Surviving the Panic of 1873 - J.P. Morgan had a Nose for Money


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

John Pierpont Morgan Sr.
(Public Domain)

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide
that you are not going to stay where you are.”

During the Panic of 1873, John Pierpont Morgan Sr. earned the moniker “Crown Prince of American Finance” when he cornered the country’s financial markets. He proved to be smarter and wiser in his investments than others and emerged from the Panic pretty much unscathed. J. P. does not have a “rags to riches” story for he was born into a wealthy Connecticut family. When the first Morgan brother’s left their native Wales and arrived on the Massachusetts shores in 1636 they were known as hard working men. By 1812 the first Morgan entered into banking and it was in this business the Morgan’s made their name. J. P. or Pierpont as he preferred to be known was afforded an excellent education but throughout his life he faced many health challenges. He was described as a sickly child who suffered seizures and other unknown illnesses. The eldest and only surviving male child in the Morgan family spent most of his youth at home being taught by his mother as he battled his aliments.

“You can’t unscramble eggs.” {*}

Despite all the illnesses in 1854 he was in Europe studying while his father was a partner in a London banking firm. Pierpont became fluent in French as he studied in Switzerland and Germany. Finishing his education in 1857, Morgan headed back to New York. It was at this time he suffered a heartbreaking romance. Amelia “Memie” Sturges was the daughter of a successful merchant and the couple married October 7, 1861. She had been experiencing a persistent cough and as they honeymooned in Paris it got so bad that she visited a physician. Sadly she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died four months after her wedding. Pierpont Morgan was a widower at twenty-four years old.

By now J. P. Morgan was running his own New York Company and soon he’d be embroiled in a war controversy that would take an appearance before the United States Congress before the whole story was known.

“A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing.
One that sounds good, and a real one.”

During the Civil War Pierpont paid $300.00 for a substitute soldier. He visited an arsenal and bought 5,000 rifles for $3.50, in turn he sold them to a field general for $22.00 each. What he didn’t realize (or so he claimed) was the rifles were defected and when a soldier used them, he would lose his thumb.

A Congressional committee reviewed the incident and discovered:

“that this injurious propensity was covered in the fine print of a very obscure report, which the presiding judge upheld as fair notice and thus a valid legal contract’.” {4}

After their investigation they determined that Morgan was “declared ignorant of the poor quality of his guns”. {4} He was cleared of all charges.

“My first guess is sometimes right. My second never is.” {*}

On May 31, 1876 Pierpont married his second wife Frances Louisa Tracy (1842-1924) and embarked on building his financial empire and build a mighty empire he did. He began “investing in America” and in 1876 he came in to rescue the railways that had been hurt after the collapse of the Jay Cooke and Company during the Panic of 1873. At one point Morgan owned one-sixth of all the nation’s railways.


“The Helping Hand” circa 1881
J. P. Morgan rowing a boat. His enormous size compared to the small stature of Uncle Sam demonstrates his importance.
Published in “Puck”

(Public Domain)
He also proved to have political clout when the country faced another Panic, this one in 1893. As stock prices were going down, frequent banks were closing and as an economic downturn hit the nation; Morgan went to work. He struck a deal in 1895 when he demanded a meeting with President Grover Cleveland as he served as the 24th President. Morgan had a plan for the United States to sell 3.5 millions ounces of gold to the British. His plan was successful. More important to his success was the power he demonstrated by directly going to President Cleveland. His power was so impressive in Cleveland’s reelection bid in 1896, the public disgruntled with how he handled the panic, the markets backed William McKinley. Cleveland lost - President William McKinley won.

“If you want time to pass quickly, just give a banker your note for 90 days.” {*}

Pierpont had been diagnosed with rhinopehyma which resulted from a distinctive “nose”. People with rhinopehyma have noses having large pits, nodules, fissures contorting their nose and in some cases it even causes the nose to have a purple hue (often called a “cauliflower nose”) as was the case with Morgans. Despite all his money he was terrified to have surgery that may have lessened his bulbous nose. But he was also known to use his nose as a way to intimidate his adversaries. He was known to look right at a person as if daring them to remark about his physical looks to further enforce his character on those surrounding him. A shy man by nature this condition caused him great stress as he tried to control photographers as this photo demonstrates as he takes his cane to the picture taker.


(Public Domain)

“It was not really a question of price. It was a question of success.” {*}

Morgan rarely posed for a portrait for he never had the time to sit for hours. Therefore one artist Fedro Encke hired a photographer Edward Steichen to take a picture of Morgan to allow Encke to finish his commissioned portrait. At sixty-five years of age in 1903, Morgan entered Steichen’s studio to pose for his photo. It took all of three minutes and when Morgan was dismissed by Steichen, Morgan praised him for his efficiency and paid him $500 on the spot.


(Public Domain)

When Morgan saw the second photo he was not that happy. People at the time noted:

“Morgan’s expression is forbidding: his mustache forms a frown, and his eyes (which Steichen later compared to the headlights of an express train) blaze out of the shadows. His face, set off by a stiff white collar, seems almost disembodied in the darkness, though his gold watch chain hints at his considerable girth. In this image, Steichen later said, he only slightly touched up Morgan’s nose, which was swollen from a skin disease. Yet Steichen denied having engineered the image’s most arresting aspect: the illusion of a dagger—actually the arm of the chair—in Morgan’s left hand.” {6}

“You can’t pick cherries with your back to the trees.” {*}

John Pierpont Morgan died on March 31, 1913 after suffering an acute attack of gastroenteritis while traveling in Egypt. Taken to Rome, he died just shy of his 76th birthday. His passing was described:

"Mr. Morgan's life faded out without the slightest indication that he was conscious of its passing.” {7}

His body was brought home to New York. As his cortège passed along Wall Street the flags were flying at half-staff and the stock market closed for two hours in honor of Pierpont. It is estimated that J. P. Morgan’s net worth today is worth $41.5 billion. {8}

Throughout this article I have included various quotes attributed to Pierpont. While showing a picture of his cherished yacht to a friend it was asked of him how much did it cost. His most quotable quote: {*}


J. P. Morgan’s Yacht Corsair
(Public Domain)

* * *​


Bruce Vail

1st Lieutenant
Jul 8, 2015
Steichen did a major touch up job on Morgan's nose for the famous photo. There are a handful of photos extant that actually show how grotesque his nose really was. It was the reason he never wanted to be photographed.


It's hardly a surprise that so many people regarded his deformed face as a reflection of deformed soul.
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