Philip F. Anshutz’s biographical volume of audacious Western entrepreneurs is simultaneously inspiring as it is a cautionary tale of capitalism and nation building.
In 2019, the history and future of the American West is at the center of numerous national, regional and local debates. The question at the heart of many of these debates is what is the sustainability of the West’s urban, suburban and rural populations, natural resources, infrastructure and state economies? Americans, especially those who live and work in the West, are anxious to find solutions to these major issues and provide current and future generations living in the West a pathway to a sustainable future. In an attempt to understand where the West is today—and how the future can be planned successfully for the greater good—many in the halls of debate turn to the history of the West for clarity and inspiration, as well as for cautionary lessons of greed and graft, to inform their decision making and legislation.
Readers of Colorado business entrepreneur and philanthropist Philip F. Anschutz’s Out Where the West Begins: Profiles, Visions, & Strategies of Early Western Business Leaders (Cloud Camp Press, 2015, $34.95; Amazon), will quickly discover where the native Kansan has sought answers and inspiration to answer many of these aforementioned hot-button topics that dominate our headlines with a single question “Who created the American West?” A question he answers with nearly 50, insightful biographies of men who sought, made—and in many instances—lost their fortunes in the West with grit, grace and greed between 1800 and 1920.
Anschutz’s biographies provide the reader insightful, inspiring—as well as cautionary—answers to the big questions that currently seem to be holding our country back from the reconciliation and compromise it takes to build a nation forward. It should be no surprise to the reader that Anschutz—a native Westerner—also happens to be one of the West’s most innovative and successful businessman since the early 1960s, with a current worth estimated at $11 billion.
Anshutz organizes his major topics and biographical profiles into seven categories of Western American history: Early Trade and Commerce, Agriculture and Livestock, Railroads and Transportation, Mineral Extraction, Manufacturing, Finance and Banking, and Entertainment and Communication. Anshutz offers a balance between the famous and well-known, such as Brigham Young, Cyrus McCormick, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Samuel Colt, Henry Ford and Buffalo Bill Cody, with the entrepreneurs and industrialists who are not as familiar or carry the same name recognition as their famous brethren, men such as fur-trader Manuel Lisa, entrepreneur rancher John Wesley Iliff, railroad visionary Theodore Judah, California oilman Edward L. Doheny, meatpacking entrepreneur G.F. Swift, Bank of America founder A.P. Giannini, Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis and Universal Studios creator Carl Laemmle.
Anschutz has a particular fondness for cinema entrepreneur Laemmle (maybe even a kinship as a fellow-filmmaker-philanthropist), who against all odds fought Thomas Edison’s team of lawyers to establish the rights of independent film-makers and take a leap-of-faith to move his film business from New York to Los Angeles. As “As one of the first producers to move his studio to southern California, Laemmle helped bridge the Old West and the New, establishing in the minds of millions of viewers worldwide a popular image of the American West.”
Anshutz obviously loves his adopted home-state of Colorado and residents will recognize many of Anshutz’s subjects in Out Where the West Begins as the men whose entrepreneurism, business acumen, and, ultimately, their altruism contributed to the economic development and growth of Colorado from an undeveloped territory to the wealthiest and most developed state between Illinois and California. Chapters on Rocky Mountain state entrepreneurs Iliff, Cody, William Jackson Palmer, Meyer Guggenheim, Walter Scott Cheesman, John Evans, Adolph Coors and Spencer Penrose offer succinct summaries of Colorado’s most important state-builders—although the reader will quickly realize that almost every one of the men profiled in the book directly or indirectly affected the history of Anschutz’s adopted home state and the overall theme of the book—who were the visionary businessmen who visualized and actualized the development of the West.
Penrose, the visionary Colorado Springs businessman who followed up on William Jackson Palmer’s vision for the Front Range city, is obviously a favorite of the altruistic-businessman. “He evolved into the biggest builder and promoter that the Pikes Peak region has ever seen. Using copper mines as a steady source of capital, he made Colorado Springs and his beloved Broadmoor Hotel one of America’s five-star, world class destination resorts. He is probably most important for his fostering of tourism, now the second most important industry in Colorado and many other western states.”
Well-researched, Anschutz’s well-organized profiles are written in a historical narrative style with a short bibliography that allows the reader, the student and the educator to use the sections—or each chapter—individually—as case studies for the classroom, public history projects and further research. Anschutz’s Out Where the West Begins accomplishes a rarity in current Western American history publishing: a volume of inspiring, top-down history of visionary entrepreneurs, businessmen and industrialists. The Denver billionaire turned historian reminds today’s readers conditioned by decades of bottom-up history and historical syntheses that have consistently vilified America’s 19th century industrial entrepreneurs as Robber Barons that the innovative business acumen and audacious determination of America’s industrialists who built a nation can simultaneously be reassessed and appreciated for their visionary grit and grace without granting them wholesale absolution for their greed and exploitive business practices in the America’s unregulated wild, wild West.
Stuart Rosebrook, Ph.D. is the editor of True West magazine. He co-authored Junior Bonner: The Making of a Classic with Steve McQueen and Sam Peckinpah in the Summer of 1971 with his late-father Jeb Rosebrook. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with his wife and two children.
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