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 I-Chapter 1 : Patroons and Manor Lords  > Livingstons  in Transportation :   1 - 2  Next

  Livingston pioneers in American transportation  

By the turn of the 19th century the Livingstons of New York had passed their zenith in wealth and influence, although they were still wealthy and, as a family, constituted a pillar of what could be called American aristocracy. The 19th century would bring changes which eventually relegated the colonial families of New York to secondary roles politically, socially but before all, economically. Yet, the blood still ran strong enough in the veins of some descendants of this highly prominent family, to produce entrepreneurs and pioneers, most notably in the field of transportation. Throughout the 19th century, Livingstons played an important part in the development of the new highways of commerce, first as promoters of river steam navigation, then in the express business and finally building railroads in the Northwest.

Fulton & Livingston : steamships on the Hudson river

Robert R. Livingston jr, the principal heir of the Clermont lineage of Livingstons, was a prominent American statesman, known for his role in drafting the Declaration of Independence, taking the oath of office from George Washington as first president of the United States of America and the Louisiana purchase, while he was US minister to France. But he also entered the annals of history as the main financial backer of Robert Fulton's pioneering steam navigation enterprise on the Hudson River. The enterprise was actually much more Livingston than Fulton. 'Chancellor' Livingston, as Robert R. jr was known in New York, had already experimented with river steam navigation well before he met Robert Fulton in France, notably in association with his brother-in-law, John Stevens of Hoboken NJ, and Nicholas Roosevelt.

Livingston brought Robert Fulton to America and engaged him as chief engineer. The design of the Clermont, the first steamship to make the historical journey between New York and Albany in 1807, goes certainly to Fulton's credit, as well as that of subsequent steamships. But as far as the business of running steamships on the Hudson River was concerned, it was entirely Livingston's initiative and Fulton hardly even owned some shares. The companies which were popularly known as the Fulton-Livingston Steamship Co (no such entity actually existed) exploited a monopoly for steam navigation on the Hudson River for seventeen years, following the Clermont run. They also pioneered steam navigation in the West, on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Livingstons with Wells, Fargo and American Express

Hardly known to any but the most initiated specialists, several descendants of the Livingston family played a quite important part in the development of another new form of transportation, which appeared in the fourth decade of the 19th century : express services. At a time when the U.S. Postal service did not handle parcels, the private express services became an essential way of communication. Express services used steamships, stagecoaches but before all railroads to haul their cargo of accompanied freight (parcels), money and messages. Fueled by economic growth and westward expansion, the express business became very profitable after its first decade of existence. Its profitability was however also based on a monopoly position, which was secured by the different contenders, thanks to their effective acting in a cartel.

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Patroons and Manor Lords

Planter  Aristocrats

Shipping Merchants

The Landlords of New YorkCity

Bankers I

Early American Industrialists


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