Read an Excerpt
Famed photographer Edward Steichen took J. Pierpont Morgan's photograph. The brusque banker took one look at it and tore it up. "Meeting his blazing dark eyes," Steichen recalled, "was like confronting the headlights of an express train bearing down on you."
J. Pierpont Morgan's name conjures images of high finance on Wall Street. It should, for Pierpont was the nation's most influential power broker during and after the Gilded Age, a man who controlled railroads, shipping lines, the steel industry, money and banking.
Bearish and threatening at times, often wielding his cane like an Arthurian broadsword at fleeing reporters, Pierpont was an intimidating figure. His manner may have been fueled in part by a bulbous growth on his nose, a form of rhinophyma-meticulously airbrushed out of all photographs-a physical deformity that surgeons could have excised, but Pierpont left it there for all to see; it augmented his defiant glare.
His public testimony before Congressional subcommittees could be obtuse and confusing to distraction, or concise and to the point; it is difficult to discern whether this was intentional or just his way of talking. But his public persona masked a prodigious mind-J. Pierpont Morgan was a financial genius.
Unlike many other titans, Pierpont never tasted poverty. His maternal grandfather was a founder of Yale and his paternal grandfather started Aetna Fire Insurance Co. in Hartford, Conn. J. Pierpont's father, Junius, was a man of wealth and influence who headed George Peabody's bank in London.
Pierpont was born April 17, 1837, in Hartford, where he spent his first fourteen years. Junius was a hands-on father who believed strongly in providing his son with the highest moral and practical education. He watched over Pierpont with the same intensity a microbiologist would devote to the study of a newly discovered organism. Biographer Jean Strouse noted how "Junius saw male childhood not as a time for exploration and play but as a training ground for the serious business of life." Junius advised his son to comport only with boys "whose influence over you will be good," and moved J. Pierpont from one school to another as Junius sought to ensure the proper environment for his son.
There is little evidence of the role Pierpont's mother Juliet played in his upbringing or how much influence she brought to bear. Her letters to Pierpont were filled with instructions and suggestions but little by way of maternal affection.