Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Daring Exploits of a Bland Man


Onlookers swarmed 5th Avenue when Gould died in 1892
“There was nothing heroic about Gould,” wrote biographer Maury Klein in his book about the 19th century robber baron, The Life and Legend of Jay Gould.
 “His bland personality and inconspicuousness seemed wholly at odds with the brilliance and daring of his exploits. He was neither a sport nor a peacock, had no charisma and kept mostly to himself. He did not fit anybody’s notion of manhood, yet some mysterious power enabled him to outsmart and ruin men who physically could crush him underfoot. Those puzzled by these shattered stereotypes viewed him as something alien and despised him for it. His appearance and manner, his habits and tastes were effeminate, they sneered, his character timid if not cowardly. He was a dark, furtive creature operating in shadows, using methods filled with deceit and treachery to achieve unsavory objectives. What kind of specimen was Gould?”
Like Rex Stout’s fictional detective Nero Wolfe, Gould had a passion for orchids and grew them in his private greenhouse, the largest in America (380 feet long with 60-foot wings at either end). “What communication or consolation did these plants offer a man whose native language was silence?” Klein wondered.
Far from being a coward, Gould, like Wolfe, had a steady nerve and strategic genius. That agile mind served him well in a rate war between his Erie Railroad and Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central.
“The eastbound livestock traffic soon emerged as the most conspicuous battleground,” Klein wrote. “The usual rate from Buffalo to New York was $125 a carload. When Vanderbilt knocked the Central’s rate down to $100, Gould put the Erie’s at $75. The Commodore went to $50, only to have Gould drop to $25. Vanderbilt then decided to ruin the Erie’s livestock traffic by setting his rate at the absurd figure of $1 per carload.  At the same time hogs and sheep were being carried for a penny apiece. Sure enough, the Central filled up with cattle while the Erie’s cars ran empty. Vanderbilt cackled with glee until he discovered the reason for his easy victory. Unbeknown to him, Gould and Fisk had bought every steer in Buffalo and shipped them into New York via the Central.”
Jason "Jay" Gould grew from poor to ruthlessly rich

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