A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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  Part II : The Gilded Age  >   Introduction and Index :  Previous  1 2 - 3 - 45 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9  Next

Finally, it has been widely insisted that the disruption of normal labor conditions during the war, in conjunction with the increased demand for food and clothing, was directly responsible for the rise of the McCormick Harvester and the Singer Sewing Machines fortunes. Again the logics are quite clear. The more soldiers the Union armies needed left less farmers to grow more grain needed to supply the campaigns. The McCormick reaper was the technological solution to this problem. A similar reasoning holds for Singer's sewing machine. But again, it can easily be argued that the war was just the catalyst, an acceleration factor of a movement, which was already under way, when it occurred. And again, this cannot be considered war profiteering.

Thus the direct impact of Civil War and war profiteering were not the major factor in the building of the large Gilded Age fortunes. It was more, the combined impacts of the opening of the Western frontier, the discovery of rich mineral resources (much needed by emerging industries), the increasing population (both through immigration and natural growth) and the ability to attract talents and capital, which created the unprecedented opportunities. It was only natural, that such a nation would also produce or attract enterprising men (and women) to seize these opportunities and thereby build large fortunes.

The first expression of the Gilded Age actually occurred more than ten years before Civil War. It started with the discovery of gold on John August Sutter's farm in Central California. The event ended California's peaceful existence as a distant agricultural colony, a seemingly worthless prize won as a side effect of a more proximate war. It precipitated America into a frenzy, which was never seen before and would be so characteristic of the Age of Moguls. In the Sacramento of the early 1850's, fortunes were made and lost by the day. Thousands of hopeful fortune-seekers enriched the visionary shipping magnates who organized faster service to the Pacific Coast.

Fortune eluded most of them and rather rewarded the astute merchant or banker for his trading sense, than the miner for his courage and hard work. Speculation was paramount and fed an ever increasing inflow of adventurers, laborers and entrepreneurs. The mining bonanza started with the gold rush of the Forty-Niners in California and extended to Nevada and the other Western territories, creating a new economy, in what was once the forgotten Pacific Coast of North America. The large mining fortunes were not made from the gold of California in the 1850's, but rather from the silver and lead of Nevada in the 1870's and from copper in other states still later.

Fabulous mining bonanza kings included the Big Four of the Comstock Lode : John William Mackey; James Graham Fair, James Clair Flood and William Shoney O'Brien. Mining fortunes laid the foundation for California and the West Coast's economy and later radiated on the whole nation's economy, as the mining bonanza kings and their descendents invested their silver or copper profits in enterprises of national interest.

After organizing with James G. Fair the Bank of Nevada in San Francisco, John William Mackay joined New York press lord James Gordon Bennett in the Commercial Cable Company, which laid a transatlantic cable and challenged the Western Union Telegraph Co. George Hearst, whose mining fortune stemmed from the Homestake and a share in Marcus Daly's Anaconda, bought the San Francisco Examiner and gave it to his son to manage. Using the millions he inherited from his father, William Randolph Hearst later built one of the major tabloid newspaper chains in the Twentieth Century.

The Gilded Age  >   Introduction and Index :  Previous  1 2 - 3 - 45 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9  Next

The Mining Bonanza Kings

The Railroad Barons

The Trusts



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