Charles Melville Hays Biography

Charles Melville Hays was president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and a victim of the Titanic disaster of 1912.


Charles Melville Hays was born on May 16, 1856, in Rock Island, Illinois. Starting out in the railroad business at age 17, he worked his way up to become general manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. During the planning stages of a trans-Canadian railway line, Hays booked passage aboard the RMS Titanic. When the great ship struck the iceberg on April 14, 1912, Hays made sure his wife and daughter made it into a lifeboat, but he himself perished in the sinking, on April 15, 1912.


Businessman and president of the Grand Trunk Railway Charles Melville Hays was born on May 16, 1856, in Rock Island, Illinois. Working his way from the ground up, Hays became a giant in the railroad industry. Unfortunately, all of his wealth and success could not prevent him from becoming one of the victims of the Titanic disaster of 1912.

Early Career

At the age of 17, Hays started out in the passenger department for Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. Rising up the rankings, he became the secretary to the general manager of Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1877 and moved up to assistant general manager in 1886. The following year Hays was made the general manager of the Wabash Western.

Transcontinental Expansion

In 1896, Hays moved to Montreal, Canada, to become the general manager of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. One of his greatest projects was planning a transcontinental railway line across Canada. The Canadian government supported the project, but still the company needed more funds. To that end, Hays traveled to England to improve the company's financial capabilities.

Part of his plan included a series of luxury hotels along the new railway line. To attend the opening of the first hotel, the Chateau Laurier, Hays and his wife booked passage on the White Star Line's new luxury vessel, the Titanic. On April 10, 1912, the couple boarded the ship in Southampton for its maiden voyage. Their daughter Orian and her husband Thornton Davidson joined them, getting on the ship when it stopped at Cherbourg, France, later that day.


On the night of April 14, Hays was reportedly with Colonel Archibald Gracie and Captain Edward Crosby in a smoking lounge. The group discussed the competition between the ship lines to build the biggest, fastest and most luxurious vessels. In fact, the Titanic itself had been hailed a new breed of ship that was supposed to be unsinkable. Hays told his companions that the trend toward large boats might end in tragedy. Not long after this comment, the Titanic struck an iceberg.

Like many of the other brave men onboard, Hays stayed behind as the lifeboats were filled with women and children first. His wife Clara and daughter Orian made it onto one of the boats. After Charles and Clara were separated, she called out to every other lifeboat they encountered, hoping that he had made it on one of them. Unfortunately, Hays did not survive, joining roughly 1,500 other souls who were lost with the Titanic.

His body was later recovered by the Minia, which docked at Halifax at the end of its gruesome mission. Hays was then taken by private railcar to Montreal where he was buried.

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