Sunday, June 11, 1995
The J. P. Morgan Legacy
Why is St. George's Episcopal Church on Rutherford Place and 16th street known as the Morgan church? To answer this question in detail, let's examine the entire involvement of John Pierrepoint Morgan Sr with this neighborhood.
The Morgans, who arivd on hese shores 16y af m, were Hartford people, and the grandfathr, Joseph, orgnized Aetna Fire Insurance Company, which became highly regarded for its fast claim settlements after the Wall Street fire of 1835. Son Junius (1813-90) became partner of the American banker George Peabody in London (prototype of Scrooge?) and widened the international banking business, with the aid of son J.P.
Under J.P. Sr.(1837-1913) and J.P. Jr (1867-1943), the House of Morgan became a world power, financing railroads, U.S. Steel, General Electric, General Motors, Du Pont and AT&T. This was done through the vehicle of "voting trusts," to which shareholders transferred their shares in exchange for trust certificates. Share and bond holders did this to avoid shareholder liability and to have a third party impose control over rampant industrial warfare-like competition, particularly among railroads. Eventually this escalated to trusts, super-holding ompanies, such as U.S.Steel, that acquired all major competitors in their industries. Morgan partners sat on the boards of prctically all major corporations and jointly were able to direct U.S. economy. On several occasions Morgan acted as the central banker of the U.S., in preventing the collapse of the gold standard in 1895 (President Jackson had abolished the Second Bank of he United States in 1832) and in stemming the stock market crash in 1907. The immense powers of the House of Morgan and other major bankers were abrogated through anti-trust legislation (1890, 1913) and the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913. Finally FDR, with the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, built a wall between commercial banking (deposits, loans) and invstment banking (issiuingbonds and stocks). J.P.Morgan and Company became a gentlemanly commercial bank, with Morgan Guaranty Trust its subsidiary, while Morgan Stanley, the investment arm, eventually became the top merger and acquisitions firm in the 1970s and 80s.
But that is a far way from Stuyvesant Square Park. Let's return to J.P. Sr. The great romance in his life, Amelia Sturges, of an artistic family, lived on East 14th Street, and died of tuberculosis four months after marriage in 1861. J.P. remarried, to Frances Tracy of a proper New York background, and lived on Fortieth Street and Fifth Avenue.
In 1882 the Morgans moved to Murray Hill, 219 Madison Avenue at 38th street, New york's first electrically lit residence (J.P.raised the capital for Edison'sElecctric Illuminating Co.). A collector of art and books, stored at his office at 23 Wall Street (first office to draw power from Edison's generator at Pearl Street), in 1900 he bought the adjoining property, and had Charles McKim design an Italian renaissance palace to house his books, building that eventually became the Morgan Library. The walls were made with marble blocks that were perfectly fitted and did not require any binding material, and he hired the perfect librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, an enchanting young woman who became his confidante.
Morgan gave much to religious, cultural and educational causes.He had a social conscience, and when his personal physician Dr. James W. markoe, told him of the squalor in which immigrants lived,he gave aver a million dollars to construct the Lying-In Hospital for poor pregnant women, on the corner of 17th street and 2nd Avenue. An immense block-wide 22 storu building, now the Rutherford House, a ccop apartment building, it has lobby plaques, sculpture and exhibits to remind us of its past. Dr. Markoe became its executive director.
J.P. and Fanny morgan were devout communicants, and atternded St. George's, where J.P. was awestryman since 1868. He built the Chapel, and the Parish house inxx. The young Cambridge man appointed as rector in 1883, William S. Rainford, aws a social reformer, and Morgan subscriped to his pg52
When J.P.Sr died, 1n 1913, his estate was $68 million (less than $1 billion at today's rates), not counting the collections - puny amount, which confirmed the opinions that his main interest was power, not money. However, he had lived and spent well, with houses, yachts and mistresses, and had amassed $50 million worth of art and books. He was a knowlegable and compulsive collector, and kept art dealer Joseph Duween busy locating and negotiating classical masterpieces for him. He bought his books singly and in collections, and the two Gutenberg bibles that he had were not the rarest works in his library. In collecting he had a code of behavior that paralleled his business ethics - while squeezing the dealers' profits down, he would not bid against the British Museum, which had limited funds for building a national collection.