Jason 'Jay' Gould (United States, 1836-92)

Figure 1.--Here we see the six children of George Gould's children. George Gould (1864-1923) was one of Jay Gould' children, born soom after his father had begun investing in railways. Thisportrait was taken about 1908-09. Notice the importance of sailor fashions. Source: Bain News Service. Library of Congress. ggb2004002478.

Jason 'Jay' Gould was born in Roxbury, New York (1836). The family patriarch was a Scottish immigrant at a time tht New York was still an English colony and the western and northern areas part of the frontier. Gould rose from modest circumstances to become one of the richest Americans ever. His parents were Mary More (179841) and John Burr Gould (17921866). His motger died when he was still very young. His maternal grandfather, Alexander T. More, was a businessman. His great-grandfather, John More, was a Scottish immigrant who founded the town of Moresville, New York. Jay studied at local schools and the Hobart Academy in Hobart, New York. Gould played a major role in the development of the American railroad industry as both a developer and speculator. The Panic of 1857 created oportunities for a financier like Gould. He began speculating in small railways just before the Civil War (1859). As aesult of the Panic enabled him to buy railroad stocks for pennies on the dollar. In short order, he was able to gain control over the Erie Railroad, a major railway. Gould had become involved with , James Fusk, another financeer-speculator. The two men bcame involved with Tammany Hall, the New York City Democratic political stronghold. Gould and Fisk made Tammany Boss Tweed a director of the Erie Railroad. Tweed reciprcted by backing favorable legislation for them. It is at this time that Tweed and Gould became known natiinally and not in favorble terms. Thomas Nast drew critical cartoons picturing tem as rapacious figures (1869). When Tweed was arrested, Gould arranged a $1 millionnbail (1871). Gould and Fisk became involved in perhaps the greates financial manipulatiin in merican history, attempting to corner the old market. Theu began buying gold (1869). They hoped to increase wheat shipments and thus the revenue from their railroad holdings. Goild had contacts close to President Grant, but not Grant himself who acted to prevent the corner. Tge result was a financial panic--Black Friday (1869). Gould made some profits, but subsequent law suits proved very costly. The publicity fixed Gould's image innthe public mind. Gould's next effort was to obtain foreign investment enabling to gain cintrol ovr the Erie Railway which led him into a legal and with Lord Gordon Gordon, a confidence man who actually got some monry from Gould. Asproblems developed with the Erie Railway, Gould turned West and played an importnt role in developing the raik system in the West. He also obtained a controlling interest in the Western Union telegraph company. And then the elevated railways in New York City. Gould as American developed into an industrial powerhouse was involved with many of the most important rail-related financial operations in the United States. He became aariah to tthe Labor Movement. Trade unionist clained that during the Great Southwest Railroad Strike (1886) he hired strikebreakers and said, "I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half." Progressive Journalists and historians understandably have depicted him as the archetypal 19th century capitalist robber baron. Less ideologically fixed authors in recent years have suggested a more nuanced view of Gould. There is no doubt that he was a rapacious businessman. It is also true that the industrial expansion of the United States facilitated by the railroad network that Goild helped build made possible the highest standard of living in the world and wages well above European levels. Often onntted in a discussion of the Robber Barons like Gould is that they laid the foundation for the industrial strength that destroyed the great totalitarian states of the 20th century.


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Created: 5:00 AM 2/6/2015
Last updated: 5:00 AM 2/6/2015