THE MAN WHO MADE WALL STREET: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance

Dan Rottenberg, Author
Dan Rottenberg, Author . Univ. of Pennsylvania $29.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8122-3626-2
Reviewed on: 09/17/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001

Though Drexel (1826–1893) was a major player in American finance as the country moved into the industrial age and certainly deserves a serious biography, his achievements are often overlooked in favor of more famous figures such as Jay Gould and J.P. Morgan. In fact, the book's title is ironic, given that Drexel's base was Philadelphia's Third Street financial district. Yet most of this book concerns his indirect effect on New York financial circles and his very direct effect on the fortunes of his good friend J.P. Morgan. Some of Drexel's obscurity is attributable to his private nature; there are few surviving papers and no interviews. On this score, Rottenberg (Finding Our Fathers) has done a superlative job, tracking down hundreds of bits of information, collating indirect references and interviewing many surviving relatives. Unfortunately, the other reason that Drexel gets little fanfare is that he was less interesting, energetic and imaginative than his celebrated contemporaries. Perhaps partly due to a lackluster portrayal, Drexel never comes alive in these pages, either as a person or as an important force. His introduction of financial practices that are now entrenched norms is indeed important, but to general readers his influence will seem very subtle and indirect. In the high drama of American finance, Drexel secured a seat with an unobstructed view. Readers with a particular interest in 19th-century financial affairs will find this work an invaluable resource, providing a rigorously researched and solidly presented illumination of hitherto neglected details. 26 b&w illus. (Oct.)