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Corning, New York: The Crystal City: Erastus Corning

This guide focuses on the glass-related history of the Corning, New York, and surrounding area, including local resources, special collections, and topics unique to Corning's glass history.

Erastus Corning and the City of Corning

The City of Corning was named for Erastus Corning, an Albany entrepreneur who probably never visited the city. His business interests were in iron works, railroads, merchandising, insurance, banking, and land development across the young United States. He very skillfully integrated his various businesses to create prosperous enterprises and great wealth. He was also involved in politics at every level which helped to leverage his business opportunities.

In 1835 he formed the Corning Company with 8 men to develop 2000 acres of land at the juncture of the Erie Canal and the Corning-Blossburg Railroad, both of which were Erastus Corning investments. The area south of the Chemung River was named for Erastus Corning as a tribute to his stature and influence in 1836. The Village of Corning was incorporated in 1847.

Upon his death, Erastus Corning still owned $200,000 worth of land in the Corning region.

Erastus Corning is most known for leading the merger of 8 railroads to form the New York Central Railroad in 1853. For 12 years he was president of the railroad which was eventually purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1867.

About Erastus Corning & Family

Highlights of Erastus Corning's Life

Erastus Corning (1794-1872), an Industrious Man

  • Born December 14, 1794 Norwich, Connecticut
  • His ancestors were early Massachusetts settlers 1637 emigrating from Devonshire England
  • 1807 Began career in hardware stores, eventually owning Erastus Corning & Co. store in Albany
  • Married Harriet Weld 1819. Had 5 children, raised 4 nieces. Only 1 son survived him
  • Purchased first iron works, Albany Nail Factory 1826 expanding into mills in NY and Maryland
  • Provided iron for Erie Canal locks. Attended grand opening in 1824
  • President of Albany City Bank 1834-1872
  • Land speculation in 9 states including western NY, Iowa, Wisconsin
  • 1831 began investing in railroads and supplying their iron and steel in NY and Midwest
  • Vice-chancellor of University of State of New York Board of Regents 1833
  • Mayor of Albany 1834-1837
  • 1835 formed Corning Company (not glass), developing area around future Corning NY
  • 1836 future site of Corning, NY named in honor of Erastus Corning
  • Purchased 700 acre farm in Bethlehem, NY. Imported first herd of prized Hereford cattle into US from England
  • 1842-1845 member of New York State Senate
  • Managed merger of 8 railroad lines into New York Central Railroad, becoming the largest US corporation. President for 12 years
  • Democratic US Congressman 1857-1859 and 1861-1863. Member of Ways & Means and Naval committees.
  • Delegate to Peace Conference attempting to avert the Civil War 1861. Part of the Northern Democrats called the Copperheads.
  • Provided 8 tons of iron and steel daily for cannons and armaments for the Union Army
  • 1862 his iron works made the iron plates for the Union's Monitor war ship and 6 others
  • Late 1860s failing health caused him to turn business responsibilities to son Erastus Jr.
  • Died April 8, 1872 in Albany. Flags were at held at half-mast in his honor
  • His family has continued public service and philanthropy. There have been 8 Erastus Cornings in the family between 1794 and 1995
  • Harriet Weld Corning has a plaque "Tribute to a Patriot Woman" in the New York Regiments monument at Gettysburg Battlefield.

Chemung Canal websites