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Henry Plant

Entrepreneur, railroad and steamship executive
Born: October 27, 1819
Birthplace: Branford, Conn.

Henry Plant grew up in Connecticut. Rather than attend college as his family had hoped, he became a deckhand on a steamboat traveling between New Haven and New York. After various positions on the steamship, he then worked for the Adams Express Company, which delivered express packages by steamboat in its early years and later by railroad. After becoming one of the company's executives, he eventually bought out Adams's southern branches and formed the Southern Express Company in 1861. During the Civil War, the company delivered express packages and funds throughout the Confederacy.

After the war, Plant purchased a number of Southern railroads. Most were in ruins and therefore sold to him at rock-bottom prices. Within twenty years, he had developed a vast transportation empire that included 14 railroads and several steamship companies. He built railroad lines throughout Florida, and made Tampa the center of his railroad and steamship business. He also built many magnificent resort hotels in Florida—the impressive 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, which cost $2.5 million to construct—was his crowning glory. His transportation network brought economic expansion to Florida as well as architectural beauty, turning the state into a thriving place attracting business, new residents, and tourism.

Died: June 23, 1899

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