American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States

By Larry Schweikart; Lynne Pierson Doti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
The Rise of Managers:
1850–1880

More than fifty anxious, perspiring brokers pressed around the fountain in the “Gold Room” on Broad Street, next to the New York Stock Exchange, as the caller marched to his position on September 24, 1869. The operator cleared his throat, then shouted “145 for 20,000,” a code indicating that he had a bid for 20,000 ounces of gold at $145 an ounce. Instantly the price surged still higher, streaking up to $155 as “operators became reckless, buying or selling without thought of the morrow or consciousness of the present.”1

The account, a description of Black Friday, climaxed a struggle called the “Gold Corner,” in which Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, two of the most notorious of business speculators, attempted to corner the market on gold. Fisk and Gould, acting on “insider” information bought from Abel Corbin, the brother-in-law of President Ulysses S. Grant, had assurances that the government would not sell gold when the price started to rise. Along with other members of their plot, Fisk and Gould had acquired futures contracts for gold at $135. Under the terms of a futures contract, a person places an order to buy a certain quantity of goods in the future at a price fixed in the present, and the group was convinced that—absent a huge sell-off in government gold—their buy orders would stimulate gold prices and send them spiraling up well

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