Henry Bradley Plant (October 27, 1819 – June 23, 1899), founder of the Plant System of railroads and steamship lines, was born into a modest farming family in Branford, Connecticut. At the age of six, he lost his father and younger sister to typhus fever and was raised by his mother and grandmother. Hard work and Puritan values molded his character.
Henry began his professional life at the age of 18 working as a captain’s boy for the New Haven Steamboat Company that ran between New York and New Haven. He married Ellen Elizabeth Blackstone in 1842. The couple had two children, but only Morton Freeman Plant survived to adulthood. Plant demonstrated acuity for the express shipping business and moved up the ranks in the shipping company. He eventually secured a position in the Adams Express Company’s New York office.
In 1854, Henry and Ellen moved to Augusta, Georgia where he was appointed to the superintendent position for the Southern Division of the Adams Express Company. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Adams Express Company sold their southern express line holdings to Plant. He reorganized and renamed it the Southern Express Company, with rail lines running through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In that same year, Plant lost his wife Ellen.
After the Civil War, Plant returned to New York where he later married Margaret Josephine Loughman in 1873. He immersed himself in his network of southern railroads and began purchasing bankrupt railroads in 1879. As he linked these lifelines of the South, he began to work his way into Florida. Plant understood the potential and opportunity waiting to be realized and that a network of railways was the key. He opened the Waycross Short Line in 1881, a short cut between Waycross, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida, taking the first steps toward opening the state.
In 1882, Plant formed the Plant Investment Company (PICO) headquartered in Sanford, FL. With the investment support of PICO, whose investors included Henry Flagler, M.K. Jesup, and W.T. Walters, Plant acquired existing rail lines and laid new track, enabling the first steam engine to arrive in Tampa in 1884. As he linked and laid more than 1,196 miles of tracks across the state, he standardized his network with standard gauge track, increasing ease and efficiency of train travel.
For more information on Henry B. Plant and the Plant System, please visit our Chronology page.