The Rajah of the Great White Way: The Self-Made Man, Conspicuous Consumption, and Competitive Masculinity in Gilded Age New York City

  • Tim Cunningham


A larger-than-life figure in the raucous, display-oriented social world of Gilded Age New York, James Buchanan “Diamond Jim” Brady was a man of prodigious appetites. Famed for his realization of the American Dream, his penchant for flashy displays of diamonds, and his animalistic appetite for almost unimaginable quantities of food, Brady conveyed a specific competitive masculinity in a time of male self-mastery and restraint – a competitive masculinity inextricably bound to questions of economic class, wealth display, and conspicuous consumption. This article critically examines aspects of Brady’s embodied gender presentation, and shines a light on the wider, gendered performance of Gilded Age, leisure class masculinity by a new class of ‘robber barons,’ and nouveau riche in turn-of-the-century New York City.