During the latter part of the 19th Century, industrial growth was allowed to proceed at an almost unregulated pace. With recent advancements in technology to spur industrial growth, the government had no rulings on how far in big business is too far. The four main business leaders of the time: Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie. These men were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in America and the ways that they reached their levels of wealth were sometimes questionable and other times outright unethical.
In the early days of business in America, there was only one industry talking bout, and that was railroads. Cornelius Vanderbilt spearheaded the expansion of railroads into the West, but his methods weren’t completely reasonable. While expanding his empire, he encountered that his competitors wouldn’t uphold their side of a contract. Instead of bringing the issue to court, he decided to settle it personally. He shut down the Albany Bridge, the only rail into New York City and which he controlled, forcing them to comply or go out of business.
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He was willing to cut the largest American city supply of almost everything to settle a feud with another company. There are also examples of him selling ships to the U. S. Ana that were newsworthy. Some sank before they even reached the sea. The lengths he was capable of going to for money were great but he was willing to hurt the economy and even swindle the government for money. Vanderbilt was without a doubt known as a major Robber Baron of his time. The next emerging industry in the country was oil, petroleum, black gold; call it what you want.
A young, innovative business man from Ohio was looking for an opportunity. His name was John D. Rockefeller. He was given a deal with Vanderbilt to increase the size of his company. He used this power to drive his competitors out of business and then buying them, growing his company in the process. He once closed a plant in Pittsburgh to get revenge on a railroad who charged drastically higher prices than what was agreed upon. This led to many workers being laid off and even riots. Rockefeller once said “Competition is a sin”.
He lived how he preached, grinding his competitors into the ground. When Standard Oil was finally found guilty under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, it was forced to split apart. Even so, Rockefeller, in the fine ring of the agreement, gave himself large shares of stock and a portion of whatever profits are made by each of the created companies. The acts of demolishing his own production and the Jobs of workers to get revenge on another company as well as the creation of an illegal monopoly are why he is regarded as being a Robber Baron of his time.
One man who made his way from the very bottom to the top was Andrew Carnegie. He started working for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company when he was a boy to support his family. He quickly advanced up the ranks of the company and became second-in-command to Tom Scott, the president of the railroad. Carnegie soon opened his first steel mill to provide Scott with materials for rails and bridges. His company expanded as the demand for steel increased. He built more factories to increase production but to keep profits up, he needed to lower wages and increase someone to do it for him.
He eventually sold his company to J. P. Morgan and donated most of the money to public works such as libraries, museums, and concert halls. His selfless acts of philanthropy and refusal to do the dirty work himself are why he is considered a pioneering Captain of Industry. The last of the industrial leaders of the 19th Century was J. P. Morgan, a corporate banker and financier. His father was a banker a he was brought up to be one, too. He gained power by returning failing companies to profitability and getting a share of that profit in return.
He was highly respected in the financial community and frequently asked for guidance. He later used his wealth to fund projects like lighting America with electricity. Morgan once said “The best time to buy is when blood is on the streets”. He paid his employees well and saw that they had good working conditions. He even bailed the government out of debt. He completely revolutionized owe the economy should be self-sufficient and different industries should help each other.
He was also a large contributor to museums, art galleries, and donated his private collections. He is remembered as a Captain of Industry because he stabilized the economy when it was going under and he contributed much to science and the arts. These men contributed much to what has become today’s America but some will be revered for their great deeds and others will be for their darker sides. They showed that America is the land of the self-made man and that if you make opportunities happen, you can do almost anything.