Monday, March 8, 2021

J.P. Morgan


John Pierpont Morgan was born in Hartford, Connecticut on April 17, 1837.  He was born into wealth and spent much of his childhood studying abroad.  He completed his formal education in the late 1850s with a degree in art history.

He entered the family business in 1857 when he joined the London branch of Peabody, Morgan & Company, a banking firm co-founded by his father.  He returned to the States one year later when he joined the New York City firm of Duncan, Sherman & Company, the American representatives of family partner George Peabody.

Then in 1860, Morgan returned to the family business, which would be rebranded as J.S. Morgan & Co. following Peabody's retirement.  Morgan worked under his father until 1871, when he started his own firm with financier Anthony Drexel of Philadelphia.  This collaboration would last more than two decades until Drexel's death in 1895, at which time Morgan formally founded J.P. Morgan & Company.

With his own firm now an official part of the economic landscape, Morgan became a force to be reckoned with.  Over the next twenty years, a total of 42 major corporations were either started by Morgan or were underwritten by his firm, including General Electric, AT&T and a number of America's railroads.  He also provided the funding to Thomas Edison that made the electric lightbulb a reality.

He was not without his failures however, chief among them being the R.M.S. Titanic.  Morgan was owner of the White Star Line, which had created the doomed ocean liner.  He was scheduled to travel aboard her on the maiden voyage, but canceled at the last minute, a decision he no doubt never second guessed.  Of the tragedy that followed, he later stated "monetary losses amount to nothing in life.  It is the loss of life that counts.  It is that frightful death."

In the spring of 1913, Morgan was in Italy when tragedy struck.  He died in his sleep on March 31st, just three weeks shy of his 76th birthday. 

When his body was returned to the U.S., flags on Wall Street were flown at half-mast, and in a custom normally reserved for heads of state, the Stock Market closed for two hours in his honor.

He was buried in an immaculate grave at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford.

Rest in peace.

  • Of 114 blog posts here at Six Feet Under Hollywood, Morgan is the first person profiled who was born in the 19th Century, with the possible exception of the Texas Space Alien.

  • As a teenager, Morgan developed rheumatic fever, a condition that would plague him throughout his life.  

  • Morgan avoided serving during the Civil War by paying a substitute $300 to take his place.

  • Morgan had the skin disease rosacea, and as such, hated being photographed.  Many photos we have of him today were in fact retouched.

  • Morgan was a noted art collector, with prized paintings, sculptures and books, many of which he loaned or donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he helped establish.

  • A number of Morgan biographies have been written over the years, probably too many to count.  But here are just a few that are available from Amazon.

      * Morgan: American Financier, by Jean Strouse (2014)
      * J.P. Morgan: Banker to a Growing Nation, by Jeremy Byman (2001)
      * The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise
         of Modern Finance
    , by Ron Chernow (1991)

  • The mascot of the board game Monopoly, Rich Uncle Pennybags, was modeled on Morgan.

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