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 »

The huge fortunes they derived from their mining, railroad, banking, merchandising or industrial activities, brought the American capitalists a status, second to none, including royalty. And like the kings and earls of Europe or the somewhat more modest colonial manor lords and plantation owners, the kings of fortune left their landmarks to posterity, mainly in the form of their castles and mansions. Superlative architectural expressions of great wealth were built in many places, but they tended to favor certain spots, such as Long Island and Newport R.I.

The Vanderbilt family easily outdid all other wealthy families of the Gilded Age in their architectural aspirations, although the Du Ponts of Delaware later made it to a close second. Their favorite architect, Richard Morris Hunt, built the Vanderbilts no less than five castle like mansions, including 660 Fifth Avenue, Idle Hour, Marble House, the Breakers and Biltmore, the largest of them all. A dozen other mansions rounded the set of Vanderbilt family seats, which had reputedly cost an aggregate of more than $ 100 million. Like the Livingstons a hundred years earlier, the Vanderbilts built their social prominence on the stones of their lofty country estates.

The Du Pont family's mansions were all built in the countryside of Delaware and nearby Pennsylvania in an area which is known as the "American château country". Nemours, Longwood, Winterthur, Louviers, Granogue, Montchanin, Chevannes, Owls Nest, Bellevue, Henry Clay and Guyencourt are so many lofty estates, nestled in the quiet Brandywine valley. Many of them are nowadays open for visitors, as are most Vanderbilt castles, but some are still entirely private properties.

Like the Vanderbilts and the Duponts, other wealthy families built their mansions preferably in the countryside close to their hometowns, in Newport or in Florida. John Davison Rockefeller's "Kyukuit" and Jay Gould's "Lyndhurst" are examples of the first type. "The Elms" of Edward Julius Berwind and Theresa Fair Oelrichs "Rosecliff" and Ogden Goelet's "Ochre Court" are famous Newport mansions. James Deering's "Vizcaya" and Henry Morrison Flagler's "Whitehall" were famous Floridian palaces. Many more could be cited here.

But the great capitalists of the Gilded Age also left more public minded legacies. Many of them ended a lifelong passion of art collectors by leaving their collections to a museum, sometimes also endowing the necessary buildings and running costs. The most notable art collectors and donators were J. Pierpont Morgan, Henry Osborne Havemeyer, Andrew William Mellon and his mentor Henry Clay Frick. But Gilded Age fortunes would go on nurturing art endowments for generations, as in the case of the Guggenheims or the Wideners.

Some of the greatest magnates just left a sizeable part of their fortune to philanthropic foundations, to fund worthy endeavors for generations to come, along the guidelines established by the donors. Andrew Carnegie devoted the last two decades of his life spending the money he had made before. John Davison Rockefeller did likewise in what some would later term as an attempt to restore his image and shed the cloak of the villain, he had inherited from Jay Gould. Other large endowments were made by the Harknesses of Standard Oil, James Buchanan Duke and the widow of money king Russell Sage. In their philanthropic moves, these capitalists followed the examples set by the wealthy men of the earlier mercantile era, men like Amos Lawrence, Stephen Girard and George Peabody.

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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