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It's not the money...it's winning the game....

There’s a fascinating show on H2 right now called “The Men Who Built America”. It’s the story of the men whose (Donny Deutch describes it perfect) lust for power, for fame, for money…moved the world forward in the last 150 years. We’re talking the railroads and coal and petroleum, and tonight…electricity. It’s about the “unregulated golden age of capitalism” when men seeking to win “the game” literally got away with murder and mass abuse and made obscene amounts of money and destroyed lives wholesale.

I’ve had a lot of reactions, a combination of fascination and horror, but one of the comments on the episode tonight is driving me absolutely crazy. Maury Klein, a “business historian,” waxes ecstatic over how J.P. Morgan was one of the most respected reliable and trusted businessmen in the country, not just because he’s richer than god and head of a bank, but because of his “character.”

Character? CHARACTER?!? We’ve just spent an hour and a half talking about how J.P. Morgan backed Edison and when Tesla’s AC alternative began to be a real threat, MORGAN pressured Edison into the campaign of anti-AC that had him going around the country electrocuting poor helpless dogs and elephants and cooking convicts. When Tesla and Westinghouse and AC won the Niagra contract, he threatened Westinghouse with a lawsuit (completely unfounded) that he had stolen the AC patent, a battle Westinghouse couldn’t possibly afford to wage, used that to force Westinghouse into turning the patent over to him (after Westinghouse had it ONLY because Tesla GAVE it to him because it was the only way to get backers and TESLA was more concerned with getting affordable electricity to the masses than with getting rich… anyway…that’s very tangled). And once Morgan had control of the patent, he bought out all the investors in EDISON’S company, turning it into an AC company, and cut Edison out…then went on to make billions on General Electric, using a lot of other Edison patents, and cheating BOTH Edison AND Tesla out of anything remotely like fair compensation for actually creating something!

Yeah. Character. Right.








You have to be smart, not ruthless….

9 comments to It’s not the money…it’s winning the game….

  • Greenwyvern

    Sounds like not-too-subtle propaganda to me. Message: Greed is good, selfishness is good, regulation is bad. The little people benefit when the rich and powerful are allowed to do whatever they like.

    Ayn Rand, anyone?

    I wonder who is behind the creation of this series? Who provided the financing for it?

  • Hard to say, really, because the account of the era is quite brutally honest. All that about J.P. Morgan’s part in the Tesla/Edison situation was NOT part of any of the books I read on Tesla. That’s all from this show. And not all the contemporary moguls spout the “game” garbage. Donald Trump, for instance, is responsible for the quote that I forgot to utilize before I posted that’s sitting at the bottom, i.e. “you don’t have to be ruthless, just smart.” If the people doing the program were biased I don’t think we’d be getting such an even presentation of history. I’m just appalled at the number of moguls who speak with awe of this “game playing.” I’m wondering if it’s a very SUBTLE attempt to show these men for what they are. I’m honestly not sure.

    Frankly…it’s better than most of the History Channel’s coverage of Greco/Roman history. But I am curious if anyone else is having the same reaction that I am. It’s an absolutely fascinating show.

    • Greenwyvern

      So Donald Trump considers himself ‘smart’? 😀

      And not ruthless? 😕

      I’d call him cunning and TOTALLY ruthless and unscrupulous.

      Just watch this trailer for the documentary “You’ve been Trumped”

      • He wasn’t saying HE wasn’t ruthless, just said you didn’t have to be. 😀 I’m no fan of his, just saying that so far he hasn’t used the “g” word.

        Re: Ebert’s review…darn. Was hoping it was on this series. I’m really torn in my reactions because the history is fascinating and brings out information I’d never heard of. I’m not sure but what we aren’t supposed to come out of it more than a little horrified and conflicted. There’s not doubt that these obsessively competitive jerks put progress on the fast track, but their competitiveness ended up in a crippled rail system, a difficult to maintain infrastructure of freeways, polluting vehicles, and who knows what we lost because Tesla was financially destroyed by this incredibly evil and self-serving individual? I was appalled at the people who were bewailing the fate of Edison as the “greatest creative mind of the 20th C. and never ever EVER mentioned Tesla, whose biggest crime was to turn over a lucrative patent for the sake of a better world.

        When I have a little time, I’m going to investigate the Westinghouse/J.P. Morgan connection to the story more fully.

    • Greenwyvern

      And here’s Roger Ebert’s review of the documentary:


      Ebert says, “The underlying message is that if you are rich and powerful enough, you can run roughshod over tradition and private property rights… In medieval times, the nobility enjoyed something called droit du seigneur, their right to deflower their serfs’ virgin daughters before their marriage. These days the nobility has been replaced by billionaire bullies, who continue to screw us serfs.”

  • chondrite

    I knew about the Tesla/Edison/Westinghouse triangle, but I didn’t know that Morgan was backing Edison and pulling the strings there. I also will have to investigate this.

    • Me, too. And I’ve always had it in for Edison for that nasty tactics he used against a (brilliant) guy who had been working for him. (Threat, much?) But when you put the rest of J.P. Morgan’s tactics in other ventures into the picture, and make him the force behind Edison (which this program made a pretty good case for) and Edison looks (slightly) less scummy.

      Tesla (love him, but…) really never did get it where it came to protecting his brain children, not to mention his own health. It’s a crying shame that there wasn’t some rich mogul willing to put him up in a tower and let him produce his marvels, then do all the grunt work of bringing those marvels to the people. Altho…I think Tesla also enjoyed “putting on the show”… so they’d have to let him out of the tower sometimes…but someone needed to fill out his paperwork. 😀

      Joe: Power/money/fame has consequences and those who go for it have got to be ready to handle the responsibility of getting it which means (among other things) handling it with dignity and respect for those who put them there in the first place. That’s one of the main points of the whole ‘NetWalkers series. Great power/great responsibility. I do not see that responsibility being well handled by ANY of these men.

      They are, however, the reason for antitrust laws…and I think that’s what’s coming up in the next episode. I tell ya, folks…this is fascinating stuff.

  • “The law, sir? What do I care about the law?”
    I’ve seen a picture of John D. Rockefeller at the height of his power physically go after a photographer who had snapped his picture. I suppose he felt that because of who he was, he could get away with anything.

    I’ve seen parallels with the (very rich) mayor of New York City, who is involved in telling everyone in his city how to live their lives. There’s a lot more I have against that man, but it’s not for this forum.

  • WOL

    I was disappointed that the program didn’t mention that after Tesla left Edison, he formed his own company, had it and his patents taken over by his investors, and ended up digging ditches because he couldn’t get an engineering job. He was contemplating suicide when A. K. Brown of Western Union Telegraph Company set him up with a lab to pursue AC power. It was after that he met Westinghouse.

    There is a type of man who supposedly has “the will to power.” It’s probably genetic and has to do with testosterone levels. I’m never surprised to find out that such men have trophy wives, affairs, multiple marriages, etc. (JFK was a case in point).

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