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 - Chapter 12 :  Utility Tycoons  > Index and Introduction  :  « Previous  1 - 2 - 3  Next » 

    Utility Tycoons  

Telegraph and Telephone : two new means of distant communication (coming later)
       Samuel F. B. Morse and the beginnings of the telegraph
       Convergence of the telegraph companies into Western Union
       Western Union’s drive to monopoly

       Bell’s invention and the rise of the telephone trust

The street railway tycoons who controlled Philadelphia , New York and Chicago
       Union Traction and the Philadelphia Rapid Transit system
The Elkins-Widener Family
The Metropolitan Street Railway system in New York
       The Payne-Whitney Family
       The Ryan Family

Public lighting, gas works and electricity (coming later)

A rather little known but significant part of the history of great American fortunes of the Gilded Age is related to the United States’ public utilities : its telegraph and telephone lines, street railways as well as gas and electricity infrastructures. These businesses, which in many countries started as, or soon after their beginnings became, government owned and operated enterprises, were the basis of several huge private fortunes in the United States of America.

Called “public utilities” because of their general usefulness to the public at large, these businesses invariably depended on franchises from local, state or sometimes even the Federal government, for the rights-of-way and other uses of the public domain. As in the case of the railroads, such dependency on government franchises enticed the promoters of public utility enterprises to cultivate at best close relationships to public officials, and more often than not, to dispense outright bribes or other forms of pecuniary generosity to the latter.

Public utility enterprises were not invented during the Gilded Age. With the appearance of the first large cities, the needs for sanitary amenities, notably clean water distribution and the disposal of waste, became a rising preoccupation of public officials. The first horse drawn street railway appeared in New York City as early as 1832 and magnetic telegraph communication developed rapidly after its first application between Washington and Baltimore by Samuel F. B. Morse (and others) in 1844.

But like in the case of railroads and industrial enterprises, the heydays of growth and concentration of America’s public utilities occurred during the Gilded Age, triggered by population growth and the development of the US capital markets.

Utility Tycoons  > Index and Introduction  :  « Previous  1 - 2 - 3  Next » 

The Mining Bonanza Kings

The Railroad Barons

The Trusts



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