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.
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.
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.
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
Rockefeller gathered the leading oil industrialists of their times :
men like Charles Pratt,
Gray Warden, J.J. Vandergrift and
John Dustin Archbold. Each of
these men became a multi-millionaire.
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
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