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Born in New York City on August 12, 1856, James Buchanan Brady's parents probably never had a clue that their son would amass a great fortune and be known all over the city for his lavish behavior.

Brady was educated at public schools and began working as a bellhop and a messenger for the New York Central Railway at an early age. He then worked at several positions for the railway, finally settling on selling railway equipment when he was twenty-three years old. He went to work for the Manning, Maxwell, and Moore manufacturing company and started earning commissions, which he promptly turned into more cash by beginning his own metal-saw manufacturing business. The success of his company was outstanding, and his saws were used everywhere.

But he loved railway cars most and his knowledge of the transportation system helped get him a job for Fox Pressed Steel Car Company, a British company. As time went on, he became known in the field and was offered directorships or presidencies for other companies as well. He was vice-president of the Standard Car Company. By the time he was forty-five, his fortune was huge.

Brady indulged his tastes for fine food, wine, and especially diamonds. He began collecting diamond jewelry and wore it everywhere, hence the name "Diamond Jim." He wore many diamonds at one time, on ties, vests, cuff links, and even as a topping for his cane. Many people imitated Brady, including Pearl Jim Murray, who collected pearls the way Brady collected diamonds. Brady was kind to all his copycats, often entertaining them with luxurious dinners and parties. He loved being seen with showgirls, who hung onto him like moss to a rock. Lillian Russell was his favorite date.

His appetite for gourmet food was insatiable, and he gorged himself at restaurants and parties. One night's meal might consist of several crabs, many lobsters and oysters, several meat dishes, and two or more whole fowl. He drank huge amounts of orange juice with his meals. His lifestyle caught up with him, though. Brady first consulted doctors for stomach diseases brought on by his uncontrollable eating habits: diabetes, heart and urinary problems, and high blood pressure. His prostate was swollen beyond belief. His stomach was six times the size of a normal person's stomach. After a new technique at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore helped clean the prostate, Brady went back to New York and lived lavishly for another five years.

But on April 13, 1917, Brady died of complications of his diseases. He left most of his wealth to Johns Hopkins and New York Hospital to help found medical institutes in his name.