The House of Morgan
W 2019


All of us know that the modern American economy began in the second half of the 19th century and that J.P. Morgan is one of the mythical names associated with that period.   The purpose of this SDG is to study the rise and influence of the House of Morgan, and J.P. Morgan himself, in context, as a way of understanding that seminal period.  It will be based on the core book “The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance” by Ron Chernow (author of the current best seller on the life of Alexander Hamilton).  The Morgan book won the National Book Award in 1990. 

Using the Chernow book as a guide, we will study American finance before Morgan, the rise of the House of Morgan and its influence in America, how “new banking” facilitated the rapid development of American industrialization in the latter 19th century, his fostering of railroad expansion and creation of U. S. Steel and how he and his bank affected worldwide finance and promoted American influence.  At the same time, we will focus on Morgan himself, his philanthropy and his family, and the choices made by three generations of his successors in the 20th century, including reactions to Roosevelt’s New Deal, Glass Steagall, the involvement of Morgan entities in creating the 2008 recession and the activities of current firms bearing the Morgan name.  In short, we will see how the House of Morgan played a major role in forming our world and how its influence still resonates, as well as considering contemporary and current criticism of such influence.

The last of the 14 weeks will specifically address the pluses and minuses of the House of Morgan over the years, but the discussions each week will also focus on the advantages and drawbacks of the House of Morgan actions under discussion that week.  The intent is that the discussions be both historical and evaluative.  

Weekly Topics


1.       Formation and beginnings of House of Morgan

2.       Rise of House of Morgan in London & New York

3.       Morgan as midwife of railroad expansion

4.       Saving the gold standard

5.       Morgan role in corporate mergers, including creation of U. S. Steel

6.       Morgan acting in quasi-government role, including Panics of 1873 & 1907

7.       Creation of shipping trust, relations with European countries before World War I & Pujo hearing

8.       Real & alleged role in World War I and public attitudes

9.       How House of Morgan handled the Depression, Pecora hearing & Glass Steagall

10.   Creation & reach of Morgan Grenfell

11.   Creation & different direction taken by Morgan Stanley

12.   Recession of 2018

13.   Private lives of J.P & Jack Morgan, including art collections & philanthropy

14.   Evaluation of effects of House of Morgan on U.S. & the World—pluses and minuses   



Core Book: Ron Chernow, “The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance”

Other books important to an understanding of the context of Morgan’s activities:

                ­Gerard Helferich, “An Unlikely Trust: Theodore Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan and the

Improbable Partnership That Remade American Business”­­­­­­­­­­­

                             Charles Morris, “The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould

                                                and J.P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy”               

There are many biographies which will give differing interpretations, including:

                  Jean Stone, “Morgan: American Financier”

                  Stanley Jackson, “J.P. Morgan”

                  Gillian Tett, “Fool’s Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan”