Edward Green, railroad capitalist, was born in London, England, on August 22, 1868, the son of Edward Henry and Hetty Howland (Robinson) Green. Edward's parents were extraordinarily wealthy and at the time of his birth were living in London primarily because of his father's activity in international banking. He shared a close, if at times tumultuous, relationship with his eccentric mother, a parsimonious heiress with extensive business interests throughout the United States. Green attended school in New York City and Vermont, graduated from Fordham College in 1888, and then was admitted to the bar after studying law in Chicago. He became involved in various aspects of his mother's real estate and railroad interests in the Midwest, and in 1892 he moved to Texas at his mother's request to represent her in several developing railroad deals.
Green began his business career in Texas as president and general manager of the Texas-Midland Railroad, which was developed from a section of the Houston and Texas Central he purchased on his mother's behalf in 1892. He set up his headquarters in Terrell and quickly moved to improve the railroad through both better equipment and expansion. Much to his mother's dismay, he took a deep liking to Texas and became active in numerous business, social, and political activities there. The massive transplanted Texan-he stood 6'4" and weighed between 250 and 300 pounds-pursued real estate investments, served as the director of several banks, and was a leader in the state Republican party. He also was credited with establishing an experimental diversified farm in Kaufman County, bringing the first automobile to Texas, and giving jobs on the railroad to members of a traveling semiprofessional baseball team he organized in Terrell. Green was a close friend of President William McKinley and chaired the state Republican executive committee for three terms, from 1896 to 1902. One of his closest friends and political partners was black politician William M. (Gooseneck Bill) McDonald. Firmly aligned with the "Black and Tan" faction of the Republicans in Texas, Green was less appreciated by the party's "Lily White" members. Nevertheless, he was selected several times as a delegate to the Republican national conventions. There also was speculation that Green might become the Republican candidate for governor in the early 1900s, although he did not. His relationship with Democratic politicians in the state, such as Oscar B. Colquitt of Terrell, was also strong. After supporting Colquitt for governor in 1910, Green was appointed an honorary colonel on the new governor's staff and was subsequently known as Colonel Green.
Although his mother encouraged him not to marry, Green was known for enjoying the company of women. He had a longtime relationship with Mabel E. Harlow, a native of Illinois, whom he married on July 10, 1917, after his mother's death. Before their marriage, Green arranged for Mabel to live in Dallas, where he visited her on weekends, in an effort to appease the citizens of Terrell, who disapproved of her past employment as a prostitute. Green's marriage lasted until his death, but it apparently had little effect on his activities with other women.
He ran the Texas-Midland until 1928, when he sold it to Southern Pacific. He spent much time in New York after 1910, helping his mother with her estate. It has been suggested that she called him back to New York to get him out of Texas politics, but the request for his help as her health declined indicated that Hetty Green trusted her son; he was in fact one of the few people close to her. Still, theirs was not a simple relationship. It was often suggested that the amputation of his leg in 1887 resulted from her neglect of an injury to his knee as a teenager, although Colonel Green attributed his artificial limb to a handcar accident. Upon the death of Hetty Green in 1916, he inherited half of her wealth, while the other half went to his sister.
Green died of heart disease in Lake Placid, New York, on June 8, 1936 and was survived only by his wife and sister. His estate was valued at more than $40 million. Although he had not lived exclusively in Texas since leaving to help his mother with her business, state attorney general William McCraw argued upon Green's death that he had never ceased to be a resident of the state. Texas was joined by Massachusetts, Florida, and New York in a fight for some $6 million in inheritance taxes from Green's estate; the United States Supreme Court ultimately awarded the money to Massachusetts, where Green owned a home. After his funeral in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Green was buried at his family's home in Bellows Falls, Vermont. As a final twist to his colorful life, his wife fulfilled his last request by having his amputated leg exhumed and rejoined to his body before his burial.