Sunday, September 23, 2007

Questions about E.S. Denison

From: "Glenn G. Willumson"

I am doing research on the photographs of the transcontinental railroad and I have come across a couple of questions with which I hope someone can help me. The first concerns E. S. Denison [Eli S., I believe]. He is selling Durgan stereographs of the railroad in 1869 and 1870. On the earliest Durgan stereographs, Denison's address is listed as No. 3 Front St. I assume that this is a railroad office. Does anyone know specifically what building it is? A little later on (early 1870, I think) he's selling Nelson's Pictorial Guidebook to Salt Lake City, Nelson's Pictorial Guidebook to the Union Pacific Railroad, and Nelson's Pictorial Guide-Book to The Yosemite Valley, and the Mammoth Trees and Geysers of California. I have seen copies of these books that have a stamp that reads: "E.S. Denison, News Agency, C.P.&W.P.RR. Front St. Opp. Depot, Sacramento." Is this the same building?

This leads me to ask what would a "general agent" or a "news agency" do for the CPRR? Is he an early public relations or marketing man? Does anyone know when the CPRR began to hire people who specialized in what we would consider public relations or marketing?

Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated. And please feel free to let me know if you think my dates or information is incorrect. Thank you for your help.

—Glenn Willumson


Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"
Subject: Questions about E.S. Denison

That Front Street address was inside the Central Pacific Passenger Station at Third & I Streets. A "news agent" was nothing other than a retailer of magazines, periodicals and related merchandise, including promotional materials like railroad guidebooks and stereo photo cards (in that period). News Agents were constants with the Central Pacific and later the Southern Pacific through the 1940s, and were fixtures aboard the SP ferries and key mainline trains with booths for the sale of their periodicals and merchandise.

I doubt there was a direct connection with any news agent as an official promoter of the railroad. It was more akin to a symbiotic relationship than anything else.

9/23/2007 7:03 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Glenn G. Willumson"

... A "news agent" sounds like something that would be outsourced in today's market. I presume, though, that Denison was not an independent contractor acting on spec but was a railroad employee. Please let me know if you think that's wrong.

Knowing that he was located inside the Passenger Station and that his address is listed alongside the photographers on the back of the stereo card, I'm also tempted to say that the photographer was (in some form or other) working alongside Denison for the railroad. Again, if you have time, I would be interested in your opinion about this.


9/23/2007 7:07 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Kevin Bunker"

... He may well have been an employee ... I believe the ones on the 1937 and 1941 Coast Daylight trains were (and yes, that's a lot of years between). Perhaps others know more about News Agents' roles in the CP and SP evolutionary history.


9/23/2007 7:09 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


My suspicion is that the news agent at that time (1869-70) was an independent business person, operating under a concession.  A similar relationship existed between the railroad and the owner of the Silver Palace eating stand in the Sacramento CP Depot.  At other locations the depot was combined with a hotel (Reno, for instance) that was also independently operated under a contract or (more likely) concession.


9/24/2007 7:19 AM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...

From: "Leland F. Lee"

Here is an excerpt of Eli S. Denison’s obituary from the Oakland Enquirer, July 8, 1898:

"DEATH CALLS STATE SENATOR ELI. S. DENISON–State Senator Eli S. Denison died shortly before 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon at his residence, corner of Eighth and Myrtle streets …

His full name was Eli Sherwin Denison, and he was born in Onondaga County, New York, August 7, 1827 …

Young Eli’s education was obtained in the Monroe Academy at Elbridge, New York, but it could not have been complete, as, at the early age of thirteen he left home to earn a living for himself.  He soon drifted into the railroad business, and when he was twenty years of age became an employee of the New York Central.

In 1849 the young man went to Nicaragua as foreman of a gang of men engaged in constructing thirteen miles of plank road between Lake Nicaragua and San Juan.  At that time the Nicaragua route was being opened for travel to California.

In 1851 he arrived in San Francisco and engaged in mining on the Feather River.  He followed mining in different districts until 1859, although during this time he had made a brief visit to his eastern home.

As soon as railroad building commenced in California, Mr. Denison’s connection with it began, for as early as 1859 he was baggage man on the Sacramento Valley Railroad, running from Sacramento to Folsom.  When the Washoe boom broke out he went to Nevada City, in 1862, and spent a year in the pursuit of gold and silver ledges.

When the building of the Central Pacific Railroad began he was again employed as baggage agent, and his run from Sacramento to the end of the line gradually increased until that eventful 12th[sic] of May 1869, when the golden spike was driven at Promontory, uniting the Central and Union Pacific lines.  Mr. Denison was present on that occasion.

On the 1st of June 1869, he became the general newsagent of the company, a position which he held up to the time of his death.  Thus he had been with the railroad company in this one capacity for thirty years.  Under this administration the business developed until in his employ there were from fifty to seventy-five newsboys traveling on the different trains of the extensive system of lines owned by the Southern Pacific …

About 1890 Mr. Denison went into a little railroad enterprise of his own. With three other gentlemen, he bought out the line of the railroad known as the Laundry Farm Railroad and reorganized it …

In politics Mr. Denison was always an enthusiastic Republican, and he had probably been a delegate to more national conventions of the party than anyone else in California. He was first chosen for that honor in 1884, when Blaine was nominated for President, and he served again when Harrison was nominated at Chicago in 1888 … "
—Leland Lee

9/24/2007 7:06 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


... Denison as General News Agent for the CPRR makes a big difference.  I was thinking of the news boys and similar such people.  My perception is that the news boys functioned along the lines of what we today might call independent contractors – they purchased their own items to resell on the trains, and either paid a percentage to the railroad, or paid a flat rate for the privilage of selling on the trains.  I was thinking that Denison was functioning in that mode.  But it appears that instead he was the CPRR employee who handled and coordinated the news boys.  By the 20th century (with adults having replaced the news boys), I think that the news agents were railroad employees, in contrast to the 19th century.


9/24/2007 7:08 PM  
Blogger CPRR Discussion Group said...


I have a book, "The Pacific Coast Album, published by E. S. Dennison, General News Agent, Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Rail Roads Oakland Cal."

It includes pictures of the Del Monte Hotel, and the picture of the Long Ravine bridge with the NCNG underneath, so its post 1880 or so. Similarly it is clearly pre-earthquake …

—Randy Hees

9/24/2007 7:14 PM  
Blogger Robert Bowdidge said...

I was just looking at station plans for the Southern Pacific's San Jose Market Street station tonight, and noticed that a corner of the telegraph office was marked off as the "Dennison News Co." The corner was on the track side of the station, on the train crew side of the telegraph office's counter. Considering its location, I'd guess it was where the newsboys would pick up new stock.

So it looks like Denison may set up a separate company at some point.

BTW, the Market Street station on the north side of downtown was San Jose's main railroad station until 1935 and the rerouting of the mainline around the west side of San Jose. The current Diridon Station is on that new line, and replaced Market Street.

A snippet from that map is at

8/04/2011 12:10 AM  
Blogger Robert Bowdidge said...

Kyle Wyatt's obituary is confirmed in other sources (or at least everyone was cribbing from the same material.) A Google Books scan of "San Francisco: the metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its suburban cities volume 2" by Lewis Publishing Company, 1892" gives a page-long biography:

"Eli Sherwin Denison, the well-known news agent of the Southern Pacific Railroad system, with headquarters in Oakland, was born in Onondaga County, New York August 7, 1827... in 1859, he went to work as a baggage man on the Sacramento Valley Railroad [the first railroad in California]... In the spring of 1862 he came to Virginia City, Nevada, and was engaged in quartz-mining there... Returning to Sacramento, he went to work for the Central Pacific, his run being from the city to the end of the road, a gradually lengthening trip, and was present May 12 1869 at the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory. He took his present position as news agent June 1, 1869, and has been engaged in that business ever since. Since 1886, he has employed about fifty newsboys on the different roads of that system. With three other capitalists he bought out, in 1890, what was known as Laundry Farm railroad [a tiny, quickly forgotten railroad in Oakland, California] Mr Denison is prominent and active in politics...


8/04/2011 9:20 PM  

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