Hazardous Business
Illustration
Industry, Regulation, and the Texas Railroad Commission

Jay Gould

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Jay Gould

Jay Gould was born in Roxbury, New York, in 1836. Gould worked in a variety of jobs as a young man and began speculating in small railways at the age of 20. During the Civil War, he traded in government bonds and gold, using the profits to buy railroad stock.

Gould first came to national attention in 1867. Along with several others, Gould had gained a controlling interest in the Erie Railroad Company and successfully thwarted a hostile takeover bid by Cornelius Vanderbilt by flooding the market with company stock. The press dubbed Gould and the others "the Erie Ring" when they fled to New Jersey to avoid arrest. When they returned to New York, Gould and the others openly bribed New York legislators and other officials to legalize their stock sale.

In 1869, Gould made even bigger news when he tried to corner the nation's gold supply. Gould's aim was to artificially inflate the price of gold so he could sell the supply he had bought up at low prices. Gould's scheme resulted in riches for himself but a disaster for the market. Several businesses and thousands of individual investors were ruined in the collapse of the gold market, which became known as Black Friday.

By this time, Jay Gould was being described by some as the most powerful man in the country. Certainly he was among the most hated. Over the next decade, Gould concentrated on buying railroads. Eventually, he controlled over 10,000 miles of railroad. Gould controlled arteries of communication as well as transportation. He gained control over the Western Union telegraph company, the trans-oceanic cable, the Associated Press, and several major newspapers. Gould was widely despised for his ruthless and unscrupulous business practices. On the other side of the ledger, historians today give Gould credit for having spurred the railroads into a period of expansion and being a leader in expanding the railroads in the West, including Texas.

Gould's health began to fail in the mid-1880s. He died of tuberculosis in 1892.

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Jay Gould. Images of American Political History.

Page last modified: August 18, 2011