Who Is Leonard Jerome and How Did He Change The World?

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First Sergeant
Aug 6, 2016

Leonard Walter Jerome (1817-1891) - Photo Public Domain

Leonard Jerome was born November 3, 1817 on a farm near Syracuse, New York. Through his paternal grandmother he was distantly related to George Washington. He attended the College of New Jersey (today known as Princeton University) but left there to study with his uncle, Judge Hiram Jerome at Union College. He began his career as a lawyer in Rochester but a move to New York City was in his future.

“The King of Wall Street”
In 1849, while attending a ball, he met and soon married Clarissa known as Clara Hall. They would have 4 daughters, one daughter passed away when she was 8 years old.


The Jerome Sisters - Jennie (1854–1921), Clara (1851–1935) and Leonie (1859–1943) - Photo Wikipedia (Public Domain)

In 1850, Leonard along with his brother Lawrence moved to New York City where they began to grow their fortune. He invested in the Stock Market and became quite successful. He wined and dined with the financial “wizards” of Wall Street enough to acquire the moniker “The King of Wall Street.” At times he would declare bankruptcy (for a few weeks), then he would re-bound and prosper again.

There was gossip that he became quite the philander, but this only enhanced his reputation. He was a patron and “especially lover” of the arts, once again gossip at the time reported of a relationship with Jenny Lind the “Swedish Nightingale” and eyebrows were raised when he asked Clara to name their daughter “Jenny”. The end of the 1850’s found him living a lavish lifestyle but changes were coming.

The Civil War

During the war years he gave what he could only give - money. On April 23, 1861, the Union Defense Committee opened its’ offices in New York City with General John A. Dix as president, Leonard Jerome served as Treasurer. Money immediately began coming in and regiments were quickly raised. By April 24th, an agent was headed to England to purchase rifles for the regiments. Finally he was able to acquire 19,000 Enfield rifles at a cost of $335,000.00. Leonard Jerome contributed many thousands toward this Committee, many times in separate checks amounting to $10,00.00. He never allowed the treasury to be empty, no matter how much was needed - he was ready to fill the demand.

In 1863 Congress passed a mandatory military draft. By July working class New Yorkers started rioting, resulting in the destruction of burning as many buildings as they could. Many time entire city blocks were destroyed. Leonard Jerome owned a quarter of the New York Times {serving only an investor} however when the crowd turned its anger on the pro-Lincoln newspaper building, Jerome joined in with the other investors firing a Gatling gun to protect his investment.

Always the businessman, he was able to profit from the war as he received coded telegrams from the frontlines and with this knowledge, he was able to use “inside information”, to make wiser and more profitable investments. One of his more profitable investments was when he made the acquaintance of Cornelius Vanderbilt and invested in railroads.

He also contributed to a fund that had been established to help the New Yorker’s that suffered devastation from the draft riots. Additionally, he contributed $35,000.00 to a private a ship building firm in the hopes of building a vessel to find and sink the Alabama.

For various reasons Jerome sent his wife and 3 daughters to Paris in 1860. For all his wealth he contributed to the Union during the Civil War, it was a daughter that brought perhaps his greatest accomplishment. He used his wealth to advance his 3 daughters into English aristocratic society. They became known as “The Good, The Witty and The Beautiful”.

How Did Leonard Jerome Change The World?

Meet His Grandson


Sir Winston “Leonard” Spencer Churchill
November 30, 1874 – January 24 1965
Son of Jenny Jerome & Lord Randolph Churchill

Photo - Public Domain

1. https://winstonchurchill.org/publications/finest-hour/finest-hour-176/leonard-jerome/
2. http://clevelandcivilwarroundtable.com/articles/society/nyc_riots.htm
3. https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/MilAffairsNY.htm
4. Wikipedia - Leonard Jerome early biography


Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jul 30, 2018
Interesting to learn that the well-known Churchill has American ancestors on his mother's side.

But Jerome certainly left his own mark in history with his financial contributions to equip New York units and his investments in railroads, even if done for his own personal profit, as he thus supported the Union war effort and railroad development.

Thanks for sharing this man's biography with us. :thumbsup:
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