Men of Vision and Wealth
Several industrial and financial power brokers arose in the early 1900s. Their drive, determination, and uncanny ability to see the future led to vast empires. These hallowed ranks include such legends as the Rockefellers and Andrew Carnegie, as well as some lesser-known names.
John Pierpont Morgan
Son of a prominent international banker, Morgan began his career in banking and after the Civil War reorganized the railroads. By the end of the century, he controlled a transportation empire. In 1895, he founded J. P. Morgan & Co., which lent the U.S. government millions of dollars in gold. In 1901, Morgan organized U.S. Steel, the first billion-dollar corporation.
Born in Scotland, Carnegie started life with no wealth to back his rise to power. When he came to America in 1848, he worked as a bobbin boy in a Pittsburgh cotton factory. But he moved forward as a messenger, telegrapher, and in various positions within the Pennsylvania Railroad. During his railroad rise, Carnegie invested in oil, iron, and bridge building. In the 1870s, he concentrated on steel, and soon the Carnegie Steel Company became America's industrial giant. Carnegie, a savvy businessman and ferocious competitor, also became known for his philanthropy, giving away huge sums for future generations to enjoy.
John D. Rockefeller made his fortune with the Standard Oil Company, formed in 1870. During the 1880s, Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust controlled virtually all of the nation's refineries. Not surprisingly, antitrust sentiments prevailed, and as the trust dissolved, Rockefeller formed Standard Oil of New Jersey as a holding company until the Supreme Court broke it up in 1911. Rockefeller retired early, his personal wealth a staggering $1 billion.
Upon his father's retirement in 1911, John D. Rockefeller Jr. assumed the reins in business. He also led the board of directors of the Rockefeller Foundation (among other board posts), and in 1930, he began supervising a massive undertaking in New York City. It was an extensive complex of buildings, completed in 1939, known as Rockefeller Center, or Radio City, where the ice rink and Christmas celebrations remain prominent today. Rockefeller's philanthropy extended also to New York City land given to the United Nations (upon which the international headquarters was established) and to the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
Edward H. Harriman
Harriman was born to wealth, but he built his fortune even further. Success on Wall Street led Harriman to rebuild bankrupt railroads in 1881. The centerpiece of this effort was the Union Pacific Railroad, but he also acquired controlling shares in other lines.
James J. Hill
Born a Canadian, Hill matched financial wits with some of the finest in business. In the United States in the late 1870s, Hill became a partner in the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, which he acquired along with other lines. In time he consolidated his holdings into the Great Northern Railway. Later, Hill and J. P. Morgan paired against Harriman and financier Jacob Schiff in a battle for the Northern Pacific Railroad, causing tremors in the stock market in 1901.