Jay Cooke (August 10, 1821-February 8, 1905), American financier, was born at Sandusky, Ohio, the son of Eleutheros Cooke (1787-1864), a pioneer Ohio lawyer, and Whig member of Congress from that state in 1831-1833.
Jay Cooke was a prominent banker in the United States and a principal financier of the Union military effort during the American Civil War.
Cooke was born on August 10, 1821, in Sandusky, 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 Sandusky, Ohio. At the age of fourteen, Cooke became a clerk in a local store. When he was 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 Ohio, where he settled in Bloomingville.
Cooke looked to the East 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 book keeper 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 in less than four years after his initial employment. The E.W. Clark & Company earned its investors a significant amount of money through its investments. The firm provided railroads with financing and loaned the federal government with money during the Mexican War. The company collapsed during the Panic of 1857, but Cooke emerged from the economic hard times as a very wealthy man.
On January 1, 1861, Cooke formed his own banking firm. To begin the work of Jay Cooke & Company, he borrowed three million dollars from the government of Pennsylvania. The company prospered as it acquired money for the federal government to finance Northern efforts during the American Civil War. Cooke helped develop a sound fiscal policy that provided the government with the necessary capital to win the war. He negotiated loans for the government and 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. Because of his contributions, Cooke became known as the "financier of the Civil War." The nation emerged from the war deeply in debt, but the currency of the United States was stable. U.S. citizens and residents of foreign countries viewed United States bonds as fiscally responsible investments. During the war, Cooke also served as a financial adviser to the State of Ohio and helped the state's wartime governors develop sound fiscal policies, most notably the issuing of state bonds.
Following the war, Cooke utilized the wealth that he acquired during the conflict to become involved in a number of other industries, including coal and iron mining, life insurance, and railroads. Cooke played a major role in financing the efforts of the Northern Pacific Company to build a transcontinental railroad. Cooke and his company became financially overextended, and his company failed at the beginning of the Panic of 1873. Cooke lost nearly all of his entire fortune. He regained his wealth through various investments during the late 1800s. Jay Cooke died on February 16, 1905.
- Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.
- Oberholtzer, Ellis Paxson. Jay Cooke: Financier of the Civil War. New York, NY: A.M. Kelley, 1968.
- Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
- Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.