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Captains of Industry

By ru_alex_ru May 06, 2007 1343 Words
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, during the climax of the American Industrial Revolution, there was a small group of men who owned the major businesses and were leaders of their industries. They owned factories, railroads, banks, and even created company towns for the sole purpose of housing their workers. Due to the efforts of these few men, the U.S. economy became the envy of the world, and America became a leading world power. They provided the public with products that were in high demand for reasonable prices, and opened their markets to countries overseas. Although many people believe the early industrialists were Robber Barons who exploited the poor, these great men were truly Captains of Industry who created new ways of doing business, and provided products and services to the public; moreover, they were generous philanthropists who contributed much to society.

Many people believe that these "Robber Barons" were evil, heartless men that took advantage of the poor and the downtrodden. They feel that the workforce employed by these men was nothing more than a group of indentured slaves. "Here was a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation, and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers;" (Sinclair 106). "The corporate robber barons and monopolists of the 19th century stole from the poor while the government looked the other way."(Gallagher) These industrialists made an enormous amount of money from their businesses and controlled their various markets through vast monopolies. They paid their workers very little money for extended periods of labor, and would continuously think of new ways to make an extra buck. Overall, these men were very scrupulous in the way they did their business, and they had very little patience for error and unproductiveness.

Although some of these criticisms are well founded, men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were, in fact, Captains of Industry because they employed millions and created new ways of doing business. Before all these industrialists can along, America was just another country that had little significance to the world. If it was not for them, we as a nation would not be where we are today. The industrialists prospered mainly due to their wit, and the many innovations that they brought to their various fields of business. They created monopolies because they were the most effective forms of enterprise, and there were no laws that prohibited or restricted their use. As John D. Rockefeller himself said, "I believe in the spirit of combination and cooperation when properly conducted….It helps to reduce waste, and waste is a dissipation of power."(Danzer 424) Critics say that these men ruthlessly took over their fields of business, and "did not play fair". What's wrong with striving for success? What's wrong with being efficient? What's wrong with making a product that no one can equal? What's wrong with besting your competitors? Nothing.

The principal reason for the success of the industrialists was their ability to provide products and services to the public at reasonable rates. This was also the main reason that they were so despised and vilified by their competitors and the covetous public. Andrew Carnegie defended his wealth saying, "It will be a great mistake for the community to shoot the millionaires,…for they are the bees that make the most honey, and contribute most to the hive even after they have gorged themselves full."(Danzer 424) Of the many competitors who failed to make such a huge profit as these industrialists, many became "sore losers". They complained feverishly to the government, and to the American public to get restrictions on business from the government to make competition "fair", essentially, impeding capitalism. What that really did was handicap the successful people in our society in order to provide for the less capable. And "A government that can give you everything you want must first take everything you have."(Newman) People got wind of the government taking action restricting free trade, they "broadened their horizons", becoming Socialists who wanted to "steal from the rich to give to the poor"; and Socialism is the end product of jealousy.

The greatest attribute of the Captains of Industry was their generous philanthropy. They gave millions to good causes, created foundations, built libraries, hospitals, parks, and museums; all for the good of the people. Of all the industrialists of this period in history, Andrew Carnegie was the most generous of them all. "In fact, by the time he died in 1919, he had given away $350,695,653. At his death, the last 30,000,000 was likewise given away to foundations, charities and to pensioners."(Andrew) Despite this he was still vilified by the Socialist faction of this country, because, even though he gave everything away, according to their doctrine, he should not have been able to acquire that money in the first place. Even today, the legacy of Andrew Carnegie lives on in the hundreds of libraries that he built using his fortune. He often said talked about how money did not bring happiness, and that giving money away was better then keeping all it for yourself. ""Man does not live by bread alone." I have known millionaires starving for lack of the nutriment which alone can sustain all that is human in man, and I know workmen, and many so-called poor men, who revel in luxuries beyond the power of those millionaires to reach. It is the mind that makes the body rich. There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else. Money can only be the useful drudge of things immeasurably higher than itself. Exalted beyond this, as it sometimes is, it remains Caliban still and still plays the beast. My aspirations take a higher flight. Mine be it to have contributed to the enlightenment and the joys of the mind, to the things of the spirit, to all that tends to bring into the lives of the toilers of Pittsburgh sweetness and light. I hold this the noblest possible use of wealth."(Andrew)

The Captains of Industry during the American Industrial Age were truly great men. They set an example for future businessmen to follow, and brought America forward onto the world stage. They created products that were high in demand, perfected them, and made their production as inexpensive and efficient as possible. They gave countless millions towards good causes, and benefited society in a multitude of ways. Despite this, history generally regards them as Robber Barons who were callous, greedy men who would stop at nothing to make more money. This is largely due to the jealousy of people who were unfit to become as successful as these men. Their jealousies led to the creation of many laws that restricted free enterprise, and started the Socialist movement in America. The government soon began regulating nearly everything "for the good of the people". However, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."(Henderson)

Works Cited
Andrew Carnegie: A Tribute. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. 3 Aug. 2004 Danzer, Gerald A, et al. The Americans. USA: McDougal Litell, 1998. Gallagher, Bill. "Bush Tax Policy Favors Robber Barons." Niagara Falls Reporter 3 Jun. 2003. Niagara Falls Reporter Archive. Niagara Falls Reporter. Mesa Verde High School. Citrus Heights. 30 Sept. 2004 . Henderson, John E. The Christian Citizen. 1998. Christian Citizenship Ministry. 30 Sept. 2004 . Newman, Doug. THINGS I WISH I HAD SAID. 2004. The Fountain of Truth. 3 Aug. 2004 . Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Bantom Books, 1981.

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