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Vanderbilt and the railroads
Vanderbilt and the railroads

The big players in this battle were James Fisk, more commonly known as Jubilee Jim; Jay Gould, the wizard of Wall Street; Daniel Drew, known in the financial world as Uncle Dan'l Drew; and Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was once referred to as a "cross between George Washington and Genghis Khan."

Vanderbilt, already the owner of New York Central, fired the first shot in 1866 when he set out to gain control of the only competing railroad between New York and the Great Lakes: the Erie Railroad. Little did he know that as he was buying up every Erie share on the market, Erie partners Jay Gould and James Fisk countered by putting 100,000 fake Erie stocks for sale, a trick that wouldn't easily fly today.

The legal battle set off a complicated chain of events during which a bribed New York State legislature gave Vanderbilt $4.5 million of Erie's money to drop his takeover bid. Good thing, since Gould and Fisk ran Erie into bankruptcy several years later.

NEXT: The Heinze brothers and copper

Last updated August 13 2010: 5:35 PM ET
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