J.P. Morgan was known as the most powerful banker on Wall Street, but he was born and buried in Hartford, Conn. Several photographers were arrested at his funeral, something that would have pleased him.
Morgan was the son of a wealthy banker, Junius Spencer Morgan, and Juliet Pierpont, born on April 17, 1837. He had a checkered education, probably because he suffered from seizures as a child. Later in life he had an astonishingly ugly nose.
He attended the Hartford Public School, then the Episcopal Academy in Cheshire, Conn. (now Cheshire Academy), then the English High School of Boston. He graduated from Boston English after a hiatus due to illness, then entered Bellerive, a school near the Swiss village of Vevey, until he was fluent in French. He finished at the University of Göttingen to improve his German and to obtain a degree in art history.
Morgan went into the family business, showing early on a tendency toward sharp practices. During the Civil War, he bought 5,000 defective rifles from an arsenal at $3.50 each and resold them to a field general for $22 each.
J.P. Morgan, Robber Baron
J.P. Morgan became so rich and powerful he saved the federal government from default in 1895. During a run on gold, he led a syndicate to buy 3.5 million ounces of gold and give it to the U.S. Treasury in exchange for a 30-year bond issue. In 1907 he led a group of bankers to end a national bank panic.
Morgan was physically imposing, big and muscular with piercing eyes and a nose purple with rosacea. His detractors taunted him behind his back with the saying, “Johnny Morgan’s nasal organ has a purple hue.” Morgan was sensitive about his looks, hated having his picture taken and had all photographs of him retouched.
The photograph above was taken by George Grantham Bain on May 11, 1910, when Morgan was 73. It shows a man, probably a bodyguard, holding Morgan back from attacking Bain.
Bain achieved some fame himself as a news photographer. He started the first photographic news service in 1898, Bain News Service. Today the Library of Congress holds the George Grantham Bain Collection, which includes 40,000 glass plate negatives and 50,000 photographic prints.
In December 1912 he was called before a congressional panel, the Pujo Committee, to answer questions about the ‘money trust.’ The committee concluded the money trust existed; it was a cartel led by Morgan that controlled major industries and the financial markets. Morgan died in Rome on March 31, 1913. His business partners blamed the stress of testifying before the Pujo Committee, but others factors — such as the dozens of cigars he smoked every day — likely contributed. He was carried back to America, where the stock market closed for two hours when his body passed through.
He was buried with his family in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford.
This story last updated in 2023.