Monday, April 07, 2014

The Way Forward for a Clever Boy

Reading Edward J. Renehan, Jr.'s bio of Jay Gould, I struck upon a remarkable parallel.  No,  not "coincidence," because I think it is more than just happenstance. Here's the thing: Gould got his start as a surveyor.  Abraham Lincoln was a surveyor. George Washington was a surveyor.    Evidently this was a way up for a bright boy who could master the elements of trigonometry and who enjoyed the gift of stamina sufficient to make tracks in the trackless.  

The story of Lincoln's learning his trade is part of the folklore: Carl Sandburg tells it here (though I had forgotten how Lincoln seems to have gone broke at it).  The Washington story probably gets subsumed into the larger story of his career as a land speculator.

Gould's career is  necessarily less familiar. After a long hiatus in he shadows as the master malefactor, he seems to have found his defenders: Renehan is one; another is Maury Klein. Renehan calls Gould  a "Dark Genius," but presents him as a talented and largely constructive investor-builder who played a central role in the development of the railroads.

Surveyors on the make.  There must be other good examples, but who?

Update: Thoreau, right. A start for his legendary career in Wall Street speculation.  Thanks, Michael. 

1 comment:

dougfort said...

Surveying leads the way to land speculation