Jay Gould

American railroad magnate (1836–1892)

Helen Day Miller
(m. 1863; died 1889)
  • George Jay
  • Edwin
  • Helen
  • Howard
  • Anna
  • Frank Jay

Jason Gould (/ɡld/; May 27, 1836 – December 2, 1892) was an American railroad magnate and financial speculator who founded the Gould business dynasty. He is generally identified as one of the robber barons of the Gilded Age. His sharp and often unscrupulous business practices made him one of the wealthiest men of the late nineteenth century. Gould was an unpopular figure during his life and remains controversial.[2][3][4]

Early life and education

Gould was born in Roxbury, New York, to Mary More (1798–1841) and John Burr Gould (1792–1866). His maternal grandfather Alexander T. More was a businessman, and his great-grandfather John More was a Scottish immigrant who founded the town of Moresville, New York. Gould studied at the Hobart Academy in Hobart, New York,[5] paying his way by bookkeeping.[6] As a young boy, he decided that he wanted nothing to do with farming, his father's occupation, so his father dropped him off at a nearby school with fifty cents and a sack of clothes.[7]

Early career

Jay Gould (right) in 1855

Gould's school principal was credited with getting him a job as a bookkeeper for a blacksmith.[8] A year later, the blacksmith offered him half interest in the blacksmith shop, which he sold to his father during the early part of 1854. Gould devoted himself to private study, emphasizing surveying and mathematics. In 1854, he surveyed and created maps of the Ulster County, New York, area. In 1856, he published History of Delaware County, and Border Wars of New York, which he had spent several years writing.[9] While engaged in surveying he started a side activity financing operators making woodash for tannin used in tanning leather.

Keystone Marker for Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania, named after Gould

In 1856, Gould entered a partnership with Zadock Pratt[8] to create a tanning business in Pennsylvania in an area that was later named Gouldsboro. He eventually bought out Pratt, who retired. In 1856, Gould entered a partnership with Charles Mortimer Leupp, a son-in-law of Gideon Lee and one of the leading leather merchants in the United States. The partnership was successful, until the Panic of 1857. Leupp lost all his money in that financial crisis, but Gould took advantage of the depreciation in property value and bought up former partnership properties.[8]

Gould also started an ice harvesting industry on the large Gouldsboro lake. In the winter, ice was harvested and stored in large ice houses at the side of the lake. He had a railroad line installed next to the lake and he supplied New York City with ice during the summer months.

The Gouldsboro Tannery became a disputed property after Leupp's death. Leupp's brother-in-law David W. Lee was also a partner in Leupp and Gould, and he took armed control of the tannery. He believed that Gould had cheated the Leupp and Lee families in the collapse of the business. Gould eventually took physical possession, but he was later forced to sell his shares in the company to Lee's brother.[10]

Railroad investing

In 1859, Gould began speculative investing by buying stock in small railways. His father-in-law Daniel S. Miller introduced him to the railroad industry by suggesting that Gould help him save his investment in the Rutland and Washington Railroad in the Panic of 1857. Gould purchased stock for 10 cents on the dollar, which left him in control of the company.[11] He engaged in more speculation on railroad stocks in New York City throughout the Civil War, and he was appointed manager of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad in 1863.

The Erie Railroad encountered financial troubles in the 1850s, despite receiving loans from financiers Cornelius Vanderbilt and Daniel Drew. It entered receivership in 1859 and was reorganized as the Erie Railway. Gould, Drew, and James Fisk engaged in stock manipulations known as the Erie War, and Drew, Fisk, and Vanderbilt lost control of the Erie in the summer of 1868, while Gould became its president.[12]

Tammany Hall

It was during the same period that Gould and Fisk became involved with Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party political machine that largely ran New York City at the time. They made its boss, notorious William M. "Boss" Tweed, a director of the Erie Railroad, and Tweed arranged favorable legislation. Tweed and Gould became the subjects of political cartoons by Thomas Nast in 1869. Gould was the chief bondsman in October 1871 when Tweed was held on $1 million bail. Tweed was eventually convicted of corruption and died in jail.[13]

Black Friday

In August 1869, Gould and his partner James Fisk conspired to begin to buy gold in an attempt to illegally corner the market. During this time, Gould used contacts with President Ulysses S. Grant's brother-in-law Abel Corbin to influence the president and his Secretary General Horace Porter.[14][15] These speculations culminated in the panic of Black Friday on September 24, 1869, when the greenback (cash) premium over face value fell on a gold double eagle from 62 percent to 35 percent. Gould made a small profit from this operation by hedging against his own attempted corner as it was about to collapse, but he lost it in subsequent lawsuits. The gold corner established Gould's reputation in the press as an all-powerful figure who could drive the market up and down at will.[16] Favored by Tweed Ring judges, the conspiratorial partners escaped prosecution, but the months of economic turmoil that rocked the nation following the failed corner proved both ruinous to farmers and bankrupting of some of Wall Street's most venerable financial institutions.

More railroads

Erie Railroad

In 1873, Gould attempted to take control of the Erie Railroad by recruiting foreign investments from Lord Gordon-Gordon, supposedly a cousin of the wealthy Campbell clan who was buying land for immigrants. He bribed Gordon-Gordon with a million dollars in stock, but Gordon-Gordon was an impostor and cashed the stock immediately. Gould sued him, and the case went to trial in March 1873. In court, Gordon-Gordon gave the names of the Europeans whom he claimed to represent, and he was granted bail while the references were checked. He immediately fled to Canada, where he convinced authorities that the charges were false.[17][18]

Having failed to convince Canadian authorities to hand over Gordon-Gordon, Gould attempted to kidnap Gordon-Gordon with the help of his associates and future members of Congress Loren Fletcher, John Gilfillan, and Eugene McLanahan Wilson. The group captured him successfully, but they were stopped and arrested by the North-West Mounted Police before they could return to the US. Canadian authorities put them in prison and refused them bail,[17][18] and this led to an international incident between the United States and Canada. Governor Horace Austin of Minnesota demanded their return when he learned that they had been denied bail, and he put the local militia on full readiness, and thousands of Minnesotans volunteered for an invasion of Canada. After negotiations, the Canadian authorities released them on bail. Gordon-Gordon was eventually ordered to be deported but committed suicide before the order could be carried out.[17][18]

Western railroads

1882 cartoon depicting Wall Street as "Jay Gould's Private Bowling Alley"

After being forced out of the Erie Railroad, Gould started to build up a system of railroads in the Midwest and west. He took control of the Union Pacific in 1873 when its stock was depressed by the Panic of 1873, and he built a viable railroad that depended on shipments from farmers and ranchers. He immersed himself in every operational and financial detail of the Union Pacific system, building an encyclopedic knowledge and acting decisively to shape its destiny. Biographer Maury Klein states that "he revised its financial structure, waged its competitive struggles, captained its political battles, revamped its administration, formulated its rate policies, and promoted the development of resources along its lines."[19][20]

By 1879, Gould gained control of two important western railroads, including the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Denver and Rio Grande Railway. He controlled 10,000 miles (16,000 km) of railway, about one-ninth of the rail in the United States at that time. He obtained a controlling interest in the Western Union telegraph company and in the elevated railways in New York City after 1881, and he had controlling interest in 15 percent of the country's railway tracks by 1882. The railroads were making profits and set their own rates, and his wealth increased dramatically. He withdrew from management of the Union Pacific in 1883 amid political controversy over its debts to the federal government, but he realized a large profit for himself.

In 1889, he organized the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis which acquired a bottleneck in east–west railroad traffic at St. Louis, but the government brought an antitrust suit to eliminate the bottleneck control after Gould died.[21]

Criticism and appraisal

Gould was extensively criticized in his lifetime, on the basis of being a trader rather than a builder of businesses, and of being unscrupulous. More recent appraisal has suggested that his business ethics were not unusual for the time.[22]

Some historians have proposed the idea that Gould's business practices were unfairly maligned, as he was one of the only railroad financiers who consistently betrayed the railroad cartels' proposed rate fixing by starting new railroad lines, thus driving rates down for consumers. [23]

Personal life

Gould purchased Lyndhurst on the east bank of the Hudson River as a country home in 1880
Gould's portrait hanging in his office at Lyndhurst

Gould was a member of West Presbyterian Church at 31 West 42nd Street. It later merged with Park Presbyterian to form West-Park Presbyterian.[24]

He married Helen Day Miller (1838–1889) in 1863 and they had six children.

Together with his son George, Gould was a founding member of American Yacht Club.[25][26] He owned the steam yacht Atalanta (1883). He purchased the Gothic Revival mansion Lyndhurst (sometimes spelled "Lindhurst") to use as a country house in 1880.

Gould died of tuberculosis, then referred to as "consumption" on December 2, 1892, and was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York. His fortune was conservatively estimated for tax purposes at $72 million (equivalent to $2.44 billion in 2024[27]), which he willed in its entirety to his family.[5]

At the time of his death, Gould was a benefactor in the reconstruction of the Reformed Church of Roxbury, New York, now known as the Jay Gould Memorial Reformed Church.[28] It is located within the Main Street Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.[29] The family mausoleum was designed by Francis O'Hara.


The mausoleum of Jay Gould

Gould married Helen Day Miller (1838–1889) in 1863; they had:

See also


  1. ^ Maury Klein (October 29, 1997). The Life and Legend of Jay Gould. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-8018-5771-3.
  2. ^ Walter R. Borneman (2014). Iron Horses: America's Race to Bring the Railroads West. Little, Brown. p. 235. ISBN 9780316371797.
  3. ^ Maury Klein (1997). The Life and Legend of Jay Gould. JHU Press. p. 393. ISBN 9780801857713.
  4. ^ Renehan, Edward J. (2006). Dark Genius of Wall Street.
  5. ^ a b Alef, Daniel (2010). Jay Gould: Ruthless Railroad Tycoon. Titans of Fortune Publishing. ISBN 9781608043064.
  6. ^ History of Hobart High School
  7. ^ H. W. Brands "Masters of Enterprise"
  8. ^ a b c "Gould's Eventful Life" (PDF). The New York Times. December 3, 1892. p. 3. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  9. ^ Gould, Jay (1856). History of Delaware County. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania?: Keeny & Gould.
  10. ^ "David Williamson Lee's Career" (PDF). The New York Times. January 21, 1886. p. 5. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  11. ^ Klein, Maury (1997). The Life and Legend of Jay Gould. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 508. ISBN 9780801857713.
  12. ^ Schafer, Mike (2000). More Classic American Railroads. MBI Publishing Company. p. 47. ISBN 076030758X. Retrieved September 22, 2016. [Read on Archive.org]
  13. ^ Conway, J. North (2010). The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of America's First, Most Ruthless, and Greatest Detective. Globe Pequot Press. p. 99. ISBN 9781599219653.
  14. ^ White 2016, pp. 479–480.
  15. ^ Brands 2012, p. 442.
  16. ^ Smith 2001, p. 490.
  17. ^ a b c Donaldson, William (2004). Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics. London: Phoenix. pp. 299–300. ISBN 0-7538-1791-8.
  18. ^ a b c Johnson, J.L. "Lord Gordon Gordon". The Manitoba Historical Society. Retrieved August 22, 2008.
  19. ^ Maury Klein, Jay Gould, (1966) p. 147
  20. ^ Maury Klein, "In Search of Jay Gould." Business History Review 52#2 (1978): 166–199.
  21. ^ United States v. Terminal R.R. Ass'n.
  22. ^ The Life & Legend of Jay Gould, Mary Klein, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986. p496
  23. ^ The Progressive Era, Murray N. Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2017. p64-65
  24. ^ New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission: "West-Park Presbyterian", nyc.gov; accessed September 25, 2018.
  25. ^ "In the Sporting World, Why the American Yacht Club Was Organized". The World. New York. April 20, 1884. p. 12.
  26. ^ "Yacht Club celebrating its 75th Anniversary". The Rye Chronicle. Rye, New York. July 17, 1958. p. 1.
  27. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  28. ^ History of the Reformed Church of Roxbury, Delaware County, New York Archived September 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, churches.rca.org; accessed May 3, 2014.
  29. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  30. ^ "George J. Gould Dies in Villa in France. Leaves $30,000,000. With His Second Wife and Her Children Near, He Yearned for His Sons. Last Malady a Secret. Death Holds Up Litigation With Family Over His Father's Estate. First Became Ill in March. Had Apparently Regained Health When He Suffered a Relapse". The New York Times. Mentone. May 17, 1923. p. 1. Retrieved May 23, 2008. George Jay Gould died this morning at 3:30 o'clock at the Villa Zoralde, Cap Martin, where he had been living for some months with his wife and her two children. His death, it was stated at the villa, came quietly and was expected, as he had never rallied from the illness from which he had been suffering all Winter.
  31. ^ "Kingdon Gould, 58, Long a Financier. Grandson of Founder of Family Fortune Dies. Once on Rail Boards. Officer In 1918". The New York Times. November 8, 1945. p. 17. Retrieved June 19, 2008.
  32. ^ "Jay Gould Is Dead. Court Tennis Star. Grandson of the Financier Had Held Championship for Quarter of Century". The New York Times. January 28, 1935. p. 15. Retrieved July 21, 2007.
  33. ^ "Lady Decies Dies at 38 in London. Former Helen Vivien Gould Was Principal in Brilliant International Wedding of 1911. Was Noted As Hostess. Her Entertaining Was a Feature of British Capital. Husband Is Distinguished Irish Peer". The New York Times. February 3, 1931. p. 1. Retrieved November 26, 2007.
  34. ^ "He Is George Jay Gould, Jr". The New York Times. Lakewood, New Jersey. May 15, 1896. p. 5. Retrieved December 3, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  35. ^ "Lady MacNeal Dies. Was Edith Gould. Granddaughter of Financier, 36, Succumbs at Estate in East Hampton. Wife of British Knight. Wrote Autobiography Telling of Family Life ...". The New York Times. September 12, 1937. p. N7. Retrieved August 22, 2008.
  36. ^ "Gloria Gould Barker Is Drowned In Swim Pool at Arizona Home. Mrs. W.M. Barker Drowns In A Pool. Victim of Accident". The New York Times. Associated Press. August 16, 1943. p. 1. Retrieved June 7, 2008.
  37. ^ a b "Edwin Gould Dies Suddenly at 67. Son of Railroad Financier and Builder Was Noted for Benefactions to Children. Left School of Finance. Made $1,000,000 Profit Operating Alone in Wall Street Before Father Forgave Him". The New York Times. July 13, 1933. p. 19. Retrieved August 6, 2008. Edwin Gould, second son of the late Jay Gould, financier and railroad builder, died suddenly of a heart attack shortly after ...
  38. ^ Gould; Time; July 31, 1933
  39. ^ "Mrs. Edwin Gould Dies in Hospital; Widow of Financier's Son Was Daughter of Surgeon Who Attended President Grant". The New York Times. October 15, 1951. p. 25.
  40. ^ Sublimed Gould; Time; July 24, 1933
  41. ^ "Edwin Gould, Jr., Killed on Hunt with Own Gun; Was Clubbing 'Coon Caught in Trap When Trigger Caught, Firing the Weapon. Shot Severed Artery". The New York Times. Brunswick, Georgia. February 26, 1917. pp. 1, 3. Retrieved December 3, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  42. ^ The New York Times; January 14, 1945
  43. ^ "Mrs. F.J. Shepard Dies of a Stroke. Former Helen Gould, Famous for Philanthropy, Stricken at Her Summer Home Gave Away Much of Fortune. Mrs. Finley J. Shepard Is Stricken at 70. Philanthropist and Daughter of Jay Gould Got Permission to Marry. Wed at Lyndhurst. Benefactions in War With Spain. Descendant of Pioneers". The New York Times. December 21, 1938. p. 1. Retrieved June 18, 2007. Mrs. Finley J. Shepard of New York, the former Helen Gould, who was famous for her philanthropies in many fields, died at her Summer home here at 12:15 this morning, after being in a coma for more than 24 hours. She had suffered an apoplectic stroke ten days ago, and had been ill for two months. Her age was 70 years.
  44. ^ Snow, Alice Northrop (1943). The Story of Helen Gould. F. H. Revell.
  45. ^ "Howard Gould dies here at 88... [l]ast surviving son of Jay Gould, rail financier, yachtsman, auto racer". The New York Times. September 15, 1959. p. 39. Retrieved June 21, 2007. Howard Gould, last surviving son of Jay Gould, the railroad financier, died Sunday in Doctors Hospital. He was 88 years old. Although Mr. Gould's residence ...
  46. ^ "Duchesse de Talleyrand Is Dead. Youngest daughter of Jay Gould". The New York Times. November 30, 1961. p. 37. Retrieved August 6, 2008. The Duchesse de Talleyrand-Périgord, daughter of the late Jay Gould, American railroad financier, died today in Paris where she passed most of her life.
  47. ^ "Son of Ann Gould succumbs in Paris". The New York Times. February 8, 1946. p. 18. Marquis De Castellane Held French Embassy Posts in London During 1940. Paris, Feb. 7, 1946. The death of Marquis de Castellane, son of the late Count Boni de Castellane and the former Anna Gould of New York, who eventually became Duchess de Talleyrand-Périgord, was announced today.
  48. ^ "Talleyrand Motel". Time magazine. June 3, 1929. Archived from the original on October 27, 2010. Retrieved July 21, 2007.
  49. ^ "Anna Gould's Son, Self-Wounded, Dies. Howard De Talleyrand, Prince De Sagan, 19, Succumbs In Paris After 11 Days. Parent's At His Bedside". The New York Times. May 29, 1929. p. 5. Retrieved July 21, 2007.
  50. ^ "Frank Jay Gould Dead on Riviera. Youngest Son of Rail Empire Maker was 78. Built Up Resort of Juan-les-Pins Heir to $10,000,000 N.Y.U. Graduate of 1899". The New York Times. Associated Press. April 1, 1956. p. 88. Retrieved April 6, 2008. Frank Jay Gould died today at his apartment at Juanles-Pins on the French Riviera. He was 78 years old

General and cited references

  • Ackerman, Kenneth D. (2011) [1988]. The Gold Ring: Jim Fisk, Gould, and the Black Friday, 1869. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. ISBN 978-0-396-09065-6.[permanent dead link]
  • Brands, H. W. (2012). The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant in War and Peace. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-53241-9.
  • Renehan, Edward (2006). Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465068869.
  • Smith, Jean Edward (2001). Grant. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-84927-5.
  • White, Ronald C. (2016). American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-5883-6992-5.

Further reading

Newspaper articles
  • Death of Jay Gould in the Brooklyn Eagle
  • "George Gould is Married". The New York Times. September 15, 1886. p. 1.
  • "Howard Gould marries". The New York Times. October 13, 1898. p. 1.
  • "Howard Gould dies here at 88; last surviving son of Jay Gould, rail financier—yachtsman, auto racer". The New York Times. September 15, 1959. p. 39.
  • Gordon, John S. (1999). The Great Game: The Emergence of Wall Street as a World Power: 1653–2000. Scribner. ISBN 978-0684832876.
  • Grodinsky, Julius (1981). Jay Gould, His Business Career, 1867–1892. Arno Press. p. 627. ISBN 978-1258168681.
  • Hilferding, Rudolf (1981). Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0415436649.
  • Josephson, Matthew (1962). The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861–1901. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
  • Klein, Maury (1997). The Life and Legend of Jay Gould. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801857713.
  • Klein, Maury. "Jay Gould: A Revisionist Interpretation". Business and Economic History 2d ser., 15 (1986): 55–68. JSTOR 23702860.
  • Kotz, David M. (2008). Neoliberalism and Financialization (PDF). Amherst: University of Massachusetts.
  • Morris, Charles R. (2005). The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy. New York: Holt. ISBN 0-8050-7599-2.
  • Renehan, Edward J. (2005). The Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons. New York: BasicBooks. ISBN 0-465-06885-5.
  • Steinmetz, Greg. (2022). American Rascal: How Jay Gould Built Wall Street's Biggest Fortune. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1982107406
  • White, Richard (2011). Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06126-0.
  • White, Trumbull (1892). The Wizard of Wall Street and His Wealth. Philadelphia: Mid-Continent Publishing Co.

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