I have written several posts on industrialists and capitalists from America’s past – J.P. Morgan, Hetty Green, Andrew Carnegie, James Swan, and Jay Gould and James Fisk. But for those researching people who haven’t yet been featured, there are some great resources.
One of the most accessible sources is the encyclopedias, available in most public, school, and university libraries. More detail can be found in books specifically on the people, companies, and events, but don’t just rely on more contemporary titles, because older titles like Certain Rich Men; Stephen Girard, John Jacob Astor, Jay Cooke, Daniel Drew, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, published in 1927, may offer a different perspective. While biographies are easier to identify because they are about one person, finding other books like Certain Rich Men, which may contain profiles of several people, is a bit trickier. To help you, here are a few good subject headings to use:
Capitalists and financiers–United States–History.
Capitalists and financiers–United States–Biography.
Capitalism–United States–History–19th century.
Rich people–United States–Biography.
Newspaper articles are also useful, because they chronicle the people while they were alive and events were unfolding. They are particularly good for finding interesting tidbits and stories that may not show up in any book. Anyone looking for information prior to 1923 can use Chronicling America, a great free source, but there are also a number of subscription-based services available. Those who live in this area can use them at the Library of Congress, but for non-locals, some may be available through a local public library, university library, or historical society.
If you need photographs for your project or paper, the Prints & Photographs catalog and the library web page can be tremendous resources. While the Library doesn’t have photographs of everyone, there are photographs and other images of many well-known people and places. Two of my favorite resources are the images from the Money Trust Investigation in 1912/1913 (AKA the Pujo Committee) and the Pecora Commission in the 1930’s.
The Library has also digitized quite a bit of other material that may also be of interest. This includes the presidential papers of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Lincoln, as well as papers of other notables like Samuel F. B. Morse and Alexander Graham Bell. These can be found through the Library’s homepage, which also offers other material that is part of the Internet Archive.
If you are doing a paper or History Day project this is just a start. Get more advice on accessing sources in your own area from your local school, university, or public librarian.