Jay Gould: American businessman (1836 - 1892) | Biography
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Jay Gould
American businessman

Jay Gould

Jay Gould
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American businessman
A.K.A. Jason "Jay" Gould
Was Financial professional Businessperson Entrepreneur Financier
From United States of America
Field Business Finance
Gender male
Birth 27 May 1836, Roxbury, Delaware County, New York, U.S.A.
Death 2 December 1892, New York City, New York, U.S.A. (aged 56 years)
Star sign Gemini
Children: Edwin Gould, Sr.
Jay Gould
The details (from wikipedia)


Jason "Jay" Gould (; May 27, 1836 – December 2, 1892) was a leading American railroad developer and speculator. He has been portrayed as one of the ruthless robber barons of the Gilded Age, whose success at business made him one of the richest men of his era. He was hated and reviled, with few defenders then or now.

Early life and education

Jason Gould was born in Roxbury, New York, to Mary More (1798–1841) and John Burr Gould (1792–1866). His maternal grandfather, Alexander T. More, was a businessman, and his great-grandfather John More was a Scottish immigrant who founded the town of Moresville, New York. Jay Gould studied at local schools and the Hobart Academy in Hobart, Delaware County, New York.

As a young boy, Gould decided he wanted nothing to do with farming, his father's profession, and so his father dropped him off at a nearby school with 50 cents and a sack of clothes.

Early career

Jay Gould (right) in 1855

His principal was credited with getting him a job working as a bookkeeper for a blacksmith. A year later the blacksmith offered him half interest in the blacksmith shop, which he sold to his father during the early part of 1854. Gould devoted himself to private study, emphasizing surveying and mathematics. In 1854, Gould surveyed and created maps of the Ulster County, New York, area. In 1856 he published History of Delaware County, and Border Wars of New York, which he had spent several years writing.

Keystone Marker for Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania, named after Gould.

In 1856, Gould entered a partnership with Zadock Pratt to create a tanning business in Pennsylvania in what would become Gouldsboro. Eventually he bought out Pratt, who retired. In 1856, Gould entered another partnership with Charles Mortimer Leupp, a son-in-law of Gideon Lee, and one of the leading leather merchants in the United States at the time. Leupp and Gould was a successful partnership until the Panic of 1857. Leupp lost all his money, while Gould took advantage of the opportunity of the depreciation of property value and bought up former partnership properties for himself.

After the death of Charles Leupp, the Gouldsboro Tannery became a disputed property. Leupp's brother-in-law, David W. Lee, who was also a partner in Leupp and Gould, took armed control of the tannery. He believed that Gould had cheated the Leupp and Lee families in the collapse of the business. Eventually Gould took physical possession, but was later forced to sell his shares in the company to Lee's brother.

Railroad investing

In 1859 Gould began speculative investing by buying stock in small railways. Gould's father-in-law Daniel S. Miller was credited with introducing the younger man to the railroad industry, when he suggested that Gould help him save his investment in the Rutland and Washington Railroad in the Panic of 1857. Gould purchased stock for 10 cents on the dollar, which left him in control of the company. Through the Civil War era, he did more speculation on railroad stocks in New York City. In 1863 he was appointed manager of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad.

The Erie Railroad encountered financial troubles in the 1850s, despite receiving loans from financiers Cornelius Vanderbilt and Daniel Drew. The Erie entered receivership in 1859 and was reorganized as the Erie Railway. Jay Gould, Drew and James Fisk engaged in stock manipulations known as the Erie War, with the result that in the summer of 1868 Drew, Fisk, and Vanderbilt lost control of the Erie, while Gould became its president.

Tweed Ring

It was during the same period that Gould and Fisk became involved with Tammany Hall, the New York City political ring. They made Boss Tweed a director of the Erie Railroad, and Tweed, in return, arranged favorable legislation for them. Tweed and Gould became the subjects of political cartoons by Thomas Nast in 1869. In October 1871, when Tweed was held on $1 million bail, Gould was the chief bondsman.

Black Friday

In August 1869, Gould and Fisk began to buy gold in an attempt to corner the market, hoping that the increase in the price of gold would increase the price of wheat such that western farmers would sell, causing a great amount of shipping of breadstuffs eastward, increasing freight business for the Erie Railroad. During this time, Gould used contacts with President Ulysses S. Grant's brother-in-law, Abel Corbin, to try to influence the president and his Secretary General Horace Porter.

These speculations in gold culminated in the panic of Black Friday, on September 24, 1869, when the premium over face value on a gold Double Eagle fell from 62 percent to 35 percent. Gould made a small profit from this operation but lost it to subsequent lawsuits. The gold corner established Gould's reputation in the press as an all-powerful figure who could drive the market up and down at will.

Lord Gordon-Gordon

Lord Gordon-Gordon

In 1873 Gould attempted to take control of the Erie Railroad by recruiting foreign investments from Lord Gordon-Gordon, who he believed was a cousin of the wealthy Campbells looking to buy land for immigrants. He bribed Gordon-Gordon with $1 million in stock. But Gordon-Gordon was an impostor and cashed the stock immediately. Gould sued Gordon-Gordon; the case went to trial in March 1873. In court, Gordon-Gordon gave the names of the Europeans whom he claimed to represent, and was granted bail while the references were checked. He fled to Canada, where he convinced authorities that the charges against him were false.

After failing to convince or force Canadian authorities to hand over Gordon-Gordon, Gould and his associates and three future members of Congress (Loren Fletcher, John Gilfillan, and Eugene McLanahan Wilson) attempted to kidnap him. The group snatched him successfully, but they were stopped and arrested by the North-West Mounted Police before they could return to the United States. The kidnappers were put in prison and refused bail. This led to an international incident between the United States and Canada. Upon learning that the kidnappers were not given bail, Governor Horace Austin of Minnesota demanded their return; he put the local militia on a state of full readiness. Thousands of Minnesotans volunteered for a full military invasion of Canada. After negotiations, the Canadian authorities released the kidnappers on bail. The incident resulted in Gould losing any possibility of taking control of Erie Railroad.

Western railroads

Cartoon depicting Wall Street as "Jay Gould's Private Bowling Alley"
Gould's portrait hanging in his office at Lyndhurst. Gould purchased the mansion in 1880.

After being forced out of the Erie Railroad, Gould started to build up a system of railroads in the midwest and west. He took control of the Union Pacific in 1873 when its stock was depressed by the Panic of 1873 and built a viable railroad that depended on shipments by local farmers and ranchers. Gould immersed himself in every operational and financial detail of the UP system. He built an encyclopedic knowledge, then acted decisively to shape its destiny. "He revised its financial structure, waged its competitive struggles, captained its political battles, revamped its administration, formulated its rate policies, and promoted the development of resources along its lines." After Gould's death, the Union Pacific slipped and declared bankruptcy during the Panic of 1893.

By 1879, Gould gained control of three more important western railroads, including the Missouri Pacific Railroad. He controlled 10,000 miles (16,000 km) of railway, about one-ninth of the length of rail in the United States at that time; by 1882, he had controlling interest in 15 percent of the country's railway tracks. Because the railroads were making profits and had control of rate setting, his wealth increased dramatically. When Gould withdrew from management of the Union Pacific in 1883 amidst political controversy over its debts to the federal government, he realized a large profit for himself. He obtained a controlling interest in the Western Union telegraph company, and, after 1881, in the elevated railways in New York City. In 1889, Gould organized the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, which acquired a bottleneck in east-west railroad traffic at St. Louis; after Gould's death the government brought an antitrust suit to eliminate the bottleneck control.

Personal life


Jay Gould timeline
Jay Gould appears to the far right of this cartoon by Thomas Nast from Harper's Weekly of February 10, 1872
  • 1836 Birth of Jay Gould as Jason Gould
  • 1841 Death of Mary Moore Gould, mother
  • 1850 Jay Gould in US census in Roxbury, New York
  • 1856 Publication of History of Delaware County
  • 1863 Marriage to Helen Day Miller (1838–1889)
  • 1864 Birth of George Jay Gould I, his son
  • 1866 Death of John Burr Gould, his father
  • 1866 Birth of Edwin Gould, his son
  • 1868 Birth of Helen Gould, his daughter
  • 1869 Black Friday
  • 1870 Jay Gould in US census in first Manhattan home
  • 1870 Jay Gould in US census in second Manhattan home
  • 1871 Birth of Howard Gould, his son
  • 1875 Birth of Anna Gould, his daughter
  • 1877 Birth of Frank Gould, his son
  • 1880 Purchase of Lyndehurst from the widow of George Merritt, shortening name to Lyndhurst
  • 1880 Jay Gould in US census in Greenburgh, New York
  • 1889 Death of Helen Day Miller, his wife
  • 1892 Obituary of Jay Gould


Gould was a member of West Presbyterian Church at 31 West 42nd Street. It later merged with Park Presbyterian to form West-Park Presbyterian.


He married Helen Day Miller (1838–1889) in 1863; the couple had six children:


The mausoleum of Jay Gould

Gould died of tuberculosis on December 2, 1892, and was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York. His fortune was conservatively estimated for tax purposes at $72 million (= $1.76 billion in 2016, adjusted for inflation), which he willed in its entirety to his family.

At the time of his death, Gould was a benefactor in the reconstruction of the Reformed Church of Roxbury, New York, now known as the Jay Gould Memorial Reformed Church. It is located within the Main Street Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The family mausoleum was designed by Francis O'Hara.


Descendants of Jay Gould

Jason Gould married Helen Day Miller (1838–1889) in 1863 and had six children:

  • George Jay Gould I (1864–1923), married Edith M. Kingdon (1864–1921)
  • Edwin Gould I (1866–1933), married Sarah Cantine Shrady She inherited $US 10,000,000 upon his death. They had two sons:
    • Edwin Gould Jr. (1894–1917). He died on Jekyl Island in 1917.
    • Frank Miller Gould (c. 1895–1945). He graduated from Yale in 1920, married Florence Amelia Bacon on November 17, 1924, she was from Dallas, Texas. Frank died on January 13, 1945. They had two children:
      • Marianne Gould (1926 – January 21, 1957)
      • Edwin Jay Gould (1932–1993).
  • Helen Gould (1868–1938), married Finlay Johnson Shepard (1867–1942) They adopted three children, Finley Jay, named for Finley Johnson Shepard and Jay Gould, and Olivia, named for Helen's dear friend Mrs. Russell Sage, and Helen Anna, named for Helen and her sister, Anna and had one foster child, Louis Seton. The first of the adopted children, Finley Jay Shepard, was a three-year-old child found abandoned on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York in 1914. They later adopted two daughters, Margaret and Dorothy, of her brother Frank Gould.
  • Howard Gould (1871–1959), married Viola Katherine Clemmons on October 12, 1898; and later married actress Grete Mosheim in 1937
  • Anna, Duchess de Talleyrand-Périgord (1875–1961), married Paul Ernest Boniface, Comte de Castellane (1867–1932); and, after a divorce, married Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord, 5th duke of Talleyrand, 5th duc of Dino, 4th Duke von Sagan, and Prince of Sagan (1858–1937) With Boniface, Anna had the following five children:
    • Marie Louise Boniface de Castellane (1896 – ?), died during infancy or early childhood
    • Antoine Boniface, Marquis de Castellane (1896–1946), married Yvonne Patenôtre (daughter of Jules Patenôtre and wife Eleanor Elverson, sister of James Elverson Jr. (?–1929) and daughter of publisher James Elverson (1838–1911) by wife Sallie Duvall, the three of them owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer). He had daughter Elisabeth de Castellane (Paris, July 9, 1928 – Paris, November 13, 1991), wife (married in Paris, December 7, 1948) of Jean Bertrand Jacques Adrien Nompar Comte de Caumont La Force (Paris, February 4, 1920 – Fontaine Française, June 8, 1986).
    • Georges Paul Ernest Boniface de Castellane (1897 or 1899–1944), married Florinda Fernández y Anchorena (1901–?). They had daughter:
      • Diane Rose Anne Marie de Castellane (born in Paris, February 19, 1927). She married Philippe François Armand Marie Duc de Mouchy Prince-Duc de Poix (born in Paris, April 17, 1922) in Paris in a civil ceremony on April 14, 1948; and a church ceremony on April 20, 1948; they divorced on March 13, 1974.
    • Georges Gustave Boniface de Castellane (circa 1898–1946)
    • Jay Boniface de Castellane (1902–?)
With Talleyrand, Anna had the following two children:
    • Howard de Talleyrand, duc de Sagan (1909–1929), he took his own life when told he could not marry.
    • Helen Violette de Talleyrand-Périgord (1915–2003), she married James Robert de Pourtales on March 29, 1937, in Val Saint-Germain, she then divorced in 1969, and married Gaston Palewski (1901–1984), he was the Minister of Scientific Research and Atomic and Space Questions from 1962 to 1966. They married on March 20, 1969, in Paris.
  • Frank Jay Gould (1877–1956), married Helen Kelley; then Edith Kelly; and then Florence La Caze (1895–1983)

In popular culture

  • Jay Gould is a key character in the 2014 historical murder mystery novel The New Colossus by Marshall Goldberg, published by Diversion Books, in which reporter Nellie Bly is assigned by publisher Joseph Pulitzer to investigate the 1887 death of poet Emma Lazarus.
  • He is a character in the final episode of The Adams Chronicles mini-series. The program discusses his activities with respect to the Union Pacific Railroad and Charles Francis Adams II.
  • Gould was discussed in the 2012 History channel documentary The Men Who Built America.
  • G. J. A. O’Toole's 1979 historical fiction-mystery novel The Cosgrove Report suggests that Jay Gould was behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (ISBN 978-0802144072)
  • Gould is a character in the musical Lord Gordon Gordon.
  • Gould is referenced in The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, as the protagonist Oedipa Maas recalls "a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed".
  • Pete Seeger recorded a song called Jay Gould's Daughter written by Alan Lomax in 1957.
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