The great fortunes of the Gilded Age and the Crisis of 1893

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This paper explores the origins of the great fortunes of the Gilded Age. It relies on two lists of millionaires published in 1892 and 1902, similar to the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans. Manufacturing, as might be expected, was the most important source of Gilded Age fortunes. Many of the millionaires, moreover, won their fortunes by exploiting the latest technology: Alfred D. Chandler's "continuous-flow production." A more surprising finding is that wholesale and retail trade, real estate, and finance together produced more millionaires than manufacturing. Real estate and finance, moreover, were by far the most important secondary and tertiary sources of Gilded Age fortunes: entrepreneurs started in many sectors, but then expanded their fortunes mainly through investments in real estate and financial assets. Inheritance was also important, especially in older regions. The observations, moreover, come before and after the Crisis of 1893, one of the most severe financial crises of the nineteenth century. The data reveal a high degree of survival among the great fortunes, and perhaps most surprising, a high degree of survival for fortunes based on real estate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationResearch in Economic History
EditorsChristopher Hanes, Susan Wolcott
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2012

Publication series

NameResearch in Economic History
ISSN (Print)0363-3268


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • History and Philosophy of Science

Cite this

Rockoff, H. (2012). The great fortunes of the Gilded Age and the Crisis of 1893. In C. Hanes, & S. Wolcott (Eds.), Research in Economic History (pp. 233-256). (Research in Economic History; Vol. 28).