“No, sir, the first thing is character. Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it… Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom” (Sinclair XIII). With that line, John Pierpont Morgan ended his career in a show-stealing manner. Indeed, J.P. Morgan was a man of character; moreover, he was perhaps the greatest Wall Street banker of the decade. Unlike others who gained fame at a young age, Morgan lived in obscurity until 1895, where at the age of 58, he signed a contract to supply gold to the United States Treasury propelling him into the headlines (Wheeler 3). The mid to late 19th century was a period of expansion in the American industry and in big business corporations. Through his leadership, Morgan salvaged America’s financial systems several times during his lifetime. In the railroad industry, he was known as the great arbiter, saving several railroads with his successful reorganizations. In the steel industry, Morgan combined many holdings into one of the successful ventures of the time. In his lifetime, J.P. Morgan was certainly a captain of industry who saved the American financial system and numerous companies while overseeing one of the biggest ventures of the time.
During his career, Morgan bailed out America’s financial system several times. When Congress adjourned in 1877 without appropriating money to pay soldiers. Morgan came up with the $550,000-a-month payroll and set up a disbursement system (Gross 64). In 1895 when the U.S. gold reserves fell dangerously low, he signed a contract with President Grover Cleveland to procure $50 million in gold from Europe in a private-bond sale, saving the Treasury from distress (Gross 65). In the fall of 1907, the future of America’s financial system again looked bleak. Dun’s Review noted that 8,090 companies with total liabilities of over $116 million failed in the first nine months of 1907, with the September figures showing the highest level of bankruptcy since the 1903 (Gross 62). Because the trusts loaned out money against the value of securities on deposit, the falling stock prices meant they had less collateral to back loans. Realizing that continuing failures in the trust companies would not only wipe out depositors but would provoke runs on banks, Morgan called a meeting with James Stillman of National City Bank, George Baker of First National Bank, and many other important figures in the financial industry (Gross 66). As a result, a group of banks agreed to establish a $10 million fund to bolster the ailing Trust Company of America ending the epidemic. Soon after, Treasury Secretary George Cortelyou agreed to deposit $25 million of government cash into selected New York City banks, to be used to bolster the troubled trust companies and banks (Gross 67). Despite these measures, many poorly capitalized institutions were still on the edge of disaster. Because of this, Morgan convinced the trust company presidents into subscribing to a $25 million loan for the trusts (Gross 70). His actions convinced the financial world of the critical need for a central government agency, the Federal Reserve System, that would provide stability for the modern banking system and financial markets.
Since the services of bankers were used most by the railroads, Morgan quickly got involved with them. In 1879 William H. Vanderbilt wanted to get rid of 150,000 shares of New York Central stock. Morgan carried out the transaction so successfully and secretively that when news of it broke, the financial community was greatly impressed, transforming Morgan into a leading financier (Boardman 121). Just as he had done bailing out the banking industry, Morgan again received critical acclaim acting as a mediator in a skirmish between the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad. Calling a meeting between the parties, he got them to agree to his proposal, resulting in restored peace between the companies, undamaged railroad profits, and no one suffering except perhaps the small shippers who might have benefited from the lower rates resulting from the competition (Boardman 121). Following the Panic of 1823, Morgan again came to the rescue of the railroad industry. Called on by a number of railroads, he reorganized their finances through several measures. Bond issues were consolidated at a lower interest rate; stockholders had to