"… the Most Accomplished of All Modern Criminals … an Inspired Fiend … he had Not a Conception of a Moral Principle"
Descriptions of Jay Gould by historians and biographers
Click here to read Part 1
In the early 1880s, Jay Gould was engaged in a frenetic series of predatory transactions that gave him control of dozens of railroads. His goal was consolidation. If a railroad was willing to join his network, he assumed control at a fair price. If they didn’t join, he attacked them through the securities market.
As his railroad empire grew, Gould expanded his operations into the telegraph industry. The railroads were granted track rights of way, so they were ideal for stringing telegraph lines. Gould gained conrol of the Atlantic & Pacific telegraph company and used it in what would become one of his classic takeover strategies: to use a small, obscure company to attack a large, established company. His target was Western Union, the largest telegraph company in the U.S. and the prize possession of the Vanderbilts.
Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1877 and left his vast assets to his son William. The younger Vanderbilt was a skilled businessman who unfortunately lacked his father’s business acumen. Gould became a direct competitor on multiple fronts and then, to quote one historian, he "stripped away the great railroad and telegraph holdings one by one, the way a wolf takes bites out of a running deer."
In 1880, The New York Times published an article titled, Vanderbilt Clearing Out: Jay Gould Taking His Place. It described Gould’s puchase of 100,000 shares of Western Union stock from Vanderbilt for $10,000,000 in a deal that was "kept as quiet as possible, and scarcely a broker was aware of it ." It goes on to add that Gould "would make a cool $7,000,000."
As these events unfolded, Puck Magazine published a series of lithographs and woodcuts by Joseph Keppler, Frederick Opper, Bernhard Gillam and others. The cartoons became part of a relentless onslaught of negative press and public criticism. In 1881 Gould said, " … the manner in which motives are impugned and character assailed is very unpleasant."
The centerspread of Puck’s January 26, 1881 issue featured "Consolidated" by Joseph Keppler. In depicts Jay Gould swinging between the columns of The Press and Commerce. Telegraph lines strangle the necks of the sculptures on top of the columns. When this cartoon appeared in 1881, Gould had "consolidated" the telegraph companies and formed a monopoly.
Consolidated by Joseph Keppler
January 26, 1881, Vol. VIII No. 203; Chromolithograph
12 1/2"h x 18"w
The telegraph companies have been consolidated, which in simple language means that Mr. Jay Gould controls every wire in the United States over which a telegram can be sent. Mr. Gould has for a long time had his eye on this business. He was not satisfied with owning half the railways in the country, and being able by a single wave of the hand to make a million or so every day in Wall Street by stock fluctuatuions; but he now goes in for higher game, and seeks to control everything in the country. There is not a single staple, there is not a single business interest that is not now under Mr. Gould’s thumb. We are all human, and so are telegraph operators; and it would be quite awkward if one fine day a little error could be made to a quotation of the price of cotton, which would result in the tuin of men who deal in that article, and cause Mr. Gould and his friends, if he has any, to pocket the few extra millions.
The error would be, of course, rectified in a few hours, or at least the next day, and the telepgraph operators severely reprimanded, if not dismissed; but it would then be too late; all the mischief would be done. A trifling misquotation of this kind could occur several times a month. Petroleum would serve the purpose one day, corn and wheat the next. And then what is to prevent a special stock being quoted in a special manner in a special city? We do not mean to say that Mr. Jay Gould would do any of these wicked things; he is too good, too virtuous, too pious for that; and like Deacon Richard Smith, as the Sun represents him, he may have wicked partners who will have their own way and refuse to be guided by the righteous and unselfish Mr. Gould, although they must be conscious of the pain they are inflicting on their chief. Think of the poor man shedding tears in the solitude of his library at the ungratefulness of human nature and the obstinacy of his naughty associates.
We Americans are by no means modest. We pride ourselves on being a Republic, on our freedom, on our boundless prairies; in fact, it is very difficult to say on what we do not pride ourselves. But are we a Republic, and are we free? We don’t think we are. no country can be called free where it is possible for a private individual to acquire as his own personal property all the means of communication among its citizens. This is what Mr. Jay Gould has done by consolidating the American Union with the Western Union, and Atlantic and Pacific. He is now a more powerful autocrat than the Czar of all the Russias. As for the Emperor of Germany and the Queen of Great Britain, they are very small personages, indeed, compared to this financial Alexander the Great. They can do nothing without the consent of their legislatures, while Mr. Gould is responsible only to himself. The press is completely powerless in the matter. He already owns two papers, body and soul; and those that he does not own dare not speak their minds, fearful of running the risk of having their telegraphic news cut off from them. Jay Gould is to-day the Emperor of the United States with absolute power.
H.C. Bunner, from the description at the front of the issue
The consequences for the U.S. of Gould and Vanderbilt’s machinations were depicted in "The Two Philanthropists" by Joseph Keppler which appeared as the centerspread of the February 23 , 1881 issue of Puck.
The Two Philanthropists by Joseph Keppler
"Don’t fret, Uncle Sam, we only want to make a happy man of you!"
February 23 , 1881, Vol. 3 No. 207, Chromolithograph
18"h x 12 1/2"w
The consolidation of the telegraph companies is an accomplished fact, in spite of efforts at injunctions and other abortive attempts to stop the consummantion of the business in the legislature at Albany. As we prophesied, nothing could be done, and Mr. Jay Gould is master of the situation. How can it be otherwise? Was it to be supposed for a moment that Mr. Jay Gould would enter into such a gigantic transaction without laying his plans accordingly? Mr. Gould had carefully anticipated everything that could possibly be said or done against him, and all the attacks that have been made fall like split peas against an ironclad. Mr. Gould is not the kind of man to leave such things to chance. He knew perfectly well that the scheme which has successfuly carried out would not be popular with everybody, and he has consequently met all the troubles half way, and can let all newspaper abuse and the protests of the Chanbers of Commerce pass by him as the idle wind which he regards not. It was well that Mr. Vanderbilt was so ready to lend him a helping hand.
Mr. Vanderbilt did not make his own money, and consequently does not know how to manipulate it so well as Mr. Gould, who has but himself to thank for his enormous wealth. Mr. Vanderbilt, controlled by Mr. Gould, is like clay in the hands of the potter. But here are these two capitalists with the United States and all its institutions by the throat. The tremendous power of these men can scarcely be realized. Uncle Sam is on their rack, and they can stretch him to any extent they please. Fettered at his feet by their locomotives, in the meshes of their telegraph system at his head and shoulders, he is indeed in a most pitiable condition. And there is no relief in the near future until such a phenomenon appears as a bigger capitalist than Jay Gould and a greater patriot than George Washington in combination. Everybody who has read the Bible – and who has not? – will remember how Aaron’s rod became a snake and swallowed all the other snakes. our artist has not pictured Asron’s rod swallowing up all the other rods, but he has endeavored to show the Western Union Monopoly snake taking in every other telegraph company, some of which had already been disposed of by other snakes. But Mr. Jay Gould’s serpent swallows the whole lot, and is ready for more – only there are some left for his capacious and insatiable maw.
H.C. Bunner, from the description at the front of the issue
In its December 7, 1881 issue, Puck ran a cartoon by Frederick Opper that showed Gould and fellow financier Cyrus Field holding up garments labelled "Evening Express" and "New York World" – two of the newspapers owned by the monopolists. Gould wrote articles under reporters’ bylines and frequently planted stories designed to drive up the value of his investments.
He also used The New York World to publicize statements about the dangers of the telegraph monopoly as he initiated an attack on Western Union’s stock that ultimately led to his hostile takeover.
Convenient Garments for Monopolists – How They Cover Up Their Crookedness
by Frederick Opper
December 7 , 1881, Woodcut
12 1/2"h x 18"w
The caption still resonates with corporate media manipulation in our own times. Last week, in an effort to whitewash the Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum tried to shore up its stock price by launching a $50 million ad campaign through Google, Yahoo, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Washington Post, as well as cable and national TV stations.
COMING UP: More Caricatures of The Czar of the "Street"!
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David Donihue, GreatCaricatures.com | financial reform
— David Donihue, GreatCaricatures.com