Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 3Topic 4The Robber Barons
The Robber Barons

JP Morgan
J.P. Morgan (above) opposed Fisk and Gould's predations.
Jim Fisk and Jay Gould were as different as two men could be. Fisk -- the "king of flash" -- was fat and loud. He drove around New York in a coach with three white horses, three black horses, two black coachmen in white uniforms and two white coachmen in black uniforms. Gould, on the other hand, was a family man. Small and thin, he tried not to be noticed.

Still, the two businessmen had things in common. They were partners, and were among the greediest men in a greedy age. In 1869, they tried to "corner," or buy , all the gold in America.

When that failed, they turned to railroads. While some tycoons like Cornelius Vanderbilt built railroads, Fisk and Gould specialized in destroying them. The financiers would sell "watered," or over-valued, railroad stock to the public. When people found out their stocks were worth less than they thought, they sold them at a loss, and the railroad went bankrupt. But Fisk and Gould already had their money.

View of Nassau and Wall Streets
People began to call these businessmen "robber barons." Eventually, they angered not only people they had helped to ruin, but also powerful conservative bankers like J.P. Morgan, who thought that stability made for better business. However, in 1873, another robber baron named Jay Cooke would bring down more than a railroad -- he would bring down the whole American economy.

Top illustration: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Bottom illustration: Courtesy of the Roger Whitehouse Collection.

The Business of Battle | The Robber Barons | The Panic of 1873

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