The father of the Century League, William Washington Whitney, was born April 14, 1840 in Boone County, Illinois. The son of a farmer, Whitney was highly intelligent and driven and this led him to successfully obtaining a nomination and ultimately, admission to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Whitney was pragmatic and went to West Point with a goal of becoming an engineer - the Army was merely a means to an end for him.

 

Whitney's class graduated in June of 1861 (among his classmates was George Armstrong Custer) just as the Civil War was beginning. Whitney had graduated near the top of his class and joined the Corps of Engineers. Unlike some of his fellow engineers, Whitney did not elect to resign his commission in order to lead one of the many volunteer units being raised in the various states. As an engineer, he participated in the building of fortifications around Washington, D.C. It was while doing this that Whitney was exposed to the sport of base ball. 

Whitney quickly fell in love with the "New York" game after playing it with some members of the Empire State's volunteer brigades deployed around the capital. Though the war cycled men from all over the country through the military ring surrounding the city, Whitney often found time to play. He also made friends with soldiers from as far away as California - and it was those friendships he would use in building his postwar business.

Whitney, as the son of a farmer, was well acquainted with the process of moving produce from rural areas to the country's burgeoning urban areas. After mustering out of the Army in 1866, he parlayed this knowledge with his military connections to build a business supplying fruit from distant California to the markets of Chicago (and later St. Louis as well). By the middle of the 1870s, Whitney's fruit business was massively profitable, earning him the nickname "Chief" for his strong personality and leadership ability and ultimately allowing him the freedom to pursue his other dream - a professional base ball circuit.

In 1876 Whitney again used his network of contacts which had grown from former comrades-in-arms to include businessmen throughout the Midwest. Whitney explained his plan to these men, all successful businessmen in their own rights, and found seven like-minded individuals who would form the core of the Century League.

Whitney would act as League President for nearly a decade while also running the business-side of his Chicago Base Ball club. Newspapers dubbed the Chicago club the "Chiefs" in honor of Whitney. Whitney owned the Chiefs until retiring from his business interests in 1905. His son, William W. Whitney Jr. (popularly known as "Wash" Whitney) took over upon his father's retirement. The elder Whitney moved to the West Coast where he dabbled in the formation of the West Coast League and frequently was seen at West Coast League ballgames until he passed away in February of 1920 at the age of 79.