Considered to be one of the foremost of the robber barons
in the middle to late 1800's.
Born on a farm in Roxbury, New York and taught himself the basics of surveying. By the time he reached the age of 21 he had prepared several county maps, written a local history and saved about five thousand dollars, a large sum at the time. Between 1856 and 1860 he operated a tannery but the call of Wall Street enticed him to join a brokerage house. Prior to his joining the brokerage, he had made some modest and what turned out to be profitable investments in several local railroads.
In 1867, Daniel Drew, treasurer and longtime director of the Erie Railroad added Gould and one James Fisk to the Erie board of directors. Enter the infamous Cornelius Vanderbilt of New York Central fame. When he sought to buy control of the Erie Railroad, the battle was on. Gould, Fisk, and Drew quickly issued thousands of shares of new, watered down stock. In reaction, Vanderbilt obtained an arrest warrant for all three of them. Not to be deterred, they shifted the company headquarters to Jersey City in order to avoid arrest. Gould convinced the state legislature in Albany (probably through some well placed bribes) to go ahead and authorize the stock. Eventually they settled with Vanderbilt but rumor has it that he was heard to mutter that his tribulations and dealings with Gould "has learned me never to kick a skunk".
Not one to miss out on a perceived opportunity, Gould and Fisk conspired with the brother in law of President Ulysses S. Grant to corner the gold market. This caused what is/was called Black Friday on September 24, 1869. All the while, Gould continued to loot the Erie until he left in 1872. His reputation was intact as one of the premier financial predators of the age.
Gould, possessing a fortune, now aimed his sights westward, his target, the railroads. In the twenty or so years after 1872 he was a director in seventeen major lines and the president of five. He had purchased much of the available Union Pacific stock and controlled their roads until 1878. At first, Gould brought some management improvement to Union Pacific but later blackmailed them. He threatened to have his Kansas Pacific Railroad build a competitor/nuisance line to Utah thereby stealing some of Union Pacifics routes.
Gould also maintained major holdings in an around New York, owning the New York World and major investments in New York City's elevated railroads and several large telegraph companies, including Western Union.
In the last years of his life, Gould suffered from tuberculosis and died of the same at the tender age of 57. Its estimated he left a fortune of about 77 million to his six children.