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Robber Barons

By bweiss22 Sep 08, 2013 1237 Words
Ben Weiss
September 3, 2013/ Period D
Unit 1, Essay 1

The Robber Barons versus the Captains of Industry
American industry was on the rise during the Gilded Age. Many different historians have believed that these Americans were either Captains of Industry or portrayed as a Robber Baron. In this time period, a Robber Baron was an industrialist who took advantage of one’s wealth and used it to gain power. A Captain of Industry was seen as a hero to the Americans with a “rag to riches” story. During the Gilded Age, a Robber Baron was more common because industry would not have rose so high without corrupt and evil businessmen.

The Gilded Age contained many industrial opportunities. These opportunities included oil, steel, and railroad businesses. Many inventions improved these businesses. Instead of human labor, machines and electronics took their place. Factories could now produce items much faster and more efficiently. Even farms were producing their crops faster. For example, producing an acre of wheat took only a little over three hours which was a huge improvement from before (Zinn 247). Inventions were to be made in order for big improvements. The inventors of these products would sometimes take control of the business. For the most part, wealthy businessmen were upperclassmen. Many industrialists bribed and used their money to throw politics their way. J.P. Morgan became wealthy a different way. He bought rifles for a cheap price and sold them for a higher one (Zinn 249). Even though the rifles were poorly made and very defective, Morgan still became wealthy. He even escaped military service by paying a substitute. Morgan was very important in dealing with many financial crises. After gaining so much money, Morgan would use it on buying expensive art collections (History). This was not the ideal figure of an “American Hero”.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland to a modest family. He then moved to the United States and became a “bobbin boy” and made very little a week. Being very ambitious, he found more jobs including one as a railroad superintendent. He made investments in things like coal, iron, and oil businesses (Milton 60). These investments made him very wealthy by his thirties. In the 1870s, Carnegie co-founded a steel company. His company was maximizing profits and getting rid of inefficiencies. In 1892, the Carnegie Steel Company was formed. During that same year, a violent labor strike took place while he was on vacation. The strike was formed because workers were angered by a pay cut. This strike was dealt with by a man named Henry Fick. During the year of 1901, Carnegie became one of the richest men in the world after J.P. Morgan bought out his steel company (Milton 63). After selling his company, Carnegie devoted his life to giving back to the community. His essay, “The Gospel of Wealth”, stated that the rich have “a moral obligation to distribute [their money] in ways that promote the welfare and happiness of the common man.” (Carnegie). Carnegie became a philanthropist and contributed to many organizations in the United States. He believed that “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” (Carnegie). Andrew Carnegie’s life most certainly fits a “rags to riches” story. Because of his modest beginnings and to his rich and prosperous ending, Carnegie would be referred as a Captain of Industry and an American Hero.

Historians have believed that John D. Rockefeller was a Captain of Industry. But some evidence has made him look more of a Robber Barons. John had two very different parents. His mother came from a wealthy Scottish farmer. His father treated them with “affection and contempt” and he was a travelling salesman (Heilbroner 78). Rockefeller, like Carnegie, had a “rags to riches” life. At young age, Rockefeller found work as an office clerk in Cleveland. It was a firm that shipped and sold grain, coal, and other commodities. Rockefeller and a partner started their own commission firm in 1859. A few years later, Rockefeller entered the oil industry by investing in an oil refinery. Rockefeller married an Ohio native who had roots in Ohio politics. This marriage helped him get a boost in his local politics, giving him an edge in his business (History). Standard Oil became Rockefeller’s 1870. Rockefeller bought out a refinery in Ohio which became the biggest industry there. He had the largest share in Standard Oil at the time. Rockefeller would buy out rivaling companies and refineries and would use them to his advantage. After a while, Standard Oil trust formed. This trust held ninety percent of all the United States’ refineries and pipelines (History). Rockefeller’s wealth gave journalists reason to believe he was corrupt. The New York Times reported in 1937: “He was accused of crushing out competition, getting rich on rebates from railroads, bribing men to spy on competing companies, of making secret agreements, of coercing rivals to join the Standard Oil Company under threat of being forced out of business, building up enormous fortunes on the ruins of other men, and so on.” (NY Times 1937). This shows that Rockefeller, even with his wealth, was not a popular man at his time. In 1892, the Standard Oil Trust was dissolved because it was violating anti-trust laws. Rockefeller retired with the same mind set as Carnegie. He became a philanthropist and gave his money away for the benefit of Americans. Even though he was generous, Rockefeller was sneaky in the way he became wealthy. He made his millions by bribing, deceiving, and sneaking around.

Industry in America was on a rapid rise. Businessmen took many different directions on how they became wealthy. Many were like a Robber Barons and did anything they could to make their money. Usually their ways were not positive, but exploitive. Some businessmen, like Carnegie, started from the bottom. Carnegie was just a middle-to-lower-classed boy. He made his wealth by taking opportunities that were given to him. He was truly a Captain of Industry. The Gilded Age was overtaken by industrialists like Rockefeller and Morgan, men who would fall under the category of a Robber Barons.

Annotated List of Works Consulted
Goldin, Milton. "The Gospel of Andrew Carnegie." History Today June 1988: 58-65. Web.In this article, I used information about Andrew Carnegie's early lifestyle all the way through to the beginning of his wealth. Heilbroner, Robert L. "John D. Rockefeller: America's First Billionaire." American Heritage 1964: 77-93. Web.This source was very useful in telling the reader how John Rockefeller's early life was like. The article also gave information about how he gained his wealth. Zinn, Howard. "Chapter 11." A People's History of the United States: 1492-present. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. 247-57. Print.This chapter by Howard Zinn gave the reader a different perspective to a Robber Barons. I used the information about J.P. Morgan from this book. Carnegie, Andrew. The Gospel of Wealth. Bedford, MA: Applewood, 1998. Print.From this book I used one quote from Carnegie. Editorial. New York Times 1937: n. pag. Print.Recovered a quote from this article that states John Rockefeller as a Robber Barons. "History.com." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2013.From this website, information about John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan were accessed. Information about all of their businesses and successes were found here.

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