In the 19th century, railroads were everything. And by extension, the businessmen who owned the railroads held a huge amount of power in the United States economy and its political landscape.
Jay Gould, a savvy capitalist, was among the most colorful of these characters. Though he was born poor and haunted by illness throughout adulthood, his exploitation of the financial system had an outsized impact on American life. He gamed the stock market and ripped off small investors and taxpayers. But technically, his actions were above the letter of the law.
Gould’s actions were so disruptive that he single-handedly froze US financial markets in 1869 and nearly brought down Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency. As a result, the way that Wall Street is regulated was changed. Some historians think that Gould made positive contributions to society despite his questionable methods. Decide for yourself with our Instaread on American Rascal.