In its heyday, the House of Morgan personified economic power and prestige. In a lengthy but consistently engrossing...


THE MORGANS: Private International Bankers, 1854--1913

In its heyday, the House of Morgan personified economic power and prestige. In a lengthy but consistently engrossing narrative, Carosso (history/NYU) brings the architects of this remarkable enterprise vividly to life and puts their contributions to investment as well as commercial banking into clear perspective. Drawing upon corporate archives and a wealth of previously unused source material on both sides of the Atlantic, the author sheds new light on the genesis, development, and management of the Morgans' transnational banking empire. During the mid-19th century, founding-father Junius Spencer left New England to take control of a London-based merchant bank which handled most British investments in the US. Starting a long, controversial career as New York agent for the English firm in 1860, his precocious, cosmopolitan son, John Pierpont, quickly enhanced the family's fortune in dubious Civil War deals. Eventually eschewing unsavory speculations, Morgan fils gained prominence during the 1880's, battling the likes of James Fisk, Jay Gould, and E.H. Harriman to reorganize shaky major railroads. By providing fresh capital and new executives or board members, he protected bond-buying clients and ensured his firm an inside track on underwritings. Finally on his own at 53 when his father died in 1890, Pierpont Morgan began turning his attention to the industrial sector, owing in part to stiff competition from Jacob Schiff. In the decade through 1902, he put together GE, AT&T, International Harvester--and the world's first billion-dollar corporation, US Steel. Ironically, Carosso shows, Morgan began to lose his touch at the peak of his influence and authority. Without the wise counsel of able partners after the turn of the century, for example, he was too ready to sacrifice creativity for order; likewise, his insistence on knowing the men with whom he dealt sometimes resulted in the replacement of good management by bad. In addition, the price of Morgan's aid was invariably dear; he exacted immense profits from most transactions, including celebrated ""rescues"" of the US Treasury in 1895 and 1907. Overtaken by the Progressive movement, Morgan died under mysterious circumstances (which Carosso makes no effort to resolve) at nearly 76 in 1913--the year the Federal Reserve Board was created. In many ways, then, his death (which occurred a few months after a stressful grilling before a House subcommittee) signalled the end of an era. Carosso captures and records the spirit of this eventful age when financiers in general and the Morgans in particular banked more on personal character and credit than on collateral; he does so in lively, definitive fashion that promises to make his text the standard reference for specialists as well as lay readers. There will be half. tone illustrations (not seen).

Pub Date: March 1, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1987