Many of the greatest financial titans in U.S. history have quietly amassed wealth while pursuing philanthropic causes and establishing economic dynasties. They have become synonymous with wealth, ambition, and success. These individuals will be remembered for their ingenious approaches to growing their empires and spirit of entrepreneurism. Following are brief profiles of financial titans John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan.
John D. Rockefeller
One of the driving forces in the growth of American industry, the life of John D. Rockefeller is truly a “rags to riches” story. From his family’s modest home in Cleveland, Ohio, Rockefeller started working as an assistant bookkeeper at age 16. After opening his first refinery, he started Standard Oil Company in 1870. Within a few years, Standard became the largest oil company in the country and controlled the industry. In response to Standard Oil Company’s aggressive and expansive reach, Congress instituted the Sherman Antitrust Act, which banned certain kinds of business activity that the federal regulators defined as anti-competitive. Unfazed, Rockefeller would reinvent his company into smaller entities and continue to amass wealth and opportunity.
When he retired, Rockefeller began a legacy of philanthropy, giving away over $530 million to charitable and educational organizations during his lifetime. He helped to create the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. Since his death in 1937, his family has continued his benevolent legacy, and the Rockefeller name has become attached to museums and schools in his honor. Much of modern America’s business standards can be attributed to Rockefeller’s legacy.
A Scottish immigrant who grew up in Pennsylvania, Andrew Carnegie was a steel tycoon who began his rise to wealth by working for $1.20 a week at a factory. He would later work for the railroads, while finding investment opportunities in oil, steel, and coal. Anticipating the growth of the nation, he began a steel company. Carnegie focused on building plants and finding new ways to provide what an expanding nation would need. He quickly realized that the easiest way to obtain the resources he needed was to own them. As a result, he became the owner of every necessary aspect of the steel industry: materials, transportation, and plants. A stronger supporter of technology, he established factory standards by having the most modern tools and processes available. In 1901, he sold his company to JP Morgan for $200 million and devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy.
During the latter years of his life, Carnegie would become famous for his donations to literary causes. He established numerous libraries, educational institutions, and endowments that promote peace.
The son of a banker, John Pierpont Morgan followed his father’s footsteps into the finance industry. After starting his own bank, Morgan expanded his reach into railroads and steel, establishing what would later be considered monopolies that attracted the attention of Congress. Capitalizing on the explosive growth of the United States, Morgan invested in one of the nation’s largest industries: steel. Through his many business interests, he became known as a master of finance. His business legacy continues today through his investment company, J.P. Morgan & Co.
His immense wealth would be credited with salvaging the U.S. economy in the Depression of 1895, and his influence allowed him a role as an advisor to the government. Famously known for his passion for solitaire, he quietly enjoyed a game of cards while the nation’s leading financiers were locked in his study hashing out a plan to save the country during the financial crisis of 1907.
Outside of finance, Morgan was an avid collector of art. He put together one of the largest art collections of the time, which was later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
There is much to admire about those who have created wealth that has lasted for generations. These men, and the others like them, were masters of opportunity and ingenious trailblazers who were relentless in pursuit of their goals. Here are a few lessons that we can learn from their lives:
- Don’t be afraid of hard work. Most of the famed financial titans started their lives with modest means. They worked harder and longer than others, often taking multiple jobs to establish their businesses.
- Take risks. Many of these men believed in ideas that were scoffed at by others. They took chances that put their wealth at risk.
- Search for opportunities. While the original titans amassed their wealth during a time of explosive growth in industry, there are still massive growth opportunities today. While the growth markets are no longer comprised of steel or oil, they include areas such as information and infrastructure. The secret is to look for an area of potential growth and capitalize on it.
- Share the wealth. Some of the largest philanthropic organizations today were begun by individuals who knew that the secret to success was more than accumulating wealth. They led fulfilling lives due in part to the fact that they shared their financial resources with others.