Alonzo B. Cornell

27th Governor, 1880-1882
Alonzo B. Cornell

Alonzo B. Cornell (1832–1904) was the son of Ezra Cornell, who founded Cornell University and the Western Union Telegraph Company. In 1873, he was chosen by his colleagues as Speaker of the State Assembly, one of the few times a first-term member was elected to that role. As governor, Cornell proved to be a great asset to New York, modernizing state finances, creating the state board of health and railroad commission, and reorganizing the National Guard into a more effective force.
Alonzo B. Cornell
About the Artist


Arthur Ratzka (1869–1946) was born in New York and studied art in Germany. Upon his return to New York City, he exhibited at the National Academy of Design.


open full portrait view

From the Encyclopedia of New York State

Cornell, Alonzo B(arton) (b Ithaca, 22 Jan 1832; d Ithaca, 15 Oct 1904). Governor.

As a young man, Cornell worked in a variety of banking and telegraph management jobs before becoming director (1868–69) and vice president (1871–76) of the Western Union Telegraph Co, which was founded by his father, Ezra Cornell. A supporter of Roscoe Conkling, Alonzo Cornell received the plum patronage position of surveyor of customs for the Port of New York (1869–73), also serving as chairman of the Republican state central committee (1870–78). In 1873 he was elected to the state assembly, to which he was unanimously chosen Speaker. Pres Ulysses S.Grant, just before leaving office, appointed him to the lucrative position of naval officer in the New York Customs House. Pres Rutherford B. Hayes pressured him to resign in his attempt to wrest control of New York patronage from Conkling’s forces, but Cornell refused and was removed in 1879. Conkling promptly engineered Cornell’s nomination in the New York State gubernatorial race, which Cornell won easily. As governor (1880–83), he surprised his critics by modernizing state finances, making competent appointments, and liberally using the veto to combat what he viewed as extravagant legislation. By remaining neutral in the patronage fight between Conkling and James A. Garfield in 1881, Cornell contributed to Conkling’s defeat in the legislature and was himself defeated for renomination as governor. He then wrote a biography of his father (1884), moved to New York City, and remained associated with Western Union.


Chadbourne, Paul A. The Public Service of the State of New York during the Administration of Alonzo B. Cornell, Governor (Boston: J. R.Osgood, 1882)

Mohr, James. The Radical Republicans and Reform in New York during Reconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press, 1973)

Jon Sterngass


Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 396].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.