April 17: The “Robber Baron” Who Saved the U.S. Economy — Twice


Today in 1837, John Pierpont Morgan, one of the most famous businessmen and financiers in American history, was born in Hartford.

Born into a wealthy and influential Connecticut family, J. P. Morgan was groomed to be a successful financier from an early age. He quickly moved up the ranks of his father’s banking companies in London and New York, slowly but steadily consolidating his business networks and influence throughout the latter half of the 19th century.

J. P. Morgan, circa 1902. (Library of Congress)

Morgan played a role in creating some of the most recognizable corporations in United States history, often by buying out competing businesses and reorganizing them into one larger and more efficient company. Three of his most successful mergers resulted in the creation of General Electric in 1891, J. P. Morgan and Company (now J. P. Morgan Chase Bank) in 1895, and the United States Steel Company in 1901, which was the world’s first billion-dollar corporation.

Morgan wielded an outsized influence on U.S. banking, business, and even government. In 1895, when the U.S. Treasury was close to bankruptcy owing to the Panic of 1893, Morgan arranged to sell a portion of his companies’ own gold reserves to the government in exchange for a massive 30-year bond. It saved the federal treasury (and U.S. economy) but alarmed many critics and politicians. In 1907, he helped deflect the damage from yet another financial panic by arranging a massive private-sector “bailout” of several large New York banks. Though Morgan had prevented financial disaster twice, progressive-era politicians and reformers saw his intervention as proof that increased federal oversight of America’s sprawling banking industry was needed. Their concern led to the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

After his death in 1913, Morgan was buried alongside many other distinguished Connecticut citizens in Cedar Hill Cemetery, in the city of his birth. Among his notable contributions to Hartford was the financial support he provided for both the Wadsworth Atheneum and the city’s stunning Beaux-Arts municipal building. A towering giant of the American financial industry who never forgot his Hartford roots, was born today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Nancy Finlay, “J. P. Morgan’s Connecticut Roots,” connecticuthistory.org

J. Pierpont Morgan,” Souvenir Book of the [Hartford] Municipal Building Dedication, 1915

Karen O’Maxfield, “Hartford Connecticut Landmarks: Municipal Building (City Hall)