Exploring America in the Gilded Age

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The Gilded Age was a time where development occurred all over America and Jason Gould was a main contributor in America’s development. Development peeked in its positive and negative ways. Historians describe this error as a time where America looked good on the outside but was rough on the inside, due to economic and industrial problems. Jason Gould was an American man, born in Roxbury New York. He was considered one major reason for economic and industrial issues. Gould impacted the economy negatively although some historians side with Gould. Gould is termed as 'one of the most unscrupulous ‘robber barons’ of the 19th-century American capitalism”.

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Said to be the most despised man in the nation, Jason Gould, Jay for short, spent most of his life focusing on railroads. Gould was a railroad executive and developer, finance, and speculator. As well as focusing on railroads, he had other jobs and throughout his jobs he made and lost several fortunes. Gould’s educational background consisted of local schools, Hobart Academy, and he shockingly taught himself the subjects of mathematics and surveying. Before he started to work Gould illustrated maps of various counties in his home state, New York. Gould also worked as a blacksmith that led him to a career working at a leather tanning business that was placed in Pennsylvania. Gould’s biggest skill was manipulating stocks. One of his well-known techniques is he would raise his prices so that other speculators' prices who were lacking stock would decrease. Gould used various techniques and was smart with business tactics which would be very illegal today.

Gould started off with suggesting ideas on how to confront the dangers of smaller railways. Most of Gould’s work was done in New York. Gould involved himself with railroad stocks in New York City throughout the American Civil War. Throughout the 1860s, Gould was named manager of the Rensselaer and Saratoga highway and was named director of the Erie railroad. Gould became familiar with the Rutland and Washington Railways which led him to buying them and reorganizing them in a way that he would gain much profit from them. In 1868, Gould partnered with Daniel Drew and James Fick to reach their goal of keeping Cornelius Vanderbilt from gaining all accessibility of the railroads. This partnership was one of the few had. It was claimed that Gould disliked having partners but Fisk was a partnership he did like. One source says, “Fisk was prone to attracting attention with very public stunts. And while Gould genuinely seemed to like Fisk, historians speculate that Gould saw value in having a partner who drew attention away from him.” Gould always preferred that Fisk dealt with the press so that he could move on and be hidden from the public.

Adding onto the conflict between Vanderbilt and Gould, a fight termed the Erie War occurred. The Erie War was a fight for who could own full control over the Erie railroad. This battle caused lots of unneeded public drama, and a shocking display of business intrigue. One source says, “As Fisk put on a public show, giving lively interviews to the press, Gould arranged to bribe politicians in Albany, New York, the state capital.” This battle ended with an agreement between Fisk, Gould, and Vanderbilt. Therefore, the railroad fell in the hands of Gould but Gould let Fisk be the face of this railroad. Fisk was known as the “Prince of Erie”.

In the late 1860s Gould noticed some disadvantages and problems occurring in the gold market. Gould came up with a scheme that would result in him having full control over the gold supply in America. Although, this scheme could only work if the federal government stopped selling gold reserves. This was so Gould could increase the prices and influence the entire national economy. Gould did a lot of bribing to higher political branches so his schemes could go into play. On September 24, 1869 on “Black Friday”, the price of gold began to rise which led to a huge issue on Wall Street in New York. Gould’s plan was working until the federal government began to sell gold again on the gold market which decreased the prices. Although Gould’s plan did not work the way he wanted it too, he and Fisk walked away with a profit of an estimated millions of dollars. This occurrence caused Gould to become more famous and more healthy, which was good in some ways but Gould tried to avoid publicity.

One source describes Gould as, “depicted as a dark force in American life.” Gould was a stock manipulator whose schemes and techniques would be very illegal in today’s world. Gould was “a perfect villain in his time.' An artist named Thomas Nast drew political cartoons. Nast would portray Gould in his drawings as a cartoon man running with bags of money in his hands. Some historians claim that Nast’s drawings portray Gould as more of a villain than he actually was. Other historians say that “his techniques performed useful functions”. One example was that he greatly improved the railroad service in the West.

Gould’s overall impact was negative. Gould was associated with a man named Thomas Byrens. Byrens was a part of the New York police detective branch. Byrens was wealthy and was involved with Manhattan real estate. Byrens and Gould worked together. Byrens claimed that Gould gave him stock tips when it was hard for people to believe him since others suspected that Gould was giving Byrens inside information on upcoming stock deals and bribes. Like other incidents that occured in Goulds life, so many rumors filled the air about Gould but nothing was ever proven in court and Gould was not convicted of any crime or guilty of any sort.   

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