John Pierpont Morgan Sr. (April 17, 1837 – March 31, 1913) was an American financier and banker who dominated corporate finance on Wall Street throughout the Gilded Age. As the head of the banking firm that ultimately became known as J.P. Morgan and Co., he was a driving force behind the wave of industrial consolidation in the United States spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Over the course of his career on Wall Street, J.P. Morgan spearheaded the formation of several prominent multinational corporations including U.S. Steel Corporation, International Harvester and General Electric. He and his partners also held controlling interests in numerous other American businesses including AT&T, Western Union and 24 railroads. Due to his financial dominance, Morgan came to wield enormous influence over the nation's lawmakers and finances. During the Panic of 1907, he organized a coalition of financiers that saved the American economy from collapse.
As the Progressive Era's leading financier, J.P. Morgan's dedication to efficiency and modernization helped transform the shape of the American economy.[according to whom?] Adrian Wooldridge characterized Morgan as America's "greatest banker". Morgan died in Rome, Italy, in his sleep in 1913 at the age of 75, leaving his fortune and business to his son, John Pierpont Morgan Jr. Biographer Ron Chernow estimated his fortune at only $118 million (of which approximately $50 million was attributed to his vast art collection), a net worth which allegedly prompted John D. Rockefeller to say: "and to think, he wasn't even a rich man."
Morgan was born into the influential Morgan family in Hartford, Connecticut, and was raised there. He was the son of Junius Spencer Morgan (1813–1890) and Juliet Pierpont (1816–1884). Pierpont, as he preferred to be known, had a varied education due in part to the plans of his father. In the fall of 1848, Pierpont transferred to the Hartford Public School and then to the Episcopal Academy in Cheshire, Connecticut (now called Cheshire Academy), boarding with the principal. In September 1851, Morgan passed the entrance exam for The English High School of Boston, a school specializing in mathematics to prepare young men for careers in commerce. In the April 1852, an illness struck which was to become more common as his life progressed. Rheumatic fever left him in so much pain that he could not walk, and Junius sent him to the Azores to recover.
He convalesced there for almost a year, then returned to the English High School in Boston to resume his studies. After he graduated, his father sent him to Bellerive, a school in the Swiss village of La Tour-de-Peilz, where he gained fluency in French. His father then sent him to the University of Göttingen in order to improve his German. He attained a passable level of German within six months and also a degree in art history, then traveled back to London via Wiesbaden, with his formal education complete.
Morgan went into banking in 1857 at the London branch of merchant banking firm Peabody, Morgan & Co., a partnership between his father and George Peabody founded three years earlier. In 1858, he moved to New York City to join the banking house of Duncan, Sherman & Company, the American representatives of George Peabody and Company. During the American Civil War, in an incident known as the Hall Carbine Affair, Morgan financed the purchase of five thousand rifles from an army arsenal at $3.50 each, which were then resold to a field general for $22 each. Morgan had avoided serving during the war by paying a substitute $300 to take his place. From 1860 to 1864, as J. Pierpont Morgan & Company, he acted as agent in New York for his father's firm, renamed "J.S. Morgan & Co." upon Peabody's retirement in 1864. From 1864–72, he was a member of the firm of Dabney, Morgan, and Company. In 1871, he partnered with the Drexels of Philadelphia to form the New York firm of Drexel, Morgan & Company. At that time, Anthony J. Drexel became Pierpont's mentor at the request of Junius Morgan.
After the death of Anthony Drexel, the firm was rechristened "J. P. Morgan & Company" in 1895, retaining close ties with Drexel & Company of Philadelphia; Morgan, Harjes & Company of Paris; and J.S. Morgan & Company (after 1910 Morgan, Grenfell & Company) of London. By 1900, it was one of the most powerful banking houses of the world, focused especially on reorganizations and consolidations.
Morgan had many partners over the years, such as George W. Perkins, but always remained firmly in charge. His process of taking over troubled businesses to reorganize them became known as "Morganization". Morgan reorganized business structures and management in order to return them to profitability. His reputation as a banker and financier also helped bring interest from investors to the businesses that he took over.
Morgan's ascent to power was focused on the railroads, the largest business enterprises in America. He wrested control of the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad from Jay Gould and Jim Fisk in 1869, he led the syndicate that broke the government-financing privileges of Jay Cooke, and soon became deeply involved in developing and financing a railroad empire by reorganizations and consolidations in all parts of the United States. He raised large sums in Europe but instead of only handling the funds he helped the railroads reorganize and achieve greater efficiencies. He fought against the speculators interested in speculative profits, and built a vision of an integrated transportation system. Morgan's successfully marketed a large part of William H. Vanderbilt's New York Central holdings in 1883. In 1885 he reorganized the New York, West Shore & Buffalo Railroad, leasing it to the New York Central. In 1886 he reorganized the Philadelphia & Reading, and in 1888 the Chesapeake & Ohio. After Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887, Morgan set up conferences in 1889 and 1890 that brought together railroad presidents in order to help the industry follow the new laws and write agreements for the maintenance of "public, reasonable, uniform and stable rates" The conferences were the first of their kind, and by creating a community of interest among competing lines paved the way for the great consolidations of the early 20th century. In addition, J P Morgan & Co (or the banking houses which it succeeded) reorganized a large number of railroads between 1869 and 1899. He also financed street railways, especially in New York City.
A major political debacle came in 1904. The Northern Pacific Railway went bankrupt in the great depression of 1893. A complex financial battle ensued to take control of the railroad, because bankruptcy wiped out the bondholders and it was now free of debt. A compromise was reached involving Morgan, New York financier E. H. Harriman and St. Paul, MN railroad builder James J. Hill. To reduce expensive competition in the middle West, they in 1901 created the Northern Securities Company to consolidate the operations of three of the most important railways in the region, the Northern Pacific Railway, the Great Northern Railway, and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. The consolidators ran into unexpected opposition from President Theodore Roosevelt. He was an energetic trustbuster who saw the giant combination as bad for consumers and illegal under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which previously had seldom been enforced. Roosevelt in 1902 ordered his Justice Department to sue to break it up. In 1904 the Supreme Court dissolved the Northern Security company and the railroads had to go their separate, competitive ways. Morgan did not lose money on the project, but his all-powerful political reputation suffered.
The Federal Treasury was nearly out of gold in 1895, at the depths of the Panic of 1893. Morgan had put forward a plan for the federal government to buy gold from his and European banks but it was declined in favor of a plan to sell bonds directly to the general public to overcome the crisis. Morgan, sure there was not enough time to implement such a plan, demanded and eventually obtained a meeting with Grover Cleveland where he claimed the government could default that day if they didn't do something. Morgan came up with a plan to use an old civil war statute that allowed Morgan and the Rothschilds to sell gold directly to the U.S. Treasury, 3.5 million ounces, to restore the treasury surplus, in exchange for a 30-year bond issue. The episode saved the Treasury but hurt Cleveland's standing with the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party, and became an issue in the election of 1896 when banks came under a withering attack from William Jennings Bryan. Morgan and Wall Street bankers donated heavily to Republican William McKinley, who was elected in 1896 and re-elected in 1900.
After the death of his father in 1890, Morgan took control of J. S. Morgan & Co. (which was renamed Morgan, Grenfell & Company in 1910). Morgan began talks with Charles M. Schwab, president of Carnegie Co., and businessman Andrew Carnegie in 1900. The goal was to buy out Carnegie's steel business and merge it with several other steel, coal, mining and shipping firms. After financing the creation of the Federal Steel Company, he finally merged it in 1901 with the Carnegie Steel Company and several other steel and iron businesses (including Consolidated Steel and Wire Company, owned by William Edenborn), to form the United States Steel Corporation. In 1901 U.S. Steel was the first billion-dollar company in the world, having an authorized capitalization of $1.4 billion, which was much larger than any other industrial firm and comparable in size to the largest railroads.
U.S. Steel aimed to achieve greater economies of scale, reduce transportation and resource costs, expand product lines, and improve distribution. It was also planned to allow the United States to compete globally with the United Kingdom and Germany. Schwab and others claimed that U.S. Steel's size would allow the company to be more aggressive and effective in pursuing distant international markets ("globalization"). U.S. Steel was regarded as a monopoly by critics, as the business was attempting to dominate not only steel but also the construction of bridges, ships, railroad cars and rails, wire, nails, and a host of other products. With U.S. Steel, Morgan had captured two-thirds of the steel market, and Schwab was confident that the company would soon hold a 75 percent market share. However, after 1901 the business' market share dropped. Schwab resigned from U.S. Steel in 1903 to form Bethlehem Steel, which became the second largest U.S. steel producer.
Labor policy was a contentious issue. U.S. Steel was non-union, and experienced steel producers, led by Schwab, wanted to keep it that way with the use of aggressive tactics to identify and root out pro-union "troublemakers." The lawyers and bankers who had organized the merger—notably Morgan and CEO Elbert Gary—were more concerned with long-range profits, stability, good public relations, and avoiding trouble. The bankers' views generally prevailed, and the result was a "paternalistic" labor policy. (U.S. Steel was eventually unionized in the late 1930s.)
The Panic of 1907 was a financial crisis that almost crippled the American economy. Major New York banks were on the verge of bankruptcy and there was no mechanism to rescue them, until Morgan stepped in to help resolve the crisis. Treasury Secretary George B. Cortelyou earmarked $35 million of federal money to deposit in New York banks. Morgan then met with the nation's leading financiers in his New York mansion, where he forced them to devise a plan to meet the crisis. James Stillman, president of the National City Bank, also played a central role. Morgan organized a team of bank and trust executives which redirected money between banks, secured further international lines of credit, and bought up the plummeting stocks of healthy corporations.
A delicate political issue arose regarding the brokerage firm of Moore and Schley, which was deeply involved in a speculative pool in the stock of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. Moore and Schley had pledged over $6 million of the Tennessee Coal and Iron (TCI) stock for loans among the Wall Street banks. The banks had called the loans, and the firm could not pay. If Moore and Schley should fail, a hundred more failures would follow and then all Wall Street might go to pieces. Morgan decided they had to save Moore and Schley. TCI was one of the chief competitors of U.S. Steel and it owned valuable iron and coal deposits. Morgan controlled U.S. Steel and he decided it had to buy the TCI stock from Moore and Schley. Elbert Gary, head of U.S. Steel, agreed, but was concerned there would be antitrust implications that could cause grave trouble for U.S. Steel, which was already dominant in the steel industry. Morgan sent Gary to see President Theodore Roosevelt, who promised legal immunity for the deal. U.S. Steel thereupon paid $30 million for the TCI stock and Moore and Schley was saved. The announcement had an immediate effect; by November 7, 1907, the panic was over. The crisis underscored the need for a powerful oversight mechanism.
Vowing to never let it happen again, and realizing that in a future crisis there was unlikely to be another Morgan, in 1913 banking and political leaders, led by Senator Nelson Aldrich, devised a plan that resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.
While conservatives in the Progressive Era hailed Morgan for his civic responsibility, his strengthening of the national economy, and his devotion to the arts and religion, the left wing viewed him as one of the central figures in the system it rejected. Morgan redefined conservatism in terms of financial prowess coupled with strong commitments to religion and high culture.
Enemies of banking attacked Morgan for the terms of his loan of gold to the federal government in the 1895 crisis and, together with writer Upton Sinclair, they attacked him for the financial resolution of the Panic of 1907. They also attempted to attribute to him the financial ills of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. In December 1912, Morgan testified before the Pujo Committee, a subcommittee of the House Banking and Currency committee. The committee ultimately concluded that a small number of financial leaders was exercising considerable control over many industries. The partners of J.P. Morgan & Co. and directors of First National and National City Bank controlled aggregate resources of $22.245 billion, which Louis Brandeis, later a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, compared to the value of all the property in the twenty-two states west of the Mississippi River.
Morgan did not always invest well, as several failures demonstrated.
In 1900, the inventor Nikola Tesla convinced Morgan he could build a trans-Atlantic wireless communication system (eventually sited at Wardenclyffe) that would outperform the short range radio wave-based wireless telegraph system then being demonstrated by Guglielmo Marconi. Morgan agreed to give Tesla $150,000 (equivalent to $4,609,800 in 2019) to build the system in return for a 51% control of the patents. Almost as soon as the contract was signed Tesla decided to scale up the facility to include his ideas of terrestrial wireless power transmission to make what he thought was a more competitive system. Morgan considered Tesla's changes, and requests for the additional amounts of money to build it, a breach of contract and refused to fund the changes. With no additional investment capital available, the project at Wardenclyffe was abandoned in 1906, and never became operational.
Morgan suffered a rare business defeat in 1902 when he attempted to enter the London Underground field. Transit magnate Charles Tyson Yerkes thwarted Morgan's effort to obtain parliamentary authority to build the Piccadilly, City and North East London Railway, a subway line that would have competed with "Tube" lines controlled by Yerkes. Morgan called Yerkes' coup "the greatest rascality and conspiracy I ever heard of".
In 1902, J.P. Morgan & Co. financed the formation of International Mercantile Marine Company (IMMC), an Atlantic shipping company which absorbed several major American and British lines in an attempt to monopolize the shipping trade. IMMC was a holding company that controlled subsidiary corporations that had their own operating subsidiaries. Morgan hoped to dominate transatlantic shipping through interlocking directorates and contractual arrangements with the railroads, but that proved impossible because of the unscheduled nature of sea transport, American antitrust legislation, and an agreement with the British government. One of IMMC's subsidiaries was the White Star Line, which owned the RMS Titanic. The ship's famous sinking in 1912, the year before Morgan's death, was a financial disaster for IMMC, which was forced to apply for bankruptcy protection in 1915. Analysis of financial records shows that IMMC was over-leveraged and suffered from inadequate cash flow causing it to default on bond interest payments. Saved by World War I, IMMC eventually re-emerged as the United States Lines, which went bankrupt in 1986.
After the death of his father in 1890, Morgan gained control of J. S. Morgan & Co (renamed Morgan, Grenfell & Company in 1910). Morgan began negotiations with Charles M. Schwab, president of Carnegie Co., and businessman Andrew Carnegie in 1900 with the intention of buying Carnegie's business and several other steel and iron businesses to consolidate them to create the United States Steel Corporation. Carnegie agreed to sell the business to Morgan for $480 million. The deal was closed without lawyers and without a written contract. News of the industrial consolidation arrived to newspapers in mid-January 1901. U.S. Steel was founded later that year and was the first billion-dollar company in the world with an authorized capitalization of $1.4 billion.
Morgan was a member of the Union Club in New York City. When his friend, Erie Railroad president John King, was black-balled, Morgan resigned and organized the Metropolitan Club of New York. He donated the land on 5th Avenue and 60th Street at a cost of $125,000, and commanded Stanford White to "...build me a club fit for gentlemen, forget the expense..." He invited King in as a charter member and served as club president from 1891 to 1900.
In 1861, Morgan married Amelia Sturges, called Mimi (1835–1862). She died the following year. He married Frances Louisa Tracy, known as Fanny (1842–1924), on May 31, 1865. They had four children:
Morgan often had a tremendous physical effect on people; one man said that a visit from Morgan left him feeling "as if a gale had blown through the house." Morgan was physically large with massive shoulders, piercing eyes, and a purple nose. He was known to dislike publicity and hated being photographed; as a result of his self-consciousness of his rosacea, all of his professional portraits were retouched. His deformed nose was due to a disease called rhinophyma, which can result from rosacea. As the deformity worsens, pits, nodules, fissures, lobulations, and pedunculation contort the nose. This condition inspired the crude taunt "Johnny Morgan's nasal organ has a purple hue." Surgeons could have shaved away the rhinophymous growth of sebaceous tissue during Morgan's lifetime, but as a child he suffered from infantile seizures, and Morgan's son-in-law, Herbert L. Satterlee, has speculated that he did not seek surgery for his nose because he feared the seizures would return. His social and professional self-confidence were too well established to be undermined by this affliction. It appeared as if he dared people to meet him squarely and not shrink from the sight, asserting the force of his character over the ugliness of his face.
Morgan smoked dozens of cigars per day and favored large Havana cigars dubbed Hercules' Clubs by observers.
Morgan was a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church, and by 1890 was one of its most influential leaders. He was a founding member of the Church Club of New York, an Episcopal private member's club in Manhattan. In 1910, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church established a commission, proposed by Bishop Charles Brent, to implement a world conference of churches to address their differences in their “faith and order.” Morgan was so impressed by the proposal for such a conference that he contributed $100,000 to finance the commission's work.
His house at 219 Madison Avenue was originally built in 1853 by John Jay Phelps and purchased by Morgan in 1882. It became the first electrically lit private residence in New York. His interest in the new technology was a result of his financing Thomas Alva Edison's Edison Electric Illuminating Company in 1878. It was there that a reception of 1,000 people was held for the marriage of Juliet Morgan and William Pierson Hamilton on April 12, 1894, where they were given a favorite clock of Morgan's. Morgan also owned East Island in Glen Cove, New York, where he had a large summer house.
An avid yachtsman, Morgan owned several large yachts. The first being the Corsair, built by William Cramp & Sons for Charles J. Osborn (1837-1885), launched on 26 May 1880. Charles J. Osborn was Jay Gould's private banker. Morgan bought the yacht in 1882. The well-known quote, "If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it" is commonly attributed to Morgan in response to a question about the cost of maintaining a yacht, although the story is unconfirmed. A similarly unconfirmed legend attributes the quote to his son, J. P. Morgan Jr., in connection with the launching of the son's yacht Corsair IV at Bath Iron Works in 1930.
Morgan was scheduled to travel on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, but canceled at the last minute, choosing to remain at a resort in Aix-les-Bains, France. The White Star Line, which operated Titanic, was part of Morgan's International Mercantile Marine Company, and Morgan was to have his own private suite and promenade deck on the ship. In response to the sinking of Titanic, Morgan purportedly said, "Monetary losses amount to nothing in life. It is the loss of life that counts. It is that frightful death."
Morgan was a notable collector of books, pictures, paintings, clocks and other art objects, many loaned or given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (of which he was president and was a major force in its establishment), and many housed in his London house and in his private library on 36th Street, near Madison Avenue in New York City.
For a number of years the British artist and art critic Roger Fry worked for the Museum, and in effect for Morgan, as a collector.
His son, J. P. Morgan Jr., made the Pierpont Morgan Library a public institution in no 1924 as a memorial to his father, and kept Belle da Costa Greene, his father's private librarian, as its first director.
Morgan was a benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Groton School, Harvard University (especially its medical school), Trinity College, the Lying-in Hospital of the City of New York, and the New York trade schools.
By the turn of the century, Morgan had become one of America's most important collectors of gems and had assembled the most important gem collection in the U.S. as well as of American gemstones (over 1,000 pieces). Tiffany & Co. assembled his first collection under their Chief Gemologist, George Frederick Kunz. The collection was exhibited at the World's Fair in Paris in 1889. The exhibit won two golden awards and drew the attention of important scholars, lapidaries, and the general public.
George Frederick Kunz continued to build a second, even finer, collection which was exhibited in Paris in 1900. These collections have been donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where they were known as the Morgan-Tiffany and the Morgan-Bement collections. In 1911 Kunz named a newly found gem after his best customer morganite.
Morgan was a patron to photographer Edward S. Curtis, offering Curtis $75,000 in 1906, to create a series on the American Indians. Curtis eventually published a 20-volume work entitled The North American Indian. Curtis also produced a motion picture, In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914), which was restored in 1974 and re-released as In the Land of the War Canoes. Curtis was also famous for a 1911 magic lantern slide show The Indian Picture Opera which used his photos and original musical compositions by composer Henry F. Gilbert.
Morgan died while traveling abroad on March 31, 1913, just shy of his 76th birthday. He died in his sleep at the Grand Hotel Plaza in Rome, Italy. His body was brought back to America aboard the SS France, a French Line passenger ship. Flags on Wall Street flew at half-staff, and in an honor usually reserved for heads of state, the stock market closed for two hours when his body passed through New York City. His body was brought to lie in his home and adjacent library the first night of arrival in New York City. His remains were interred in the Cedar Hill Cemetery in his birthplace of Hartford, Connecticut. His son, John Pierpont "Jack" Morgan Jr., inherited the banking business. He bequeathed his mansion and large book collections to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.
His estate was worth $68.3 million ($1.39 billion in today's dollars based on CPI, or $25.2 billion based on share of GDP), of which about $30 million represented his share in the New York and Philadelphia banks. The value of his art collection was estimated at $50 million.
His son, J. P. Morgan Jr., took over the business at his father's death, but was never as influential. As required by the 1933 Glass–Steagall Act, the "House of Morgan" became three entities: J.P. Morgan & Co., which later became Morgan Guaranty Trust; Morgan Stanley, an investment house formed by his grandson Henry Sturgis Morgan; and Morgan Grenfell in London, an overseas securities house.
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President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
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