John William Mackay
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John William Mackay
John William Mackay
John William Mackay.jpg
Born (1831-11-28)November 28, 1831
Dublin, Ireland
Died July 20, 1902(1902-07-20) (aged 70)
London, UK
Cause of death Heart failure[1]
Resting place Green-Wood Cemetery
Occupation Shipbuilder, prospector, partner in Comstock Lode mines
Organization Consolidated Virginia Mining Company
Bank of Nevada
Known for Being one of the "Bonanza Kings"
Net worth USD $30 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/718 of US GNP)[2]

John William Mackay (November 28, 1831 - July 20, 1902) was an Irish-American industrialist. Mackay was one of the four Bonanza Kings, a partnership which capitalised on the wealth generated by the silver mines at the Comstock Lode.

Life and career

Early years

Gold and silver mining

In 1851, he went to California and worked in placer gold-mines in Sierra County. In 1859, he went to Virginia City, Nevada, and there, after losing all he had made in California, he formed a business partnership with fellow Irishmen James Graham Fair, James C. Flood, and William S. O'Brien. The four dealt in mining stocks and operated silver mines on the Comstock Lode, and in 1873 discovered the great ore body known as the "big bonanza" in the Consolidated Virginia and California mine. The four-way partnership was more commonly known as the Bonanza firm. Together they also established the Bank of Nevada of San Francisco.[3]:144-161,186-188


In 1866, he married Marie Louise Hungerford, a native New Yorker. Snubbed by New York society, Louise moved to Paris where Mackay purchased a large mansion for her where his wealth enabled her to become a noted society hostess, entertaining royalty and throwing lavish parties for two decades.

Communications Companies

In 1884, with James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Mackay formed the Commercial Cable Company -- largely to fight Jay Gould and the Western Union Telegraph Company -- laid two transatlantic cables, and forced the toll-rate for transatlantic messages down to twenty-five cents a word. In connection with the Commercial Cable Company, he formed in 1886 the Postal Telegraph Company as a domestic wire telegraph company so that Commercial would not need to rely on Western Union to collect and distribute telegraphic messages. Until Mackay and Bennett entered the field, all submarine cable traffic between the United States and Europe went over cables owned by the American financier Jay Gould. A rate war followed that took almost two years to conclude. Jay Gould finally quit trying to run John Mackay out of business. He was quoted as saying in reference to Mackay, "If he needs another million he will go into his silver mines and dig it out".[3]:187-188

Statue of John William Mackay in front of Mackay School of Mines building, by Gutzon Borglum dedicated June 1908.

Once Mackay had conquered the Atlantic with the Commercial Cable Company and the vast land mass of North America with the Postal Telegraph Company he turned his sights on laying the first cable across the Pacific. He subsequently formed the Commercial Pacific Cable Company in secret partnership with the Great Northern Telegraph Company and the Eastern Telegraph Company and although he died in 1902 before this part of his vision was completed, his son Clarence Mackay, saw the project through to completion between 1904 and 1906. Commercial Pacific operated a cable line from San Francisco to Manila, Philippines, via Hawaii and Guam, with a subsequent spur that went from Manila to Shanghai, China.

The Mackay System expanded under Clarence H. Mackay's leadership, acquiring several other entities including the Federal Telegraph Company, its radio stations and research laboratories, in 1927. In 1928, the entire system was bought out by Sosthenes Behn's International Telephone and Telegraph. ITT organized the Postal Telegraph & Cable Corporation as a shell to acquire and control the Mackay System on May 18, 1928.[4] Though plagued with financial troubles during the Great Depression, the Mackay System continued to be the chief rival of Western Union until 1943. In March of that year, Congress authorized an amendment (Section 222) to the Communications Act of 1934 permitting the merger of the domestic operations of telegraph companies (clearing the way for Western Union to acquire Postal Telegraph). By May 1943 a merger plan had been put together, which the FCC approved by September, and the merger was complete by October 1943. The international communications (cable and radio) parts of the Mackay system remained with ITT.


Mackay was famous for fair dealings with his employees, and gave generously, especially to the charities of the Roman Catholic Church, and endowed the Catholic orphan asylum in Virginia City, Nevada. In June 1908 the Mackay School of Mines building was presented to the University of Nevada, as a memorial to him, by his widow and his son, Clarence H. Mackay. A statue of John Mackay by Gutzon Borglum stands in front of the Mackay Mines building on the university campus in Reno, Nevada.


Mackay died of heart failure on July 20, 1902, in London. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.


  1. ^ "John W. Mackay dies in London", The New York Times, New York, New York, July 21, 1902 
  2. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates--A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  3. ^ a b Smith, G.H., 1943, The History of the Comstock Lode, 1850-1997, Reno: University of Nevada Press, ISBN 1888035048
  4. ^ Robert Sobel, ITT: The Management of Opportunity (Beard Books, 2000): 59-60.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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