Captains of Industry vs. Robber Barons In the years following the Civil War, the American economy was suffering from extreme disorder. However, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, important leaders of American industry arose, essentially transforming the American financial system from chaos to efficiency.
These powerful men shaped America into a world superpower and the country’s economy sparked jealous across the globe. Their contributions to business positively affected not only the United States’ economy, but society as well. Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller reflect the industrial age of America. Although some may argue these industrialists were “robber barons,” these men were, in reality, “captains of industry” utilizing modern business practices and technology which provided both cheap products and job opportunities for the public, as well as becoming large-scale philanthropists and contributing much to American society.
Carnegie became the head of the steel industry by founding the Carnegie steel company in the 1870s. He employed the use of new technology which modernized his business strategies. The use of modern technology such as the Bessemer-process among other inventions led to increased productivity, and, in turn, cheaper goods for the American public.
These innovations also led to an efficient mass production of steel for railroads, positively influencing transportation as well as westward expansion. Furthermore, the speed at which the production of steel allowed for the construction of railroads instituted infrastructure necessary for the future. Carnegie’s steel industry was clearly technologically ahead of the competition of his time. Rockefeller sparked efficiency in the oil industry as he created the Standard Oil Company. Like Carnegie, Rockefeller modernized his business ventures by emphasizing the use of modern chemistry. His goal was to spread efficiency and organization throughout every company he owned and operated.
Through Rockefeller’s efforts, the chaos of the oil industry was transformed into order and stability. His influence in this industry led to the creation of a myriad of products for the public which only bettered their ways of life. Similar to Carnegie, Rockefeller also fostered lower prices for oil, making light cheap and available to the public as the oil was mainly utilized in kerosene lamps. His Standard Oil Company served as precursor of America’s economic success both at home and on an international level. American society is constantly evolving and changing, but has been consistently shaped by the American economy. The American dream of “rags to riches” drove production and allowed for the rapid rise of industry under the theory of Social Darwinism. The ideas of vertical integration, horizontal integration, and monopoly led to the expansion of railroads, the use of kerosene from refined oil to light homes, and the American domination of the steel industry. These recently introduced concepts and their repercussions are indebted to the businessmen who sought to manipulate and dominate the industry.
Despite beginnings in poverty, determination and innovation led to Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller becoming the most know industrialists. Both Carnegie and Rockefeller were not afraid to make changes to their own industries in order to increase productivity levels and profit. There were many wealthy businessmen of the 19th century, but Carnegie and Rockefeller’s generous donations of wealth set them apart as many of the institutions established by these men live on today. Carnegie used his vast fortune to establish over 3,000 public libraries and institutions of higher learning, including the development of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace The Hague Palace of Peace in the Netherlands. By his death in 1919, he had given away more than $350 million, or approximately 90% of his wealth. Though despite claims of charitable donations as an attempt to soothe a guilty conscience, it is undeniable that Carnegie’s contributions had a positive effect on society.
Rockefeller also donated more than half a billion dollars to various educational, religious and scientific causes.