Historical Markers
Jay Gould Historical Marker
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Jay Gould

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
Bear Lake Rd. (SR 2016), just N of River Rd., Thornhurst

Dedication Date:
June 18, 1947

Behind the Marker

Black and White Photograph of Jay Gould.
Jay Gould
In the age of great railroad barons, no man was more infamous than Jason "Jay" Gould. Indeed, he became the prototype for the marker American "Robber Baron" of the late nineteenth century. Gould earned his unsavory reputation for his shady dealings with the Erie Railroad in 1867, and a failed attempt in 1869 to corner the American gold market, which touched off a national economic depression that continued for several years. Seeking quick profits, he ignored the lives and businesses that he ruined along the way. Even Gould himself stated at one point that he knew he was the most hated man in America, and he did not care.

Born on a farm in rural upstate New York in 1836, Gould convinced his father at a young age to allow him to board with a blacksmith so that he might go to school. He taught himself surveying, and by the age of 21 had written a county history, become a successful surveyor, and amassed a then small fortune of $5,000. After earning even more money in a tannery partnership in Pennsylvania that left one partner rich, and the other bankrupt, moved to New York City where he became a leather merchant and then a stockbroker. In the late 1850s he began to invest in railroads. One of his first projects was the short Rutland and Washington, a Vermont line that he sold to a predecessor of the markerDelaware and Hudson.
Editorial cartoon, Gould drowning in sea of watered stock, Vanderbilt on steps.
Editorial cartoon, Jay Gould drowning in sea of watered stock, as William Vanderbilt...

Gould earned his first great notoriety in 1867 when Daniel Gould brought him on as a new director of the Erie Railroad, one of the four major east-west trunk lines that crossed Pennsylvania en route from the East Coast to Chicago. The Erie meandered northwesterly through North Jersey into New York, then cut into Pennsylvania a few times, crossing markerStarrucca Viaduct before ducking back into New York to serve Binghamton. The line then threaded through southern New York, stopped in Meadville, Pa., and rumbled on through Ohio and Indiana, on its way to Chicago. In the nineteenth century, competition among the four lines–Erie, New York Central, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore and Ohio–was intense.

With Daniel Drew and fellow director James Fisk, Gould managed to turn the Erie into the "Scarlet Woman of Wall Street." In 1867, the Cornelius Vanderbilt was quietly trying to buy control to keep the Erie from siphoning New York-Chicago traffic from his New York Central Railroad. When the Gould trio discovered Vanderbilt's intentions, they released two stock issues of more than $5 million each in new shares, effectively watering Erie's stock, and setting in motion the "Great Erie War." This brazen attempt to both drain his cash and undercut his takeover bid so infuriated Vanderbilt that he sought to have the three arrested, but they quickly moved across the Hudson River to Jersey City, New Jersey, where they set up the Erie's new corporate headquarters in a hotel. Gould then traveled to Albany, N.Y., to the state capital where, in a three-day spree, he bribed legislators to pass a bill that made the stock issue legal. Gould and his associates clearly bested Vanderbilt, and this episode represented but one of Gould's many financial and legal parlor tricks.
Portrait of Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Cornelius Vanderbilt

In 1869, Gould won even greater notoriety when he and Fisk tried unsuccessfully to corner the national gold market - with calamitous results. The pair also collaborated with the corrupt New York political machine of William "Boss" Tweed, installing Tweed as a director of the Erie. And it was Fisk who moved the railroad's headquarters into Pike's Opera House in Jersey City, with its lavish appointments, gilded balustrades, and carved woodwork. Fisk became known as the flamboyant "Prince of Erie," and died in appropriately dramatic style when he was shot by a rival in a tempestuous love triangle.
Completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Railroad workers celebrate at the driving of the Golden Spike Ceremony in Utah on May 10, 1869.
First Transcontinental Railroad

Gould continued to plunder the railroads of the East until 1872, when he was ousted from the management of the Erie. Soon, however, he controlled the great Union Pacific railroad - the eastern half of the nation's first transcontinental railroad, and began to concentrate his considerable organizational skills on the railroads of the West and Southwest. In the decades that followed, he was a president of five and a director of seventeen major railroads, including the Cleveland and Pittsburgh (which he sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad after pumping up the stock price); the Delaware Lackawanna and Western; and the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago. Gould expanded his enterprises in these years, taking control of elevated trains in New York City, and a communications empire, including the Western Union Telegraph Co. that enabled him, in the words of biographer Maury Klein, "to rig the market, confound business adversaries, promote his enterprises, tear down rivals, and punish organs which opposed him."

In 1893, Gould contracted tuberculosis and marker died at age fifty-seven. His six children inherited his $77 million fortune; the oldest, George Jay Gould, became a railroad baron in his own right, but without the unethical taint of his father. Unlike other wealthy industrialists of the era, the tightfisted Jay Gould did not pursue philanthropic efforts, neither in his own lifetime nor through his death. His ruthless methods and audacious manipulation for his own financial enhancement earned Gould the public reputation as the most disreputable Robber Baron of the late nineteenth century.
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