Isham has a Wikipedia Entry


Isham Randolph, the owner of a full Wikipedia page

After 8 months of on and off work, a trip to the Newberry Library, and dozens of articles logged and noted, Isham Randolph – the engineer that reversed the flow of the Chicago River, has a respectable Wikipedia article: Isham Randolph.

I’m pretty proud of the work, every sentence on that page has a reference, in some cases more than one. I’d estimate that that article equals around 20 – 30 hours of work. Not an enormous investment, but more than I would have thought, and more than what the end result really looks like. During the time I worked on it, several other contributors helped clean and correct some wikipedia-ish issues around copyright and formatting. No one else contributed research or content, I always held out hope that there would be another closet Isham Randolph enthusiast out there in the world, but it looks like I’ve found a niche of exactly one – me.

What’s next? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve started to pull together some articles on Col. Robert Isham Randolph, Isham’s son. In 1930, the Colonel, a veteran of the Mexican Revolution and World War I, was appointed as the chair of the Chicago Association of Commerce. Within 6 months, he had established The Secret Six, a (obviously) secret organization of prominent businessmen that threw their vast wealth behind the goal of ridding Chicago of crime. When I read this blurb from the Tribune, it blew my mind.

Wait, was he a businessman, or BATMAN?

So, what’s next?  A page for Isham Randolph’s son, who was apparently Chicago’s version of Batman.  It’s not an exaggeration, the Secret Six brought Eliot Ness to Chicago, and ultimately brought down Al Capone.  Sure, some crabby historians think that Randolph and the CAC created the furor over Racketeering for some nefarious  purpose, but I’m at the stage in my research where I’m totally buying the Secret Six as super-hero squad hook line and sinker.

Given the popular conception of Al Capone and the Untouchables, how could it be possible that it was all manufactured by a conglomerate of Chicago’s wealthiest businessmen?  Would they really do something like that just to get Anton Cermak elected to the mayor’s office on promises of being hard on crime in 1931?  Just a few short months after the formation of the Secret Six?  It’s just a lot to fathom.  I’m going to go with the official line, but – wow, what if the Randolph family both reversed the flow of the Chicago River and elevated Al Capone from petty gangster to public enemy one just to get a mayor elected?!  What a family!


  • Larry Easton

    Chris McAvoy,

    In my research on Michigamme, Michigan railroads, I find that a “Randolph Interlocking and Derailing Machine”
    was used in the crossing tower one mile east of town where the C&NW crossed the DSS&A at grade.  It was built in 1888, at the time Randolph was Chief Engineer for the Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad.  Do you have any more information on his invention?  I wonder why the C&NW would have chosen his machine since the used the more common Union Switch & Signal Company machines at other crossings…

    Larry Easton, archivist, Soo Line Historical & Technical Society.

  • Chris McAvoy

    Wow, I didn’t realize any of that.  After a little research, I found this: which describes the switching mechanism a bit.  I haven’t come across any mention of the switching system in his memoir.  Can you send some pictures, or any other information you have?  My email is Thanks!

  • Brando37

    Chris McAvoy,

    I have a book called The Randolph’s of Virginia written by Robert Isham Randolph 1936 only 250 copies made and they were only given to certin people  – This book was given to Roy Bird Cook and there are 2 letters inside that are signed by Robert Isham Randolph . Is the book worth any thing ?

  • Koys2900

    I also have that book, The Randolph’s of Virginia. I grew up in the house in Riverside, IL where Isham Randolph and his three sons, including Robert Isham, lived. According to the family tree I’ve put together from various websites, I do believe this family is related to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson’s mother was a Randolph. These Randolph’s moved to Chicago and subsequently to Riverside from Virginia. Robert Isham is buried alongside his wife Martha in a cemetery in Hinsdale, IL. Robert Isham WAS a member of the Secret Six that financed anti-mob efforts and helped bring down Al Capone. I’ve always wondered whether they ever met in my living room to discuss strategy. 
    John K

  • Chris McAvoy

     Do you know the current owners of the Riverside house?  I’d love to go take pictures.  Any idea if any of Isham’s papers exist anywhere?

  • JohnK

    I remember finding several (3-6) rusting, blueprint cannisters in the old garage attic of the Riverside house I grew up in–the same house that was onwed by the Randolph family (Isham and then Robert Isham). There were engineering drawings in these cannisters of what looked like street or railroad plans. This was about 40 years ago. Unfortunately my father threw the cannisters away! I can find the name of the family that lives there now; when my mother and father (now deceased) moved out of the home in about 1998, they where on good terms with the new owners and were invited to come back to visit whenever they felt like it. Are you still working on an article or book about the Randolphs? I would love to correspond with you in the future.

  • Chris McAvoy

    Hi! I’m always interested in more details about Isham…let me know if you come across anything.