work but joined the New York Central (NYC) as a general attorney in 1934, taking a similar assignment at the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O), in 1936. His considerable skills prompted the company to promote him in 1941 to the position of Assistant Vice-President-Traffic. Following distinguished war service in the Pacific, Langdon resumed his career with the NYC as a commerce lawyer.
Then in 1947, he became special counsel on rate issues for the Southern Freight Association, assuming the chair of the newly-launched Association of Southeastern Railroads (ASER), a regional trade group, five years later. Langdon became highly visible during his tenure at ASER, contributing to professional and trade publications, serving as editor-in-chief of the ICC’s Practitioners’ Journal, and speaking to industry groups and legislative bodies.
In 1956, Langdon joined the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O), rising to Vice-President and General Counsel and then, in 1961, to the B&O presidency. What he did for the next four years was remarkable. The B&O had ossified and became an ever-increasing money loser. Langdon, though, reversed the downswing, converting a $30 million deficit into a modest profit in just eighteen months. The secret to his widely-acclaimed success involved his ability to “size up individuals,” placing talented and previously overlooked personnel into major policy-making positions. The company took control of costs, improved maintenance, and confronted service problems. In 1963, Forbes recognized Langdon as one of the bright “New Men” in American railroading.
Unhappy with meddling by corporate partner C&O, Langdon in 1965 accepted an offer by Henry Crown, the financial force on the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, to become board chairman and subsequently president. Though Langdon and his administration focused on winning ICC approval for merger with the Union Pacific, they significantly improved a badly deteriorated property, offering hope for the Rock Island’s future.
At the retirement age of 65, Langdon left the Rock Island for the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad, first in 1970 as “lead” trustee and after 1973 as president. Resembling his work on the B&O and Rock Island, Langdon changed the PC from being “a colossal mess” to a much stronger property, but one that still required massive federal assistance. Through his lobbying skills and related efforts, Langdon helped to shape national railroad policies during the 1970s, including legislation that created Conrail in 1976. Into his late eighties, Langdon remained professionally involved, serving on the boards of Amtrak and other railroads and becoming a much-sought-after consultant and advisor. He died in 2004 at the age of 99.
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