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Big Business in the Gilded Age

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Big Business in the Gilded Age

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The late 19th century and early 20th century, dubbed the Gilded Age by writer Mark Twain, was a time of great growth and change in every aspect of the United States, and even more so for big business. It was this age that gave birth to many of the important modern business practices we take for granted today, and those in charge of business at the time were considered revolutionaries, whether it was for the good of the people or the good of themselves.

The exact period of time in which the Gilded Age occurred is ever-debatable, but most historians can at least agree that it started within the 20 years after the Civil War ended and lasted until the early 1920s. (West) The Gilded Age itself was characterized by the beginnings of corporations and corrupt political machines. Policies such as the General Incorporation Laws allowed business to grow larger more easily, and with less red tape involved. New technology allowed faster and more efficient production, but this explosive growth of industry called for not only more resources, but new business practices and leaders as well. (Moritz 10-12)

Although not a natural resource, railroads were considered one of the key factors in almost every widespread industry. It allowed companies to quickly send products across the entire nation without using expensive and time-consuming caravans or wagons. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a prominent leader in the railroad industry at this time. He was already in his later years by the time the Gilded Age rolled around and didn't even get to see the uprising of some of the greatest leaders of the time. The railroad companies took advantage of their necessity by constantly overcharging customers, especially farmers. This led to one of the first labor unions in the United States, an organization known as the Grange. The members of the Grange banded together and put up a big fight against the railroads, a fight which eventually led to the basis of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. This...