BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jean Strouse, author of "Morgan: American Financier," there are a couple pictures inside your book. Can you tell us the story behind these two?
Ms. JEAN STROUSE, AUTHOR, "MORGAN: AMERICAN FINANCIER": Those pictures were taken by the photographer, Edward Steichen, in 1903. He was just starting out as a photographer and Morgan was sitting for a portrait--having his portrait painted. And he hated to sit still for very long, so Alfred Stieglitz, who was a very famous photographer, decided that Morgan should have a photo--the painter should have a photograph to work from, and hired Edward Steichen, who was just starting out in his career, to do it. Steichen came in--he actually posed a janitor in the shot while he set it up to get it ready for Morgan. Morgan blew in, sat down very quickly, took the pose that he always took for the portrait painter, and Steichen made the quick exposure and took that shot. However, he didn't really like the pose. He thought it was too formal, too self-conscious, and he asked Morgan to rearrange himself a little bit, to move his head slightly to one side and get in a more comfortable position. Morgan was not pleased to be told to rearrange himself a little bit, so he bristled a bit. And Steichen immediately saw that this was the Morgan--he saw these sort of piercing eyes and this imposing presence, and immediately took that shot. That's the second shot. It's on your right. And Morgan has his hand on the handle of his chair.
LAMB: This shot over here or...
Ms. STROUSE: No, on...
LAMB: This shot over here.
Ms. STROUSE: Yeah, that shot. He's got his hand on the handle of the chair--it's a metal chair--and when the photograph came out, it makes it look like he's holding a dagger, that he's sort of about to advance out of the frame like a capitalist pirate of popular mythology. So Steichen had these two photographs, one the official one, and one, this second one, which was sort of Morgan in fierce mode. He showed Morgan both of them. Morgan hated the second one because it makes him look so fierce, and tore it up and ordered many copies of the first one, which was the blander, more conventional picture. And Steichen was so angry at him for tearing up the picture that years later, when Morgan's librarian asked for--thought that the second picture was much more dynamic and assertive and alive, she asked for copies of it and Steichen kept them waiting for years because he was so angry at Morgan for having torn up the first one. It's the most famous image of Morgan, the one with the hand on the dagger.
LAMB: But the thing I want to ask you about in these photographs is--first of all, how old was he here?
Ms. STROUSE: He was in his middle 60s.
LAMB: And you write many, many times about the nose. Now you look at this picture, you don't see anything that unusual about the nose.
Ms. STROUSE: It was slightly touched up. Morgan had an inherited skin condition called Rhinophyma, which is excess growth of sebaceous tissue. And in his 50s, it turned his nose into a hideous purple bulb. It was--it looks like an alcoholic nose, although that was not the cause of it. W.C. Fields had something rather similar. And now it could be easily corrected by laser surgery. It could actually have been corrected during Morgan's lifetime by surgery, but for various reasons, he chose not to do that. I can go into that if you'd like, but it was a very big fact in his life. He was so public and he was constantly meeting new people, and he would kind of glare at you when he met you, because you couldn't look at him without looking at his nose. And his handshake and his imposing glare was kind of daring people to flinch or to react, or in some way look--you know, not deal with his nose.
Steichen, when he took that picture, afterwards wrote that looking into J.P. Morgan's eyes is like staring into the lights of an oncoming express train. And, I mean, imagine being this very public figure, very much being criticized on all sides for some of what he was doing and having this deformity that everybody had to deal with when they met him. So it's--I think part of that is in the picture, that sort of glaring defiance. But I actually tried to find the negatives of those pictures from Steichen to see if he had touched them up or whether he touched it up in the print, and I wasn't able to find the originals.
LAMB: Now you have a photograph on the front cover. How old was he in this one?
Ms. STROUSE: About--he was a few years older. We don't know. I would guess that photograph is around 1910 and the other one is 1903, but that's just a guess from how he looked. I don't know for sure when that picture was taken.
LAMB: When did you first get to know him?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, I first started on this project in 1983. I would say that it was several y...
LAMB: 16 years or...
Ms. STROUSE: Well, 16 since it's out. I finished it last August, so it was--took me 15 years to write this book. So I first met him in 1983. I would say I didn't really get to know him for about 10 years after that. It took a very long time to find my way into this character. He was very alien to me. He was not articulate. He was not introspective. He didn't want to know any of the things I wanted to know about him. And so that was, in a way, the most centrally difficult aspect of writing this life. Other difficult aspects were learning about finance, since I was an English major, and I really didn't start out with any familiarity with this. But Morgan's character, which has to be at the center of any biography that's going to come to life, was just extremely difficult for me to get to know.
LAMB: Where were you living when you started to get to know him, and how did you get to know him?
Ms. STROUSE: I was living in New York, and I stayed there the whole time. His life is very much involved, engaged in the history of New York. He lived both in New York and in London, and I went to England many times to do research. But I stayed basically in New York the whole time. I got to know him primarily through archival material. He died in 1913, so there were a couple of people still alive that I could talk to, and I'll come back to that in a minute. But mostly, it was through letters and diaries. And the Morgan Library in New York turned out to have a basement full of uncataloged papers, which was really what got me going on this project, 'cause it was just a biographer's dream, all this material that had not really been looked at before. So I was reading his grandfather's diaries for 30 years, his son's letters home, he had two wives, one died young and then a second wife. I found their diaries. I found all of his childhood schoolbooks, his letters home from whenever he went across the Atlantic, which was a lot, journals he kept when he was traveling in Egypt. So there was just an amazing amount of material, plus all the dealers of the records of the art dealers that he was a major art collector, and I found at the Morgan Library records of all of that, and bankbooks, syndicate books, registers of what his firm was doing.
LAMB: What were you doing in 1983?
Ms. STROUSE: I had been working as a book critic at Newsweek magazine for about four years, and so I was writing about books that were coming out at the moment. My previous book was a biography of Alice James. I did that in the late '70s. It came out in 1980. And the contrast between the James family and the Morgan family was really quite striking. The James’s were intellectuals, they were extremely articulate. They lived in language, in a way, which, for a writer, was extremely helpful. And I didn't realize how much I'd been able to kind of stand on their shoulders until I was dealing with Morgan and his family, because they weren't writers, they weren't questioning themselves in the same way that the James’s were. So it's the same period, late 19th century, but a different universe.
And trying to get Morgan to talk to me was really, really the hardest thing about this biography. And clearly, I realized about five years into it, he wasn't gonna--I couldn't get him to speak my language, I had to learn his language, and it was the language of what he did. He was--Henry Adams said of Theodore Roosevelt that he was pure act, and you could have said that about Morgan as well. He was instinctive, he was intuitive, I think he was actually quite a brilliant man, but it's not the kind of brilliance that people trained in the humanities know about. And I had to really learn to see how his intelligence operated. I did find a lot of his letters and they were better than--I mean, I'm exaggerating slightly to say that he was inarticulate. When he was interested in something, he absolutely could express it, and I found there were wonderful glimpses, but not enough, not as many as for the James’s.
LAMB: I want to ask you about the women in his life. Who is this?
Ms. STROUSE: That was his first wife. Her name was Amelia Sturges. She was the daughter of a prominent New York merchant and patron of the arts named Jonathan Sturges. He fell in love with her shortly after he moved to New York, when he was 20 years old, in 1857, and courted her for a couple of years. They got engaged in '59 and--I'm sorry, in 1960 they got engaged--and the winter--they were going to be married in October of '61--that winter before their wedding, she came down with a series of colds and a bad cough that would not go away. By the summer, she was so sick that she said, `I don't think I can marry you. We should postpone the wedding.' He said, `Nonsense, we'll take you to the sun in the Mediterranean and fix you right up.'
And they got married in October of 1861 in her parents' parlor in New York. She was so frail, he had to hold her up at the altar, and she kept the veil over her face during the ceremony, 'cause she felt she was so thin, she wasn't pretty anymore. He took her to Paris, where lung specialists diagnosed her with tuberculosis, which came as a shock to him. He hadn't realized that's what it was. Then they went to Algiers and then to Nice. He rented a villa in Nice, and he was the most--it was really quite surprising. I found her diaries and letters, which tell this story in a very dramatic way. He carried her up and down seven flights of stairs a day in Paris. He brought her her favorite foods, bought birds to keep her company. Eventually, he bought her--he asked her mother to come stay with them, because she was just getting sicker and sicker, and he felt he couldn't nurse her himself. The mother came over--and this was in Nice in January and February of 1862--and she died four months after her wedding. And he was heartbroken, obviously, and I think in some ways, never really got over that loss. She was very lively, intelligent, curious, wonderful girl. I kinda got to know her as he got to know her, through her letters and diaries. And she died at the age of 25. You know, she was all youthful promise. It was--he never had to find out what that marriage would have been like. It was kind of preserved in amber for him at that youthful stage.
LAMB: How old was he in 1861?
Ms. STROUSE: He was--she was a year older, so he was 22 and she was 23 when they got married, and then four months later--I'm sorry, he was 24 and she was 25.
LAMB: How was he able, at age 24, in 1861, to leave the United States and not fight in the Civil War?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, he came--he was from a wealthy family, and his father, by this time, was working as a merchant banker in London. He actually--Morgan--both sides of his family came to America before the Revolution, so they were really members of the American patriciate. You could buy--you pay for a substitute to fight in the Civil War. You'd pay $300 and somebody else would go in your place, which is what Morgan did. Many other men did that as well. It sounds to us like shirking, and certainly, many men who didn't fight felt guilty about it for the rest of their lives. It was, at the time, quite an acceptable thing to do in certain classes and for certain people, and surprising people didn't fight. In the James family, for instance, which I know a lot about, the younger two boys did go off to war, William and Henry did not. Morgan didn't. Some of the Adams’s did and some of them didn't. It was interesting to see which--how it lines up.
He and his father hated the idea of the Civil War, because it was gonna disrupt business. They were doing cotton trading with England, they were trying to build America with European capital, build America's future. And the--war interrupts commerce. It interrupts all sorts of other things. They weren't terribly interested in the issue of slavery and the moral cause of the Civil War, they were more interested in keeping business going.
LAMB: Another woman in his life is this one right here. Who is that?
Ms. STROUSE: That's his second wife, Frances Louisa Tracy, whom he married about three years later, 1865, just at the end of the Civil War, right after Lincoln was shot and the war was concluded. That was an OK marriage for maybe 10 or 15 years. They had four children, who were also in the picture you just held up, but very quickly, it became clear that they had very different tastes and very different instinct. He loved New York, he loved throngs of people, he was a workaholic, he liked activity and travel--adventurous travel. She was much more domestic and quiet. She liked being home with the children, she wanted to leave New York for suburban New Jersey; she wasn't very interested in art, he was passionate about art. So after about 15 years, he kind of kept the Atlantic between them. He would go off to Europe in the spring and summer with a party of friends and travel around, often--sometimes he would take one of his daughters, and then later, he would take a mistress. And when he came back from Europe, he would send his wife abroad in the fall and winter with one of their daughters and a chauffeur and a paid companion. So pretty much, they lived separate lives after about 1880.
LAMB: Did they ever divorce?
Ms. STROUSE: No. Divorce was really not an option in that world. Some people did, but it was very scandalous and shocking. And interestingly enough, it was always--the women were--it was more disruptive for the woman. Women were objects of scandal, even if they had done nothing wrong. And a couple of the people the Morgans knew who d--women who did get divorced, moved to Europe, just because it was a much more accepting, forgiving society. And also, I think, in professional terms, Morgan was a conservative banker with a reputation for integrity. Divorce didn't figure into that picture.
LAMB: This picture right here is of which woman in his life?
Ms. STROUSE: That is a woman named Edith Sybil Randolph, who was his first mistress or the first one that I was able to find anything out about. She was a widow, very beautiful, as you can see from the picture, younger than he. He was probably--it was 1890, so he was in his 50s, he was about 53 and she was probably in her late 30s. Her husband had died a few years before. She had two children. And Morgan was with her for about five years, again, traveling to Europe with her, seeing her in New York, taking her on his yacht cruises. And his wife didn't--in the wife's diaries, there are rather sad entrances about Mrs. Randolph being around in a lot of Morgan's parties. There were so many people around that I think it was possible for him to sort of muffle the truth about what was going on. And he was with her for about five years, and then I think the wife--his wife found out. In one of her diaries, it says, one day, `Spoke to P. about Mrs. R.,' and that's the last mention of Mrs. R. in Mrs. Morgan's diaries. So I think that was a fairly dramatic moment.
He then had to kind of keep it more secret, and he was not--it's interesting, he was--he lived very--he was much more of a European than an American Puritan about all this. The European aristocrats had mistresses. They would travel to other friends' country houses, they would stay in European hotels. They trusted their friends not to talk. It was sort of accepted, especially in the Prince of Wales' set. He had these women with him, he traveled, and everybody knew about it, and nobody really talked about it. And I think Morgan sort of did more or less the same thing. But once his wife found out, it was a problem. And the other problem was that this Mrs. Randolph was relatively young and not wealthy and she needed a husband, and Morgan was not going to get divorced.
So a rather convenient solution came along. Another prominent American man of their world was William C. Whitney, who had been secretary of the Navy under Grover Cleveland. He had also been quite taken with Mrs. Randolph while he was married, and his wife made a big fuss about it, so that was the end of that. And then his wife died in the late 1880s--early '90s, actually. And so Whitney married Edith Randolph and Morgan took up with her best friend, who was a woman named Adelaide Louisa Townsend, who was quite a wonderful person, not as beautiful as Edith Whitney--Edith Randolph Whitney, but very energetic and full of life and a real match for him in her appreciation of art and travel, and she was sort of a wonderful spirit. I met someone who had actually known her, an older woman who knew her. And also I met--I eventually met her grandson, which was a lot of fun 'cause he could tell me quite a lot about her life and the house that she lived in on Park Avenue. And he said that there was a special back entrance for Mr. Morgan and that the children were told to disappear when Mr. Morgan arrived. I mean, there--because--as I say, because Morgan died so long ago, it was hard to find people who actually had memories of any of this, and that was thrilling.
LAMB: Here's a picture of a dining event, and you can see Mr. Morgan there on the right, and who's the lady on the left?
Ms. STROUSE: Actually, Morgan's in the center, toward the rear of the picture, in the back.
LAMB: Oh, in the back?
Ms. STROUSE: In the back.
LAMB: Oh, OK.
Ms. STROUSE: The center--it's hard to tell. I think we've described it not very well, because we say `in the center' and it's hard to tell which is the center.
LAMB: Yeah, I thought it was...
Ms. STROUSE: He's not the man in the front.
LAMB: I thought he had the white moustache there.
Ms. STROUSE: Yes, right. That's--I--we have to fix that.
LAMB: So he's all the way back there.
Ms. STROUSE: Right there, exactly.
LAMB: Yeah. And who's this woman on the other side of him?
Ms. STROUSE: That--yes, on the left of him is Adelaide Douglas. It's a small picture, so you won't really be able to see what she looks like. She's under your--yeah, she's in that other picture on the right-hand side of the book, and you can see that she's not a great beauty, but she had tremendous presence and elegance. And they would go to Europe and see Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm and they really traveled in fairly distinguished company, and she was very much up to that world. His wife really didn't enjoy that world very much.
LAMB: Where'd he meet her?
Ms. STROUSE: Adelaide? I don't know. Very possibly they were in similar social circles. Her husband was a yachtsman, as Morgan was. I would suspect he met her through Edith Randolph, who was her best friend. Actually, there's a nice little footnote to that story, because Edith Randolph named her daughter Adelaide, for Adelaide Douglas. Adelaide named her daughter Sybil, 'cause it was Edith Sybil Randolph. And to this day, the descendants of those two women keep naming their daughters Adelaide and Sybil 100 years later.
LAMB: How long did he stay with her?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, more or less--he started up with her, I think, in about 1895. The last time I've been able to chart him taking her to Europe with him was 1908, but they stayed close, really, for the rest of his life. She built a town house on Park Avenue near his house in 1909 to 1911. Her grandson tells me that Morgan paid for it, but I wasn't able to track that. But she remained the main person in his life, I think, outside of his marriage, until he died.
LAMB: What was the Town Topics gossip sheet?
Ms. STROUSE: It was a wonderful, useful source for a biographer and quite a lot of fun to read, even if you're not a biographer. It was a fabulous gossip sheet that everybody in New York read and, of course, everybody denied that they read it. And it was run by a colorful character, who called himself Colonel William D’Alton Mann, and he was actually a blackmailer and he would often drop some hint about a prominent man and then wait to be paid for future silence. And there's a key to the way he worked, which is that he would tell some gossipy story without using names, and then someplace nearby, on the same page or on the next page, he would mention the names of the people involved. So you would have to be very clever at figuring it out.
So he would say, for instance, that, `I hear there's a storm cooking up in Bar Harbor this summer. A distinguished former member of the Cabinet is pursuing a beautiful widow famous for her physical attractions. And a famous financier is also on the scene, present with his yacht. And he takes the widow and her friend sailing on the broad Atlantic.' Well, nearby, Mann published the names of William C. Whitney, Edith Randolph and Morgan, but you had to know the key to be able to figure this out.
So he was try--somebody sued him for libel, I guess, a few years later, and at his trial, the names of all the prominent men who'd given him anywhere from $2,000 to $25,000 came out. And he was asked why he said what--Morgan gave him, I think, $2,500 and the trial lawyer said, `Well, why--what is that?' And Mann said, `Well, it was a loan.' And the lawyer said, `Well, why would J.P. Morgan give you a loan?' And he said, `Well, he just--you know, it was just--he thought I could use the money and that I would pay it back, and it would be all right after that.' And so...
LAMB: Who's this woman in his life?
Ms. STROUSE: That is probably the most interesting woman in his life, to me, and the one about whom I made the most--had the most fun figuring out--finding out about her. Her name was Belle da Costa Greene and she was his librarian. He was a fabulous art collector, and he concentrated in New York on rare books and illuminated manuscripts and prints and drawings, and he built a library to house them between 1902 and 1906. Charles McKim built the library and it's still there on 36th Street and Madison Avenue. By the time the library was almost finished, he decided he needed a librarian to manage and catalog the collections and help him buy new ones. And he was introduced to Belle Greene by his nephew, Junius Spencer Morgan, who was a serious bibliophile and connoisseur of books and prints and drawings. Junius introduced him to this young woman, who was working at the Princeton University Library as a clerk. She said she was 22 years old.
She immediately took charge of Morgan's literary collections and began to discipline dealers who were charging him too much and to organize the collections and to somewhat limit his--Morgan's voracious tastes and kind of put things in order. She was a wonderful, flamboyant character. She supposedly once said, `Just because I am a librarian doesn't mean I have to dress like one,' and she wore couturier gowns and jewels to work. She stayed at Claridge's in London and in Paris at the Ritz. She went to European auctions, where all the other buyers were men, and she would walk off with the best items, with some fabulous Caxton manuscripts and Gutenberg Bibles and just wonderful things. And she had love affairs--the main love affair she had was with Bernard Berenson, who was a leading art scholar, and that went on for many years. She wrote fantastic letters to him.
But who she was, her background, was not clear. And she said that she had--her mother was a distinguished woman from Richmond, Virginia, and the mother had taught music to people in Princeton while Belle and her siblings were at school. I tried to track this down, because I was so curious about her. She was such a wonderful, interesting character and I wanted to know where she came from and who she was. And as I tried to follow out all those leads, none of them tracked. I hired a genealogist in Richmond, Virginia, to try to find Greeners. She said that her name was Belle da Costa Greene and that her grandmother was Genevieve da Costa Van Vliet. You're giving away the--to make a long story short, I found out, by a combination of luck, accident and the sort of pathological curiosity that takes over biographers' lives, that her father was the first black man to graduate from Harvard. His name was Richard Theodore Greener and he graduated--he started Harvard in 1865, just at the end of the Civil War, graduated in 1870, and had five children, including Belle. Her name was not Belle da Costa Greene. It was Belle Marion Greener. Her mother was African-American as well. I found Belle's birth certificate, actually, in Washington. She was born in Washington, and it tells her birth date and lists `C' for colored. And the family lived in Washington for some years.
Greener was dean at the Howard University Law School. He was a very distinguished lawyer and scholar, an active Republican. The Republicans rewarded him for his service, recruiting blacks for the party, by making him the secretary of the Grant Monument in New--Ulysses S. Grant Monument in New York, and he was appointed US consul in Vladivostok by McKinley and Roosevelt. But at some point, around that time, in the late 1890s, the family split up and they were--he was the darkest. The mother was very light-skinned and the children were very light-skinned. So they dropped the R off the end of their name and the mother said her name was Genevieve I. Greene, widow, although Mr. Greener was very much alive. And they brought--invented the name da Costa, I think, to explain their exotic looks. And Belle passed as white for the rest of her life, as far as I know. I don't think Morgan ever knew that she was black.
LAMB: What would he have done, had he known?
Ms. STROUSE: I don't think--this is--it has to be pure speculation--I don't think he would have done anything if he'd known. I think once she became indispensable to him at his library, he would have appreciated that and he might have even admired her for--I mean, on her own intelligence and initiative, she created a life for herself that few women of that time, black or white, could have imagined. She--it was just remarkable. And I say this about Morgan not minding, because one of the surprises for me in this story was what a meritocrat he turned out to be, even though his reputation was as being an imperious snob and really only dealing with the WASP-ocracy and the reputation of the Morgan firm is certainly as blue-blood as you can get--but he was constantly on the lookout for interesting people, who were competent, talented, who wanted to do interesting things and had new ideas. And he set them up with the resources to do what they were good at. I mean, Belle Greene could go to Europe and--I mean, she would cable him about what she could buy and what they could spend. She always wanted to spend less. He said, `You know, if it's $70,000, if it's $100,000, we want this. It's the best thing. You b--you buy it.'
LAMB: Let me read a little bit of what you wrote. `Belle, on occasion, defied him, and their worst battles came when he suspected she might leave him for another man. In the fall of 1911, he heard a rumor that she was engaged,' quote, `"which made him rave and foam at the mouth," she told B.B.,' who was?
Ms. STROUSE: Bernard Berenson.
LAMB: `"He really was so ridiculous that I became disgusted and angry, and told him that had it been true, it was none of his business, which caused our relations to be somewhat strained for a day or two. Finally, he came to me with tears and crocodile heartbreakings, beseeching me not to leave him, not to marry anyone and not to look at any man. I confess that in spite of my really sincere love and admiration for him, I was thoroughly annoyed and disgusted, and I could hardly keep from telling him so."'
Ms. STROUSE: Yes.
LAMB: You believe that she actually confronted him like that?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, I think she probably did. Belle's--it's a very interesting problem in this story, because people are always positioning themselves in relation to Morgan in a funny way. I think his wealth and power was so great that other people constantly feel they need to sort of--it bends the sight lines a little bit. You can't tell how much they're showing off for their own correspondence about what they've said to him and what they've done and how much is straight. But I think that probably is more or less straight. I think he was extremely possessive. He did not want her to--he thought that he owned her, in a way, and she hated that, and quite rightly, she hated it.
LAMB: Who is this in your book?
Ms. STROUSE: That is Lady Victoria Sackville, and that was Morgan's last romantic skirmish, as I've--at least as far as I've been able to find out. He met her in the early 1900s. She owned, with her husband, this wonderful enormous estate in Kent, called Knole, that had been in her family for centuries. And she had fabulous art collections, tapestries, ancestral portraits. And in 1911, they had--there were--the tax duties were--the--their estate taxes were enacted in England, and she and her husband began to sell a few of their art objects in order to raise money to keep the estate going. And Morgan bought one of their portraits and some tapestries, and that transaction began this late-life romance. He was 75 years old--74 years old when it started, and she was in her early f--40s. She was very beautiful. She was the daughter illegitimate daughter, actually, of a man who had been the American minister in London and a Spanish dancer.
She was quite outrageous, quite narcissistic and vain, and took up with many elderly, wealthy men, or as I stated, she and her husband didn't have quite enough to keep this estate going, and so she secured the affections and the bank accounts of several elderly men and had this rather amusing late-life--I mean, late in Morgan's life--relationship with him. He saw her when he came to London a couple of years in a row. She invited him out to Knole. He bought tapestries and all kinds of things from her. The first thing he bought was a portrait of "Miss Linley and Her Brother," by Gainsborough. And Lady Sackville desperately wanted to get it back. So the sort of covert agenda in this relationship, which is actually very funny, is that she's trying to get this back, Morgan's trying to get more treasures from Knole because they have an absolute gilt-edged pedigree. And so the two of them are carrying on this flirtation, which I think probably in some way was genuine, but it was also quite--they were each pursuing other ends as well.
LAMB: You point out a number of times that he was big in the Episcopal Church.
Ms. STROUSE: Very. It was extremely important to him. His father--his grandfathers--one was an Unitarian and one was a Congregationalist--but his father had become an Episcopalian in the 1840s. And it was extremely important to Pierpont Morgan, religion. It's hard to talk about because, like everything else, he doesn't say very much about it. But he was--he joined St. George's Church in New York, which is a low church--Episcopal parish, and was hugely committed to it, I mean, he was a very religious man. He went to church a lot. He read the prayer book and the Bible on his own. He contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars, $500,000 in 1892 alone, to the church. He would attend the triennial conventions of the Episcopal Church, which is, you know, the debates of the clergyman about church policy. And most laymen would have found that incredibly boring. Morgan, in the middle of his busy schedule, would take off three weeks every three years and go sit in and listen on into these debates.
He helped subsidize a new addition of "The Book of Common Prayer." He could quote you anything you wanted from the Bible. Many people who disapprove of his career think it was hypocritical of him to be so religious and to be what they call a robber baron. I don't actually think he was a robber baron, and I don't think that his religion was about trying to pass through the eye of the needle. I think it was a very deep-seated, passionate, connection for him, and it expressed a lot of things that he couldn't express on his own, that he was deeply religious and that this was sort of an avenue for a lot of his emotion that he couldn't have told you about any other way. But it was a deeply satisfying connection, to him.
LAMB: Did the public know then, or did the church folks know then, of his relationships with all these women?
Ms. STROUSE: Probably. He would go to these conventions--I don't think he took Adelaide or Edith to the conventions, but he always had lots of female friends, whether or not they were mistresses, and he would take parties of ladies and bishops by special train to the convention in San Francisco, for instance, or in Chicago. And one year the archbishop of Canterbury was visiting and Morgan entertained the archbishop in Maine with Mrs. Douglas, and then went to Washington, where the archbishop was meeting President Roosevelt, and there he was with his wife. So the bishops must have seen Mrs. Douglas on some occasions and Mrs. Morgan on other occasions. I don't know what they made of this, but it--I think it was a rather tolerant--Episcopalianism is more tolerant than other--some other American denominations. And I'm sure he thought it was a sin, but not one that he had to worry about a lot.
LAMB: How much of the information on his women relationships in here is new?
Ms. STROUSE: Most of it, actually. It was well-known that he had mistresses and affairs outside of his marriage, but not these particular people. And, in fact, the gossip was much wilder than the reality. He had a--it was said that he built the Lying-In Hospital in New York to take care of all the pregnancies that he was responsible.
Ms. STROUSE: Lying-In is a maternity hospital. We don't use that term anymore, although in Boston it's still called the Boston Lying-In. He did actually build that hospital, but there was a less-lurid explanation. His best friend and physician was a man named James W. Markoe, who was an obstetrician, and he wanted to build a hospital that would give up-to-date, first-class care to poor women who couldn't afford it. And Morgan gave them $1 million to build the hospital and gave $100,000 to it for the rest of his life, which is not what we think of about J.P. Morgan, that he was helping poor women have children under the best possible circumstances.
LAMB: Did you spend 15 years on this one subject?
Ms. STROUSE: On J.P. Morgan?
Ms. STROUSE: Yes. But it isn't one subject, it's about 30.
LAMB: But this one book.
Ms. STROUSE: Yes, this one book took me 15 years.
LAMB: Every day of your life?
Ms. STROUSE: Just about. I mean, for the last two years, it's been nights and weekends, too. Up to that--before that, I tried to sort of treat it like a marathon and pace myself and take vacations like everybody else and go to the movies once in a while. But—it just--I didn't think it would take 15 years, I thought it would take six. But once I was six years into it, I couldn't very well stop. And I think I deluded myself saying, `Oh, it's only gonna be two more years,' and then it was two more years after that.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Ms. STROUSE: No. I mean, I have--I do not have children, no. So I was about to say that I think I've become sort of a joke among other writer--my writer friends. I think that they should all pay me a tithe because I make them feel that they're not taking so long.
LAMB: Where do you live?
Ms. STROUSE: I live in Manhattan.
LAMB: And how could you--I mean, this is a personal question, you might not want to answer--but how could you financially afford to do this?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, that's a very good question, especially given who I was writing about, you know? I was not living in the manner to which Morgan would have been accustomed. I had a nice advance from Random House, but divide even a nice advance by 15 years, and it doesn't work out very well. I got fellowships to supplement, which helped a lot. And I did teaching jobs, some lecturing and some writing to help subsidize this project. But I'll never do this again. I mean, 15 years is too long to spend on one project and it's not cost-effective work.
LAMB: Was it worth it?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, right now--since people seem to be enjoying this book and talking about it and it's getting reviewed a lot, right now I feel it was worth it. If you'd asked me two years ago, I would have said, `No way.' It's just too long. It's too hard. A friend of mine, who was a biographer as well, said that biographies are a little like marriages, you really have room for only one or two in your life. And I've had two. I think it might be time to do something else.
LAMB: Did you have support from the National Endowments of any kind?
Ms. STROUSE: I did. I did. I had the National Endowment for the Humanities on this project and on the Alice James project as well, and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well-- on both projects as well. So I've been very lucky in that regard.
LAMB: Let me ask you about a bunch of places that were in his life and just get you to describe them. Corsair?
Ms. STROUSE: Corsair was his yacht. He bought the first one in 1882, and it was already named Corsair. Many people think that was his name because it's piratical, and so it was appropriate that he called his yacht Corsair. But it was one of the first, really, most elegant yachts built in New York. It been owned by somebody else for a couple of years and he bought it and loved it. He had a country house up the Hudson, just below West Point, so he used the yacht to commute to his country house. And it was a wonderful place to have meetings. He was very visible. He could not cross the street, much less the Atlantic, without arousing speculation in the stock market and the press. So to have a private yacht for meetings, and for his personal life as well, was extremely convenient.
LAMB: How big was it?
Ms. STROUSE: The first one was 183 feet, and yachts were beginning to become very popular in the gilded age, and owners began to compete for size. I think at that time, when he bought it, it was the largest yacht in the New York Yacht Club Squadron. But soon others surpassed it. Jay Gould built a bigger one. James Gordon Bennett built a bigger one. Morgan's--that yacht was requisition--no, sorry, he sold it in 1890 and built--commissioned a new one that he also named Corsair, and he wanted it to be very similar. The second one was requisitioned to fight in the Spanish Civil War. It became the USS Gloucester. And then he built a third. I can't remember, I think the third was 200 and the second one was 241 feet and I think the third one was 285 feet. So each was longer than the last.
Ms. STROUSE: Cragston was his country house up the Hudson in Highland Falls, on the west bank of the Hudson, which is the unfashionable side. The other side was called millionaire's row. But Morgan liked the west bank of the Hudson, it was an old farmhouse that he bought and moved into, but in the '80s had it remodeled. So he put in new porches and opened up the lawns with spectacular views of the Hudson and had people up for Fourth of July and planted thousands of daffodils along the shore that are still there.
LAMB: Bar Harbor?
Ms. STROUSE: Bar Harbor was--well, he would go to Bar Harbor on his yacht. He didn't actually own a house there, but he would take parties of friends up to Bar Harbor on his yacht and lots of his friends had houses there. So he usually would stay on the yacht, but other people would just come for a sail or for lunch or for dinner.
LAMB: Two nineteen Madison?
Ms. STROUSE: That was his house at Madison Avenue and 36th Street. He moved there in 1882. He bought the house in 1880. It was one of three that had been built in the '50s for the Phelps Dodge family. And he more or less gutted it. He had it renovated and remodeled in 1880s style and moved in in '82.
LAMB: Where's the library?
Ms. STROUSE: The library's next door to that, but it was not built until 1905-'6. He had begun to collect seriously in the 1890s, and by the turn of the century, he had more books and manuscripts than his library--his private study could hold. So he had Charles McKim, who was the leading proponent of Italian Renaissance architecture in New York, design him this beautiful Italian Renaissance marble villa that was right behind his house.
LAMB: Twenty-three Wall Street?
Ms. STROUSE: Twenty-three Wall Street was his firm. It was originally the Drexel building, built at the corner of Broad and Wall Street, right across from the New York Stock Exchange and the US Subtreasury building. It was Drexel Morgan until 1895, when his partner, Anthony Drexel, died, and then it became J.P. Morgan and Company, and it remained J.P. Morgan and Company until recently, when J.P. Morgan and Company moved to 60 Wall Street. And I'm not sure exactly what's gonna happen to that building. It's still there, and it was known as the Corner. You didn't even have to know the address. It was just called the Corner. That was the Morgan bank.
LAMB: What is Morganization?
Ms. STROUSE: The main thing that Morgan was doing from about the 1850s to the 1890s was both raise money for railroads and then watch over that money for his clients. There was not enough capital in America in the middle of the 19th century to build enormously expensive railroads. It had to come from Europe. And European investors who had been burned by reckless buccaneers in the 1830s and '40s weren't about to send more money 3,000 miles across the Atlantic without some guarantee that it would be safe. Morgan in New York, working with his father in London, provided that guarantee. And that meant essentially finding sound properties, which meant having good information about what were good railroads. And then taking what they called moral responsibility for watching over the capital that their clients had put up.
So say a railroad that Morgan, for whom the Morgan Bank had sold bonds, went bankrupt, Morgan would take charge of the bankruptcy. He would fire the managers, hire new ones, reorganize the company, restructure its finances, appoint a board of directors and--including himself, often, and stay on the board of the directors, watching over the company's finances until the whole thing was restored to financial health. That reorganization came to be called Morganization.
And he did it for railroads, as I say, from about the early '60s to the 1890s. And then once the essential railroad structure of this country had been built, which kind of knitted this country together into one economic and geographical unit, he turned to industrial corporations. And he put together the first billion dollar corporation, which was US Steel, in 1901. He organized General Electric in 1892. He put together--one of his partners put together International Harvester, and they did the financing for AT&T. Most of those companies are still around. GE was the first--the only stock listed in the initial--first Dow Jones industrial average, which was published in 1896, that's still in the average 100 years later.
LAMB: There's a panic of 1873, a panic of 1893. There's a panic of 1907. There are other panics in all this. What were the panics, and what role did he play in them?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, the panics were different from each other. John Kenneth Galbraith has a wonderful line saying that they happened about every 10 or 20 years throughout the 19th century, just about as long as it took a generation to forget about the last one. A lot of them had to do with how dependent we were on European capital and what was going on in the European markets, so that if some trouble started in Europe, it would often quickly cross the Atlantic and affect our markets. Also, we had a anti-diluvian banking system that had been designed for the pre-Civil War agrarian economy. And it wasn't really until 1913, after Pierpont Morgan died, that we developed a more sophisticated banking system and the Federal Reserve system came in.
The exact span of Morgan's lifetime was the period in which America had no central bank, and he really took it upon himself to act as the unofficial lender of last resort, Federal Reserve. He was trying to control these panics and to sort of keep the economy stable so that we wouldn't go through these terrible cycles of irrational boom and then terrible bust and depression.
So the '73 panic was set off ostensibly--officially by the failure of a railroad, the Northern Pacific, and Jay Cooke, the banker--leading banker in Philadelphia, failed as a result of that. But it had--European conditions had sort of started it off, and then what's-- the Cooke failure was the thing that set a match to the tinder of the situation here.
The '93 panic was a whole different set of circumstances. I won't walk through all of them, but Morgan sort of took it as his public responsibility to try to mediate this a little bit. He would raise reserve funds among himself and several other bankers to try to supply liquidity when there wasn't enough, which is what would happen. And suddenly, all the money would leave New York and there wasn't enough for people to meet their obligations. The most dramatic one was in 1907, when a trust company failed, and it was--you could see the dominoes start to topple. Morgan, by this time, was in his--he had just turned 70. And he was often at Episcopal convention in Richmond, Virginia. Teddy Roosevelt was president. There was no real authority in the federal government at this point to handle a crisis like this.
It's hard for us to imagine this now, because we're so used to the Feds stepping in and the Treasury secretary trying to manage a situation like this. But Roosevelt didn't know much about it. The Treasury secretary didn't have quite as mu--very much authority. Morgan seemed to be the only person who had the ability and the means to do this. So his partners sent him cables in Richmond, Virginia, about this developing situation, but they didn't want him to come back early because they thought that would spook the already scared market, that if everybody knew that Morgan had left this convention to come back to Wall Street, the panic would get even worse. So he waited till the last possible--till the convention was over, took a night train, arrived at his library on Sunday, and spent the day in his library surrounded by his partners and lieutenants, who briefed him on the situation.
And then they decided--they sort of did research about the institutions that were in jeopardy and decided which ones should be--were not in very good shape and should be allowed to fail and which ones they ought to really bail out and try and stop the panic. And for the next three weeks, they--teams of financiers worked around the clock and Morgan raised hundreds of millions of dollars to try to calm this panic. And finally, by the end of three weeks, he had. But it involved shoring up the stock exchange, these individual trust companies. At the end of that first week, New York City came to him and said, `Mr. Morgan, we can't meet our payroll obligations and we're gonna be bankrupt by Monday.' And he managed to manufacture $100 million of Clearinghouse certificates that essentially kept New York City going through the weekend.
LAMB: How much...
Ms. STROUSE: It's an amazing story.
LAMB: ...how much money was he worth when he died at 75 years?
Ms. STROUSE: Approximately $80 million. That's a little low, because it was for estate --valued for estate purposes. There was no federal estate tax at the time, but there was a New York state inheritance tax. But it was under $100 million.
LAMB: How much is that worth today?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, you have to multiply by 15 or 20. So if we say it's a $100 million, it would be about $1.5 million to $3 billion. And so it was a lot of money, but not nearly as much as people imagined and not as much as other wealthy men at the time had. Morgan had bought out Andrew Carnegie when he put together US Steel in 1901, for $480 million, which Carnegie personally got half, so $240 million in 1901. Morgan didn't put up that money himself, obviously. He organized a syndicate to do it.
John D. Rockefeller, in 1913, when Morgan died, was already worth almost a billion 1913 dollars. And this is an apocryphal story, but I have to tell it, anyway, because it's too good. Supposedly, when Morgan died, Rockefeller read about his net worth in The New York Times, of $80 million, shook his head and said, `And to think he wasn't even a rich man.'
LAMB: Where was he born?
Ms. STROUSE: Hartford, Connecticut, 1837.
LAMB: What were his parents like?
Ms. STROUSE: His father was a very successful merchant, Junius Spencer Morgan, who worked in Hartford and then Boston, and then moved to London in 1854 to become an Anglo-American merchant banker. And he and Pierpont, basically, were funneling European capital to the emerging American economy. I mean, we really were the emerging economy in the 19th century. He was very conservative, very upright, very much concerned to build an international banking dynasty that would rival the Rothschilds and Baring Brothers, and he did. I mean, over the next 80 years, the Morgan bank--especially in America--Rothschild didn't really see what America was going to be. They had one man, August Belmont, who was very good.
But Junius Morgan staked the future on his son and on America. He was very, very supervisory and censorious and critical of his son, and determined that his son was going to be sort of an upright man with a solid-gold reputation. And Pierpont was not--he was not following in the paternal footsteps early on. He was much more likely to take risks, to speculate. Junius wouldn't hear of that, and was furious whenever Pierpont took a speculative flyer. At one point, Pierpont bought five shares of stock in something called the Pacific Mail and Steam Ship Company and Junius hit the roof about, `How could you be so reckless and crazy?' And Pierpont ignored him and kept the stock for a little while and then sold it at a loss. But if he'd held it for 10 more years, he would have done just fine.
LAMB: By the way, where are you from originally?
Ms. STROUSE: California.
Ms. STROUSE: Los Angeles.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
Ms. STROUSE: Lived there till I was 16, then I went away to boarding school for two years, came East to college, moved to New York right after college and, basically, have lived in New York ever since then.
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
Ms. STROUSE: I went to Radcliffe.
LAMB: Studied what?
Ms. STROUSE: English literature. Not exactly preparation for the--it was preparation for the James family, which was my last book, but, no, I had--the Morgans were quite an education for me.
LAMB: One of the things you mention on a couple of occasions is he was always playing solitaire.
Ms. STROUSE: Yes.
LAMB: Does that say something about him?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, I think it does. Again, because he says so little, it's hard to know. I'm just guessing. But one of his friends said this, and I think it's quite true, `He was a man who was very intuitive and instinctive. He couldn't sit down and rationally analyze a problem. Or if he could, he couldn't tell you about it.' One of his partners said, `He's an impossible man to have any talk with. The nearest approach he makes is an occasional grunt.' So I think he would sort of assimilate a lot of information and his intelligence would work on a problem sort of out of his consciousness in a way. And often it's during a crisis when he's playing solitaire. It's a double-pack game called Ms. Milligen. That was his favorite kind. And I think that doing that was very soothing. It kind of occupied a patterning numerical part of his mind. He would just play out these cards and figure out what goes with which, and how does it match up, and then it set the rest of his powerful faculties free in some way to work on the other problem.
LAMB: You say he was a hypochondriac.
Ms. STROUSE: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: In what way?
Ms. STROUSE: Well, he had a lot of illnesses as a child. He almost died before he was two years old. He had seizures as an infant and then vague unnamed maladies sort of haunted him for the rest of his childhood. He was often kept out of school with sore throats and headaches and boils on his face and neck. Actually, a virulent form of adolescent acne is often a precursor to this skin condition, called Rhinophyma, that he had later in his life. So I suspect that's some of what it was, although they didn't know that at the time. He had rheumatic fever when he was 15 and was sent off to the Azores by himself, which was really hard for a young boy to go off like that on--to a rest-cure in the sun. And then he began having depressions.
LAMB: Got a photograph here that I found in Harry Evans' book on the American century, which shows, rather dramatically, the condition of his face and nose. At what year did this start?
Ms. STROUSE: I'm not sure exactly--it was in his late 40s or early 50s. So it would have been in the early 1880s.
LAMB: What impact did this have on others?
Ms. STROUSE: I think it had a big impact. I mean, I think you couldn't see him without in some way reacting to this. So meeting strangers was a very difficult thing for him. It made him very shy. It made him hate being photographed. So he was already a shy, very private man, because of his public reputation, because of his unorthodox private life, but also, since has was so hideously ugly, he didn't want to be photographed. It did not have much effect on his relationships with women. He'd always been attracted to and attractive to women and, certainly, he was quite a good-looking young man, and his sense of self-confidence was established long before the nose got to be such a problem.
LAMB: You didn't show any of your--in your photographs, anything quite that--I don't know what--how you call it--grotesque, and here's the closest one I could find in your book. Did you do that on--avoid it on purpose?
Ms. STROUSE: No. Actually, the one that is under your left hand with him at a graduation ceremony, the nose is hideous. The way the design of the book worked out--that is a small picture and you can't really see it, but the nose is in full bloom there.
Ms. STROUSE: You just probably can't get close enough to see it.
LAMB: Is it this one at the bottom?
Ms. STROUSE: The top.
Ms. STROUSE: When he's shaking somebody's hand at a graduation ceremony.
LAMB: Yeah, there we go.
Ms. STROUSE: The light is actually on his nose, and we had wanted--I'd sort of initially thought we'd make that the big picture on this page, but the designer and I actually agree that that other picture of him at the White Star pier is so beautiful, we wanted to make that a big picture, 'cause it's unusual. And it's a casual picture, that one, yeah.
LAMB: What's the White Star pier?
Ms. STROUSE: The White Star pier was--the White Star owned the Titanic, and Morgan had put together the company that owned the Titanic. And that happens to be a picture in 1912, and as you will no doubt remember, it was April of 1912 when the Titanic went down. I don't know whether that was before or after, but much of Morgan's art was supposed to have been on the Titanic. It was just a fluke that it wasn't.
LAMB: Pujo Committee?
Ms. STROUSE: Pujo Committee was an investigation into whether or not there was a money trust in control of the American economy. The hearings were held in 1912, but the impetus for it really came from the panic of 1907, when Morgan single-handedly stopped this terrible panic. And for a moment after he did that, he was a national hero. World bankers and international statesmen saluted him with awe for having been able to do this. But the next minute, America and this nation of Democrats was quite horrified that one private citizen had that much power. And it aroused America's long-standing distrust of private bankers and concentrated well. And it led to the setting up of a national monetary commission and eventually to the Federal Reserve. And in 1911-'12, it also led Morgan and the men he was close to to try to concentrate a lot of financial power in their hands, 'cause they did not want a situation like that panic to happen again.
And by 1911, it was thought in the--much of the rest of the country that they were running a money trust and that they had a stranglehold on credit and the availability of money in the country. So this congressional committee, headed by Louisiana Representative Arsène Pujo, began to hold hearings in 1911 and '12--actually 1912, and Morgan was called as a witness in December of 1912. He was the star witness. He was obviously the man they thought was running the money trust. So it was a very dramatic ending to his life.
LAMB: When did he die and where did he die?
Ms. STROUSE: He died in 1913, March 31st, in Rome. He had gone--he'd testified before this Pujo Committee hearings in December of 1912. Then went to Egypt, as he did every winter for the last few years of his life. And while he was on the Nile he had sort of a nervous breakdown. He'd had depressive episodes his whole life. It was a big struggle. We were talking before about his hypochondria. Depression was a big part of it. And it started in his early 20s and he never knew when it was gonna come, and it was truly terrible, as anybody who suffers with depression knows. So he did what he could to ward it off. But the worst depression of his life came after these hearings on the Nile, in January of 1912. He died--he sort of had this breakdown. They got him from the Nile back to the Grand Hotel in Rome, and he died in Rome on the 31st of March.
LAMB: Where's this picture?
Ms. STROUSE: That is his funeral service back in New York. The body was sent back to New York. And in April of 1913, the funeral was held at St. George's Church in Manhattan, and then the burial took place in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was born and he was buried near his father and mother.
LAMB: You talk about the will. Who got the money?
Ms. STROUSE: Everything was left to his son, and when his father died in 1890, the father--the tradition in this family was very patriarchal. His father, Junius, left several million--you know, a few million dollars each to his daughters. His wife--Junius' wife had predeceased him, and Junius left everything else to Pierpont, the bank, the houses, whatever art collections Junius had. And Pierpont did exactly the same thing. He gave $3 million each to his daughters. His wife got the houses and a trust fund that had been set up by Pierpont's own father and additional money from Pierpont. But everything else was left to his son.
And his will was--it opened with a resounding declaration of his Episcopal faith that Christ had died for his sins. I'm not sure I'm gonna be able to quote it exactly, but something to the effect that, "I leave my soul to the hands of my redeemer, who may wash it in his blood and bring it cleansed before the throne of our Heavenly Father." And this much was made of this, as you might imagine, in the press. And preachers, that Sunday, all over the country, were quoting this. And one irreverent newspaper--I think it might have been The Evening Post, said, `Well, this is all well and good, but it shouldn't lead us to conclude that godliness is profitable.' But some paper in Texas--reading those words in the will, and then also the fact that he'd left everything to his son, the headline was God--`Morgan leaves soul to Maker, money to son.'
LAMB: How old is he on the picture in the back of the book?
Ms. STROUSE: It's 1860, so he's 23, just before he married Mimi Sturges.
LAMB: And then, again, on the front of the book.
Ms. STROUSE: Probably about 70, 75. I'm not sure. I'd say 72 is a good guess.
LAMB: And our guest has been Jean Strouse. And this is the book, called, "Morgan: American Financier." Thank you very much.
Ms. STROUSE: Thank you, Brian.
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