Jay Cooke

Jay Cooke
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Jay Cooke was born on August 10, 1821, in Bloomingville, Ohio. He was named for John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. His father, Eleutheros Cooke, was an attorney, railroad investor, and real estate speculator. Jay Cooke attended local schools in nearby Sandusky, Ohio. At the age of fourteen, Cooke became a clerk in a local store, and at fifteen, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and took a position in a wholesale business. He lost his job due to the Panic of 1837 and returned to Bloomingville.

Cooke looked eastward to earn a livelihood. In 1838, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he accepted a position with a packet company. This company failed soon thereafter, and Cooke became a bookkeeper in a local hotel. In 1839, E.W. Clark & Company, a brokerage and banking company, hired Cooke. He quickly advanced through the company, becoming a partner in the firm less than four years after his initial employment. The E.W. Clark & Company earned its investors considerable wealth through its investments, including providing railroads with financing and loaning the federal government with money during the U.S.-Mexican War. The company folded during the Panic of 1857, but Cooke emerged from the situation as a very wealthy man.

On January 1, 1861, Cooke formed Jay Cooke & Company, his own banking firm. To open the company, Cooke borrowed three million dollars from the government of Pennsylvania. Cooke quickly repaid the loan, because the company prospered as it acquired money for the federal government to help finance the Northern war effort during the American Civil War. Cooke helped develop a sound fiscal policy that would provide the government with the necessary capital to win the war. He negotiated loans for the government and also handled the sale of government bonds. By the end of the Civil War, Cooke had secured more than three billion dollars for the federal government through various loans. As a result of his contributions, Cooke became known as the "financier of the Civil War." While the nation emerged from the war in severe debt, United States currency was stable, and American citizens and residents of foreign countries all viewed United States bonds as fiscally responsible investments. During the war, Cooke also served as the Secretary of the Ohio Treasury and helped assist the state's wartime governors to develop sound fiscal policies.

Following the war, Cooke became involved in numerous additional industries. These included coal and iron mining, life insurance, and railroads. Cooke played a major role in financing the efforts of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company to build a transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately for Cooke and the nation, this company failed and triggered the Panic of 1873. Jay Cooke & Company failed, and Cooke, himself, lost nearly his entire fortune. He regained his wealth through various investments during the late 1800s. He died on February 16, 1905.


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