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Jay Gould

Adam Smith tells the story of the railroad pioneer Jay Gould, one of the great robber barons of 19th-century American business, and his trail of corruption.

In the 19th century, so-called 'Robber Barons' - men like Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan - seized the great new opportunities thrown up by the United States' Industrial Revolution.

The Robber Barons built vast businesses, and helped forged a radically new country - the basis of the America we know today. But did they sow the seeds of amazing progress, or did they steal the American Dream? Historian Adam Smith tells their stories and confronts their legacy.

In this episode, Adam tells the story of the most rascally of the Robber Barons: Jay Gould.

As railroad companies raced each other to spread across America, they presented a great chance for wealth and power to anyone brave and ruthless enough to join the competition.

Gould got a stake in the Erie Railroad Company, and warded off a takeover bid from the first of the Robber Barons, Cornelius Vanderbilt, by printing endless stock certificates to soak up Vanderbilt's huge spending power.

He fled the New York police by rowing to New Jersey, won bail, and went to New York's state capital to bribe as many politicians as he could gets his hands on.

And then he decided to corner the Gold Market, by means of his connections with the Vice-Presidency.

He was so successful he needed bodyguards. Yet he was also one of the great railroad pioneers - helping to transform his country.

With: TJ Stiles, Joanna Cohen, Steve Fraser

PRODUCER: PHIL TINLINE.

Available now

15 minutes