Charles Finney Cox, 1846 - 1912

by Brian Stevenson
last updated April, 2021

C.F. Cox was an American amateur scientist and microscope expert, whose high-quality slides are occasionally encountered (Figure 1). He was a long-time member and officer of the New York Microscopical Society, became a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society in 1881, and helped found the New York Botanical Gardens. In 1900, he donated to the Botanical Gardens, "a collection of twelve old microscopes … among these are three Culpepers, a John Cuff, a Wilson's 'screwbarrel' by G. Adams, an Ellis' aquatic, a Jones' improved compound, a Chevallier, and a Cary's portable".

An obituary commented that Cox, "found time to devote to scientific studies. His book on Protoplasm and Life was his largest contribution to scientific literature, but numerous smaller papers and contributions presented at meetings of the scientific societies evince at once his interest in and capacity for scientific study. His work was done primarily in the microscopical structure of plant and animals and the fundamental relations of these to the theory of evolution. Mr. Cox' career is a splendid example of that contribution to scientific advancement common in the old world, and especially in England, but unfortunately rare on this continent".

Cox was the youngest son of a New York construction magnate. His eldest brother, Jacob D. Cox, was an Army General, Secretary of the Interior under President U.S. Grant, Governor of Ohio, and a notable microscopist (among other things, he served as President of the American Microscopical Society). An essay on the life and works of J.D. Cox is also available on this site.

For most of C.F. Cox's life, he worked as a manager of railroad companies. Through that work, and his family, he became well connected to the American wealthy elite. After his death, the New York Botanical Garden raised funds for "The Charles Finney Cox Memorial Collection of Darwiniana" – among the donors were Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and the heir of the Vanderbilt fortune.


Figure 1. A microscope slide that was prepared in 1876 by Charles Finney Cox.

 


Figure 2. C.F. Cox, from an 1893 biography in "New York, the Metropolis: Its Noted Business and Professional Men".

 

Charles F. Cox's life was described well by people who knew him. Following is a biography from New York, the Metropolis: Its Noted Business and Professional Men (1893), and three obituaries:

"Charles Finney Cox was born on Staten Island, N.Y., in January, 1846. He is of New England and Dutch extraction, his paternal ancestors having settled in New York in the early part of the last century, and his mother having been a Miss Kenyon, of the well known Connecticut family of that name, long residents in the vicinity of Norwich. His father was a successful builder of this city, who made a specialty of church erection, and here Mr. Cox has always resided, save during his attendance at Oberlin College, Ohio, of which institution he is an alumnus. He is the youngest brother of General J.D. Cox, ex-Governor of Ohio, and Secretary of Interior in General Grant's first cabinet.

Soon after leaving college, in 1867, Mr. Cox entered as clerk the banking house of Kenyon Cox & Co., of Wall Street, of which Mr. Daniel Drew was then partner. In 1875 Mr. Cox was elected Assistant Treasurer of the Canada Southern Railway Company, in which capacity he had charge of its New York office for several years until the purchase of the road by Commodore Vanderbilt. In 1883, upon the retirement of Mr. William H. Vanderbilt from active business, his son, Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt, was made President of the Canada Southern Railway Company, and Mr. Cox Vice-President, which relation has continued until the present lime.

In 1887 Mr. Cox became Vice-President of the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad Company, and had a leading part in the reorganization of that property in the interests of the Vanderbilts, remaining in its management until its absorption into the Chesapeake & Ohio R.R. system in 1889.

Mr. Cox is now President of the Carthage & Adirondack Railway Company, and is also an officer or director of several of the branch lines of the Vanderbilt system. He is Vice-President of the Second Avenue (horse) Railroad, First Vice-President of the United States Savings Bank of New York, also Chairman of its Funding Committee, and President of the American Safe Deposit Company, of 501 Fifth Avenue.

Although of necessity much absorbed in the details of the vast interests committed to his charge Mr. Cox is a hard student and has found time for much important scientific research. He is well known as an authority on the microscope and is the possessor of one of the finest instruments in America. He was for two years President of the New York Microscopical Society, and is now Treasurer of the New York Academy of Sciences as well as the President of the Council of 'The Scientific Alliance of New York', an association of the seven principal scientific societies of the city. He is also one of the corporators of the Botanical Garden which is to be established in Bronx Park, and Secretary of its Finance Committee, of which Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan is Chairman.

He has written numerous articles on the microscope and other scientific subjects, and is the author of a book entitled 'Protoplasm and Life'. As a musician Mr. Cox is an amateur of note, having for many years been an active member of the Mendelssohn Glee Club of this city, and at one time its Vice-President. He is an admirer and connoisseur of paintings, and is a life patron of the American Fine Arts Society, of which his nephew, Mr. Kenyon Cox, the well-known artist and writer, is a prominent member. Mr. Cox is a book collector and possesses a valuable library of rare and curious works, relating particularly to the early history of science. In addition to his pursuit as business man and man of letters, he is actively interested in benevolent movements, and is a prominent member of the Charity Organization Society, serving not only upon one of its District Committees, but also in its Central Council and Executive Committee.

Mr. Cox married in 1878 Helen, the daughter of Mr. Charles B. Middlebrook, of Bridgeport, Conn., and afterward of New York, by whom he has one daughter. Mr. Cox is a member of Dr. Parkhurst's Presbyterian Church, and of the Union League, Century and Grolier Clubs".

 

 

Obituary, Transactions of the American Microscopical Society, 1912:

"Mr. Charles F. Cox, for many years a member of the American Microscopical Society, died in New York City recently. He was a Fellow of the American Association, of the Royal Microscopical Society, of the New York Academy, and a member of numerous other scientific societies. As treasurer of the New York Academy and of the New York Botanical Garden, and as a member of the Council or Board of Directors of other organizations, Mr. Cox contributed largely from a rich and successful business experience to the advancement of scientific work in this country. He was primarily a railroad man serving in important positions some of the greatest and most successful corporations of the United States; nevertheless he found time to devote to scientific studies. His book on Protoplasm and Life was his largest contribution to scientific literature, but numerous smaller papers and contributions presented at meetings of the scientific societies evince at once his interest in and capacity for scientific study. His work was done primarily in the microscopical structure of plant and animals and the fundamental relations of these to the theory of evolution.

Mr. Cox' career is a splendid example of that contribution to scientific advancement common in the old world, and especially in England, but unfortunately rare on this continent. Science can ill afford to lose such services and we may hope that the example of such a life will be a stimulus to pointing out one way in which investigation may be effectively furthered by those who are not primarily devoted to it".

 

 

Obituary, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1912:

"The Academy suffers irreparable loss through the death, on 24 January, 1912, of Mr. Charles Finney Cox. For thirty-six years an Active Member and Fellow of the organization, his influence has been felt from the first in all progressive movements of the Academy. He served the Academy diligently as Curator, 1884, 1885; Councilor, 1891, 1892; Treasurer, 1893–1907; President, 1908, 1909. At the time of his death he was again acting as Treasurer. When President he was active in the organization of the Academy's Darwin Centennial celebration, and he delivered a masterly address on Darwin at the close of each of his two years of incumbency.

Always the friend of investigation, he was one of the founders of the Scientific Alliance of New York, the first association of the scattered organizations that were striving independently to advance the interests of science in the city. Some five years ago he was again active in establishing the closer affiliation which now obtains among them.

Mr. Cox's consuming interest outside of his daily duties in the railways of the New York Central system was the study of the life and writings of Charles Darwin. In its pursuit, he became a keen and devoted collector of Darwiniana, and the portraits, first editions, manuscripts and other priceless memorials which he brought together constitute a remarkably complete exhibit of Darwin's scientific work and influence upon the thought of the last fifty years. Another of his avocations was microscopy, in which he was active for many years, while his interest in botany was evidenced by his participation in the founding of the New York Botanical Garden and in its management up to the time of his decease.

In character, Mr. Cox was a man of great simplicity and natural refinement. He attracted and held his friends with bonds of attachment that were altogether exceptional in their strength. While he will be missed and mourned by all who knew him, the sense of loss is peculiarly deep in the circle of the New York Academy of Sciences".

 

 

Obituary, Railway Age Gazette, 1912:

"Charles F. Cox, treasurer of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, the Michigan Central, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis, and other New York Central lines west of Buffalo, died at his home in Yonkers, N.Y., on Wednesday last, after a short illness of pneumonia. Mr. Cox was born on Staten Island (New York City), January 16, 1846, and had been in the service of the Vanderbilt lines for over 40 years. He was educated at the College of the City of New York and at Oberlin College, Ohio, being graduated from the latter class of 1869. His uncle was president of that college. Immediately after graduating, he entered the service of the Canada Southern as an accountant, and was successively assistant treasurer, secretary, vice-president and president of the road. He has been at the head of the treasury department, as above noted, for several years. Mr. Cox was prominent not only as a financier, but as a scientist, and was one of the chief promoters of the Young Men's Christian Association on the New York Central Lines. For two years he was president of the New York Academy of Sciences; and was a member of numerous other scientific organizations, both in this country and in Europe. He was a member of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church, New York City, and of the railway committee of the International Committee of Young Men's Christian Associations. He was prominent in numerous charitable organizations in New York City, and was vice-president of the Transportation Club. He leaves a wife and daughter, Mrs. E.B. Jenks".

 

Resources

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (1912) Charles F. Cox, Vol. 22, page 343

Bulletin of the New York Botanical Garden (1912) The Charles Finney Cox Memorial Collection of Darwiniana, Vol. 8, pages 183-184

Cox, Charles Finney (1890) Protoplasm and Life, N.D.C. Hodges, New York

Cox, Charles Finney (1910) The founder of the evolution theory, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 19, pages 225-245

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1881) Minutes of the meeting of May 11, 1881, page 556

Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society (1900) "Old Microscopes: A collection of twelve old Microscopes has been presented to the New York Botanical Garden Laboratory by Mr. Charles F. Cox. Among these are three Culpepers, a John Cuff, a Wilson's 'screwbarrel' by G. Adams, an Ellis' aquatic, a Jones' improved compound, a Chevallier, and a Cary's portable", page 718

Railroad Men (1912) Charles F. Cox, Vol. 25, pages 161-166

Railway Age Gazette (1912) Charles F. Cox, Vol. 52, page 173

Sprague, John F. (1893) New York, the Metropolis: Its Noted Business and Professional Men, New York Recorder Transactions of the American Microscopical Society (1912) Charles F. Cox, Vol. 31, page 51

U.S. census and other records, accessed through ancestry.com