Monday, April 11, 2011

Jim Fisk and Jay Gould: The Robber Barons

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Jim Fisk and Jay Gould
The Robber Barons

Jay Gould and Jim Fisk began their lives in different ways, but their mutual goal of money making was what eventually brought these two infamous men together. Such goal-oriented men, they were willing to go to any lengths to bring in the cash. As railroad owners, they made their initial fortune, and then things progressed to bigger and better things. Eventually, Fisk and Gould were able corner the gold market and caused a crash of the stock market. This event came to be known later as Black Friday.

Jay Gould was born in Roxbury, New York, to Mary More Gould and John Gould, a storekeeper and farmer. From childhood, he showed the potential and intelligence that would one day help him to become a multi-millionaire businessman. Physically, he was small and unhealthy; plagued with illness all his life. He left school at 14, clerked in a store, studied surveying, and ended up taking a job as a surveyor’s assistant for $100 a month. Soon, he had amassed $5,000 and launched his first real business venture. A tannery near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Before long, his tannery was the largest in the country, and the town where it was located, Gouldsboro, was named after him. In 1985, after a partner’s suicide, Gould left the tanning business and moved to New York where he began speculating in railroad stock.

Jim Fisk was born in Southern Vermont, and was the son of a peddler. As opposed to Gould, Fisk was a very robust man throughout his entire life. While still in his teens, he took over his father’s business and vastly expanded it. Eventually, he even hired his own father as a worker. He was an extremely talented salesman and knew that his current position wasn’t making enough money for him. So, with no experience in the stock market, Fisk opened a brokerage at 8 Broad Street, right across from the New York Stock Exchange building. Soon he and his brokerage were completely wiped out, but not one to give up, Fisk used his connection to Daniel Drew to get back onto Wall Street.

It was only a matter of time before the two savvy businessmen crossed paths, and it finally happened when they were both elected to the Erie Railroad board. They were almost complete opposites, but were quick to realize that what one of them lacked, the other had. They would soon make a remarkable team. During the Civil War, Gould traded in government bonds and gold, using his profits after the war to buy and sell railroad companies. He, Jim Fisk, and Daniel Drew became controlling shareholders in the Erie Railroad Company.

In 1871, Jim Fisk invited then-president, Ulysses S. Grant to vacation on his yacht, The Providence. At the same time, Fisk and Gould had concocted a scheme to control the gold supply. With a little convincing on Gould’s part, Grant urged the U.S. Treasury to maintain a “hands off” policy towards the gold market. Then with the treasury out of the market, Gould and Fisk circulated rumors about the state of gold, and the prices suddenly and sharply increased. The two then bought up to $40 million dollars worth of gold, half of the gold in the market. As the market crashed, Fisk had enough sense to get out before the U.S. Treasury drove the price down. He pocketed a quick and easy $11 million. Following the so-called “Black Friday,” Fisk was not well liked by many people and began receiving death threats. He was murdered on January 6th, 1887 by the also very wealthy Ned Stokes.

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