Tuesday, January 26, 2010

delanceyplace.com 1/26/10 - business people

In today's excerpt - money. With the
Industrial Revolution, money began to replace
family lineage and civic achievement as the
arbiter of social standing - especially in
post-Civil War America. A case in point was
the arrival of the nouveau riche among
Philadelphia's upper crust Rittenhouse

"[Rittenhouse Square resident] Henry Cohen's
son Charles later
recalled that he or any of his classmates
'could stand with a snowball on the corner of
Rittenhouse Square any winter morning and
take his pick of the top hats
of twenty millionaires.' Had any of those
boys thrown that snowball in 1867, he might
have hit the
top hat of Colonel Thomas A. Scott, the
Cohens' next-door neighbor to the west.

"Scott was a self-made man who by 1860 had
worked his way up from railroad station agent
to first vice president of the Pennsylvania
Railroad. ... By 1874 he was the railroad's
president; by the time
of his death in 1881 the Pennsylvania
Railroad was the world's largest corporation
twice over.

"Philadelphia's postwar industrial growth -
much of it generated by the Pennsylvania
Railroad's expansion 'unsettled the whole
social system of the city,'
wrote Alexander McClure, editor of Old
Time Notes and a frequent commentator on
social mores. This shift troubled members of
the city's prewar upper class,
who had mostly defined themselves by their
descent from old families or civic
achievements. Often the words 'ostentatious'
or 'new rich' were whispered disparagingly in
polite company.

"After attending a party in what he allowed
were 'handsome rooms, the
diarist Sidney Fisher noted in his diary on
February 1, 1866, 'The tone of the
party, its general effect, was deficient in
refinement, in dignity, in short it was
rather vulgar. And why not? Business
people are now in society, here as in New

"Until the Civil War, 'our society had been a
close corporation, largely professional,'
lamented Mrs. Frederick Rhinelander Jones,
who bore several old distinguished
Philadelphia names. 'Some people had more
money than others, as they have always
had since the civilised world began, but
riches in themselves were no criterion. ...
We all knew each other, and had many small

"The jeweler J. E. Caldwell, who catered to
Philadelphia society, told his
friends that after the Civil War there was
such extraordinary demand for jewels
that it was hard for him to keep up with
orders. To his great surprise, he found
he no longer knew most of his customers,
since many of them were buying their first
diamonds. ...

"In the post-Civil War years, entertaining
became costly, lavish, and 'gaudy in
awkward decoration.' The new moneyed crowd,
according to Fisher, 'plunged
into the most extravagant display in efforts
not merely to imitate, but to surpass the
hospitality and social distinction of the
cultured families of the city.'
To old Philadelphians, Rittenhouse Square
became synonymous with the newly
rich industrialists who possessed more money
than they knew how to spend

Nancy M. Heinzen, The Perfect Square, Temple,
Copyright 2009 by Nancy M. Heinzen, pp. 61-64.


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