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American Tycoons

Tycoon. The word comes from Japan, where it means the equivalent of shogun. But long ago America confiscated the title. It was in the U.S. that tycoons became paragons of power and influence. American tycoons swung deals, not swords, and changed the
From the Print Edition:
J.P. Morgan, Mar/Apr 00

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Undersold at the store counter and outspent on promotions, his enemies had little choice but to join his tobacco trust. Manufacturing more than 90 percent of the country's cigarettes, Duke's trust squeezed farmers, distributors and even the manufacturer of the cigarette-making machine. Soon American Tobacco was able to corner the plug, snuff and pipe tobacco, as well as cheroots markets and start a British subsidiary. The steamroller could be stopped only when the government stepped in to divide it, in 1911. Duke groused that "in England, if a fellow had built up a whale of a business, he'd be knighted. Here, they want to put him in jail." Undeterred, Buck sought fortune in another business--electricity.

The Duke utility controlled most of the Carolina region before his death. After his will made his daughter, Doris, the country's richest woman, enough was left to fund the hastily renamed Duke University and the Duke Endowment, which is hailed as a model charity in philanthropy circles. He also left his daughter a lifelong distrust of others, and she died heirless in 1993, her affairs in as much disarray as her father's were organized.--JB

HENRY FORD (1863-1947) AUTO PILOT

Throughout his life, automotive pioneer Henry Ford had a love-hate relationship with reporters. In 1943, after columnist Drew Pearson dared to suggest that the government take control of the Ford Motor Co. because its chief was too old and frail, the 80-year-old Detroit industrialist and exercise fanatic responded, "I can lick him in any contest he suggests." Ford's adept handling of the press resulted in his being one of the best-known, best-loved and most-publicized figures of his time, despite his famous obstinacy and anti-Semitic writings. Although he didn't invent the automobile, he reinvented it, making it accessible to the public and spurring the American auto industry.

The eldest child of Irish immigrant farmers who settled near Dearborn, Michigan, Ford loved machinery and loathed farm work. He dropped out of school at age 15 and became an engineer. Ford struggled for many years to create a gas-powered car, succeeding in 1896, at age 32, when he drove his first gas-powered car, the Quadricycle, amidst little fanfare through downtown Detroit. Three years later, he built his second car, which caught the attention of several local businessmen. With their financial backing, Ford Motor Co. was launched in June 1903. Named vice president and chief engineer, Ford received a quarter interest in the firm. He publicized his cars through racing and advertising. But it wasn't until he built the now-famous Model T, in 1908, that he changed history.

At the time, cars were priced for the affluent. The Model T, the firm's ninth model, was sold at a more accessible $850, and was met with great enthusiasm. Introducing the first moving assembly line and other economies, Ford continued to reduce the price (it cost only $360 by 1916), and demand increased, with sales reaching more than 472,000 by the First World War. For the next 18 years, Ford was the preeminent automaker, producing more than half the cars sold (a whopping 15.5 million).

Profits soared and so did Ford's reputation as a man with a formidable business acumen. Workers revered him because he believed in paying them well, reducing their work hours and sharing profits. Not content with building cars, Ford made several forays into politics, embarking on an ill-fated 1915 peace campaign to Norway to end the First World War. He ran for the U.S. Senate three years later but was defeated by less than 4,400 votes.

He would never seek public office again but was politically active, vehemently opposing U.S. involvement in foreign wars and the formation of labor unions. Groomed to run the business, Ford's son, Edsel died before his father, then was commemorated by the hapless car model named for him. A grandson, Henry Ford II, eventually took over the reins to the company.--Shandana Durrani

W.R. HEARST (1863-1951) PUBLISHING PRINCE

In 1897, when renewed hostilities between Spanish colonialists and Cuban rebels seeking independence threatened, publisher William Randolph Hearst wanted lavish headlines with which to sell newspapers. He dispatched the artist Frederic Remington to Havana to supply images. Remington cabled him: "Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I want to return."


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