Cornelius Vanderbilt was born on May 27, 1794, in the Port Richmond area of Staten Island, New York. He began a passenger ferry business in New York harbor with one boat, then started his own steamship company, eventually controlling Hudson River traffic. He also provided the first rail service between New York and Chicago.
At age 18, Vanderbilt contracted with the U.S. government to supply neighboring outposts during the War of 1812. He learned the art of shipbuilding and navigation in open water. By the end of the war, he had amassed a small fleet of boats and working capital of $10,000 ferrying passengers and freight from Boston to Delaware Bay. He would eventually be given the nickname “Commodore,” which he embraced
On December 19, 1813, much to the dismay of his parents, Cornelius Vanderbilt married his first cousin, Sophia Johnson. The couple would eventually have 13 children, with 11 surviving to adulthood. As successful as he would be in business, he was a terrible father and husband. A lifelong misogynist who had wanted more than three sons, Cornelius paid little attention to his daughters and is believed to have cheated on his wife with prostitutes. Vanderbilt reportedly had his son Cornelius Jeremiah twice committed to a lunatic asylum. He undertook the same course of action for Sophia at one point as well, after Vanderbilt showed amorous interest in the family's young governess.
In 1817, seeing the potential in a new technology, Cornelius Vanderbilt partnered with Thomas Gibbons in a steamship business, the Union Line. During his tenure with Gibbons, Vanderbilt learned how to manage a large commercial operation and became a quick study in legal matters. Gibbons was ferrying customers between New York and New Jersey, a clear violation of an 1808 state-sanctioned monopoly given to Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston. Aaron Ogden, who was operating Fulton and Livingston’s business and worked with Gibbons, sued the latter boatman for violating the monopoly. Vanderbilt and Gibbons hired Daniel Webster to defend their position. In Gibbons v. Ogden, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gibbons, stating the Constitution’s Commerce Clause gives Congress the exclusive authority to regulate interstate trade. Thus, it was unconstitutional for the New York legislature to give Ogden exclusive shipping rights.
Vanderbilt soon became known for his sharp business acumen. During the 1830s, he built profitable shipping lines in the New York region, undercutting competitors’ fares and offering top service. Competitors struggled and finally paid him to take his business elsewhere. He then shifted his operations to the Hudson River, going head to head against the Hudson River Steamboat Association, another monopoly. Capitalizing on the populist language of President Andrew Jackson, he named his service the "People’s Line," offering cheap fares for all. The Association bought him out for $100,000 and annual payments of $5,000. Implementing this business model several times made Vanderbilt a millionaire.
Andrew is born in Dunfermline, Scotland, to Margaret and Will Carnegie. Will Carnegie is a skilled weaver, and the Carnegies are one of many working-class families in Dunfermline. A younger son, Tom, is born in 1843.
John Pierpont Morgan was born on April 17, 1837, in Hartford, Connecticut, to Junius Spencer Morgan, a wealthy financier, and his wife Juliet Pierpont.
John Davison Rockefeller, the son of a traveling salesman, was born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York.
John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), founder of the Standard Oil Company, became one of the world’s wealthiest men and a major philanthropist. Born into modest circumstances in upstate New York, he entered the then-fledgling oil business in 1863 by investing in a Cleveland, Ohio, refinery. In 1870, he established Standard Oil, which by the early 1880s controlled some 90 percent of U.S. refineries and pipelines. Critics accused Rockefeller of engaging in unethical practices, such as predatory pricing and colluding with railroads to eliminate his competitors, in order to gain a monopoly in the industry. In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court found Standard Oil in violation of anti-trust laws and ordered it to dissolve. During his life Rockefeller donated more than $500 million to various philanthropic causes.
In the 1840s, he constructed a large but modest family home at 10 Washington Place, in present-day Greenwich Village. But the city’s elites were slow to accept him, considering him uncultured and rough. His handwriting was nearly illegible, his grammar atrocious and laced with profanity. Yet he didn’t care. He despised ostentation, living a relatively simple and disciplined life.
Steam-powered looms used in Scotland.
After steam-powered looms are introduced in Dunfermline, hundreds of hand loom workers are unemployed, including Andrew's father Will.
Carnegies emigrate to US.
The Carnegies settle in Pittsburgh, and Andrew begins work as a bobbin boy in a textile mill, earning $1.20 per week. He later takes a job in a factory tending the steam engine and boiler, for $2.00 per week. He impresses his supervisor with his penmanship and is offered the chance to work as a clerk for the factory.
Andrew works as messenger.
Andrew works as a messenger boy in a telegraph office, earning $2.50 per week. He memorizes street names and the names of men to whom he has taken messages. This way, he is able to save time by recognizing the recipient of a message on the street. Soon after he is promoted to the position of telegraph operator and begins making $20 per month.
In 1851, Vanderbilt expanded his shipping business, forming the Accessory Transit Company to transport passengers from New York City to San Francisco via the Nicaraguan isthmus. Again, his timing was perfect. The California Gold Rush brought an enormous demand for passage to the West Coast. Though offering a treacherous ride for its users, the Transit Company was a success. By 1852, his competition had had enough and offered him $40,000 a month to abandon his operations. Nearing 60 years old, Vanderbilt was ready for something else. He purchased a large yacht, christened the North Star, and took his extended family on a grand tour of Europe at the cost of half a million dollars.
In 1855, at age 16, he found work as an office clerk at a Cleveland commission firm that bought, sold and shipped grain, coal and other commodities. (He considered September 26, the day he started the position and entered the business world, so significant that as an adult he commemorated this “job day” with an annual celebration.) In 1859, Rockefeller and a partner established their own commission firm. That same year, America’s first oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania. In 1863, Rockefeller and several partners entered the booming new oil industry by investing in a Cleveland refinery.
In 1858, J.P. Morgan moved to New York and joined as an accountant for Duncan, Sherman & Co., the American representatives of George Peabody and Company. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Morgan joined his father's firm, J. Pierpont Morgan & Company, where he worked until 1864.
n 1864, Rockefeller married Laura Celestia “Cettie” Spelman (1839-1915), an Ohio native whose father was a prosperous merchant, politician and abolitionist active in the Underground Railroad. (Laura Rockefeller became the namesake of Spelman College, the historically black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia, that her husband helped finance.) The Rockefellers went on to have four daughters (three of whom survived to adulthood) and one son.
From 1864 to 1872, he served as an influential member of the firm of Dabney, Morgan, and Co. In 1871, he entered in a partnership to form the New York firm of Drexel, Morgan & Co.
In 1865, Rockefeller borrowed money to buy out some of his partners and take control of the refinery, which had become the largest in Cleveland. Over the next few years, he acquired new partners and expanded his business interests in the growing oil industry. At the time, kerosene, derived from petroleum and used in lamps, was becoming an economic staple. In 1870, Rockefeller formed the Standard Oil Company of Ohio, along with his younger brother William (1841-1922), Henry Flagler (1830-1913) and a group of other men. John Rockefeller was its president and largest shareholder.
In 1871, Morgan started his own private banking company and later restructured it as J.P. Morgan & Co. The firm acquired, financed and expanded many businesses, subsequently emerging as one of the most powerful banking houses in the world. It also provided financial support to the U.S. government during the economic depression following the panic of 1893.
Carnegie sees Bessemer's steel plants.
On a visit to England, Carnegie visits Henry Bessemer's steel plants. The Freedom Iron Company, which Carnegie formed in 1861, had been using Bessemer's process of making steel for several years. While in England, Carnegie realizes the commercial potential of steel and returns to America with plans to expand his steel business.
Edgar Thomson Works opens.
Carnegie opens his first steel plant, the Edgar Thomson Works, in Braddock, Pennsylvania. The plant is named for the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Not surprisingly, Carnegie's first order is for 2000 steel rails for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
When he died in 1877, Vanderbilt had amassed the largest fortune accumulated in the U.S. at that time. Vanderbilt is deemed one of America's leading businessmen, and is credited for helping to shape the present-day United States.
In 1882, these various companies were combined into the Standard Oil Trust, which would control some 90 percent of the nation’s refineries and pipelines. In order to exploit economies of scale, Standard Oil did everything from build its own oil barrels to employ scientists to figure out new uses for petroleum by-products.
Carnegie defends unions.
In Forum Magazine, Carnegie publishes an essay defending workers' right to organize into a union. He also publishes Triumphant Democracy, which sells over 70,000 copies and celebrates the American belief in democracy and capitalism.
In 1890, the U.S. Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act, the first federal legislation prohibiting trusts and combinations that restrained trade. Two years later, the Ohio Supreme Court dissolved the Standard Oil Trust; however, the businesses within the trust soon became part of Standard Oil of New Jersey, which functioned as a holding company. In 1911, after years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Standard Oil of New Jersey was in violation of anti-trust laws and forced it to dismantle it was broken up into more than 30 individual companies.
Rockefeller retired from day-to-day business operations of Standard Oil in the mid-1890s. Inspired in part by fellow Gilded Age tycoon Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), who made a vast fortune in the steel industry then became a philanthropist and gave away the bulk of his money, Rockefeller donated more than half a billion dollars to various educational, religious and scientific causes. Among his activities, he funded the establishment of the University of Chicago and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University).
In 1892, Morgan arranged the merger of Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric. During the depression following the panic of 1893, Morgan provided financial support to the U.S. government in order to prevent a Treasury crisis.
In 1895, the Drexel, Morgan & Co. was reorganized as J.P. Morgan & Co., which gradually evolved into one of the most powerful banking institutions in the world.
Spotting the requirement of huge quantities of steel in rails and trains, Morgan founded as well as acquired a large amount of steel-making operations. In 1901, he formed the U.S. Steel Company by merging Carnegie Steel Works along with several other steel and iron industries.
Subsequently, Morgan expanded his business into many other sectors in the financial and industrial worlds. He helped in providing financial backing to coal mines, insurance, as well as the communications industries. During the stock market panic of 1907, Morgan directed the banking coalition and led several business communities, acquiring control of various banks and insurance companies in the process.
Morgan was also an ardent art collector and accumulated a large collection of pictures, paintings, and other art objects. Most of the art works were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art after Morgan’s death.
Carnegie donates money to advance the cause of peace.
Carnegie establishes the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and builds the Central American Court of Justice in Costa Rica, which is destroyed by an earthquake later that year.