An affable but ill-educated Georgia farmboy, born just prior to the Civil War, grows disenchanted with his own father's lackadaisical approach to eking out a farm living, and vows to himself he will one day be a successful entrepreneur and provide a legacy to his family. He eventually decides to find his fortune in the bustling new city of Atlanta, which has become the center of the South's booming railroad industry; and he builds a successful multimillion-dollar manufacturing enterprise as Atlanta grows. His two sons, born fourteen years apart, are polar opposites, which leads to family friction and an eventual acrimonious split. The elder son, who is made partner, loses two infant sons and remains childless. The younger son, who has contributed immensely to the company's success through forty years, sires four children and, eventually, well over one hundred descendants. Because of the family split, an ambitious but unscrupulous longtime employee successfully manages to steal most of the heirs' legacy.