Saturday, February 4, 2012


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When people think of wealthy people today, most people think of Bill Gates or Sam Walton. However, there were people in the past whose wealth would marvel that of the richest people today. The men responsible for the creation of the word millionaire lived back in the late 1th and early 0th centuries. These early businessmen and entrepreneurs were some of the richest and most powerful people of their time. In fact, their wealth is equivalent to if not more than some of today’s richest people. Two of these men were “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt and John Pierpont Morgan. Many people believed that these men were concerned with nothing but their money and wealth; however, nearing the end of their lives this was anything but true. Were these men robber barons or Robin Hoods? While comparing and contrasting these two men, hopefully one will be able to see that in the end they were both some-what like Robin Hoods.

To begin with, Cornelius Vanderbilt was born on May 7, 174 in New York to Cornelius and Phebe Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt 1). His family was relatively poor and could not afford very many luxury or treats. Consequently, he did not have the opportunity to go to school and, instead, began helping his father make money to support the family. When he was almost 16 years of age, he borrowed $100.00 from his mother and father and bought a small sailing vessel. With this ship, he started a passenger and freight service (1). After his first year in business, he raised enough money to pay back the $100.00 that he borrowed along with an additional $1000 to his parents (St. Francis 1). From this point on, he started building what was to become one of the most prominent sailing businesses in the United States (Vanderbilt 1).

John Pierpont Morgan was born on April 17, 187 to Junius Spencer and Juliet Pierpont Morgan in Connecticut (JohnPierpontMorgan 1). Born into a prominent family, he was very well off from the day he was born. After graduating from high school in Boston, he moved to Germany to attend college (1). After graduating from college, he learned very important banking and financial skills at the firm of Duncan, Sherman & Company (Morgan J.P. 1). After he had finished his training, he began working in the banking industry in his father’s banking firm in London (1).

From comparing the early life of these two men, one can see that Morgan had a relatively easy upbringing and Vanderbilt had a tough upbringing. Vanderbilt had to work hard at an early age to build his business and make it successful. He did not have the luxury that Morgan had in attending school. Vanderbilt had a desire to succeed and be more successful in life than his parents, while Morgan was simply following the path that his father wanted.

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When Vanderbilt was approximately 5 years old, he startled his friends and family when he sold his sailing business and began working for Thomas Gibbons as a ferry Capitan (Vanderbilt 1). This was unusual for Vanderbilt since he had been self-employed since he was sixteen. Vanderbilt continued to work for Gibbons until 18 when he resigned. It was at this point that he took his money and opened his own steamboat business (1). It was from this business that he made most of his wealth and spent most of his life. By the age of 40, he was believed to have exceeded the half-million mark; a considerable amount during that time (St. Francis 1). He was regarded as a hard-nosed stubborn individual; he did nothing but work and make money. While continuing to run his steamboat business in the northeast U.S., he started building a route to carry people to California via Nicaragua and the Pacific. Brought on by the gold rush demand, Vanderbilt’s route was faster and cheaper than his competitors’ Panama route, and it made him over a million a year (1). During his middle age years, Vanderbilt dealt mainly with the shipping and passenger boat industry. But, it was from this industry that he learned about business and where he made most of his fortune due to his frugality.

After Morgan left his father’s banking firm in London, he began working in the firm of Drexel, Morgan & Company (Morgan J.P. 1). It was during this time that he became the sole financier in the “largest reorganization of railways and consolidation of industrial properties” (JohnPierpontMorgan 1). In 101, Morgan formed the first billion-dollar corporation in the world, called U.S. Steel Corporation (Morgan 1). He held a dominant position in both domestic and international finance during this period (Morgan J.P. 1). In fact, “Morgan’s great control over government finances and other private enterprises has never been matched by any other American” (1). During his prominent years as a banker and financier, he helped underwrite some of the biggest companies in America today, such as AT&T and General Electric (Strouse). Morgan’s brilliance as a banker and determination as businessman led him to the top. He continued to play a very important role in the business world up till his death and had lasting effects on the country as a whole.

In comparing these two men’s middle ages, one can see the difference in how each came to power and wealth. Vanderbilt, on one side, worked hard in starting a new steamboat business and he built his business from the ground up. Morgan, on the other hand, bought small businesses out to create his business. Both had different philosophies regarding business, but both became wealthy.

When Vanderbilt was almost 70 years old, he realized that the future was not in boats, but in railroads (St. Francis ). His first order of business after getting out of the boating industry was the purchase of both the New York and Harlem Railroads. In1867 he acquired the Central Railroad and merged it with the previously acquired Hudson River Railroad. Vanderbilt supposedly cleared 5 million in his first five years in the railroad industry (). Vanderbilt helped create one of the greatest railroad transportation systems in America (Vanderbilt ). During this time, he created thousands of jobs for men building his railroads (St. Francis ). Vanderbilt died on January 4, 1877 leaving the bulk of his estate to his son William (Vanderbilt ). Vanderbilt was not considered a great philanthropist by any means until he was almost dead. In his last years, he left one million to Central University, which was later named Vanderbilt University, and $50,000 to a church in New York where his friend was the pastor (). These were the only major contributions that Vanderbilt made.

Morgan continued his influence in the financial world up until his death in 11. In fact, in 185 and 107, he bailed out the U.S. from an economic panic (America’s Last Emperor of Finance ). In 185, he stopped a run on the treasury and organized approximately 6 million in bonds to help out the U.S. Treasury. Again, in 107 he bailed out the Treasury of the United States. During this time, Morgan acted as the central bank of the United States. The later years of Morgan’s life were marked with trouble and questions. In 11, Congress questioned him as too whether his money trusts controlled the U.S. financial industry. However, nothing came of the investigation (). Morgan made several major contributions to society in his later years. First of all, he donated money, buildings, land, and art to places such as St. John the Divine Cathedral, New York Trade Schools, New York Hospitals, Museum of National History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (JohnPierpontMorgan 1). He also gave a complete set of signatures from the Declaration of Independence signers to the Library of Congress (1). Although, Morgan’s later life was not as successful as his middles years, it was marked by many more contributions to society, and hence more beneficial to everyone.

One question arises when comparing and contrasting Cornelius Vanderbilt and J. P. Morgan. That question is whether or not they were robber barons or Robin Hoods? Though it is clear that in their early years, they were clearly robber barons getting rich off the work and exploitation of others, it is not so easy to say the same thing about their later years. Of these two men, J. P. Morgan was probably more of a robin hood than Vanderbilt. Morgan made more contributions to more people and places than Vanderbilt. Though both may be considered Robin Hoods in the end; Morgan was the better of the two. While comparing these two men, it is apparent that they were idols of their time, dictators in their respective fields. Through their determination and wit, they rose to the top of American society, and remained there still today.

Works Cited

American’s Last Emperor of Finance. Business Week. 0 July 00. http//

John Pierpont Morgan. Sack Lunch Net. 0 July 00. http//

Morgan, J.P. InfoPlease. 0 July 00. http//

Morgan, John Pierpont. Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 0 July 00. http//

St. Francis. University of St. Francis. 0 July 00. http//

Strouse, Jean. Morgan American Financier. New York Harper Collins, 000.

Vanderbilt, Cornelius. Dictionary of American Biography (Volume X). Ed. Malone, Dumas. New York Charles Scribner’s Sons, 164. http//

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