Status: Available

Early American Industrialists

Visionaries, miscreants, and philanthropists who build America before there were rules

Fall 2023
Thursday Morning
Moderators: Edie Kirk, Janet Nichols



Together, we will discuss who these men and women were. Where did their wealth come from and how did they help to build America? What, if anything, did they do to improve the future for the common man or woman?


Modern America, written by Vincent De Santis, notes that “Between 1860 and 1900 capital invested in manufacturing rose from $1 billion to almost $10 billion”. Who were the men and women behind the growth? Many of the names will be familiar, like Andrew Carnegie and John J. Astor, and others will be lesser known, like Hetty Green and Elias Haskins Derby. Yet they all helped to build the America we live in today. Their wealth came from banking, oil, lumber, meatpacking, beer, steel, railroads and more. Some were inventors, manufacturers, and bankers. Others became masters of fraud and manipulation, greed and corruption. And yet, some of those who might appear to be the most dishonest did amazing things for the citizens of America’s future. This seminar will offer the opportunity to learn more about early American dreamers and innovators and discover how they all influenced the structure of America – economically, socially, and geographically.

ROLE OF PARTICIPANTS: Participants will be invited to select one or two people from a list provided, or on their own (as long as the person was born before 1850), to tell the industrial’s story in a format most comfortable to the participant.
ABOUT THE MODERATOR: Edie Kirk was involved in Advancement/Development during her career, including graduate study at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. She continues to find Philanthropy a fascinating topic at both the micro and macro levels. Janet has moderated three LIR seminars and is a retired college business instructor.

Co-Moderators – Edie Kirk and Janet Nichols

This seminar is about the rich – in fact, the extraordinarily rich – how they became rich, and how they administered and distributed their wealth during their life or following their death.

As a seminar participant, you will be asked to choose one person from thirty-four industrialists on the list below. Participants are expected to share a 30-minute talk/presentation, providing information about the person in a format most comfortable to the participant. Please focus your study not only on how the wealth was accumulated but also on whether the person “administered [any of his wealth] for the common good” and include this in your presentation. If you prefer to choose someone not included in the list provided, please check with the moderator, and ensure that his or her birth date is before 1850.

Benjamin Franklin b. 1705
Stephen Girard b. 1750
Thomas Eddy b. 1758
John Jacob Astor b. 1763
Stephen Van Rensselaer b.1764
Peter Cooper b. 1791
Cornelius Vanderbilt b. 1794
Johns Hopkins b. 1795
George Peabody b. 1795
John Insley Blair b. 1802
Alexander Turney Stewart b. 1803
Ezra Cornell b. 1807
Cyrus McCormick b. 1809
Issac Merrit Singer b. 1811
William Weightman b. 1813
William Thaw, Sr. b. 1818
George Hearst b. 1820
Charles Crocker b. 1822
Leland Stanford b. 1824
Henry M. Flagler b. 1830
Phillip Danforth Amour b. 1832
Marshall Field b. 1834
Frederick Weyerhaeuser b. 1834
Peter Widener b. 1834
Andrew Carnegie b. 1835
J P Morgan b. 1837
James J. Hill b. 1838
Eli Lilly b. 1838
Henry Phipps b. 1839
John D. Rockefeller b. 1839
George Fisher Baker b. 1840
Henry Huddleston Rogers b. 1840
Edward Henry Harriman b. 1848
Henry Frick b. 1849

We hope you will enjoy learning about a few of the people who shaped America in their own lifetime, and through their philanthropy in the decades that followed.

There is no specific required reading for the seminar. Listed below are references that may be of interest.

George Kennan, E. H. Harriman, Railroad Tycoon, A Biography

Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther. The Wealthy 100, From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Citadel Press 1996.

Joseph J. Thorndike, Jr. The Very Rich, A History of Wealth, American Heritage Books, New York 1976.

Vincent P. DeSantis. The Shaping of Modern America, 1877 – 1920, Third Edition. Harlan Davidson, Inc. Illinois, 1989.

Gustavus Myers. History of Great American Fortunes – Volume I, Chicago, 1910.

Robert Bremmer. American Philanthropy, Second Edition. The University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Mark Twain & Charles Dudley Warner, Louis J. Budd (ed.). The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, Xist Classics. Kindle Edition.

Virginia Cowles. The Astors, Sharpe Books, 2018.