The pursuit of wealth is part of what defines the American experience. The 150 years from 1870 to 2020 witnessed the greatest production of wealth in the United States, unparalleled anywhere else in the world. A small group of individuals drove this wealth-creation, and they benefited from it in remarkable ways that are hard for the rest of us to even imagine. This talk will trace the careers of some of the most important men who expanded the American economy and became super-rich. We will understand their actions, their risk-taking, and their values. We will assess their contributions and their crimes. We will also see how earlier generations — Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Carnegie — influenced more recent moguls, especially Gates, Bezos, and Musk. We will conclude with some reflections on the historical role of wealth in our democracy.
Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University’s Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy, most recently: “The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Office.” His research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America’s “Top Young Innovators” in the Arts and Sciences. In 2018 Suri received the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Texas, and the Pro Bene Meritis Award for Public Contributions to the Liberal Arts.