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Industry Achievement
Sir Henry Thornton (2002)
Sir Henry ThorntonA “people-person” for the people’s railway

Born Logansport, Indiana 1871

Began his railway career as an engineering draftsman with the Pennsylvania Railway in 1894. He was involved in a number of engineering capacities for the line including Engineer Maintenance of Way (1899–1900). In 1901 he joined the Long Island Railroad — a commuter operation — as Assistant to the President. In 1914 he accepted the position of General Manager on the Great Eastern Railway, a large commuter railway in London, England. His exploits concerning the organization of British railways during the Great War were recognized with a knighthood in 1919. Always ready for a new challenge, Thornton chose to work for the Canadian National Railways (CNR). On 1 December 1922 he assumed the reigns of power for the CNR from Hanna. Thornton was forced to resign as President in 1932 due to a scandal manufactured by his political masters. He died shortly afterward, a broken man.

Thornton moulded the CNR into his image; always a “passenger man”, he reshaped the CNR from primarily a freight carrier into a high profile company, offering crack passenger services and luxurious hotels in direct competition with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Thornton’s tenure was further marked by innovation: diesel-electric locomotives, and national radio and airlines were legacies of the Thornton era that bore fruit beyond the 1930s. Despite all of these achievements, however, it was Thornton’s legendary rapport, his reputation as a “people person” endearing him to his employees that made him great.

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