Industrial Leaders of the 1865-1900 Era: Robber Barons or Industrial Statesmen?

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D B Q PAGE 353

Write a coherent essay that integrates your interpretation of Documents A–H and your knowledge of the period to answer the following question: To what extent is it justified to characterize the industrial leaders of the 1865–1900 era as either “robber barons” or “industrial statesmen”? DOCUMENT A.

Q: How is the freight and passenger pool working?
W.V.: Very satisfactorily. I don’t like that expression “pool,” how- ever, that’s a common construction applied by the people to a combi- nation which the leading roads have entered into to keep rates at a point where they will pay dividends to the stockholders. The railroads are not run for the benefit of the “dear public”—that cry is all nonsense—they are built by men who invest their money and expect to get a fair percentage on the same.
Q: Does your limited express pay?
W.V.: No; not a bit of it. We only run it because we are forced to do so by the action of the Pennsylvania road. It doesn’t pay expenses. We would abandon it if it was not for our competitor keeping its train on.
Q: But don’t you run it for the public benefit?
W.V. The public be damned. What does the public care for the railroads except to get as much out of them for as small consideration as possible? I don’t take any stock in this silly nonsense about working for anybody’s good but our own. . . . Interview with William H. Vanderbilt, Chicago Daily News, October 9, 1882 DOCUMENT B.

My laboratory will soon be completed. . . . I will have the best equipped and largest Laboratory extant, and the facilities incompara- bly superior to any other for rapid & cheap development of an invention, & working it up into Commercial shape with models, patterns & special machinery. In fact there is no similar institution in Existence. We do our own castings and forgings. Can build anything from a ladys watch to a Locomotive. The Machine shop is sufficiently large to employ 50 men & 30 men can be worked in other parts of the works. Invention that formerly took months & cost a large sum can now be done in 2 or 3 days with very small expense, as I shall carry a stock of almost every conceivable material of every size, and with the latest machinery a man will produce 10 times as much as in a laboratory which has but little material, not of a size, delays of days waiting for castings and machinery not universal or modern. . . . You are aware from your long acquaintance with me that I do not fly any financial Kites, or speculate, and that the works I control are well managed. In the early days of the shops it was necessary that I should largely manage them [alone], first because the art had to be created, 2nd, because I could get no men who were competent in such a new business. But as soon as it was possible I put other persons in charge. I am perfectly well aware of the fact that my place is in the Laboratory; but I think you will admit that I know how a shop should be managed & also know how to select men to manage them. Letter from Thomas Alva Edison, November 14, 1887, Edison Laboratory, West Orange, New Jersey

DOCUMENT C.
The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmony. The conditions of human life have been revolutionized within the past few hundred years. The contrast between the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the laborer with us today measures the change which has come with civilization. This change, however, is not to be deplored, but welcomed as highly beneficial. It is essential for the progress of the race that the houses of some should be homes for all that is highest and best in literature and the arts, rather than none should be so. Much better this great inequity than universal squalor. . . . The price which society pays for the law of competition, like the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is also great; but the advantages of this law are also...
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