Leviticus Cornwall is the second-most hated man in Red Dead Redemption 2, right behind you-know-who. The ultra-tycoon has a personality we’re not even sure a mother could love. But calling him an “antagonist” is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a bit rich. Aren’t we the ones robbing him of his (mostly) legally acquired tender?
Our pretext is flimsy. We rationalise desperate heists with delusions of Robin Hood grandeur while Cornwall builds a nation. His motives are self-serving, but this is the era in which monopolistic greed was responsible for lighting the homes of the poor after dark.
If RDR2 is a game about taming the West, Cornwall personifies the commercial arm of that pacification. Rockstar roped together the railroad tycoons, oil magnates, mining barons, and offshore sugar operations, and hogtied them into one entity.
Early Capitalism, thy name is Leviticus Cornwall.
But just how wealthy is Cornwall in the context of Red Dead Redemption 2? Surely it’s not just the tax office who’s interested. We thought a good place to start would be counting his in-game assets…
Leviticus Cornwall: Railroad King
There are two main commercial train lines in RDR2. Both travel through Lemoyne, New Hanover, and Ambarino. But only one travels through Valentine, while the other travels through Rhodes. By waiting in those two cities, we were able to do a bit of trainspotting.
Not counting the ghost train, we tallied seven operating trains.
A steam locomotive in the late 1800s was worth around $11,000. But a locomotive is worthless without the surrounding logistical ability to run it. Every week, a steam locomotive would burn its own weight in coal and water. That meant water towers, coal pits, and sand at every station. By 1930, the cost of materials to run each train was down to 70 cents per mile.
Trains are notorious for maintenance costs, too. By law, a steam locomotive required monthly boiler cleanses and engine overhauls. They were only operational for 35% of the time. In order to keep the RDR2 train schedule consistent, Cornwall would need 20 trains total. If we tack on a few extra for safety (after all there are wrecks all over the map) that brings us to 22.
All up, the value of these assets is $242,000. But even if we add in the liquid assets required for payroll, we’re still nowhere near the astronomical figures of the railroad barons of the day.
It may be a stretch, but given each engine has a number like this on them…
This could imply there are at least 450 other engines owned by that one company. At $5,000 each (for the engine alone), that’s $2,250,000. Multiply that by the handful of different rail lines, and we’re still disappointingly shy of realistic rail baron numbers.
But railroads are far from Cornwall’s only source of income…
Leviticus Cornwall: Oil Tycoon
While the early train mission may introduce Cornwall as a railroad tycoon, his main source of income was undoubtedly oil. Indeed, his Prominent Americans cigarette card describes him as “Oil Tycoon,” with derricks in the background.
The evidence points to Cornwall representing the preeminent oil baron of the day and America’s richest man by some margin, John D. Rockefeller.
This is around the time that Rockefeller and his associates formed Standard Oil, known by the entire world for its distinct blue barrels. These barrels were so recognisable that the Austro-Hungarian empire would later distribute poor quality oil in them so the Standard Oil name would be damaged (or… tar-nished? Sorry).
Not only did the blue barrel represent high quality oil, it’s a symbol of controlling adjacent industries. Rockefeller more than halved the cost of barrels by purchasing forest and making them himself. These practices allowed Standard Oil to drive prices so low that citizens could light their homes for one cent per hour — making nighttime activities accessible to poor homes for the first time.
Cornwall is no stranger to vertical integration — and he has the same baby blue branded barrels as Rockefeller:
Controlling the adjacent industries of railroads and coal, Cornwall also wasn’t beholden to transport or fuel markups.
There’s some small competition in the oil market in RDR2. The oil derrick in the Heartlands belongs to an insignificant competitor. But the structure is abandoned – perhaps destroyed – and this note is found on a corpse:
It’s possible Leviticus Cornwall was up to foul play. But this was also a period of amateur oil diggers fantasising of striking it rich, and many folks were silly enough to light a cigarette close to their breach. That oil business sure can rock-a-feller.
However, because there’s only one Cornwall Kerosene & Tar Plant on the map in RDR2, our problem persists — counting assets simply won’t get us to where we need to be, even if we include his mining operation in Annesburg and shady sugar operation in Guarma. But there might be another way to calculate his wealth…
Observed Wealth vs Implied Wealth
Combining the in-game assets such as locomotives, trams, the steamboat Malvina, and oil derricks, we come up with a figure around $400,000, which would be around $12 billion today.
That’s nowhere near the barons of the day, and there are plenty of unknowns. How liquid was Cornwall? Was his steamboat empire as much of a monopoly? How big was his investment in Annesburg? Or Guarma? How much real estate on RDR2’s map could Cornwall own?
Another option is to treat each asset as if it implies much more. Just as the states of RDR2’s landscape are combinations of real states, and its main characters are combinations of real figures, perhaps that one kerosene & tar plant implies many more. In which case, a more accurate estimate could come from the net worth of everyone Cornwall represents.
Although it might seem simplistic to combine the wealth of all these magnates into one Scrooge McDuck gold coin swimming pool, remember that Leviticus Cornwall faces minimal competition in RDR2. He’s worth what the following figures would be if they operated as one person:
These are the period’s relevant oil tycoons, heads of various rail lines, and mining moguls, plus Vanderbilt for the steamboat fleet. When combined, we’re left with a character that is personally responsible for around 11.67% of US GDP.
John D. Rockefeller alone was worth more than one could hope to spend. Anything was already possible for him, so for Cornwall, anything was… more possible?
You and What Army of Pinkertons
So what would that unthinkable wealth enable in 1899?
To put it into perspective, the entire Lousiana Purchase of 1803 was worth around $15 million. Between then and 1899, the US actually experienced deflation — meaning in Cornwall’s day, that’d be worth $11 million. While the middle third of the US wouldn’t be for sale by then, it’s feasible Cornwall could have headed west and bought more land than a mid-sized country.
He’d be able to protect it, too.
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was (and still is) a real agency that provided anything from small security details to the large-scale activities of a private military contractor. With 2,000 agents and 30,000 reserves, it grew larger than the US Army. Around the time of RDR2, Ohio outlawed the agency, fearing it could challenge the government by force.
Some might think it’s far-fetched when Cornwall hires the Pinkertons to hunt down Dutch van der Linde. But this actually happened.
E.H. Harriman’s train was robbed by Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch in a very similar scene to RDR2‘s first train robbery. The bandits spoke to an employee through the door who wouldn’t open up, so they used dynamite.
It later happened again, with the exact same employee behind the door. Harriman’s response was to pay the Pinkertons to chase them down.
So if Cornwall was capable of buying a sizeable chunk of America and staffing it with a militia larger than the US Army, perhaps the only thing stopping him from creating the nation-state of Cornwallia is the casual, murderous violence of Dutch van der Linde.
That, and one more thing…
Too Big To Scale
Despite Cornwall’s unparalleled success in every industry available to him, it’s this very dominance that would have severely hurt him. Had he survived, of course.
In 1890 – nine years before the events of RDR2 – the Sherman Antitrust Act was introduced to restrict monopolies that abused their power to maintain dominance. By this point in real life, Standard Oil had captured 90% of the US oil market. This scale allowed it exclusive benefits, such as heavy discounts on rail transport.
In RDR2, of course, Cornwall wouldn’t need discounts on rail transport. Because he owns the rail transport.
It took until 1909 for the Justice Department to split up Standard Oil into 34 independent companies. If that can happen at a time when over 100 oil companies exist, you can bet the anti-monopolistic gavel would be swinging towards Cornwall’s uncontested dominance in multiple connected industries.
It’s debatable how battered Cornwall’s personal wealth would have been after being forcefully split by the government. Afterwards, he’d have a downhill economy and eventually the Great Depression to look forward to.
Thanks to Dutch, he never saw his own empire decline.