To What Extent Were the Business Leaders of the 19th Century referred to as either “Captains of Industry” or “Robber Barons”?
The period in the late 1800’s known as the industrial revolution opened many doors for large industrial growth. With businesses turning towards industry, many big names including those of Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller became well known as the business leaders of the late 19th century. With the immense amount of power gained by these two men and more, came arguments about whether they were “Captains of Industry” or “Robber Barons”.
Captains of Industry were men who achieved great fortune while somehow positively impacting the nation through their business skills. Robber Barons were known to have built massive empires and accumulated a large amount of wealth, generally ruthlessly. Robber Barons were accused of having created their fortunes at the expense of their factory owners.
Rockefeller established the Standard Oil Company. After negotiating a deal with railroad companies, he was able to lower shipping costs, allowing his business to sell cheaper, leading to higher sales. Since his competitors could not keep up with his sales, he could undersell them and enlarge Standard Oil. Rockefeller made other smart business moves such as creating the Standard Oil Trust which included over 40 companies. Not only did he dominate the oil industry, but Rockefeller also was a major philanthropist and donated an enormous amount of his wealth to charities, proving even further that he was not that of a Robber Baron, but that he was in fact a Captain of Industry.
Another business leader in the late 1800’s was Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was the epitome of a self-made man. He was born into poverty in Scotland and eventually moved to the United States with only the hope that the american dream gave him. Being the genius that he was, Carnegie predicted that Bessemer’s steel would take over the iron industry. He quickly created the Carnegie Steel Company, gaining him millions of dollars and becoming one of america’s richest men. His humble beginnings lead him to become the father of philanthropy. Carnegie’s gospel of wealth was a major idea that he stood behind and it claimed that anybody can accumulate however much money they can, but as soon as they pass, a large portion of their fortune should be given away or donated. Carnegie donated over $350 million.
While some may consider the business tactics that these two men used to be unethical or monopolistic, they were simply strategic businessmen who created american industrial empires.