Robert Ralph Young, businessman, youngest of four children born to David John and Mary Arabella (Moody) Young, was born on February 14, 1897, at Canadian, Texas. The house in which he was born and where he spent his boyhood was built and once owned by Temple Lea Houston. His mother, the daughter of Robert Moody, died when he was ten, and his father, a strict man, did not quite know how to control their precocious son, whom neighborhood boys nicknamed "Pumpkin" because of his auburn hair. In his teens Robert was sent to Culver Military Academy in Indiana, from which he graduated at the head of his class in 1914. He then entered the University of Virginia but became more interested in social life than studies and dropped out before the end of his second year. Rather than work at his father's bank, Young took a job as a powder-cutter at the E. I. DuPont powder plant at Carney's Point, New Jersey. Soon after, on April 27, 1916, he married Anita Ten Eyck O'Keeffe, sister of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, in Baltimore. They had one daughter. Within a short time, Young worked his way up to the DuPont Corporation's treasurer's office, where he learned much about finance and advertising. By 1920 he had left DuPont and, using a $5,000 inheritance from his grandfather, speculated in securities. Although he lost everything in that venture, Young's interest in Wall Street and the stock market was aroused. He joined General Motors in 1922 and was made assistant treasurer in 1928. He soon became associated with John J. Raskob, the head of the corporation, and left it shortly afterward to handle Raskob's finances, when Raskob, who was also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, took a temporary sabbatical to manage Al Smith's presidential campaign. Early in 1929 Raskob vehemently disagreed with Young's predictions of a stock market crash, and the two men parted company. Subsequently, Young netted a fortune selling stocks short of their original value.
In 1931 Young formed a brokerage partnership with Frank Kolbe and bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in order to speculate in stocks. After his father died in 1927, Young inherited a controlling interest in Canadian's First National Bank, which he sold in 1939. Nevertheless, he maintained close ties with family and friends in Canadian, kept his membership in its Presbyterian church, and helped restore a local cemetery, which he named after Edith Ford, the aunt who helped rear him after his mother's death. By 1941, in alliance with Allan P. Kirby, a retail merchant, Young owned a controlling interest in the Allegheny Corporation, a railroad holding company previously owned by the Van Sweringen family. As chairman of the board of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, he launched a well-publicized campaign for the modernization of railroad passenger service and was one of the first railroad executives to introduce lightweight, high-speed diesel passenger trains. The "Populist of Wall Street," Young regarded himself as a crusader against the mismanagement of railroads by banking interests; his most famous advertisement slogan was "a hog can cross the country without changing trains-but you can't." When his attempt to obtain a central position at the Pullman Company after World War II failed, he turned to the New York Central Railroad. In 1954, after a long proxy struggle, and with the aid of Clinton Williams Murchison, Sr., and Sid Williams Richardson, Young gained control of the New York Central and became the chairman of its board. Because of his initials, he was often labeled "Railroad" Young. Though he maintained offices and an apartment in downtown New York, Young preferred to do most of his office work in the privacy of the den of his mansion at Newport, Rhode Island. Among his circle of friends were the duke and duchess of Windsor.
Young was also an amateur poet and bibliophile. In 1953 he donated a number of documents dealing with Texas history, including a valuable microfilm collection of documents in the Archivo General de las Indias in Seville, to the University of Texas at Austin. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the Texas Heritage Foundation for his efforts to compile a library of Texas historical documents. The dreams of Young and Alfred Perlman, whom he selected as president of the Central in 1954, to form a true transcontinental line were frustrated by antitrust suits and by lack of interest on the part of the western lines to merge with the nearly bankrupt corporation. What was more, Young's daughter, who had risen prominently in high society, had died in a plane crash near Newport in 1940; he never fully recovered from that shock. Consequently, he often experienced moods of depression. On January 25, 1958, Young apparently committed suicide with a shotgun at his winter mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Newport. The New York Central's electronic freightyard in Elkhart, Indiana, was named in his honor. Young's attempts toward merging the Pennsylvania and New York Central lines came to fruition in 1968, when the Penn Central Transportation Company was formed.