By 1900, tough-minded journalists like Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell were waking up to the fact that politicians no longer ran America; big business did. Tammany's power was nothing compared to that of Morgan's.
Morgan was physically imposing: a massive man, with a ferocious glare and a purple, hideously disfigured nose, the result of a childhood skin disease. He smoked Havana cigars so big they were called Hercules' Clubs. And he had a tremendous physical effect on people. One man said that a visit from Morgan left him feeling "as if a gale had blown through the house."
Unlike Carnegie, Morgan was born rich. He grew up in a prominent banking family and got his start in his father's London business at the age of 19. After the Civil War, Morgan began investing in railroads and soon ruled the transportation empire. He didn't build roads; he took over or consolidated, under his control, railroads that had run into financial trouble, a process that came to be called Morganization.
Morgan was a different type of capitalist than Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie built a business and loved competition. Morgan took over other people's businesses and hated competition. Morgan wanted to stabilize the boom and bust American economy, to prevent price wars between business rivals from destroying big corporations and unhinging the economy.
Morgan's program was compatible with many corporate titans, who wanted to absorb their competition by forming giant trusts and monopolies. John D. Rockefeller had done this by creating the greatest monopoly of them all, the Standard Oil Company, which brought order to a wildly chaotic industry. But no other capitalists in the country, except Carnegie, had money to form such gigantic combinations.
So empire-building industrialists were drawn into the arms of Morgan and other formidable Wall Street bankers. This began the great corporate drift to New York. Powerful capitalists like Philip Armour, the meat king, and Collis Huntington, the railroad king, moved to New York in the 1890s to be near big investment houses like Morgan and Company, Lehman Brothers, and Kuhn, Loeb.
By 1895, New York was the headquarter city for American corporations. Almost half the American millionaires lived in the New York metropolitan region. And Morgan controlled a Wall Street syndicate that the financial writer John Moody called "the greatest financial power in the history of the world."
At the peak of his powers, in the early 1900s, Morgan dominated a hundred corporations with more than $22 billion in assets. Among them was the first billion dollar corporation in history, U.S. Steel. Morgan had formed this giant steel trust in 1901 out of mills he'd purchased from Carnegie in a colossal cash deal. This transaction marked the high tide of banker power in America.
Morgan's defenders said he never abused his power. But the question was: should any person in a democracy have this much power? Morgan saw himself as a force for the good. His banks, he thought, had helped to transform America into the world's most powerful nation; and privately,