William Nelson Cromwell

Entrepreneur, Deceased Person

1854 – 1948


Who was William Nelson Cromwell?

William Nelson Cromwell was an American attorney active in promotion of the Panama Canal and other major ventures.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised there by his mother, Sarah M. Brokaw, a Civil War widow. His father, John Nelson Cromwell, died in the Battle of Vicksburg.

He worked as an accountant for the attorney Algernon Sydney Sullivan, who paid for his education at Columbia Law School and made him a partner in Sullivan & Cromwell in 1879.

According to Stephen Kinzer's 2006 book Overthrow, in 1898 the chief of the French Canal Syndicate, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, hired him to lobby the US Congress to build a canal across Panama, and not across Nicaragua, as rivals would have it.

On June 19, 1902, three days after senators received stamps showing volcanic activity in Nicaragua, they voted for the Panama route for the canal. For his lobbying efforts, he received the sum of $800,000.

One of his main pro bono activities was in the founding of "The Society of Friends of Roumania" in 1920 under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Marie of Romania, granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The New York-based Society under his tutelage promoted numerous exchanges between the two countries and published the distinguished Roumania — A Quarterly Review.

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Jan 17, 1854
  • Episcopal Church
  • United States of America
  • Columbia Law School
  • Columbia University
  • Sullivan & Cromwell
Lived in
  • Brooklyn
Jul 19, 1948

on July 23, 2013


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