George Wingfield: Owner and Operator of Nevada

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George Wingfield was a major figure in Nevada history in the early decades of the twentieth century, and his legacy is felt throughout the state even today. A political and economic titan, he made a fortune in the gold fields of central Nevada and promptly bought a chain of banks and several hotels. Wingfield was a Republican party leader who was also influential among Democrats. His power was legendary and prevailing, as demonstrated by the nearly universal belief that he ran a bipartisan political machine. For ...
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Overview

George Wingfield was a major figure in Nevada history in the early decades of the twentieth century, and his legacy is felt throughout the state even today. A political and economic titan, he made a fortune in the gold fields of central Nevada and promptly bought a chain of banks and several hotels. Wingfield was a Republican party leader who was also influential among Democrats. His power was legendary and prevailing, as demonstrated by the nearly universal belief that he ran a bipartisan political machine. For a number of years Wingfield was described, without exaggeration, as the owner and operator of the state of Nevada. Some have revered him as Nevada's benevolent "friend." Others have condemned him as a "sagebrush caesar," a man who politically dominated the state "as arbitrarily as the czar ruled Russia." Elizabeth Raymond's biography depicts the man and his times, from his humble birth in Arkansas in 1876 until his death in Reno in 1959. Wingfield became a significant power in Nevada partly because he remained in the state with all of his money instead of leaving as other millionaires had done. His authority became increasingly contentious as his political activities gradually reshaped the state to coincide with his personal tastes and economic interests. His investments gave him national prominence and tremendous influence in a sparsely populated state, where an economic reliance on divorce and gambling was controversial. Ultimately, both political opponents and outside observers came to resent Wingfield's control. By the 1930s, when his banks collapsed, Wingfield was so bitterly resented that all attempts to reorganize and reopen them failed. In 1935, defeated and shorn of political power, Wingfield declared personal bankruptcy. Although a second fabulous gold mine brought him another fortune, he never recovered the political dominance he enjoyed at the height of his career in the 1920s. When Wingfield died in 1959, he had the satisfaction of witnessi
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