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

Like the bankers, so did the merchants evolve to superlatives in these times of rapid growth. The first of the great merchant princes was Alexander Turney Stewart, whose A.T. Stewart department store became a monument in New York City. In 1875, A.T. Stewart was the third richest man in America. Unlike Vanderbilt and Astor, Stewart had no children and therefore failed to found a dynasty. The A.T. Stewart department store was acquired by the Wanamakers of Philadelphia. Marshall Field built the largest department store in Chicago and became one of the richest Americans at the turn of the 20th century. Department stores rose in all major American cities : Macy's in New York, controlled by the Straus family; Strawbridge & Clothier in Philadelphia; Filene's in Boston and many smaller ones.

The growing population and the rising standard of living brought huge opportunities to those merchants, who understood how to supply the newly created and steadily growing demand. New retailing concepts were tried and successfully developed by the mercantile visionaires of the times. One of these concepts were chain stores, or the idea to build a specialized store in one place and then reproduce it in many other places, with central purchasing functions to leverage on volume. Frank Winfield Woolworth was the king of chain merchandising with his 5 & 10 cent stores. George Huntington Hartfort also built a very successful specialized chain with his Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Another new retailing concept was mail order, the direct ancestor of nowadays e-commerce. Richard Warren Sears and Aaron Montgomery Ward were the successful pioneers in this field.

But the Gilded Age was first of all the age of industry. During the second wave of industrial revolution, the small family manufactories and mercantile partnership gave way of ever larger industrial plants, financed and promoted by a new breed of capitalists. It was the age of the trusts, these nebulous legal creations, predecessors of the modern corporations, which so much scandalized the public by their strive to monopoly.

The first and largest trust, sometimes called the "mother of trusts", was the Standard Oil company, whose main promoter, John Davison Rockefeller, later became the richest American ever and also one of the foremost philanthropists. The basis of the Standard Oil Trust was the secret association of the major oil refiners in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York, to bring order to the anarchy, that prevailed in the Western Pennsylvania oil regions. Under the umbrella of Standard Oil, John Davison and William Rockefeller gathered the leading oil industrialists of their times : men like Charles Pratt, J.A. Bostwick, Charles Lockhart, William Gray Warden, J.J. Vandergrift and John Dustin Archbold. Each of these men became a multi-millionaire.

Standard Oil was so fabulously profitable after the trust agreement of 1882, that the major partners had millions to invest in other enterprises, which they eagerly did. Henry Morrison Flagler developed Florida, building railroads and palatial hotels. Oliver Hazard Payne joined his brother-in-law William Collins Whitney and the latter's street railway cronies to refinance and extend the American Tobacco trust, which was founded in 1890 by the Dukes of Durham, North Carolina. Henry Huddleston Rogers first assembled the smelters trust, of which he lost control to the Guggenheims; then he participated in the amalgamation of the copper mining industry, along with William Rockefeller and James Stillman. The great John Davison Rockefeller himself heavily invested into the Mesabi iron ore range, in preparation of a consolidation in steel.

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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