Pearson, Weetman Dickinson (first Viscount Cowdray) 1856 - 1927

English; British

(1856–1927) 1st Viscount Cowdray, building contractor and oil producer

Pearson was born on the 15th of July 1856 near Huddersfield. He attended a private school, Hallfield, in Bowling, Bradford, and at the age of thirteen went to Pannal College near Harrogate before joining his family’s firm, S. Pearson & Son. In 1875, three years after joining the firm, Pearson was sent on a tour to the US to seek new business. The trip was successful, and when his grandfather retired in 1879, Pearson was given his share of the business. He expanded out of the north of England, especially to London, where he moved the headquarters in 1884. Pearson became the sole partner in 1894.

During the 1880s, the firm undertook major constructions, including in Milford Haven (1885–90), Southampton (1886–91), and Halifax in Nova Scotia (1886–9), as well as a contract to build the Hudson River tunnel connecting New York with Jersey City, and construction of the Grand Canal to drain the swampy plateau on which Mexico City stood. Other projects undertaken included construction of the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames between 1891 and 1897, building of the four East River tunnels connecting New York with Long Island for the Pennsylvania, New York, and Long Island Railroad Company in the 1900s, and a considerable number of railways, port and other infrastructure projects in Mexico.

Due to a night spent in Laredo on the Mexico–US border in 1901, Pearson became a pioneer of the Mexican oil industry. In 1910, Pearson's drillers struck oil on an enormous scale, to the extent that by 1914 Mexico had become the third largest oil producing country in the world, with Pearson controlling about 60% of its production. In 1919, Pearson sold the majority of his equity to the Shell group.

Pearson was elected Liberal MP for Colchester in 1895, but was frequently absent from parliament. For his various services, he was created baronet in 1894, and raised to the peerage in 1910 as Baron Cowdray, of Midhurst, Sussex. He was created a viscount in 1917. In 1920, he was elected lord rector of Aberdeen University, and in 1925 was made GCVO. On 1 May 1927, two days before he was due to become a freeman of Aberdeen, he died in his sleep at his home, Dunecht House, Dunecht, Aberdeenshire, having for some time suffered from heart disease.