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J. P. Morgan

banker who at one time personally owned much of America's industry

J.P. Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on April 17, 1837. His father, Junius Spencer Morgan, was a very prosperous international banker. Educated at a school in Vevey, Switzerland, and then the University of Gottingen, John entered his father's banking house in 1856. He married Amelia Sturges in 1860, but she died a few months after the wedding. In 1865 he married Frances Tray, with whom he had four children -- John Pierpont, Jr., Louisa, Juliet and Anne.

Morgan co-founded the banking firm Dabney, Morgan & Company in 1864, and Drexel, Morgan & Company in 1871; he reorganized the latter into J.P. Morgan & Company in 1895. Morgan and his partners were a major force in American industry almost from the beginning. He began providing capital for railroads in 1885, and became a board member and gaining a majority share in many of them along the way. In 1891 he arranged the merger of Edison General Electric and Thompson-Houson Electric Company to form General Electric, of which he became a board member and principal stockholder. By the end of the 19th century J.P. Morgan was one of the most powerful men in America, with controlling interest in several major railroads, electric companies, and steel and agricultural equipment industries. He was so powerful in fact that, when the nation faced a severe gold shortage in 1895 President Grover Cleveland asked him to personally oversee the international purchase of $65 million in gold. In 1901 he helped create U.S. Steel, which soon became the world's first billion-dollar corporation, and by 1902 his company controlled over 5,000 miles of American railroads.

Having succeeded in gaining personal control over much of America's industry and having a virtual monopoly in the railroad and steel businesses, Morgan became a target of antitrust investigations in the early 19th century. The U.S. Supreme Court dissolved his Northern Securities Company in 1904 because it was deemed a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1911 the Justice Department launched an antitrust lawsuit against Morgan, and in 1912 he came under investigation by the Pujo Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Neither the suit nor the investigation ever uncovered wrongdoing on Morgan's part, however. And, despite being under investigation at the time, the federal government allowed Morgan to personally loan money to many banks struggling to survive the Panic of 1907.

In addition to being a financial giant, Morgan was also an ardent book and art collector. His art collection became part of the core of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he helped to found, and his book collection, along with the building that houses it, are now The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City. Morgan was also an avid sailor, and he personally defended the America's Cup several times during his lifetime. His enormous wealth also allowed him to found the Lying-In Hospital and build the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, both in New York City, and to provide large sums of money for the Harvard Medical School.

John Pierpont Morgan died in Rome, Italy, on March 31, 1913.

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This page was last updated on September 27, 2017.