What are robber barons?
what did robber barons do during the railroad era?
Robber Barons was the negative term for the titans of industry or, as Professor Donald Miller calls them, the capitalist conquistadors. These were the guys like Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Gustavus Swift, Philip Armour, John D. Rockefeller and others who rose to the top and ran monopolies or near-monopolies in the Gilded Age (1870s-1900ish). They were seen as bad because they employed ruthless methods to run competion out of the market, but on the other hand, weren't breaking any laws or rules in this laissez faire timeperiod. These guys also gave a lot of money away: Carnegie built tons of libraries, and Carnegie Mellon University got a lot from him, for example. All of them endowed schools and colleges, helped set up centers of learning, and gave away large sums to charities. That said, most people still focused on the ruthless business practices.
"Captains of Industry"--some scholars describe nineteenth-century industrialists as ingenious and industrious capitalists who transformed the American economy with their business acumen. These "Captains" were the folk heroes of their day; faces of men like Andrew Carnegie would have graced the boxes of Gilded Age Wheaties© rather than Olympic gold medal winners. These men seemed to embody the American dream of "Rags to Riches."
"Robber Barons"--other historians have viewed the Gilded Age industrialists as immoral, greedy, and corrupt, and have mustered ample the evidence to support such a view. Bribery, illegal business practices, and cruelty to workers were not uncommon during this period, and many of the most respected industrialists were also feared and hated.
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