HISTORY OF THE GREAT AMERICAN FORTUNES

CHAPTER VIII

OTHER LAND FORTUNES CONSIDERED



The founding and aggrandizement of other great private fortunes from land were accompanied by methods closely resembling, or identical with, those that the Astors employed.

Next to the Astors’ estate the Goelet landed possessions are perhaps the largest urban estates in the United States in value.  The landed property of the Goelet family on Manhattan Island alone is estimated at fully $200,000,000.


THE GOELET FORTUNE.


The founder of the Goelet fortune was Peter Goelet, an ironmonger during and succeeding the Revolution.  His grandfather, Jacobus Goelet, was, as a boy and young man, brought up by Frederick Phillips, with whose career as a promoter and backer of pirates and piracies, and as a briber of royal officials under British rule, we have dealt in previous chapters.  Of Peter Goelet’s business methods and personality no account is extant.  But as to his methods in obtaining land, there exists little obscurity.  In the course of this work it has already been shown in specific detail how Peter Goelet in conjunction with John Jacob Astor, the Rhinelander brothers, the Schermerhorns, the Lorillards and other founders of multimillionaire dynasties, fraudulently secured great tracts of land, during the early and middle parts of the last century, in either what was then, or what is now, in the heart of New York City.  It is entirely needless to iterate the narrative of how the city officials corruptly gave over to these men land and water grants before that time municipally owned — grants now having a present incalculable value.1

As was the case with John Jacob Astor, the fortune of the Goelets was derived from a mixture of commerce, banking and ownership of land.  Profits from trade went toward buying more land, and in providing part of corrupt funds with which the Legislature of New York was bribed into granting banking charters, exemptions and other special laws.  These various factors were intertwined ;  the profits from one line of property were used in buying up other forms and thus on, reversely and comminglingly.  Peter had two sons ;  Peter P., and Robert R. Goelet.  These two sons, with an eye for the advantageous, married daughters of Thomas Buchanan, a rich Scotch merchant of New York City, and for a time a director of the United States Bank.  The result was that when their father died, they not only inherited a large business and a very considerable stretch of real estate, but, by means of their money and marriage, were powerful dignitaries in the directing of some of the richest and most despotic banks.  Peter P. Goelet was for several years one of the directors of the Bank of New York, and both brothers benefited by the corrupt control of the United States Bank, and were principals among the founders of the Chemical Bank.

These brothers had set out with an iron determination to build up the largest fortune they could, and they allowed no obstacles to hinder them.  When fraud was necessary they, like the bulk of their class, unhesitatingly used it.  In getting their charter for the notorious Chemical Bank, they bribed members of the Legislature with the same phlegmatic serenity that they would put through an ordinary business transaction.  This bank, as we have brought out previously, was chartered after a sufficient number of members of the Legislature had been bribed with $50,000 in stock and a large sum of money.  Yet now that this bank is one of the richest and most powerful institutions in the United States, and especially as the criminal nature of its origin is unknown except to the historic delver, the Goelets mention the connection of their ancestors with it as a matter of great and just pride.  In a voluminous biography giving the genealogies of the rich families of New York — material which was supplied and perhaps written by the families themselves — this boast occurs in the chapter devoted to the Goelets :  “They were also numbered among the founders of that famous New York financial institution, the Chemical Bank.”2  Thus do the crimes of one generation become transformed into the glories of another !  The stock of the Chemical Bank, quoted at a fabulous sum, so to speak, is still held by a small, compact group in which the Goelets are conspicuous.

From the frauds of this bank the Goelets reaped large profits which systematically were invested in New York City real estate.  And progressively their rentals from this land increased.  Their policy was much the same as that of the Astors — constantly increasing their land possessions.  This they could easily do for two reasons.  One was that almost consecutively they, along with other landholders, corrupted city governments to give them successive grants, and the other was their enormous surplus revenue which kept piling up.


ONCE A FARM ;  NOW OF VAST VALUE.


When William B. Astor inherited in 1846 the greater part of his father’s fortune, the Goelet brothers had attained what was then the exalted rank of being millionaires, although their fortune was only a fraction of that of Astor.  The great impetus to the sudden increase of their fortune came in the period 1850-1870, through a tract of land which they owned in what had formerly been the outskirts of the city.  This land was once a farm and extended from about what is now Union Square to Forty-seventh street and Fifth avenue.  It embraced a long section of Broadway — a section now covered with huge hotels, business buildings, stores and theaters.  It also includes blocks upon blocks filled with residences and aristocratic mansions.  At first the fringe of New York City, then part of its suburbs, this tract lay in a region which from 1850 on began to take on great values, and which was in great demand for the homes of the rich.  By 1879 it was a central part of the city and brought high rentals.  The same combination of economic influences and pressure which so vastly increased the value of the Astors’ land, operated to turn this quondam farm into city lots worth enormous sums.  As population increased and the downtown sections were converted into business sections, the fashionables shifted their quarters from time to time, always pushing uptown, until the Goelet lands became a long sweep of ostentatious mansions.

In imitation of the Astors the Goelets steadily adhered, as they have since, to the policy of seldom or never selling any of their land.  On the other hand, they bought constantly.  On one occasion they bought eighty lots in the block from Fifth to Sixth avenues, Forty-second to Forty-third streets.  The price they paid was $600 a lot.  These lots have a present aggregate value of perhaps $15,000,000 or more, although they are assessed at much less.


MISERS WITH MILLIONS.


The second generation of the Goelets — counting from the founder of the fortune — were incorrigibly parsimonious.  They reduced miserliness to a supreme art.  Likewise the third generation.  Of Peter Goelet, a grandson of the original Peter, many stories were current illustrating his close-fistedness.  His passion for economy was carried to such an abnormal stage that he refused even to engage a tailor to mend his garments.3  He was unmarried, and generally attended to his own wants.  On several occasions he was found in his office at the Chemical Bank industriously absorbed in sewing his coat.  For stationery he used blank backs of letters and envelopes which he carefully and systematically saved and put away.  His house at Nineteenth street, corner of Broadway, was a curiosity shop.  In the basement he had a forge, and there were tools of all kinds over which he labored, while upstairs he had a law library of 10,000 volumes, for it was a fixed, cynical determination of his never to pay a lawyer for advice that he could himself get for the reading.

Yet this miser, who denied himself many of the ordinary comforts and conveniences of life, and who would argue and haggle for hours over a trivial sum, allowed himself one expensive indulgence — expensive for hint, at least.  He was a lover of fancy fowls and of animals.  Storks, pheasants and peacocks could be seen in the grounds about his house, and also numbers of guinea pigs.  In his stable he kept a cow to supply him with fresh milk ;  he often milked it himself.

This eccentric was very melancholy and, apart from his queer collection of pets, cared for nothing except land and houses.  Chancing in upon him one could see him intently pouring over a list of his properties.  He never tired of doing this, and was petulantly impatient when houses enough were not added to his inventory.

He died in 1879 aged seventy-nine years ;  and within a few months, his brother Robert, who was as much of an eccentric and miser in his way, passed away in his seventieth year.


THE THIRD GENERATION.


The fortunes of the brothers descended to Robert’s two sons, Robert, born in 1841, and Ogden, born in 1846.  These wielders of a fortune so great that they could not keep track of it, so fast did it grow, abandoned somewhat the rigid parsimony of the previous generations.  They allowed themselves a glittering effusion of luxuries which were popularly considered extravagances but which were in nowise so, inasmuch as the cost of them did not represent a tithe of merely the interest on the principal.  In that day, although but thirty years since, when none but the dazzlingly rich could afford to keep a sumptuous steam yacht in commission the year round, Robert Goelet had a costly yacht, 300 feet long, equipped with all the splendors and comforts which up to that time had been devised for ocean craft.  Between them, he and his brother Ogden possessed a fortune of at least $150,000,000.  The basic structure of this was New York City land, but a considerable part was in railroad stocks and bonds, and miscellaneous aggregations of other securities to the purchase of which the surplus revenue had gone.  Thus, like the Astors and other rich landholders, partly by investments made in trade, and largely by fraud, the Goelets finally became not only great landlords but sharers in the centralized ownership of the country’s transportation systems and industries.

When Ogden Goelet died he left a fortune of at least $80,000,000, reckoning all of the complex forms of his property, and his brother, Robert, dying in 1899, left a fortune of about the same amount.  Two children survived each of the brothers.  Then was witnessed that characteristic so symptomatic of the American money aristocracy.  A surfeit of money brings power, but it does not carry with it a recognized position among a titled aristocracy.  The next step is marriage with title.  The titled descendants of the predatory barons of the feudal ages having, generation after generation, squandered and mortgaged the estates gotten centuries ago by force and robbery, stand in need of funds.  On the other hand, the feminine possessors of American millions, aided and abetted doubtless by the men of the family, who generally crave a “ blooded ” connection, lust for the superior social status insured by a title.  The arrangement becomes easy.  In marrying the Duke of Roxburghe in 1903, May Goelet, the daughter of Ogden, was but following the example set by a large number of other American women of multi-millionaire families.  It is an indulgence which, however great the superficial consequential money cost may be, is, in reality, inexpensive.  As fast as millions are dissipated they are far more than replaced in these private coffers by the collective labor of the American people through the tributary media of rent, interest and profit.  In the last ten years the value of the Goelet land holdings has enormously increased, until now it is almost too conservative an estimate to place the collective fortune at $200,000,000.

This large fortune, as is that of the Astors and of other extensive landlords, is not, as has been pointed out, purely one of land possessions.  Far from it.  The invariable rule, it might be said, has been to utilize the surplus revenues in the form of rents, in buying up controlling power in a great number and variety of corporations.  The Astors are directors in a large array of corporations, and likewise virtually all of the other big landlords.  The rent-racked people of the City of New York, where rents are higher proportionately than in any other city, have sweated and labored and fiercely struggled, as have the people of other cities, only to deliver up a great share of their earnings to the lords of the soil, merely for a foothold.  In turn these rents have incessantly gone toward buying up railroads, factories, utility plants and always more and more land.


WHERE SURPLUS REVENUE HAS GONE.


But the singular continuity does not end here.  Land acquired by political or commercial fraud has been made the lever for the commission of other frauds.  The railroads now controlled by a few men, among whom the large landowners are conspicuous, were surveyed and built to a great extent by public funds, not private money.  As time passes a gradual transformation takes place.  Little by little, scarcely known to the people, laws are altered ;  the States and the Government, representing the interests of the vested class, surrender the people’s rights, often even the empty forms of those rights, and great railroad systems pass into the hands of a small cabal of multimillionaires.

To give one of many instances :  The Illinois Central Railroad, passing through an industrial and rich farming country, is one of the most profitable railroads in the United States.  This railroad was built in the proportion of twelve parts to one by public funds, raised by taxation of the people of that State, and by prodigal gifts of public land grants.  The balance represents the investments of private individuals.  The cost of the road as reported by the company in 1873 was $48,331 a mile.  Of this amount all that private individuals contributed was $4,930 a mile above their receipts ;  these latter were sums which the private owners gathered in from selling the land given to them by the State, amounting to $35,211 per mile, and the sums that they pocketed from stock waterings amounting to $8,189 a mile.  “ The unsold land grant,” says Professor Frank Parsons, “ amounted to 344,368 acres, worth probably over $5,000,000, so that those to whom the securities of the company were issued, had obtained the road at a bonus of nearly $2,000,000 above all they paid in.”4

By this manipulation, private individuals not only got this immensely valuable railroad for practically nothing, but they received, or rather the laws (which they caused to be made) awarded them, a present of nearly four millions for their dexterity in plundering the railroad from the people.  What set of men do we find now in control of this railroad, doing with it as they please ?  Although the State of Illinois formally retains a nominal say in its management, yet it is really owned and ruled by eight men, among whom are John Jacob Astor, and Robert Walton Goelet, associated with E.H. Harriman, Cornelius Vanderbilt and four others.  John Jacob Astor is one of the directors of the Western Union Telegraph monopoly, with its annual receipts of $29,000,000 and its net profits of $8,000,000 yearly ;  and as for the many other corporations in which he and his family, the Goelets and the other commanding landlords hold stock, they would, if enumerated, make a formidable list.

And while on this phase, we should not overlook another salient fact which thrusts itself out for notice.  We have seen how John Jacob Astor of the third generation very eagerly in 1867 invited Cornelius Vanderbilt to take over the management of the New York Central Railroad, after Vanderbilt had proved himself not less an able executive than an indefatigable and effective briber and corrupter.  So long as Vanderbilt produced the profits, Astor and his fellow-directors did not care what means he used, however criminal in law and whatever their turpitude in morals.  John Jacob Astor of the fourth generation repeats this performance in aligning himself, as does Goelet, with that masterhand Harriman, against whom the most specific charges of colossal looting have been brought.5  But it would be both idle and prejudicial in the highest degree to single out for condemnation a brace of capitalists for following out a line of action so strikingly characteristic of the entire capitalist class — a class which, in the pursuit of profits, dismisses nicety of ethics and morals, and which ordains its own laws.


THE RHINELANDERS.


The wealth of the Rhinelander family is commonly placed at about $100,000,000.  But this, there is excellent reason to believe, is an absurdly low approximation.  Nearly a century and a half ago William and Frederick Rhinelander kept a bakeshop on William street, New York City, and during the Revolution operated a sugar factory.  They also built ships and did a large commission business.  It is usually set forth, in the plenitude of eulogistic biographies, that their thrift and ability were the foundation of the family’s immense fortune.  Little research is necessary to shatter this error.  That they conducted their business in the accepted methods of the day and exercised great astuteness and frugality, is true enough, but so did a host of other merchants whose descendants are even now living in poverty.  Some other explanation must be found to account for the phenomenal increase of the original small fortune and its unshaken retention.

This explanation is found partly in the fraudulent means by which, decade after decade, they secured land and water grants from venal city administrations, and in the singularly dubious arrangement by which they obtained an extremely large landed property, now having a value of tens upon tens of millions, from Trinity Church.  Since the full and itemized details of these transactions have been elaborated upon in previous chapters, it is hardly necessary to repeat them.  It will be recalled that, as important personages in Tammany Hall, the dominant political party in New York City, the Rhinelanders used the powers of city government to get grant after grant for virtually nothing.  From Trinity Church they got a ninety-nine year lease of a large tract in what is now the very nub of the business section of New York City — which tract they subsequently bought in fee simple.  Another large tract of New York City real estate came into their possession through the marriage of William C. Rhinelander, of the third generation, to a daughter of John Rutgers.  This Rutgers was a lineal descendant of Anthony Rutgers, who, in 1731, obtained from the royal Governor Cosby the gift of what was then called the “ Fresh Water Pond and Swamp ” — a stretch of seventy acres of little value at the time, but which is now covered with busy streets and large commercial and office buildings.  What the circumstances were that attended this grant are not now known.  The grant consisted of what are now many blocks along Broadway north of Lispenard street.  It is not merely business sections which the Rhinelander family owns, however ;  they derive stupendous rentals from a vast number of tenement houses.

The Rhinelanders, also, employ their great surplus revenues in constantly buying more land.  With true aristocratic aspirations, they have not been satisfied with mere plebeian American mansions, gorgeous palaces though they be ;  they set out to find a European palace with warranted royal associations, and found one in the famous castle of Schonberg, on the Rhine, near Oberwesel, which they bought and where they have ensconced themselves.  How great the wealth of this family is may be judged from the fact that one of the Rhinelanders — William — left an estate valued at $50,000,000 at his death in December, 1907.


THE SCHERMERHORNS.


The factors entering into the building up of the Schermerhorn fortune were almost identical with those of the Astor, the Goelet and the Rhinelander fortunes.  The founder, Peter Schermerhorn, was a ship chandler during the Revolution.  Parts of his land and other possessions he bought with the profits from his business ;  other portions, as has been brought out, he obtained from corrupt city administrations.  His two sons continued the business of ship chandlers ;  one of them — “ Peter the Younger ” — was especially active in extending his real estate possessions, both by corrupt favors of the city officials and by purchase.  One tract of land, extending from Third avenue to the East River and from Sixty-fourth to Seventy-fifth street, which he secured in the early part of the nineteenth century, became worth a colossal fortune in itself.  It is now covered with stores, buildings and densely populated tenement houses.  “ Peter the Younger ” quickly gravitated into the profitable and fashionable business of the day — the banking business, with its succession of frauds, many of which have been described in the preceding chapters.  He was a director of the Bank of New York from 1814 until his death in 1852.

It seems quite superfluous to enlarge further upon the origin of the great landed fortunes of New York City ;  the typical examples given doubtless serve as expositions of how, in various and similar ways, others were acquired.  We shall advert to some of the great fortunes in the West based wholly or largely upon city real estate.

While the Astors, the Goelets, the Rhinelanders and others, or rather the entire number of inhabitants, were transmuting their land into vast and increasing wealth expressed in terms of hundreds of millions in money, Nicholas Longworth was aggrandizing himself likewise in Cincinnati.


HOW LONGWORTH BEGAN.


Longworth had been born in Newark, N.J., in 1782, and at the age of twenty-one had migrated to Cincinnati, then a mere outpost, with a population of eight hundred sundry adventurers.  There he studied law and was admitted to practice.  The story of how Longworth became a landowner is given by Houghton as follows :  His first client was a man accused of horse stealing.  In those frontier days, a horse represented one of the most valuable forms of property ;  and, as under a system wherein human life was inconsequential compared to the preservation of property, the penalty for stealing a horse was usually death.  No term of reproach was more invested with cutting contempt and cruel hatred than that of a horse thief.  The case looked black.  But Longworth somehow contrived to get the accused off with acquittal.  The man — so the story further runs — had no money to pay Longworth’s fee and no property except two second-hand copper stills.  These also were high in the appraisement of property values, for they could be used to make whisky, and whisky could be in turn used to debauch the Indian tribes and swindle them of furs and land.  These stills Longworth took and traded them off to Joel Williams, a tavern-keeper who was setting up a distillery.  In exchange, Longworth received thirty-three acres of what was then considered unpromising land in the town.6  From time to time he bought more land with the money made in law ;  this land lay on what were then the outskirts of the place.  Some of the lots cost him but ten dollars each.

As immigration swarmed West and Cincinnati grew, his land consequently took on enhanced value.  By 1830 the population was 24,831 ;  twenty years later it had reached 118,761, and in 1860, 171,293 inhabitants.  For a Western city this was a very considerable population for the period.  The growth of the city kept on increasingly.  His land lay in the very center of the expanding city, in the busiest part of the business section and in the best portion of the residential districts.  Indeed, so rapidly did its value grow soon after he got it, that it was no longer necessary for him to practice law or in any wise crook to others.  In 1819 he gave up law, and thenceforth gave his entire attention to managing his property.  An extensive vineyard, which he laid out in Ohio, added to his wealth.  Here he cultivated the Catawba grape and produced about 150,000 bottles a year.

All available accounts agree in describing him as merciless.  He foreclosed mortgages with pitiless promptitude, and his adroit knowledge of the law, approaching if not reaching, that of an unscrupulous pettifogger, enabled him to get the upper hand in every transaction.  His personal habits were considered repulsive by the conventional and fastidious.  “ He was dry and caustic in his remarks,” says Houghton, “ and very rarely spared the object of his satire.  He was plain and careless in his dress, looking more a beggar than a millionaire.”


HIS VAGARIES — SO CALLED.


There were certain other conventional respects in which he was woefully deficient, and he had certain singularities which severely taxed the comprehension of routine minds.  None who had the appearance of respectable charity seekers could get anything else from him than contemptuous rebuffs.  For respectability in any form he had no use ;  he scouted and scoffed at it and pulverized it with biting and grinding sarcasm.  But once any man or woman passed over the line of respectability into the besmeared realm of sheer disrepute, and that person would find Longworth not only accessible but genuinely sympathetic.  The drunkard, the thief, the prostitute, the veriest wrecks of humanity could always tell their stories to him and get relief.  This was his grim way of striking back at a commercial society whose lies and shams and hypocrisies he hated ;  he knew them all ;  he had practiced them himself.  There is good reason to believe that alongside of his one personality, that of a rapacious miser, there lived another personality, that of a philosopher.

Certainly he was a very unique type of millionaire, much akin to Stephen Girard.  He had a clear notion (for he was endowed with a highly analytical and penetrating mind) that in giving a few coins to the abased and the wretched he was merely returning in infinitesimal proportion what the prevailing system, of which he was so conspicuous an exemplar, took from the whole people for the benefit of a few ;  and that this system was unceasingly turning out more and more wretches.

Long after Longworth had become a multimillionaire he took a savage, perhaps a malicious, delight in doing things which shocked all current conceptions of how a millionaire should act.  To understand the intense scandal caused by what were considered his vagaries, it is only necessary to bear in mind the ultra-lofty position of a multimillionaire at a period when a man worth $250,000 was thought very rich.  There were only a few millionaires in the United States, and still fewer multimillionaires.  Longworth ranked next to John Jacob Astor.  On one occasion a beggar called at Longworth’s office and pointed eloquently at his gaping shoes.  Longworth kicked off one of his own untied shoes and told the beggar to try it on.  It fitted.  Its mate followed.  Then after the beggar left, Longworth sent a boy to the nearest shoe store, with instructions to get a pair of shoes, but in no circumstances to pay more than a dollar and a half.

This remarkable man lived to the age of eighty-one ;  when he died in 1863 in a splendid mansion which he had built in the heart of his vineyard, his estate was valued at $15,000,000.  He was the largest landowner in Cincinnati, and one of the largest in the cities of the United States.  The value of the land that he beqeuathed has increased continuously ;  in the hands of his various descendants to-day it is many times more valuable than the huge fortune which he left.  Cincinnati, with its population of 325,902,7 pays incessant tribute in the form of a vast rent roll to the scions of the man whose main occupation was to hold on to the land he had got for almost nothing.  Unlike the founder of the fortune the present Longworth generation never strays from the set formulas of respectability ;  it has intermarried with other rich families :  and Nicholas, a namesake and grandson of the original, and a representative in Congress, married in circumstances of great and lavish pomp a daughter of President Roosevelt, thus linking a large fortune, based upon vested interests, with the ruling executive of the day and strategetically combining wealth with direct political power.

The same process of reaping gigantic fortunes from land went on in every large city.  In Chicago, with its phenomenally speedy growth of population and its vast array of workers, immense fortunes were amassed within an astonishingly short period.  Here the growth of large private fortunes was marked by much greater celerity than in the East, although these fortunes are not as large as those based upon land in the Eastern cities.


MARSHALL FIELD AND LEITER.


The largest landowners that developed in Chicago were Marshall Field and Levi Z. Leiter.  In 1895 the Illinois Labor Bureau, in that year happening to be under the direction of able and conscientious officials, made a painstaking investigation of land values in Chicago.  It was estimated that the 266 acres of land, constituting what was owned by individuals and private corporations in one section alone — the South Side, — were worth $319,000,000.  This estimate was made at a time when the country was slowly recovering, as the set phrase goes, from the panic of 1892-94, and when land values were not in a state of inflation or rise.  The amount of $319,000,000 was calculated as being solely the value of the land, not counting improvements, which were valued at as much more.  The principal landowner in this one section, not to mention other sections of that immense city, was Marshall Field, with $11,000,000 worth of land ;  the next was Leiter, who owned in that section land valued at $10,500,000.8  It appeared from this report that eighteen persons owned $65,000,000 of this $319,000,000 worth of land, and that eighty-eight persons owned $136,000,000 worth — or one-half of the entire business center of Chicago.  Doubling the sums credited to Field and Leiter (that is to say, adding the value of the improvements to the value of the land), this brought Field’s real estate in that one section to a value of $22,000,000, and Leiter’s to nearly the same.  This estimate was confirmed to a surprising degree by the inventory of Field’s executors reported to the court early in 1907.  The executors of Field’s will placed the value of his real estate in Chicago at $30,000,000.  This estimate did not include $8,000,000 worth of land which the executors reported that he owned in New York City, nor the millions of dollars of his land possessions elsewhere.


FIELD’S MANY POSSESSIONS.


Field left a fortune of about $100,000,000 (as estimated by the executors) which he bequeathed principally to two grandsons, both of which heirs were in boyhood.  The factors constituting this fortune are various.  At least $55,000,000 of it was represented at the time that the executors made their inventory, by a multitude of bonds and stocks in a wide range of diverse industrial, transportation, utility and mining corporations.  The variety of Field’s possessions and his numerous forms of ownership were such that we shall have pertinent occasion to deal more relevantly with his career in subsequent parts of this work.

The careers of Field, Leiter and several other Chicago multimillionaires ran in somewhat parallel grooves.  Field was the son of a farmer.  He was born in Conway, Mass., in 1835.  When twenty-one he went to Chicago and worked in a wholesale dry goods house.  In 1860 he was made a partner.  During the Civil War this firm, as did the entire commercial world, proceeded to hold up the nation for exorbitant prices in its con- Marshall Field tracts at a time of distress.  The Government and the public were forced to pay the highest sums for the poorest material.  It was established that Government officials were in collusion with the contractors.  This extortion formed one of the saddest and most sordid chapters of the Civil War (as it does of all wars,) but conventional history is silent on the subject, and one is compelled to look elsewhere for the facts of how the commercial houses imposed at high prices shoddy material and semi-putrid food upon the very army and navy that fought for their interests.9  In the words of one of Field’s laudatory biographers, “ the firm coined money ” — a phrase which for the volumes of significant meaning embodied in it, is an epitome of the whole profit system.

Some of the personnel of the firm changed several times :  in 1865 Field, Leiter and Potter Palmer (who had also become a multimillionaire) associated under the firm name of Field, Leiter & Palmer.  The great fire of 1871 destroyed the firm’s buildings, but they were replaced.  Subsequently the firm became Field, Leiter & Co., and, finally in 1887, Marshall Field & Co.10  The firm conducted both a wholesale and retail business on what is called in commercial slang “ a cash basis: ” that is, it sold goods on immediate payment and not on credit.  The volume of its business rose to enormous proportions.  In 1884 it reached an aggregate of $30,000,000 a year ;  in 1901 it was estimated at fully $50,000,000 a year.



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1 Some of this land and these water grants and piers were obtained by Peter Goelet during the corrupt administration of City Controller Romaine.  Goelet, it seems, was allowed to pay in installments.  Thus, an entry, on January 26, 1807, in the municipal records, reads :  “ On receiving the report of the Street Commissioner, Ordered that warrants issue to Messrs. Anderson and Allen for the three installments due to them from Mr. Goelet for the Whitehall and Exchange Piers.”—MSS. Minutes of the [New York City] Common Council, 1807, xvi:286.

2 “ Prominent Families of New York”: 231.  Another notable example of this glorifying was Nicholas Biddle, long president of the United States Bank.  Yet the court records show that, after a career of bribery, he stole $400,000 of that bank’s funds.

3 At this very time his wealth, judged by the standard of the times, was prodigious.  “His wealth is vast—not less than five or six millions,” wrote Barrett in 1862—“The Old Merchants of New York City,” I: 349.

4 “The Railways, the Trusts and the People”: 104.

5 See Part III, “ Great Fortunes From Railroads.”

6 “Kings of Fortune”: 172.

7 Census of 1900.

8 Eighth Annual Report, Illinois Labor Bureau: 104-253.

9 In those parts of this work relating to great fortunes from railroads and from industries, this phase of commercial life is specifically dealt with.  The enormities brazenly committed during the Spanish-American War of 1898 are sufficiently remembered.  Napoleon had the same experience with French contractors, and the testimony of all wars is to the same effect.

10 So valuable was a partnership in this firm that a writer says that Field paid Leiter “an unknown number of millions” when he bought out Leiter’s interest.