The Men Who Built Mount Lowe

Professor Thaddeus LoweBy the time Thaddeus Lowe retired to Southern California in the late 1880’s he had achieved more than most. The New Hampshire native and father of ten children had built the largest balloon ever known for use in an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean and had served his country as the founder and Chief Aeronaut of the Balloon Corps during the Civil War. Lowe designed and patented, among dozens of other things, a portable hyrdogen gas generator, an altimeter for use without a horizon, a system of aerial signal flags for directing artillery fire on targets not seen by the ground crew, an artificial ice and refrigeration apparatus, founded a gas works in Pennsylvania for the illumination and heating of both commercial and residential structures, and began dabbling in the banking industry.

Lowe’s so-called retirement found him starting up Citizen’s Bank of Los Angeles, Citizen’s Ice Company, the Los Angeles Safe Deposit and Trust Company, the California Construction Company, the People’s Gas Company, and the Lowe Gas and Electric Company, just to name a few. He began construction on Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena of what was called the largest home in the nation, nearly 24,000 square feet, and bought the Pasadena Grand Opera House to bring legitimate theater back to the west coast.

Although he had more to do than five individuals could handle, he was introduced to a man named David Macpherson who had an idea about building a mountain railway, much like what Lowe remembered in his native state of New Hampshire. After their initial introduction, Lowe vowed to take on that project as well and so began the Mount Lowe Incline Railway.
David MacphersonA native of London, Ottawa, Canada, David Macpherson started out life very differently from Thaddeus Lowe. He was 22 years younger than Lowe and educated at Cornell University. Upon graduation he took a job in Texas as City Planner in San Antonio. He also engineered a railroad in Mexico between Juarez and Mexico City and later worked for the Santa Fe Railroad as well.

Macpherson was one of six children and by the late 1880’s was the only one who had not succumbed to tuberculosis or some other malady. It was then he decided to move to California with his mother in order to retain good health and new job prospects.

After settling in Pasadena he became involved with the founding and design of the Pasadena Y.M.C.A. and spent many of his free hours wandering the Sierra Madre Mountains above his home. There had been some talk of building a mountain railway to the peak of Mount Wilson and Macpherson decided he wanted to be a part of it. After doing some research on his own he thought he had come up with a pretty good idea of how things should be done but he lacked the funds to do it himself. Pasadena Bank President Perry Green had been aware of this young engineer’s work and arranged for Macpherson to meet Pasadena’s newest mogul, Thaddeus Lowe. The introduction was electric and the two became instant friends. Lowe thought this would be a great project that people from everywhere could enjoy.