Question of the Week
Who is known as the "financier of the Civil War," raising as much as one billion dollars for Union war efforts?
Answer: Jay Cooke.
A trusted dealer in government bonds and in bonds for the ever-growing network of railroads across the United States, Philadelphian Jay Cooke (1821-1905) financed Union efforts during the Civil War and later led the country into an economic recession.
Born in rural Ohio, Cooke moved to Philadelphia while still in his teens to work as a bookkeeper. The young Cooke attracted the attention of banker Enoch W. Clark and soon rose to become a full partner in the banking firm. After making a small fortune for himself and temporarily retiring from banking in 1858, he launched Jay Cooke & Co. in January 1861. The firm would eventually become Philadelphia's most powerful financial house and a major national company, gaining favor with Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase.
A full supporter of the North in the Civil War and longtime opponent of slavery, Cooke led bond sales which raised as much as a billion dollars for Union war efforts. Later, his Philadelphia banking house managed the purchasing and selling of land and bonds to build railroads across the eastern seaboard and into the West. Ultimately, however, Cooke’s speculation on the Northern Pacific railroad (advertisement pictured at left) contributed to the panic of 1873, which plunged the country into a deep recession for six years. Cooke filed for bankruptcy, both for the bank and personally, then slowly worked to rebuild a portion of his fortune with investments in a Utah gold mine. Cooke is buried in Elkins Park, Montgomery County.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.