Last week in history class I learned about John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. These two extremely wealthy businessmen monopolized the steel and oil industries in the United States. Both men can be considered captains of industry and/or robber barons based on their actions while controlling each of their respective industries. Captains of industry is the term used to describe people who were respected leaders of industry who were liked for their positive actions. Robber barons were captains of industry who were disliked, corrupt, cruel, and unsportsmanlike industry leaders. My history class came up with our own essential question for this unit. Our question asked, “Were Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller robber barons or captains of industry?” In order to answer this question we watched several videos on ABC-CLIO and then read biographies about the two men. After several days of analysis my group and I came to a decision about these two men. We decided that Andrew Carnegie has characteristics that make him a captain of industry, while John Rockefeller is both a captain of industry and a robber baron.
Andrew Carnegie, the overall better-liked of the two men, was a captain of industry. Carnegie had humble beginnings as an immigrant child, but he climbed the social ladder and became involved
in the production of steel. Thanks to Carnegie, the
United States exceeded Britain in steel production by 1900. Carnegie took
advantage of an economic depression to buy up rich iron deposits. Carnegie controlled
every part of steel production from the raw materials to transportation,
manufacturing, and sales. Carnegie believed that certain men were made rich by God so that they could use their money to benefit the public. This ideology is called the “Gospel of Wealth.” He believed that having and worshipping excessive amounts
money was unhealthy and wrong, so he donated large sums of his fortune to
philanthropic organizations. He built hundreds of libraries and founded Carnegie
Mellon University, and the Tuskegee Institute.
John Rockefeller monopolized the oil industry by partaking in actions that classify him as both a robber baron and a captain of industry. Rockefeller can be considered a robber baron for his actions as he expanded his small oil company into a monopoly. Rockefeller expanded by buying up his partners and rivals that were struggling after the civil war. Rockefeller believed in the “Gifts of the Great creator,” which was the idea that it was the responsibility of men to drill and refine oil. Rockefeller used intimidation and bribery of politicians to keep the cost of shipping his oil to a minimum. Whenever Rockefeller was challenged by rival oil companies he would drop his oil prices to such a low rate that the other company would go out of business. Rockefeller would then buy up the companies that he ruined, thus adding to his oil monopoly. Although not very well liked, Rockefeller can still be considered a captain of industry for his large donations to public service organizations and to schools.
|A political cartoon by Udo Keppler depicts Rockefeller's giant oil tank as a octopus destroying the government and many different industries.|
Both of these men robber barons or not made huge contributions to American society. I enjoyed the freedom that my class was given about how we wanted to learn about this unit. I also really liked how this unit was about business from the United States’ past, and how the unit relates to current-day struggles with monopolies and robber barons in business today.