Gustavus Myers

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Gustavus Myers
Born (1872-03-20)March 20, 1872
Trenton, New Jersey, United States
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Bronx, New York
Nationality American
Occupation Journalist and author

Gustavus Myers (1872–1942) was an American journalist and historian who published a series of highly critical and influential studies on the social costs of wealth accumulation. His name has been associated with the muckraking era of US literature, somewhat erroneously, since his work was not journalistic, did not aim at popular magazine publication, and took a scholarly, investigative and documentary approach to its subjects.

The Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award was named after him, which honoured books which were judged to be "outstanding in helping shed light on bigotry in America".


Gustavus Myers was born March 20, 1872, in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Julia Hillman and Abram Myers. He attended school for a time while the impoverished family lived in Philadelphia. His father was largely absent. At the age of 14, Gustavus began working in a factory. He continued his own education by reading avidly and attending public lectures. His older brother, Jerome Myers, became a painter associated with the Ashcan School. Gustavus married Genevieve Whitne, Massachusetts, on September 23, 1904, and they had two children together.[1][2]


In 1891, Myers went to work as a reporter for the Philadelphia Record, leaving the next year for New York City, where he remained for the rest of his life.[3] In the 1890s, Myers became a member of the People's Party (commonly known as the "Populists"), later joining the Socialist Party of America (SPA).[3]

He published 'The History of Tammany Hall' in 1901, and to explore his interest in parapsychology, Beyond the Borderline of Life in (1910). In the decade of the 1910s, he emerged as a leading scholar of the American socialist movement by authoring a series of volumes for Charles H. Kerr & Co., the country's largest publisher of Marxist books and pamphlets.

Between 1909 and 1914, Myers published three volumes on the history of family wealth in the United States, one volume on the same topic for Canada, and a history of the Supreme Court of the United States. These publications were frequently cited and used in an academic setting for several decades, with Myers' History of the Great American Fortunes revived in a single volume format in 1936.[3]

History of the Great American Fortunes was Myers' most important and influential work, documenting at great length the corruption and criminality underlying the formation and accumulation of the great American fortunes of the 19th century. From Astor and Vanderbilt, Jay Gould and Marshall Field, Stanford and Harriman, to Elkins, Morgan and Hill, Whitney, Rockefeller, Dodge, Havemeyer and numerous others, Myers detailed the permanently devastating effects of wealth accumulation on the structure of the American economy, society, and the quality of life of the vast majority of Americans.

Myers' approach was by no means "Marxist," and he split with the Socialist Party in 1917 over the SPA's position against US involvement in World War I.[3] His perspective was to expose the legal and administrative enablement of financial crimes by legislation and the corruption of government bodies nominally delegated to enforce it. His work and approach could be compared to the modern political writings of Noam Chomsky, such as Manufacturing Consent, which patiently explain the functionality of modern propaganda models through scholarly documentation.

In 1918, Myers contributed to the US war effort by publishing a book attacking what he called "Germany's Sinister Propaganda," The German Myth: The Falsity of Germany's "Social Progress" Claims. Myers received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1941, which he used to write a book entitled History of Bigotry in the United States.[3] He died before the work could be published, and Random House published the work posthumously.


Gustavus Myers died on December 7, 1942 in Bronx, New York at the age of 70. He is buried in the historic Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.[1]


Myers' papers are housed at the American Heritage Center of the University of Wyoming at Laramie. Included in the 2.5 cubic feet (71 L) of archival material are photographs of Myers and the manuscripts of two unpublished non-fiction books.[4] A finding aid is available on site.

The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights existed from 1984 to 2009. Founded by an English professor, it took its name in inspiration from Myer's final work. The center was most known for the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, ten of which were given out each year for books which were judged to be "outstanding in helping shed light on bigotry in America."[5]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Samantha Maziarz, "Gustavus Myers," Class in America: An Encyclopedia, ed. Robert E. Weir. ABC-CLIO, 2007; p. 555.
  2. Caryn Hannan, ed., New Jersey Biographical Dictionary. North American Book Distr LLC, 2008; pp. 500-503.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Francis X. Gannon, A Biographical Dictionary of the American Left: Volume 4. Boston: Western Islands, 1973; pp. 507-508.
  4. Listing for the Gustavus Myers Papers, University of Wyoming, Laramie. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
  5. Gustavus Myers Center For The Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America, "Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights 2002 Award Winners," December 10, 2002. Retrieved July 18, 2010. Archived September 18, 2009, at the Wayback Machine

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