The Real Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant

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We’ve all now seen Durant and his ruthless ways in Hell on Wheels.  But did you know that his character is based on the real life Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant? Perhaps the most dominant person in the creation of the Union Pacific Railroad, Durant was a real move and shaker in the 19th century rail world.

Did you know…

  • Durant was not just a ‘Doc’ by name but indeed a man trained in medicine. Soon he abandoned the trade, turning to business as he sought wealth.
  • While the fictional Durant was born to a poor family in Hell’s Kitchen, the real Doc was actually born to a wealthy and distinguished family in upstate Massachusetts.
  • Durant was as tyrannical and volatile as his on-screen alter ego. Known as a master manipulator, he did whatever it took for his own personal gain. When it came to the railroads, the Doc’s focus was on political connections rather than creating the best railroads for the people. He lobbied all levels of government, from ambassadors to senators to Abraham Lincoln himself.
  • It’s reported that he wined and dined all kinds of important people in politics – with orchestras, magicians, expensive wines and delicious foods. Described as a man of extravagant tastes, Durant scrimped on nothing when it came to increasing his wealth and domination.
  • Durant was involved in one of the biggest financial scandals of his time: the Credit Mobilier scandal. Under a company with that name, Durant and other Union Pacific sold shares unethically and pocketed all the profit. Durant made $23 million from the scam! Known as robber barons with him as the leader, they acted to the detriment of the railroad and the public.
  • Every villain has his downfall – after the scandal, Durant was fired from Credit Mobilier and then fired by the President from Union Pacific itself. A huge financial crisis, called the Panic of 1873, led to the Doc losing huge amounts of his wealth. He spent his last years facing lawsuits, eventually dying in upstate New York in 1885.

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