Turn of The Century Tycoons


Cornelius Vanderbilt


Cornelius Vanderbilt was born on May 27, 1794, on Staten Island, New York, the son of Cornelius and Phebe Hand Vanderbilt. His father instilled in him a blunt, straightforward demeanor, and his mother, frugality and hard work.

passenger ferry


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.

Andrew Carnegie was born

November 25, 1835

After moving to the United States, he worked a series of railroad jobs. He was a self made man whom had one of the largest steel manufacturing systems

John Pierpont

1837 - 1913

financed railroads and helped organize U.S. Steel, General Electric and other major corporations. The Connecticut native followed his wealthy father into the banking business in the late 1850s

John D. Rockefeller


John Davison Rockefeller was born the second of six children to a working class family in Richford, New York, a small community between Ithaca and Binghamton. In 1853, his family moved to a farm in Strongsville, Ohio, near Cleveland. He pursued a public education, but left high school to take business training.

Carnegie came to the United States


At the age of 13, in 1848, Carnegie came to the United States with his family. They settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and Carnegie went to work in a factory, earning $1.20 a week. The next year he found a job as a telegraph messenger. Hoping to advance his career, he moved up to a telegraph operator position in 1851. He then took a job at the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1853. He worked as the assistant and telegrapher to Thomas Scott, one of the railroad's top officials. Through this experience, he learned about the railroad industry and about business in general. Three years later, Carnegie was promoted to superintendent.



In 1855, Rockefeller found his first job, working as an assistant bookkeeper for less than four dollars a week. He showed a talent for detail and a strong work ethic from the beginning.

Penn railroad


In 1859, Rockefeller's diligence was rewarded by being made a partner.

In that same year, oil was discovered in not-too-distant Titusville, Pennsylvania, touching off the growth of a new industry driven largely by the demand for kerosene for lighting. Rockefeller was immediately attracted to the oil business, but was repelled by the disorder of the wildcatters.

Building a Railroad Empire


During the Civil War, Vanderbilt donated his fleet's largest ship, aptly named the Vanderbilt, to the Union Navy. By 1864, he had retired from shipping, having amassed nearly $30 million in wealth. At age 70, Vanderbilt turned his attention more closely to railroads, acquiring the New York & Harlem and Hudson Line (which ran along the Erie Canal), and then going after the New York Central Railroad. In a ruthless act during a bitter winter when the Erie Canal was frozen over, he refused to accept Central’s passengers or freight, cutting them off from connections to western cities. Forced to capitulate, the Central Railroad sold Vanderbilt controlling interest, and he eventually consolidated his hold on rail traffic from New York City to Chicago. This new conglomerate revolutionized rail operations by standardizing procedures and timetables, increasing efficiency and decreasing travel and shipment times.

Standard Oil


In 1870, Rockefeller teamed with his brother William, Henry M. Flagler, and Samuel Andrews (inventor of an inexpensive means of refining crude oil) to establish the Standard Oil Company.

partnership with Philadelphia banker Anthony Drexel


in 1871 formed a partnership with Philadelphia banker Anthony Drexel. In 1895, their firm was reorganized as J.P. Morgan & Company

Final Years and Legacy


Towards the end of his life, Vanderbilt had no plans to pass along his fortune to charity. He had lived most of his life in relative modesty considering his stratospheric wealth. He sole extravagance seemed to be buying race horses. However, in 1873, his wife, Frank, introduced him to the Reverend Holland Nimmons McTyeire, who asked Vanderbilt to help him fund a Methodist University in Tennessee. Discussions went on for several years and by the time of his death, Vanderbilt had promised a gift approaching $1 million for what would become Vanderbilt University.

Carnegie Steel Corporation

1889 - 1901

He owned Carnegie Steel Corporation, the largest of its kind in the world. In 1901 he sold his business .


1895 - 1907

During Morgan’s era, the United States had no central bank so he used his influence to help save the nation from disaster during several economic crises. In 1895, Morgan assisted in rescuing America’s gold standard when he headed a banking syndicate that loaned the federal government more than $60 million. In another instance, the financial panic of 1907, Morgan held a meeting of the country’s top financiers at his New York City home and convinced them to bail out various faltering financial institutions in order to stabilize the markets.



n 1901, Carnegie made a dramatic change in his life. He sold his business to the United States Steel Corporation, started by legendary financier J.P. Morgan. The sale earned him more than $200 million. At the age of 65, Carnegie decided to spend the rest of his days helping others. While he had begun his philanthropic work years earlier by building libraries and making donations, Carnegie expanded his efforts in the early 20th century.

Jp morgans death


The famous financier died at age 75 on March 31, 1913, in Rome, Italy. On April 14, the day of his funeral, the New York Stock Exchange closed in his honor until noon. He was buried in the Morgan family mausoleum at a Hartford cemetery.