Green was one of the first and most colorful of Texas’ 20th Century millionaires.
Though he wasn’t born in Texas, and his wealth was
an accident of birth as much as anything else, Texas
has always been quick to claim E.H.R. “Ned” Green as its own. Green, for his part,
usually managed to keep a leg in Texas, even when
he was away.|
Green was the son of Hetty Green, the richest woman in the
world known not so affectionately in her day as the “Witch of Wall Street.” Hetty
was known for shuttling back and forth between Brooklyn and Hoboken to avoid establishing
a residence and paying taxes even as she cleared millions on the stock market.
Ned Green fit the image of the Texas millionaire, measuring 6-foot-4, but he was
missing one leg, thanks to his mother’s frugality. When he injured the leg as
a boy, his mother hauled him from one doctor to the next, looking for the best
deal, until it was too late to save her son’s leg.
Green came to Texas
when he was 25 to take over the Texas Midland Railway, which his mother owned.
The railroad was faring poorly but Ned Green promised to turn the “two streaks
of rust” into “one of the best railroads in the Southwest.” He deposited $500,000
in a Terrell Bank, more than doubling the bank’s resources, and bought uniforms
for the local baseball team and started a brass band.
In the meantime,
Green commenced to enjoy himself with lavish parties and an interest in the opposite
sex that attracted scornful local attention in his adopted hometown of Terrell.
But even his detractors had to admit that Green was doing some good things for
the local community. While vastly improving the status of the Texas Midland Railway,
which boasted the state’s first electrically lighted coach, Green also invested
in experimental crops and demonstration farms to help local farmers. He was an
early supporter of research aimed at eliminating the boll
weevil and owned the largest stamp collection in the world.
as anything, Green is remembered for bringing the first automobile to Texas
and for being involved in what might have been the state’s first automobile accident.
The car was a two-cylinder St. Louis Gas Car surrey, designed by George Norris.
The accident occurred when Green and Norris were driving the car from
Terrell to Dallas
in October of 1899 but were run off the road by a farm wagon. Green and Dorris
repaired the car and chugged on into Dallas,
down Elm Street toward the courthouse
while hundreds of onlookers lined the streets to get a glimpse of this so-called
Lawsuits were subsequently filed against Green and
his contraption, claiming that the automobile caused horses to run away, buggies
to wreck and riders to get thrown. As late as 1910, a Dallas
newspaper noted that the car, nicknamed “Old Hurricane,” was still being used
as a pace car at the Texas State Fair.
of the credit for the first car in Texas goes to
the Montgomery Ward & Co., which produced an electric car that ran on 28 storage
batteries tucked away under the seats. Tom Hammond, a ticket agent for the MKT
Railroad, along with a Dallas Daily Times Herald reporter were treated to a ride
in the car when it arrived via the railroad in Dallas
in 1897, two years before Green’s car.
Most historians still give the
nod to Ned Green when it comes to credit for having the first car in Texas.
Montgomery Ward only built two of the electric cars but they were used solely
for promotion purposes and were never offered for sale.
Hammond joked that
he was going to buy a few of the cars to use instead of passenger trains.
Green did not allow her son to marry while she was alive but he wed Mabel Harlow
after Hetty died in 1916 at the age of 81 with a fortune estimated at $67 million.
Ned Green eventually moved from Terrell
to Dallas, mostly to get away from the
wagging tongues and judgements he faced in Terrell.
He built a lavish Dallas townhouse for
him and Mabel, with whom he lived before his mother died.
Green also became
a leader of the Texas Republican Party and worked closely with “Gooseneck Bill”
McDonald, a black politician and one of the most influential people in the early
days of the party in Texas.
Even as he moved
away from the state to conduct business, Ned Green maintained his Texas
ties and he right to vote here by leaving a suit of clothes and one of his wooden
legs in Terrell. By
so doing, he never really left Texas.
"Letters from Central Texas" December
24, 2009 Column