Leland Stanford Junior was born May 14, 1868, the only child of Jane Lathrop Stanford and Leland Stanford. He was definitely his father’s son. Leland Senior was a railroad magnate who drove the Golden Spike into the First Transcontinental Railroad across the United Sates. Leland Jr. had a mini railroad of his own “from the house to the stable.” He even had his own car for the railroad and was incredibly involved in its maintenance and improvement, writing letters to engineers asking questions about boilers and buying paint for his car. Clearly he inherited both his father’s taste for railroads and ambition, writing to his friend, “as yet I have only one car, but it such a nice one that I think it will do me till I make an extension on my road.”
He was also very much his mother’s son. He followed in the footsteps of her altruism and her determination, as shown by the following story. Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper, who was making efforts to start the first free kindergarten in San Francisco, was talking to Jane Stanford about the difficulties she was encountering in her efforts. Leland Junior, who was listening attentively, said to his mother, “Mamma, we must help those children,” to which she replied, “Well, Leland, what do you wish me to do?” “Give Mrs. Cooper $500 now and let her start a school, then come to us for more.” It was done on the spot. It was the first gift of the total $150,000 (as of 1892) Jane gave for the free kindergartens of California.
Being the son of the incredibly wealthy Leland and Jane Stanford, Leland Jr. naturally was pampered a good deal. On his 13th birthday, he had no lessons (which he normally had every day) and was given a lot of free time to explore Paris, where he was at the time. Then, for his party, he got to ride on an elephant, a camel (or “Kammel” as he spelled it in his letters), a carriage drawn by an ostrich, a pony, and a donkey. Another part of having wealthy parents was having a good deal of cash to spend. He kept strict accounts of the amount of cash given to him and how he spent it. Between July 27 & August 5, 1881, he was given $124.50, which may seem like a lot now, but $124.50 in 1881 would be equal to approximately $2700 today. Some of the charges he recorded were: boat, book for flowers, shooting gallery, fishing, minerals, stamps, candy, Hippodrome, Punch & Judy, soldier’s costume, sword, Prussian helmet, & chassepot rifle.
Leland made diligent journal entries every day, including what time he got up. Even if all he did was have lessons with his tutor, he made an entry for the day. He worked with his tutor most days and took lessons in German, French, possibly Latin or Italian. He also had a mathematical mind, as shown by his comments on the dimensions of ruins (e.g. the Colosseum) and jotted down math problems in his workbooks. His parents wanted him to have a well-rounded education, so Leland was taken to see operas, picture galleries, and numerous sites with frescoes. Leland Jr. expressed great interest in the arts, especially Pompeii’s paintings and frescoes, the “Dom Cathredial” opera, and the Royal Picture Gallery in Berlin. He was an enthusiastic amateur photographer and loved sketching trains and ships, “meticulously incorporating tiny American flags and rigging for the sails.”
Despite his preciosity, Leland Jr., was still a normal kid, or as normal as it’s possible to be when you are the son of Leland and Jane Stanford. He had snow ball fights with his friend in the Sierra Nevada “to [their] hearts’ content.” Leland Jr. collected stamps, leaves and flowers and pressed them in his workbook. When visiting Albany, he became a member of a local bicycle club. They even had badges made of 10 cent pieces with A. Bi. C. engraved on it. He even picked wild violets from the Tomb of Cecilia Metella and sent them in one of his many letters to his dad. He also had a sweet and sometimes almost adult-like disposition, writing to his friend in all seriousness, “The first of April will soon be here, I hope you will not have many tricks played upon you.”
One example of the boy’s kind and caring nature is the following story: At 10 years old, he saw a “homely yellow dog” outside his window. He ran outside and promptly took the dog in. He then flew to the telephone to call the doctor, who inferred from the boy’s serious and urgent tone that someone was gravely ill. The doctor was annoyed when he realized he had been summoned to attend to a broken-legged mutt, but was pacified by Leland Junior’s earnestness. He took the boy and the dog to a veterinarian, as he was not experienced at treating dogs. Leland kept the dog and took faithful care of it until it recovered.
Leland Stanford Jr. was not only the inspiration behind the creation Stanford University and the Cantor Museum, he was also a boy of great talents and gifts, an amateur artist, a budding archaeologist and Egyptologist, and a normal boy with many friends.