Frank Algernon Cowperwood, after leaving prison, refuses the career of an exchange speculator. He leaves Philadelphia and leaves for Chicago. The chairman of the board of the largest city bank, Lake City, Jude Addison, kindly introduces Cowperwood into the course of local affairs. In the club “Union League” Frank gets acquainted with the most influential people of Chicago – wholesale meat merchant Arnil, the largest wholesale and retail dealer – Anson Merrill, railroad tycoon – Alexander Rambo. Before returning to Philadelphia, Cowperwood tells Addison about his past.
Three years later, Frank and Eileen Butler moved to Chicago. As a companion to work on the stock exchange, Cowperwood hires a representative of the old school – Peter Laughlin. Together with him, he opens the firm “Peter Laughlin and K., the bread-baking and commission office.” Lillian gives in to the persuasion of Steger and agrees to a divorce. In Chicago, Frank and Eileen shoot a small mansion. At the first reception, they invite Addison, Rambo and architect Taylor Lord with their spouses. All men, like one, are subdued by the beauty of Eileen.
Cowperwood decides to take the shares of three Chicago gas companies. He establishes suburban firms and puts one of them at the head of the former gas entrepreneur – Henry de Soto Sippens. Attorney for advancement in the suburbs Cowperwood appoints General Judson P. Van Syakla, a lawyer and chairman of the second suburban company elects thirty-three-year-old Kent Barrows MacKiben. The third attorney Frank makes Burton Stimson – a young, intelligent young man from a poor family. In suburban gas companies, Cowperwood invests a hundred thousand dollars.
In the summer, the Cowperwoods visit Europe. Taylor Lord builds a house like a castle for them. In late November 1878, Frank and Eileen celebrate a housewarming party. The society does not accept the Cowperwoods. Newspapers are beginning to write about Frank’s involvement in collusion against the old gas companies and his past. Norman Shreyhart offers Cowperwood unprofitable cooperation.
The owner of a network of brothels and the secret shareholder of numerous Chicago offices – John J. McCentee helps Frank to obtain a gas concession in Chicago. Old companies buy from Cowperwood shares on the most favorable terms.
The representative of the high society of Chicago – Mrs. Anson Merril learns about the past of Frank and Eileen and sets up against them a society. After a year of forced seclusion, Cowperwood realizes that he is accepted well, but Eileen does not like it.
In Frank’s life, there are fleeting amorous passions. He really falls in love with the wife of the Danish violinist Harold Solberg – Rita Greenaf. Frank takes off for her husband a new studio, gives them money for a trip to Europe. A year after the beginning of an intimate relationship with Rita, Cowperwood draws attention to her secretary – polka Antoinette Novak. Over time, Eileen begins to notice that Frank has cooled to her. Hiring detectives, Mrs. Cowperwood learns about her husband’s double bond. She beat Ritu, who came to her house, and tries to strangle her. Frank takes Aileen away from her mistress. In a fit of anger and desperation, Mrs. Cowperwood tries to leave the house, but her husband stops her.
Frank sends Rita to the hospital. Solberg wants to make a scandal. Cowperwood offers him money for silence. Otherwise the violinist is waiting for death. Rita breaks up with Frank and leaves for Europe. Solberg goes home – to Denmark. Cowperwood fires Antoinette.
In the autumn of 1880, Frank began to take an interest in a city horse, passing from a horse pull to a cable car. Cowperwood decides to take to the hands of two passing under the river tunnels and poorly operating North and West railway companies. A major shareholder in the North-Chicago organization, the young Edwin L. Kafrat, takes the side of Frank. Cowperwood re-purchases from shareholders a controlling stake at a price of six hundred dollars against the former two hundred.
The owner of “Press” – Heigenin promises to Frank information support in the formation of public opinion in favor of the North-Chicago company. The son of General McDonald, the owner of the “Inquarium” – Truman Leslie wants for this stake in the amount of fifty thousand dollars.
Frank falls in love with Stephanie Plateau – a Jew by father, an American by mother. A young actress sees in him “a great artist in the field of finance.” To meet with the new lover Cowperwood removes the apartment, and he plunges into the struggle for the city tunnels. Bribed by financial opponents, the papers criticize his project, but McCentley, with his personal presence at a council meeting, helps Frank acquire for a song one of the tunnels and permission to build a railway loop.
While the Northern railway line is being updated, Cowperwood is picking up the Western company, which, like its predecessor, is pouring into Frank’s Chicago-based urban passenger service. The Chicago credit society, which he created with Addison, is also thriving. The people begin to respect Cowperwood. Newspapers are afraid to enter into an open confrontation with him.
Stephanie becomes Frank’s mistress, not a virgin, and in relationships with him she also does not try to remain faithful, twisting novels with two old and one new fan – the young poet Forbes Gurney. Over time, Cowperwood begins to oppress that he is not able to understand his passion. One of Frank’s employees, a former Incaayerer reporter, Francis Kennedy, is spying on Stephanie and Forbes, meeting at Lane Cross’s studio. He gives lovers to Cowperwood. Finding Stephanie in the act, Frank throws it.
Eileen hears Frank’s adventures in society and among servants. She again quarrels and makes peace with... her husband. Cowperwood understands that sooner or later the wife will not be able to bear his indifference and leave him.
Frank paves the third tunnel and fights the new Chicago transport company and the one headed by James Fernievale Walsen, who decided to compete with Cowperwood through electric traction.
Heigenin learns of an affair between his daughter – Cecily and Frank and breaks off the latter with all sorts of business relations. The same thing does the big banker Hosmer Hand, learning about the love affair between Cowperwood and his wife Caroline.
Taylor Lord and Kent McKiben introduce Eileen into the circle of Chicago Bohemia, where she meets the son of a large manufacturer – Polkom Lindom. He invites the company to the casino, where, wanting to throw dust into the eyes of Mrs. Cowperwood, he loses several thousand dollars.
Addison resigns as president of Lake City Nation and seven months later becomes director of the Chicago Credit Society. Shrayhart, Hand and Arnil unite against Cowperwood. They collude with the Republican politician Patrick Gilgen, who pulls the first and second electoral districts – Mike Tirnen and Patrick Carigen – to the side of his party.
A week after Eileen becomes Polka Linda’s mistress, she confesses this to Frank.
In the municipal elections on November 6, the Democrats lose to the Republicans. Cowperwood lures Gilgen to his side. The latter bribes eleven aldermen for the financier. New Mayor of Chicago – the Honorable Chafee Zeyer Slass – a big lover of white gorgeous blondes Frank “piles” Claudia Karlstadt.
Colonel Nathaniel Jylis from Louisville introduces Cowperwood to the hostess of the visiting house – the ruined socialite Nanny Hadden, the current Mrs. Carter. Her daughter, Berenice Fleming, an aristocrat to the core, is very interested in Frank. For rapprochement with the girl, he begins to help her mother. Two years later, in Pocono, looking at the seventeen-year-old Berenice, the fifty-two-year-old man for the first time thinks about his age,
Trying to compete with a company engaged in the construction of elevated roads on the South side of Chicago, Cowperwood projects lines in the little-populated West and North. Chicago and New York banks are denying him credit. Quite by accident, Frank learns about the needs of the University of Chicago in a powerful telescope and suggests the rector of the school – Dr. Hooper to take charge of not only the lens, but the entire observatory. Public opinion extols the patronage of Cowperwood. Banks are happy to sponsor the construction of new roads.
Frank is blackmailing the mayor of Chicago with letters to Claudia. By the time new concessions are obtained, Cowperwood’s fortune is estimated at twenty million dollars, and he himself owns the largest collection of paintings in all Western states.
Between Eileen and Polkom quarrels break out. A woman does not like the idleness of her lover, and she still loves her husband. Frank offers Eileen to sell a house in Chicago and move to New York to be next to the student there Berenice Fleming.
Mrs. Cowperwood starts to drink. Berenice realizes that Frank is interested in her as a woman.
In the spring of 1896, on the eve of the financial crisis caused by campaigning for the minting of silver and quoting it on the market together with gold, the owners of the American Match – Hull and Stackpol, abandoned to the mercy of fate by Shrejhart, Arnil, Hand and Merrill, seek help to Cowperwood. Frank refuses to buy shares, but sends them to his supporters, who secretly purchase fifteen thousand securities for the financier. A few days later, Cowperwood throws them out to the market, brings to the bankruptcy the “American match” and is enriched.
Shrejhart, Arnil, Hand and Merryl are assembling a meeting in which Chicago bankers are being set up against Frank and are offered to demand that he repay all loans. Called Arnil Cowperwood does not advise to do this – otherwise he promises to “gut” all the banks of the city.
For Berenice, Lieutenant Brexmar begins to take care of. Frank suffers from jealousy. A chance meeting at a restaurant with drunk Bealez Chadsey – one of the visitors to the visiting house in Louisville – reveals Mrs. Carter’s past. Braxmar makes an offer to Berenice. The girl responds with a refusal. Mrs. Carter tells her daughter the truth. Berenis decides to make money as a dance teacher. Cowperwood confesses to her in love and asks to live, as before, traveling to the light and spending his money.
New York Banking House “Hakelmeier, Gotleb and K.” starts working with Frank. Cowperwood unites suburban railway lines in the Consolidated transport company. To extend the old concessions for a period of fifty years, Frank decides to “form” a commission that would deal with such issues in circumvention of municipal power. The Governor of Illinois, Swanson, vetoes the bill that interests Cowperwood. The official can not bribe Frank.
Cowperwood understands that Berenice would marry him if he were free. Eileen accidentally learns about the opponent. Frank asks his wife for a divorce. Eileen decides to commit suicide. Cowperwood realizes that she is bluffing.
The Legislative Assembly adopts the Mirs project. Newspapers expose Cowperwood in the most unattractive light. American financiers, worried about journalistic appeals for the nationalization of the railways, press the Chicago four and buy back tramcarries for them from Cowperwood. Mayor of Chicago – Walden H. Lewkas refuses to support Frank.
Society gradually turns away from Berenice. The mayor forces his supporters to intimidate the Aldermen bribed Cowperwoods. Favorable Frank bill fails at the vote in the town hall. Berenice comes to Chicago to support the man in love with her. She agrees to become the mistress of Cowperwood.