Born November of 1817 as a farmer’s son in the town of Pompey (near Syracuse) no one would of guessed the Renaissance man Leonard was to become. Born from humble beginnings he would go on to make a fortune in the Stock trade earning the title of King of Wall St not only for his investment insights but for the extravagant way he spent his fortunes.
Jerome entered school at an early age. By fourteen he had already been accepted into Princeton Law and by twenty- two he had graduated from Union College in Albany, been accepted to the bar, and set up his practice in Rochester. But a life in law did not seem to suit Jerome and he quickly began looking for a different line of work.
He found his next calling when his brother, Larry Jerome, asked his to be a partner in started a new publication known as the ‘Native American’. Leonard agreed and within a couple of years the newspaper had gained prominence not only in Rochester but across the North East. Leonard and his brother became very well known because of the newspaper’s fame and when Fillmore was elected President in 1850 he appointed Leonard his Consul at Trieste Italy.
The not yet ‘King of Wall St’ spent four years working under Fillmore as Consul. Politics, much like law, didn’t hold his interest for long. After Fillmore’s term and Franklin Pierce was elected in 1853 Jerome left his position as Consul and using a ‘tip’ from the Treasurer of Cleveland and the Toledo Railroad Company he moved to New York City to begin his career in investing.
Overall his career in Wall St. was marked by very high peaks and very low valleys. HE made millions at first investing in Railroads just to lose millions again after investing thousands in Government bonds the year before the Civil War broke out. Overall he legacy was not in how much he made, but the style in which he did it. His flamboyant nature, bold investments, and the way he spent his profits are the reason he became King of Wall St.
Frugal is not a word you would use to describe Mr. Jerome. He invested heavily into the arts, founding the Academy of Music, New York City’s earliest opera house. His own mansion which he had built on the corner of Madison Ave. and 26th St. sported a 600 seat theatre, a breakfast room that seated 70, and a large ballroom filled with white and gold fountains that spouted champagne and cologne. When he lost his fortunes it was later sold and housed a series of private clubs until it was torn down in 1967.
During the Civil War Jerome invested heavily into the Union believing the country needed to stay united in order to prosper. Many of ‘investments’ could be considered donations, seeing as he never really saw any profits from many of the ventures with the Union, but that did not seem to deter the King.
All the expenses of the first great Union meeting at the Academy of Music were paid by Jerome, and his checks for ten thousand dollars each were not uncommon gifts to the Union Defense Committee, of which he was treasurer. He never allowed the treasury to be empty, no matter how great the demands.
He founded and contributed liberally to the fund for the benefit of sufferers by the anti-draft riots of 1864, and when private enterprise started to build a vessel to find and sink the Alabama, Jerome invested thirty-five thousand dollars. His fever during the war was so great that during New York’s Draft Riots, Jerome defended the office of the New York Times with a Gatling Gun.
During times of peace the King spent his time as an avid sportsman. During the 1960’s he took several hunting trips across America insisting that Wild Bill Cody be his guide. As a yachtsman, too, he made his mark.
His first boat was the Undine. He sold her, and then with Commodore McVickar purchased the Restless. He was joint owner with James Gordon Bennett of the Dauntless. He paid one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars for the steam yacht Clarita, which was a failure.
He took an active part in starting the great ocean yacht race in 1866, and won over forty-five thousand dollars on it, having bet seventeen thousand dollars on the winner, the Henrietta, and more on the boats against time.
His biggest love however was horse racing. Jerome organized the American Jockey Club, and gave New York the celebrated race track named after him. In 1879, he started the Coney Island Jockey Club, and in the following year the grounds at Sheepshead Bay were laid out. Jerome was President of the club up to the time of his death.
When Jerome Park ceased to be a race track its founder determined to build a new one before he died. He had become old and bent, but was still full of energy. A quarter of a century back and he could have raised millions for his scheme simply by asking. In 1888 he toiled months before he could raise a dollar. It became a standing joke in the Union Club to ask him if he had raised the four hundred dollars with which to build his new track. He stood the chaff quietly, and one fine day, when the question was repeated for the hundredth time, he replied:
‘I have not found the four hundred dollars, but I have found forty millions of dollars.’
Jerome lived until seventy three passing away in Brighton, England and was then brought back to the states and buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Manhattan. He left his mark on many different aspects of American, investing in the Union army, basically founding Jockey clubs and Yacht races and becoming the arguably the first flamboyant, over indulging power broker from Wall St.
But there is one more way even after death that Jerome left his mark. His three surviving daughters all went to marry English aristocrats. The eldest, Jeanette, married English politician Randall Churchill and gave birth to Winston Churchill himself.