The founding of J.P. Morgan and Company in 1871 is a story that will be familiar to anyone interested in American history. Morgan helped finance such important institutions as the Brooklyn Bridge, Panama Canal, and the American rail system. He also helped the fledgling republic survive financial crises when there was no central bank. Today, the company is run by Jamie Dimon, one of the best bankers of his generation. And unlike his father, Dimon has much better hair.
After a long and storied career in Wall Street, J.P. Morgan faced increasing criticism over his monopolistic powers. Many progressive politicians accused him of having too much power. In 1912, he was called to testify before a congressional committee investigating the existence of a secret money trust. The committee was chaired by Arsene Pujo, a U.S. Representative from Louisiana. He was looking into the activities of a small group of Wall Street financiers.
Morgan financed the Federal Steel Company in 1898, which merged with the Carnegie Steel Company in 1901 to create the United States Steel Corporation. In addition, Morgan helped organize the International Harvester Company, a conglomerate of major agricultural-equipment manufacturers. He also organized the International Mercantile Marine (IMM), a major transatlantic shipping company. However, in 1912, the Titanic sank and many lives were lost.
Morgan’s ability to influence the financial system helped him save the nation during various economic crises. In 1895, he led a banking syndicate that loaned $60 million to the federal government. During the 1907 financial panic, Morgan convened a meeting of leading financiers in New York City, influencing them to bail out failing financial institutions.
Besides his business interests, Morgan had deep philanthropic interests. He was a major benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He also contributed to the British Museum and Harvard University. He also supported Trinity College and the Lying-In Hospital of the City of New York.
After the stock market panic in 1907, J.P. Morgan spearheaded the effort to keep the economy from completely collapsing. By taking in large deposits from the government, Morgan and his associates were able to keep many major banks solvent. As a result, Morgan’s banking house achieved a top-heavy concentration of control over leading corporations.
Morgan was born in Connecticut and raised in Boston and New York. His father groomed him for a career in international finance, and he began working in London in 1857. He then relocated to New York, where he died in 1913. There are several facets to the man’s life that can be explored through the company’s history.