The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Morgan, John Pierpont
|The Cyclopædia of American Biography (1918)
Morgan, John Pierpont
MORGAN, John Pierpont, banker and financier, b. in Hartford, Conn., 17 April, 1837; d. in Rome, Italy, 31 March, 1913, son of Junius Spencer and Juliet (Pierpont) Morgan. His father (1813-90) was a native of West Springfield, Mass., and a descendant of Capt. Miles Morgan, a Welshman, who emigrated to New England in 1636 as one of the company which founded Springfield, Mass. He and his immediate descendants fought the Indians and later the British, always figuring actively in the development of the new country, which is now the United States. Junius S. Morgan was a man of energy and splendid business ability. He was at one time an associate of George Peabody, establishing a successful banking-house in London. His wife, the mother of the banker, was the daughter of Rev. John Pierpont, a noted clergyman, poet, and temperance worker. The first fourteen years of the life of J. Pierpont Morgan were spent in his native city. For a short period he attended a country school, but in 1851 the family removed to Boston, and the son became a student in the English high school. His mind inclined strongly toward the scholar's life, his special forte being mathematics. He completed the course at the Boston school at the age of seventeen, and for two years continued his studies at the University of Göttingen, Germany. Here he heard lectures history and political economy, and won decided distinction by his mathematical work. Before he left this historic institution he received the offer of a professorship. But he felt the call of his father's business in his blood, and returned home. At the age of twenty J. Pierpont Morgan began his career as a banker, entering the house of Duncan, Sherman and Company of New York City. In 1860, when twenty-three years of age, he was appointed the American agent for George Peabody and Company of London. Experience with the risks and responsibilities of great business transactions then became familiar to him. After four years he organized the firm of Dabney, Morgan and Company. In 1871 he entered a business relationship with the Drexels of Philadelphia. The elder Morgan died in 1890, leaving his London house and connections all over the world to his son. In 1895 Drexel, Morgan and Company became J. P. Morgan and Company, and all the vast financial interests were then under the sole dictatorship of J. Pierpont Morgan. In 1901 the house of Morgan was commonly reported to represent $1,100,000,000, if not more. Its creator was regarded as a Midas whose touch turned everything into gold. Few persons possess a clear idea of the Morgan firm and its operations. Frequently Mr. Morgan was compared with speculators, railroad men, and real estate owners. He was none of these. He was primarily a banker, and, as such, acted as an agent for wealthy clients in the investment of money. Some people would call him a practical railroad man, a steel manufacturer, a coal operator, because he was interested in such things and dealt in them. But Mr. Morgan was essentially a worker with money — a master of finance. While his business was a partnership, and not a corporation, he was its dominant factor. No man had greater influence in financial and industrial circles, nor was any individual more trusted. He has been called the statesman of the business world — a builder of a gigantic industrial empire. He was a director in numerous railroad companies, including the New York Central and Lake Shore systems. The foremost railroad system of the Southern States, with over 8,000 miles of track, was veritably his creation. Only within recent years his power in the so-called “coal roads” of Pennsylvania was exhibited during the miners' strike. Mr. Morgan was also a director in the Western Union Telegraph Company, the Pullman Palace Car Company, the Ætna Fire Insurance Company, and the General Electric Company. Reorganizing and reconstructing bankrupt corporations has been such a marked feature of Mr. Morgan's career that the process in Wall Street has become known as re-Morganizing. On 12 Dec, 1900, Charles M. Schwab delivered an address on the steel and iron industry of America, at a dinner at the University Club, which Mr. Morgan attended. He was much impressed with Mr. Schwab's address, and at once conceived the idea of a gigantic combination of steel interests, and the result was the organization of the biggest corporation on earth. The swiftness with which he accomplished this financial masterpiece astonished the world. In three months he had overcome all obstacles, and in the spring of 1901 formed the United States Steel Corporation. It was capitalized at $1,404,000,000, and consolidated ten of the largest steel corporations in America. This immense achievement attracted the attention of both hemispheres, and J. Pierpont Morgan loomed up as the most notable financier and organizer that modern business had produced. The United States Steel Corporation owns as much land as is contained in the States of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island; it employs 180,000 workmen, with a pay roll of nearly $128,000,000 yearly; it owns and operates a railroad trackage that would reach from New York to Galveston, possessing 30,000 cars and 700 locomotives; it has 19 ports and owns a fleet of 100 large ore-ships; it produces one-sixth of all the iron ore in the world, and makes more steel than either Great Britain or Germany. Soon after the successful launching of this enormous corporation, Mr. Morgan went to England and purchased one of the largest English steamship companies, the Leyland line. His movements were regarded with intense interest by Lombard and Wall Streets. The ultimate result was the organization of the International Mercantile Marine, controlling several of the most important American and foreign steamship lines plying between American and European ports. Both England and Germany owe much of their latter-day growth to iron and steel manufacture, and Mr. Morgan represented the formidable arch-ironmaster, contracting the greatest and cheapest supply. J. Pierpont Morgan was first of all a creator, and not a destroyer, in spite of adverse criticism. He sought to conserve force and economize time and expense. Very often he has come to the aid of Wall Street in times of panic, and acted the part of financial balance-wheel. Furthermore, Mr. Morgan again and again relieved the United States government of serious fiscal stress. Drexel, Morgan and Company were chiefly responsible in 1876 for placing this country on a gold basis after the fearful expenditure occasioned by the Civil War. Two years after the panic of 1893, when gold was flowing out of the country, Mr. Morgan, together with other bankers, agreed to buy government bonds, paying in gold. At that time President Cleveland and the Senate were at odds, and there was a prospect of the country's financial system being changed to a silver basis. Mr. Morgan went to Washington, called on President Cleveland, and offered to sell the government $100,000,000 in gold. Within half an hour a contract was drawn up whereby the U. S. treasury obtained $60,000,000 in gold through a foreign syndicate, and, what threatened to be the greatest financial panic the world had ever witnessed, was in this way averted. Because large pay was exacted for their services public prints unjustly poured forth torrents of abuse on Mr. Morgan and his associates. Until 1899 London had been the world's money center. In that year J. P. Morgan and Company led in a most significant departure in finance. Up to that time the United States had been borrower, not a lender. Now, in 1899, the Morgan firm financed the first foreign loan ever negotiated in this country. Supported by its connection abroad the Mexican national debt of $110,000,000 was converted. Great Britain was supplied with war money by the Morgan firm in 1900. Since that time it has taken a prominent part in several other foreign loans. In 1903 Mr. Morgan acted as fiscal agent for the U. S. government in the purchase of the stock of the French Panama Canal Company, a $40,000,000 transaction in which he did not derive one cent of profit. During the “panic” of 1907, when the question of closing the N. Y. Stock Exchange was under advisement, he secured $25,000,000 which he passed out to loan-seekers at 6 per cent., thus alleviating the general depression. Business did not consume all of Mr. Morgan's time or energy. Doubtless his first passion, outside of work, was the collecting of rare books and manuscripts, as well as other works of art. He possessed many famous canvases. Rare china, especially Limoges ware, was one of his leading hobbies. Hardly a day passed that he did not buy some art object worth a prince's ransom. His private library was a bibliophile's paradise. It contained a notable array of old Caxton editions among others, and original manuscripts from all parts of the world. It is estimated that his art treasures represented an expenditure of nearly $50,000,000. Mr. Morgan was extremely liberal in donating art collections to public institutions. Cooper Union has on display a collection of fabrics which he gathered. Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History possess rare gifts from him: the former a priceless cabinet of Greek coins and Egyptian scarabs, rare engravings, also a porcelain collection valued at $500,000; the latter has on exhibition the collection of Tiffany gems worth a million dollars. It was largely due to the efforts of Mr. Morgan that Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke came to the United States and accepted the office of director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not long before his death Mr. Morgan had a curious experience in his search for art objects. Unwittingly he purchased a precious cope, once the property of Pope Nicholas IV that had been stolen from the cathedral at Ascoli in 1902. Upon learning the state of affairs he returned the cope at once to Italy. In recognition of this act King Victor Emmanuel conferred upon him the Grand Cordon of Saints Mauritius and Lazarus, which made Mr. Morgan “a cousin of his majesty.” Pope Pius X gave him audience, and later the Italian Academy of Twenty-four Immortals presented him with a medal commemorating his generous act. After his death the objects of art left by him were publicly exhibited for the first time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. Later, many of his collections were sold to wealthy purchasers. Though a member of many clubs, Mr. Morgan had little time to be a club man in the ordinary sense of the word. He was, however, an active member of the New England Society and an active church worker. As senior warden of St. George's Church in Stuyvesant Square, he took especial interest in the boys there. His chief concern was to keep them off the streets and have them taught useful trades. Two of his best known philanthropies have been the establishment of the New York Trade School, at the cost of over $500,000, and a similar but smaller trade school for the boys of St. George's Church. Mr. Morgan may be ranked among the world's great givers. His charitable work was extensive. His yearly donations easily amounted to $1,000,000. Among other gifts Mr. Morgan gave Harvard University $1,000,000 for a medical school; for a lying-in hospital near Stuyvesant Square, New York, $1,350,000; toward completing St. John's Cathedral, $500,000; to the Young Men's Christian Association, $100,000; to the Loomis Hospital for Consumptives, $200,000; for a library at his father's birthplace, Holyoke, Mass., $100,000; for the preservation of the Hudson River Palisades, $125,000; for a new parish house for St. George's Church, $350,000; for a department of natural history at Trinity College, Hartford, $70,000. Mr. Morgan was a large contributor to the Queen Victoria memorial fund and to the Galveston relief fund. He installed a complete electric plant in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and built a hospital at Aix-les-Bains in France. Many of his private charities were unknown, even to his closest friends. On 7 Jan., 1913, three weeks after he had testified before the Pujo committee investigating the so-called “Money Trust,” Mr. Morgan sailed from New York for Egypt. He had been complaining for some time that he was far from well, suffering greatly from indigestion. After a ten-day trip up the Nile, Mr. Morgan returned to Cairo apparently benefited in health, but in reality a failing man. So serious was his condition that fresh eggs and butter were rushed to him halfway round the world from his New York farm. Because of the uncertain condition of his health, he went to Rome, Italy, landing there on 13 March, 1913. He grew rapidly worse, and for several days prior to his death, he lay in a comatose state. Mr. Morgan was recognized as a colossal figure in the world of finance, and his counsel and presence were always influential. His breadth of vision, keenness of conception, and ability to immediately grasp and understand the most difficult problems made him a giant power among financial men in all parts of the world. By many prominent financiers and business men he was looked upon as the greatest financier the world has produced for at least a century. It was an obvious conclusion after even a bird's-eye view of such a life that here we have an extraordinary man — a Titan of industrial and financial achievement. He has played a big role in the drama of civilization and in the history of this country's phenomenal progress. Like every leader of men, he passed through the white heat of public opinion, and was trusted, respected, and loved by those who knew him best. Mr. Morgan was twice married, first in 1861 to Amelia Sturges, daughter of Jonathan and Mary Cady Sturges. She died in 1862, and in 1865 he married Frances Louise Tracy, who survives him. By this union he had one son and three daughters, all of whom are living.