The latest chapter of John T. Flynn’s Men of Wealth that has my head spinning concerns someone I probably should have known about, except that late 19th-century Wall Street lore is in short supply these days. But thanks to Flynn, I now know all about Hetty Green (1834-1916), whose weird and creepy life now haunts me to no end.
She was the richest woman of the Gilded Age, and sometimes the richest person, having died with a solid $200 million. But she was a miser. In fact, if the term describes her, it should describe no one else, or else we need some other modifier like x-treme miser or hyper-miser. This is a woman who refused to pay the doctor to treat her son’s leg wound, so it later had to be amputated. She was once offered a horse for $200 and she was outraged at the price so she found out everything terrible she could on the seller and intimidated him down to $60. She rode the ferry with the cars rather than pay the passenger fee. She lived in dumpy house in Hoboken. She had two changes of clothes, both black and tattered. She would travel hundreds of miles to collect debt payments. She never tipped.
She was wicked smart. Emphasis on wicked: she was called “the witch of Wall Street.” On the smart part: her key to success was rather simple, so simple, says Flynn, that everyone preaches but hardly anyone practices it. She bought things that no one wanted and sold them when everyone wanted them. Nothing was permanent in her mind. So she bought bonds when they were crashing and dumped them when they were in high demand. She did the same with real estate, and railroads. She seemed to have money to lend when no one else did, so a long line of borrowers was always at her door. She offered tough terms and charged a high price. FULL ARTICLE