Jack Gould - Mephistopheles of Wall Street

In the ancient Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, you can see a large Roman-style pantheon, standing alone in the middle of the largest piece of land in the cemetery. There are no inscriptions on it. Who was buried there, or who it belonged to, was completely incomprehensible. In the 19th century, such mausoleums and plots in the cemetery cost a fortune, and they were always erected with only one purpose - to leave the last mark after their death, and to try to stand out among others, even in the cemetery. And then there is no hint. No initials. No family coat of arms. Not a single symbol or allegory. In general, some riddles. Who is this rich man who could afford such an expensive mausoleum, but did not want to immortalize his name on it? And why did it happen? It's time to meet Jay Gould - perhaps the most notorious man in America. The cartoonists liked to portray him as a devil, financial reporters and brokers called Mephistopheles of Wall Street. And all because of the two stories that made Gould famous at the very beginning of his career. In neither case, nor in the other case, did he make a lot of money, and maybe even lost. But he was not forgiven for the methods by which he achieved his goal.

Jay Gould, the son of a poor farmer, left his parents' house with $ 5 in his pocket in 1852, when he was not even sixteen. After dropping out of school, Gould worked as a land surveyor, and after saving some money in 1856, he and his business partner, a certain Pratt, opened an extremely profitable tannery. Gould tricked Pratt by diverting profits from the company to his own (essentially clandestine) bank; when Pratt discovered the fraud, he chose an amicable settlement and left the company with monetary compensation - half the initial payment. When Gould turned 20, he entered the New York commodity market and, using money from new partners, actually bought up the leather market. In 1857, his fortune reached a million, but the panic on the stock exchange in 1857 destroyed his fortune; Gould's partner, Charles Lewip, committed suicide (modern biographers dispute Gould's guilt for his death, blaming Lewip's mental disorder). In the next decade, Gould's activities did not stand out against the general background, but in the second half of the 1860s he again took off, this time enlisting the support of local politicians.

Jay Gould

In 40 years, he has become one of the most influential people in America. A poorly healthy businessman with a powerful strategic intelligence built a huge empire, in the year of his death - 1892 - that included every ninth mile of American railways, as well as the Western Union telegraph monopoly.

The main competitive arena in American business 150 years ago was the railroads. Jay was only 32 years old when he, a little-known broker on Wall Street, received an order to buy shares in the Erie Railroad for the titan of the railroad business, Cornelius Vanderbilt. Having bought up the shares, Gould and his allies entered the board of directors of the road and, without Vanderbilt's knowledge, immediately began to rob it. They carried out one issue after another of Erie shares and dumped them on the market, while they themselves profited from the falling price through short sales.

Vanderbilt, realizing that he was being deceived, tried to change the board of directors, and as a result, a situation arose that you often observe during Russian corporate wars: opposing shareholders begin to appoint their managers to the company.

Each side bought itself several judges, who, contradicting each other, forbade opponents to act. When New York lawmakers set up a commission to investigate the Erie situation, representatives of Vanderbilt and Gould rented rooms in a hotel in the state capital, Albany, and began handing out money to lawmakers almost openly. The greed of politicians knew no bounds, and finally Vanderbilt left the arena in disgust. Gould won.

For a time, Erie, under Gould's leadership, fought price wars with Vanderbilt's parallel roads. At some point, prices for transporting livestock fell below cost. Old man Vanderbilt, with his vast resources, decided to simply crush the upstart competitor and set a minimum price of one cent per head of cattle. The traffic on his road immediately increased significantly, and Gould's went to naught. Vanderbilt rubbed his hands until he learned that it was Gould who had bought up all the livestock in the market and was transporting them for sale along a rival road, taking advantage of the enemy's generosity.

Actually, for the sake of "Erie" 34-year-old Gould started his second famous scam - in fact, the first ever speculative attack on the US dollar. In 1869, the dollar was not convertible, much like the Russian ruble is now. He went to the domestic market, while imports were paid in gold. The profits of exporters, for example, farmers, whose expenses were calculated in local currency, also depended on the exchange rate of gold against the dollar.

Gould calculated that if the price of gold was raised as high as possible, it would be more profitable for farmers to sell grain for export, and they would take it to ports by rail. In addition, it was possible to make good money on speculation in gold. It was only necessary to understand what the government of President Ulysses Grant would do when the speculative game began.

Gould made a meeting with the president. It was arranged by Grant's brother-in-law Abel Corbin, to whom Gould promised some of the gold profits. Grant told the businessman that this year's harvest is large and that a weak dollar is good for supporting exports. Armed with inside information, Gould launched the attack. He bought a small bank, which began to give him loans to buy gold. In two weeks Gould bought the precious metal for $ 50-60 million. The price of the paper dollar for the gold rose from 1.35 to 1.4.

And then Corbin received a stern letter from President Grant: “I heard that you are carried away by speculation in gold. Stop it now". Gould understood everything. And he made a decision: to sell gold, only slightly disguising himself with the help of small purchases. True, Jay did not tell his partners about this, who continued to play furiously for the promotion. And on Black Friday, September 25, 1869, the price of gold jumped to $ 1.62.

On the same day, the government announced a market intervention. The price collapsed instantly. Gould only managed to minimize losses. But how much he won or lost, no one knows. Gould was sued a lot, and he was helped by loyal "lured" judges.

Caricature: Gould Playing Bowling on Wall Street

Since then, no matter what Gould did, the market saw only an evil schemer in him. As soon as he bought the company, everyone immediately suspected that he would squeeze it out like a lemon, playing on its shares with its own money.

At the same time, Gould was still a great creator. He paved thousands of kilometers of railroad tracks where some bison used to roam, invested in the development of new cities in Nebraska and Wyoming, and developed local livestock farming.

But still no one believed him. By 1882, ordinary traders believed that the likes of Gould and Vanderbilt were in control of the market and could make it move in any direction. This means that everything they say and do is a move in a big game in which anyone can lose, but not themselves.

In January 1882, European investors lost faith in their American investments and began selling shares. The market was close to panic. Gould publicly declared himself a "bull" - but observers continued to claim that he was the main "bear" pushing prices down. Jay got tired of not being listened to. He decided to publicly display all of his securities. Gould dumped stocks and bonds on the table in batches - more than $ 53 million - and promised to show another $ 30 million if necessary. Wall Street was amazed: Gould hated publicity, was secretive and silent, and suddenly - such a show. But surprise quickly gave way to cynical irony. As they wrote in one of the financial publications: "When a person is laying out the goods, it is logical to assume that it is for sale."

Disappointed, misunderstood, Gould continued to work for days, as he had been accustomed to from a young age. His health completely deteriorated: he was tormented by tuberculosis and insomnia. “I’m not afraid to die, but I don’t want to leave my younger children, ” he wrote in one of his letters. Gould's wife Helen - the only woman he loved, died before him, and the workaholic oligarch did not understand how to take care of the children. In addition, Gould himself and his children were constantly assassinated, and the railway king spent the last months of his life under close protection.

His business was inherited by his eldest son, George J., under whom Gould's business empire completely collapsed. Gould's eldest daughter took up charity to atone for her father's sins. But Jay's notoriety remained.