Aspire | Action | Acquire
Aspire | Action | Acquire

Financial Literacy

One evening of December 1900, Charles Schwab, Robert Bacon, and John W Gates joined a flu-ridden J Pierpont Morgan in the library of his Madison Avenue mansion.  J P Morgan was America’s most powerful financier of the day. The purpose of this meeting was very different to that Morgan conducted in his library with prominent bankers in 1893 and would again in 1907 to avert a national financial crisis involving trust companies, banks and the New York Stock Exchange.[1]

Of those assembled in Pierpont’s library, were Charles Schwab who managed the steel business of Scottish born steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, Robert Bacon who was a Harvard Overseer and Morgan’s right-hand man, and John W Gates, known as “Bet a Million” Gates, who brought this group together. The purpose of their meeting would create the world’s first billion-dollar company, US Steel. The outcome from this meeting would make Carnegie the world’s richest man.

Morgan, a third-generation banker, was the residual legatee of his father’s [Junius Morgan] $9 million estate, inheriting little more than million dollars.[2] The bulk of Junius’ financial estate was split between J P Morgan’s sisters. Born to wealth, it is written of Morgan that he cared little for the material trappings of life. When he died, Rockefeller, who had experienced the banker’s animosity, is said to have sarcastically commented that he thought Morgan was a rich man. Morgan, whose wealth was around ten percent of Rockefeller’s, had, without fanfare, given much of his wealth away. Around half was invested in paintings[3].

J Pierpont Morgan was of the first generation of bankers whose clients were primarily private corporations instead of governments. Throughout his career, Morgan earned the reputation as the world’s leading banker on both sides of the world after emerging from his father’s shadow in the late 1880s. That was during the gold panic of 1893-95, Afterwards, he was dubbed the “Doctor of Wall Street” by William Vanderbilt’s attorney[4].

Morgan’s role in the 1893-95 panic should not be underestimated. The U S Treasury was drained of gold reserves and was on the verge of bankruptcy forcing the government to borrow $65 million in gold from Morgan. The toll of this panic was amounted to three times the number of commercial failures than in 1873, twenty years earlier. “The calamity prostrated trade, shook credit, depressed agriculture, and led to industrial and social unrest that at times approached anarchy,”[5] and preceded America’s Progressive revolt.

During the panic of 1907, Morgan was approached by the president of the New York Stock Exchange. Morgan provided $25 million to soothe the market’s lack of liquidity. Within days, the City of New York approached him, unable to meet its short-term obligations. Morgan assembled a syndicate of bankers to finance $30 million dollars’ worth of City bonds. While the bankers agreed on terms in the east room of the Morgan Library, J P Morgan sat in its west room smoking a trademark cigar and playing solitaire[6].

According to a forgotten source, Morgan’s enjoyment of solitaire was to create order from disorder, just as he had sought to do in the electrical, rail, and steel industries. What is striking about this observation, found from research conducted by Martin Fridson, is the popularity of card games, especially poker, amongst billionaires.[7] Card games involve what Matthew Lieberman, author and professor of neurosciences, terms ‘mentalizing’ skills: “to figure out the psychological characteristics of people.”[8] It should be no surprise that mentalizing skills are important in business; as Fridson acknowledged of card games.


[1] Daniel Gross, and the Editors of Forbes Magazine, Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time (New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1996), 59-73.

[2] John K. Winkler, Morgan the Magnificent: The Life of J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1931), 119.

[3] Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther, The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – a Ranking of the Richest Americans Past and Present, (Secaucus: Citadel Press, 1996), 98, 102.

[4] John K. Winkler, Morgan the Magnificent: The Life of J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1931), 132.

[5] John K. Winkler, Morgan the Magnificent: The Life of J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) (New York: The Vanguard Press, 1931), 123.

[6] Frederick L. Allen, The Lords of Creation: The History of America’s 1 Percent, ed. Mark C. Miller (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2017), 112-115.

[7] Martin S. Fridson, How to be a Billionaire: Proven Strategies from the Titans of Wealth (New York: Wiley, 2000), 21.

[8] Matthew D. Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect (New York: Broadway Books, 2013), 126.

[9] Frederick L. Allen, The Lords of Creation: The History of America’s 1 Percent, ed. Mark C. Miller (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2017), 22.