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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gilded Age Discussion Question 2

Here is the Gilded Age discussion question #2.  Remember, you don't need to write much.  Make a point and support it with a detail or two.  Again, you need to make TWO responses to this question. The first response needs to be to the question itself.  The second response should be made to counter or agree (with more detail) to another student's response.

Business leaders of the late 19th century have been characterized both as greedy and unscrupulous “robber barons” and as great “captains of industry” whose entrepreneurial skills and tactics produced economic growth.  Which view do you find more persuasive?  Why?  Give specific examples.

Enjoy.  You have until Friday night to make responses to this question.  Discussion will be closed by 9 pm.

40 comments:

Becky said...

Entrepreneurs as a whole can not be classified as robber barons or captains of industry. Levels of greediness differ from one man to another. Andrew Carnegie, for example, donated all of his money to philanthropic causes. He was a self-made man, and didn't want his offspring to live off of his money for the rest of his life. Although the ways he got his money can be questionable, these donations cancel that out. His advancement of the steel industry greatly furthered the United State's economy. Other entrepreneurs were not so cherubic. J.D. Rockefeller hated charity. He made his money the same way as Carnegie, through the exploitation of immigrants, but his lack of charitable donations made him more of a villain. Most entrepreneurs followed in suit. Although as a whole, most of the entrepreneurs were greedy, some of them spent a lot of their money on worthwhile causes, advancing the United States even further.

Olivia said...

Business leaders of the late 19th century have an equal amount of Captain of Industry and Robber Baron in them. Without men like Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller, there wouldn’t have been great advancements in American Business. No one would have strived to be the best and there wouldn’t have been any competition at all. But once these men reached the top and monopolized their whole industry, there was no chance for competition. No one could compare to the prices that Carnegie was producing steel rails at. No one could counter the efficiency and cost that Vanderbilt built his company to have. In all their greatness and achievement, they were making bank. The top dogs of the industries were making all the money and when they chose to give it away, it was through philanthropies. But was this fair to the general public? They were the ones working in the factories with hard conditions, little pay and long hours. This leads to the opinion that these men were seen as Robber Barons, because they were giving away the money that many thought didn’t even belong to them in the first place.

Peter said...

"Robber barons" has such a negative connotation that I would hesitate to call anyone that, even if I more or less agree with the workers' perception of these entrepreneurs.
Regardless of economic advancements that would change and improve the U.S. economy forever, it cannot be said that we had a GOOD economy. Why? Because people were living on a dollar a day in squalid conditions, and their children were forced to work as well! The "Robber Barons" made a fortune, mostly by selling cheap and paying low salaries, but they could have made a slightly smaller fortune and improved the entire country's economic condition, rather than just themselves.
Yes, it is true that Carnegie gave money away, but he was unique in that respect, and I agree with Becky when she said that "the ways [Carnegie] got his money can be questionable." Furthermore, Carnegie's donations were to institutions such as libraries and universities, which could only be enjoyed by people of the middle class or above.
Rockefeller, on the other hand, abhorred charity, and he only donated his money in small amounts in order to look respectable, like Carnegie. Neither of their fortunes, nor the fortunes of others, actually reached any poor workers, even when "charity" occurred. These would-be "Captains of Industry" could have striven for an eight hour work day and decent wages, but they were too greedy to see that such developments would be useful.

Josh Koutnik said...

Clearly, business leaders of the late 19th century should be characterized both as greedy and unscrupulous “robber barons”. The organizations created to protect workers' rights such as the Knights of Labor and the AFL prove this point. These groups were created to stride for an 8 hour work day as well as higher wages, and many other basic rights a worker should have. As Zinn pointed out, big business leaders such as Rockefeller donated to educational institutions, but these institutions trained middlemen such as teachers and lawyers who would be paid to keep the system going to be loyal buffers against trouble. While these big business men just gave away their money, workers, who technically gave these business leaders all their money, received low wages. These leaders should have given their workers more than what they earned at the time. Therefore, big business leaders throughout the period definately should be characterized as robber barons.

Sara said...

Both views are equally persuasive. These businessmen were both avaricious, money-oriented people, and innovators. Their "entrepreneurial skills and tactics (that) produced economic growth" all came from the fact that they were all "greedy and unscrupulous"; it's intertwined. It would be different if the comparison were between their charitableness and their status as "robber-barons", but the distinction being made is whether they were greedy or innovators. They were both. All of the entrepreneurs provided only the bare minimum to their workers: extremely dangerous and deadly working conditions, measly wages that were often not enough to put food on the table, etc. In addition, they rejected labor unions to prevent any unwanted government regulation or interaction, but gladly accepted any free land or money from the government. These were all conscienceless acts, but they're what allowed the entrepreneurs to be innovative. Rockefeller's horizontal integration, and Carnegie's vertical integration were made possible almost entirely by their penny-pinching ways. The massive accumulations of wealth that these men had came from greedily keeping it away from their workers. As Becky and others said, some of these men were definitely more charitable than others (for instance, Rockefeller only giving small sums away to keep up appearances and Carnegie giving away all of his money still to this day), but they were also largely covetous. These men can not be simply defined as one thing or another. They were not just "robber-barons" or just "captains of industry". Even though most were somewhat charitable, as most posts will point out, they were innovative entrepreneurs that made their way by means of greed and selfishness. Both views are persuasive because they go hand in hand.

kyle said...

The term “Robber Barons” is a much more persuasive term when referring to corporations during the Gilded Age. Although the term may not entirely define corporations this way exactly, it is easier to characterize them this way because of the negative ways that they did impact the US population during this period. Not that there weren’t positives, but the negatives are more persuasive because they overshadow those positives. “Robber Barons” exploited the working class which was the majority of the population. These people typically lived in poverty because of the exploitation by the corporations. Of course this exploitation gave the US an incredible economy that consequently pushed it towards becoming a world power. However, if you are a working class citizen living in poverty, which was the majority of the US, you could care less. Because this booming economy is ironically doing the opposite of what you would expect a booming economy to do for its citizens. Therefore, the term “Robber Barons” is a more persuasive term because of the more negative qualities that attributed to corporations during the Gilded Age.

michelle said...

Both “Robber Barons” and “captains of industry” are extreme ways of describing business leaders of the 19th century. It depends on the way that it is looked at. As a whole, yes, these business leaders produced economic growth, but wages for the average workers were extremely low. Conditions were difficult, unsafe, and a large amount of child labor began. As Becky and Peter explained, Carnegie gave back to his community by building libraries and places that benefit everyone. Does this really make up for all of the money taken away from the working class? Would they rather have another library or enough money to put food on the table? Although people such as Carnegie and Rockefeller believe they are giving back, they are just blinded by their own success and think everything in America is perfect.

Austin said...

In my mind, the term "Captains of Industry" applies much more effectively to men like Carnegie and Rockefeller. Both worked their way up the business food chain in order to get to the top. Once they were at the top, they successfully took their industries to new levels. Sara, one of the many people who think these brilliant men were “Robber Barons” said, “All of the entrepreneurs provided only the bare minimum to their workers: extremely dangerous and deadly working conditions, measly wages that were often not enough to put food on the table, etc. In addition, they rejected labor unions to prevent any unwanted government regulation or interaction, but gladly accepted any free land or money from the government.” Although it is true that working conditions and wages under these men during this time was bad. Do you really think that it would have been better if these vital industries were controlled by multiple firms, or even controlled by the government? These monopolies were the best case scenario for the steel and oil industries. If multiple firms would have controlled the economy, people would have probably been paid less. Rockefeller and Carnegie did what any other capitalistic business man would do: make money for their corporation. Everyone had visions like these capitalists; they just were not good enough to achieve the same success. They were not “Robber Barons,” they were just taking advantage of the government’s actions. If it was not for men like these, the economy would never have reached its full potential. Unlike the government, these men had proven themselves in the business world, and the government recognized that and supported it. If anything, Carnegie is a robber baron because he donated all the money to things that were probably only enjoyed by the prosperous instead of using it to make his company even better. A “Robber Baron” is someone who doesn’t care about anyone and takes others’ money for no good. None of the big business CEOs were “Robber Barons”, they were “Captains of Industry.” They set up the economy to make the United States the most prosperous nations in the world. If it were not for them, who knows what our lives would be like now? Although they allowed their poorly paid employees to work in horrendous conditions, the brilliant business decisions they made to advance the future prosperity of the people clearly shows them to be more “Captains of Industry” rather than “Robber Barons.”

Hannah said...

Keeping with Mark Twain's assessment of this time as the Gilded Age, these entrepreneurs are more complex beneath the surface. It's impossible to deny that some of these businessmen used alternative methods to get what they wanted. Yes, this fact defines them as robber barons, but in my opinion, their contributions override these judgments. A good majority of these men changed the American lifestyle, but a particularly dominant figure is Andrew Carnegie. Like most of the other entrepreneurs of this period, he played a massive role in his industry: steel. Most would say that he denied the necessity for competition, but it was quite the opposite. Competition was the driving force behind his company, and in his Gospel of Wealth he emphasized its importance. Carnegie was a smart man who knew how to play the stock market. This combined with extreme determination allowed him to contribute this amazing product. Steel, like railroads and oil, was essential to our growth. While their paths were a bit "shady," these captains of industry got us to the point where we consider computers to be no big deal. They got the industrial ball rolling, and I think it has benefited the United States much more than it has hurt.

kyle said...

I would agree with Josh in that “Robber Barons” are a more persuasive name for corporations during the Gilded Age. Josh said that organizations like Knights of Labor and the AFL strove to create an 8 hour work day as well as higher wages, and many other basic rights for workers. The presence of these organizations shows that the corporations exploited the working class. If they hadn’t, labor unions would most likely never have formed during this time period. The formation of these labor groups make the term “Robber Baron” more persuasive.

Claire said...

When looking at the Gilded Age, it is impossible to ignore the complexities of the situation and label Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt as either Captains of Industry or Robber Barons. They are all part of the continuum, with some being worse than others. Carnegie donated his entire fortune to charity and the foundation continues to give money today. This doesn't place him in a position of a complete Captain of Industry as when making his fortune, he exploited workers and used other questionable methods. However, Rockefeller could be seen more as a Robber Baron. He virtually starved out the competition, lowering the price of his oil so low that other brands could not compete. Vanderbilt used the same tactic. He offered such large rebates until other railroad companies went out of business and then was free to choose his shipping cost. However, both of them greatly expanded their industries. To say that these men were either Robber Barons or Captains of Industry is impossible and ignore the complex nature of the time period.

Peter said...

I think Kyle brings up an excellent point when he mentions that the average citizen of the United States couldn't care less about the economic conditions, as "Gilded" as they may have been. In fact, it is probable that most people in the 1870s wouldn't even be able to understand where the term "Gilded Age" came from. They don't see any golden shine because they're on the dirty layer underneath, figuratively.

Becky said...

To Hannah- I don't think it's right to say that these business leaders benefited America as a whole. Sure, their contributions to the economy made some rich, but they ways that they got their money was unjust. They made billions off of exploiting everyday Americans. These people lived off of extremely low wages, and lots of times children had to work to support their families. While these families were living in poverty, the business leaders were making billions and living luxurious lifestyles. The gap of wealth was huge, and could have been lessened if the greed of business leaders wouldn't have fueled their ambitions. Because their actions caused many to work too hard and live in poverty, it's only fair to call the big business leaders of the time Robber Barons.

Josh Koutnik said...

I would have to agree with what kyle said, '“Robber Barons” exploited the working class which was the majority of the population. These people typically lived in poverty because of the exploitation by the corporations." This is true in that the corporations took away rights from the workers such as higher pay and many other basic rights. The workers deserved more than what they received since they put in all the hard work for the corporations and big business men so that they could earn their wealth that they received. These workers were opressed to the highest degree in which labor organizations were formed such as the AFL and the Knights of Labor. These organizations sought to give these worthy workers their rights as well as higher pay they so well deserved.

Austin said...

To Becky: I completely agree with Hannah's statement that "these business leaders benefited America as a whole." Without these men, steel and oil, which are still the most valuable commodities today, would have been produced in much smaller amounts. Rockefeller's tactic of horizontal integration was a brilliant (and completely legal) way to standardize the oil industry, thus lowering the prices. Carnegie was one of the few supporters of the Bessemer process, and his support for it not only brought him millions but also gave the United States a surplus in steel. The Bessemer process is just as, if not more significant than the Cotton Gin because it completely revolutionized everything in almost every field of industry. Without lower prices and more production of oil and steel, inventions like the airplane and the automobile would have been invented way later. In addition, massive transportation systems like the railroad were made possible by these men. Without these modes of transportation, the entire population would have suffered. Regular Americans would have been worse off if corporations did not take over control of the economy. Rockefeller and Carnegie brought jobs to the public that would not have been available in any other economic structure. Would you rather be living on the streets making no money at all, or working for a small wage? Carnegie and Rockefeller just followed the “American Dream” that anyone can rise to the top. Never in that “American Dream” does it say that you have to be fair to everyone on your way to the top. These men worked hard and used their entrepreneurial ability to find completely legal (at the time) ways to revolutionize industry in America for the better. If they worked so hard and had the amount of entrepreneurial ability to succeed in the capacity that they did, they deserve to live in riches. It’s not like they didn’t try to help others. Carnegie donated his entire life savings to the citizens, is that not being charitable? In times like the Gilded Age, it was survival of the fittest, and Carnegie and Rockefeller were clearly the fittest. To say that these men were “Robber Barons” is insulting to the ideas that make America one of the greatest countries in the world. To support Hannah’s claim, not only did their contributions improve the industry during the Gilded Age by drastic amounts, but the effect’s of these men are still present today. Laissez faire economics were perfected by Carnegie and Rockefeller, and those same ideas established by these two men have consistently proved to help the economy in times of need. In order to be successful, it is vital that you capitalize on any opportunity. Carnegie and Rockefeller were simply capitalizing on opportunities that they knew would help the entire world for generations to come.

Mat Kolendo said...

To side with one characterization
of the innovators in the guilded age I believe is a bit rational. Because for one, you can't ignore the benefits they provided in their campaign, but also at the same time, you can't hide the selfish bastards they potrayed themselves as. Unfortunately that's the way a succesful buisness runs nowadays. In order to establish yourself at the top to be earning a rich amount of money. It's going to take hard work, determination, and little bit of "luck" as Mr. Rockeffeller would say. (Luck part, I think.) This is similar with the Facebook story. Smart guy, paired up with friend, created Facebook, later deceived friend, and still grew the company to become one of the leading empires in the 'social network' (lol, pun) The story is similar with Andrew Carnegie. The man was an immigrant from Scotland, with big ambitions, worked day and night through railroads I think it was, worked his way up, and became one of the most well-known buisness men in the world through his Steel Company. Like Becky mentioned earlier, the ways he got his money is questionable, but to put it short, these innovators of the guilded age showed what it takes to become a successful buisness men, however, at the same time they showed the darks sides to these ideals and the bright sides. Similarily with the "Social Network" movie. At the same time, they revolutionizde the world of manufacturing. With their intelligence, The United States of America became one of the leading producers in many industries. Everything simply BOOMED. The steel industry, railroad, mining, whatever etc. Their intelligence proved to show the way a successful buisness works as well. For example, the Standard Oil company dominated the oil game. With the wit of Rockefeller, he used his techniques to close out many oil companies, so everybody came to him and bought his oil. This power eventually led him to control the cost of oil, and showed the importance of kerosene as well. With this, his wealth went through the roof, leading him to become the first billionaire. Although the idea of becoming a billionaire sounds pleasing, the closing out of other oil companies and raising prices for his own benefits was immoral. However, Rockefeller showed the importance of competition and determination to help a buisness strive. Yet as mentioned by many people earlier, these innovators of the gilded age showed their selfishness in the representation of the workers. The working-class conditions, dollar or less a day pay, children working, health conditions etc. was unappreciated and ignored. Afterall, these people worked day and night, with their own barehands, to simply help money flow into the pockets of Rockefeller, Carnigie etc. Although is it safe to say, that Carnegie, Rockefeller, etc. did donate much money to the community in the modeling of libraries etc. And even today, donations are being made out of their fund. However, its been about 120 years since this remarkable age, and since these donations are still being donated today, why was it so hard to amp up at least a little bit of the wage or working conditions? To even add to that, the dollar amount was much different then it is today. AKA THATS ALOT of money they had then. Probably swam in it, the deep end, 100 ft. I don't know lol, also Rockefeller still had so much money, that he left much of it to be inherited by his sons, grandsons, so on. But it makes you wonder, why not improve these conditions, if they had so much money? Were they really this greedy? What were their real reasons? Also as well, to add the intelligence and determination of Carnigie, one has to realize that nothing from his money was left to be inherited by his family. He solely believed that in order to be successful, you have to earn it. So with all this in hand, I believe that these innovators were a little of both of the "Robber Barons" and "Captains of the Industry."

Mat Kolendo said...

Comment #2: I like what Olivia had said, that without these men, there wouldn't have been a great achievement in American Business. After all, inventions were being invented non-stop, and mostly by Americans. With the intelligence of innovators like Carnegie, Rockefeller etc. America wouldn't have been at the top of all these Industries. With these men, we became one of the leading manufacturers in the world. As well, I like the idea peter mentioned, Rockefeller only donated money to be respectable, since people like Carnegie did it. It only makes you wonder of the greed he might of had with the billions of dollars he made, instead of improving the working conditions. Carnegie had said, that if he were to improve to working conditions of the laborers, they would amount to Greed. In that they would start buying their WANTS instead of THEIR NEEDS. fashion, clothes etc. However, although Carnegie does have a point, he has to realize that not every person was like this. People were living off a dollar a day, maybe even less. I'm pretty sure that like Carnegie who as well was once a laborer like others, workers wanted to strive and work hard because maybe they too wanted to become successful like Carnegie. Maybe Rockefeller and others didn't improve the working conditions because maybe they were afraid of being taken over by the laborers? I don't know, but yea.

Cory said...

In my personal opinion I find the term "robber barons" to be very accurate when describing many methods business tycoons used to expand and prosper in the late 19th century, although when I analyze the accomplishments they led their various corporations through, I find myself preferring the term “captains of industry.” The key part of the robber barons label is that the METHODS in which they did business cause them to fit this nickname. The political manipulation to gain favors and power, the vicious use of rebates to knock out other competition, and the disregard to worker’s conditions, wages, and rights all fall into a robber baron’s back pocket. However, their ability to construct railroads from sea to shining sea (Excluding rivers, because they were so full of revolting industry-waste-- I like to call it "gunk") in a matter of decades, ensure America’s dominance in the world market, invent a way to create light with electrical energy, turn waste products of oil into highly valued byproducts, establish the basis for large-scale philanthropy, and inspire the American dream that anyone can strive to be greater and succeed at it, warrant the title captains of industry.

I hate to be the one to say this, but it seems like a good portion of America’s history depicts the big guy screwing the little guy while making himself a huge hero anyway. Look at the Indians, early labor wars, industry competition, and (most especially) politics. America likes to succeed no matter who or what she has to trample on the way.

Cory said...

I like Hannah's reference to Mark Twain and how she connected his impression of "gold on the surface and not-so-nice-stuff underneath" to the business tycoons of the age. These tycoons were much more complex behind the scenes. However, if we were to accurately compare this to the Gilded Age reference, I think Hannah has it a little backwards. She said the tycoons' accomplishments overrode the means by which they achieved them, implying that the golden surface sufficiently covers the nastiness beneath. I think this is rather contradictory, for if her statment were true, Mark Twain would not have called it the Gilded Age; he would have called it the Golden Age. The name "Gilded Age" is phrased to emphasize that the horrible side was well worth remembering.

Provided that the name "the Gilded Age" is an accurate name for this time period (I'm building up my connection to the prompt, don't roll your eyes at me!) then it is also accurate to say that the thin, golden surface of the industry's accomplishments does not completely mask the disgusting, deceiving, ruthless methods which caused such innovation. Therefore, the name "captains of industry" befits the pretty layer on top of the Gilded Age and the name "robber barons" signifies everything underneath. Since the negative side of this age is more notable, I think it would be logical to claim that men like Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan are robber barons, not captains of industry.

michelle said...

I find “captains of industry” to be accurate when describing the leading business powers of this time. The tactics Rockefeller and Carnegie used to gain complete control over an industry were new and brilliant. They started from the bottom and worked their way to the top. This inspired many immigrants coming to the country that they could make something of themselves. “The American Dream” became what most aspired for. Business philanthropists not only had genius business tactics, yet were resourceful. Rockefeller found uses for the excess waste from oil such as candle wax and soap. This just added to his great fortune. Carnegie also wanted to innovate the steel industry. He had the idea of using the Bessemer process and had new ideas to make operations more efficient. Without these men, the US may not have become the leading industrial power of the age. Although American workers had tough lives and earned little money, this boost of production put us one step ahead of other countries

Sara said...

Austin, as a response to my comment, you asked "do you really think that it would have been better if these vital industries were controlled by multiple firms, or even controlled by the government?" Yes, I do. In terms of government, not complete, authoritative, communism-style control, but more control than there was. It is necessary to sometimes help those who cannot help themselves, in this case, workers in poverty because of the gargantuan economic machines controlling them. If the government had been more involved and had been more protective over rights, the industries would've continued developing except without as many people suffering from it. In terms of multiple firms versus one huge one, I also think that that would've been a better situation. The opportunities for individuals would've been much greater; competition would've stirred up who knows how many more advances in technology. There would most likely have been an even more extensive diversification of the economy as well. I'm not disputing the fact that they were innovators, they most definitely were. What I'm arguing is that their means of achieving that were pretty lowly. And with your comment, I'm also arguing that if they hadn't existed, or if they hadn't managed to completely monopolize to such a degree, development still would have occurred. And when you ask if it wasn't for them "who knows what our lives would be like now?" I say, they'd probably be the same. But maybe with less of a dependency on the industries that they monopolized.

Olivia said...

I would disagree with Hannah in the fact that she believes that these business leaders sense of entrepreneurship overrides their greedy ways. As Sara said, “All of the entrepreneurs provided only the bare minimum to their workers: extremely dangerous and deadly working conditions, measly wages that were often not enough to put food on the table, etc.” How can you not consider the fact that these men cared for the wealth of themselves first, before all of the laborers that worked in their factories? It seems very greedy and self centered of them to gain massive amounts of wealth and then give it all away to charities to try to make themselves look good. They should have considered the workers in their companies and their needs. These business men may have been looked upon as less of Robber Barons is they shared their wealth.

HeWhoMustNotBeNamed said...

can you say, chicka chicka yea?!?!?!

Jen Hall said...

I agree with Becky and Olivia's arguments, in that, Becky and Olivia point out that because of these entrepreneurs our economy flourished and eventually led us to be a more dominant world power. I also agree with Becky's statement about how they may have been greedy but they ultimately used their money on worthwhile causes. However, I disagree with Peter's opinion of us not having a good economy at this point in history. Our economy flourished and was at probably one of its highest points during this period due to growth, prosperity, new technologies, and dramatic industrial growth. I agree with Michelle's argument of without these so-called "Robber Barons" we may not have become a dominant world power.

Kevin Druffel said...

Kevin Druffel

I agree with both what josh and kyle said, Robber Barons like Rockefeller and Carnegie causes the working class to strike. The majority of factory workers were barely if not getting by to get food on the table. Before unions were invented, corps took basic union rights such as work day hours, paying scale and sanitary rights/laws. Due to the harsh working conditions unions such as the Knights of labor were formed and factory owners disliked these unions very much. Large protest would take place from both sides. In the end unions did give workers the basic rights they deserve but today some people wonder if unions take things to far?

Jen Hall said...

I find "captains of industry" more persuasive because they did, in fact, produce economic growth. The entrepreneurs essentially started this age and they are the main reason our economy began to flourish. They helped our society move from being more agricultural to industrial. While many argue that the entreprenuers were greedy by saving the money for themselves, most of them were paying workers in the factories more than they earned on farms that they worked on prior to The Gilded Age. "Captains of Industry" is a more persuasive view because they developed several new industries such as steel and oil. John Rockefeller took over the oil industry, which is still very prosperous today and he helped that industry flourish. They were also creating a lot of jobs for others. They encouraged competition for a while until they gained monopolies. In addition to helping the economy flourish they gave back to philanthropic causes. "Captains of Industry" is by far more persuasive because they are the reason our economy and our country became a stronger world power.

Miranda said...

i would say that entrepreneurs held both qualities of "robber barons" as well as "captains of industry". in general, the wealthiest entrepreneurs made their money by cutting back on wages and trying to be as stringent and efficient as possible. through cutting wages they allowed for increased profit thus proving amazing capital strategy. while these men should be commended for their innate business savvy and their ability to control certain industries the way in which they did this could be considered a value of a robber baron. the way in which they saved money came at the expense of the workers. workers dedicated most of their day to working in horrible conditions only to be paid meagerly. Entrepreneurs definitely took advantage of such workers, but in doing so brought some of the most successful industries in our history.

Hannah said...

Although I stand by my original statement that these entrepreneurs should be seen as captains of industry, I can see where Sara is coming from. While I think complete regulation of these business would have been too far, having a government with true control would have made them think twice. Had the government stood their ground, would we be the highly industrialized country we are today? It's hard to say. Wealth would have most likely been distributed more equally, but it also would have taken much longer to establish the thriving businesses that shaped our country. In my opinion, there was no right or wrong. Just different paths.

Ryan said...

Many people see the entrepreneurs as robber barons, and some see them as captains of industry. There have been many cases of these people exploiting their workers for higher profits and barely supplying them with the necessities to work with. However, they have pushed the American economy to a new level and made it a world economic power with the amount of wealth being generated in many of the companies. I don't believe that you can be fully on one side of the spectrum because of the amount of factors that are involved. Some business owners like Rockefeller exploited the use of immigrants through their paychecks, and Carnegie also. However, Carnegie donated much of his cause back to the public. Therefore, these entrepreneurs can be seen as both sides.

Austin said...

John D. Rockefeller said, "If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it." This quote embodies the beliefs of most of these “greedy” corporate heads. Their number one priority was to make an impact on their industry. And they certainly did, not only did they improve their industries, but consequently, they improved hundreds of other industries. The entire economic structure of the United States was aided by vertical and horizontal integration of steel and oil. Without the widespread use of these goods supplied by Carnegie and Rockefeller, multiple industries would have never have reached their full potential. The bad business practices that they participated in are illegal in today’s corporate world, but before, that was not the case. The rules were made in response to these entrepreneurs rule bending. Their main goal was to improve the country in as many aspects as possible, if that meant depriving some of the population of wealth, then that is what needed to be done. The riches that the “Captains of Industry” gained were just an added bonus that was rewarded to them for changing the economic structure of the United States for the better. Cornelius Vanderbilt said, "I don't care half so much about making money as I do about making my point, and coming out ahead.” A “Captain of Industry” is supposed to advance their industry in any way possible, and clearly these men did just that.

Sam said...

I don’t think you can label them as one or the other; they are in some way or another both. For example, Andrew Carnegie may have given away his fortune, yet he saw no problem in paying his workers almost nothing to increase his profit and then give the money back to the community, rather than to the people who needed it. However, for all that most businessmen like Carnegie and Rockefeller exploited their workers, they did change the American economy. i.e. United States went from fourth to first in steel production in a matter of years. With the production of more and better quality steel came the building of numerous miles of railroads, which made commerce and travel quicker and more efficient. I think Sara sums it up perfectly by saying that they were innovators who used their greed and selfishness to their advantage.

Molly said...

Both viewpoints are equally persuasive. It is evident that the main motive of people like Rockefeller and Carnegie was money, and they forced unfair labor practices and horrible working conditions upon their laborers. So, in this sense, they would be seen as "robber barons." At the same time, however, these men transformed industry and the American economy, and also brought many internal improvements to the country (steel, railroads, oil, etc.). In addition a lot of these industrial leaders were philanthropists. Andrew Carnegie, for example, donated most of his money to establish libraries, schools, and universities in America, the United Kingdom and other countries. He also set up a pension fund for his former employees. Therefore, although many of these industrial leaders valued wealth, they were also responsible for a lot of progress in America, making them both "robber barons" and "captains of industry."

Molly said...

I like how Hannah acknowledges that although they do have the characteristics of robber barons, the captains of industry are more defined by their positive contributions.I think that this is a good point and also shows that the motives of the businessmen where not as important as the actions and the outcome of those actions when defining businessmen of the 19th century. Just because their main goal was to gain wealth for themselves, doesn't mean that they didn't help America as a whole.

Karolina said...

I don’t think that it is right to assume that all business leaders of the late 19th century were greedy and unscrupulous “robber barons” and that all were great “captains of industry” who produced economic growth. From the standpoint of a person living in the 21st century, I believe that although these business leaders were viewed as greedy “robber barons” by the majority of the lower classes during that time period, they, most importantly, produced economic growth therefore giving them the name of great “captains of industry.” Although the rise of monopolies was followed by the collapse of many small town businesses, monopolies provided many jobs for famers, city people and immigrants. These businesses also controlled the production of many goods such as textiles that were exported to places like Europe, unlike today were most of our products come from China or India (outsourcing). Controlling the production and exportation of these products made America a lot of money. Although workers didn’t have very large wages, they were still larger than in other countries. I agree that most business leaders were greedy “robber barons”, but there is more persuasive evidence pointing to that most were great “captains of industry”.

Karolina said...

To Sam: I agree with you completely. Because they were both, you can’t classify them as only “robber barons” or great “captains of industry.” But what interests me is that people assume what the main motives of, for example, Rockefeller and Carnegie were (as Molly stated). Although it might have looked like their main motive was to make big money, we don’t know that for sure and therefore can’t judge them for that. However, making so much money on the suffering of workers does make them “robber barons”. Instead of giving away so much money to the “good of the community”, they could have raised wages for their workers.

Grace said...

The 1800s' business leaders were both greedy "robber barons" and great "captains of industry." No one title can be given to them that captures their primary characteristics. People like Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller were members of their own private business sector rather than a government-owned business. In Professor Folsom's book "The Myth of the Robber Barons," the author outlines, "When government programs and individual enterprise have gone head to head, the private sector has achieved more progress at less cost with greater benefit to consumers and the economy at large." Although these men were greedy to a point by using communal money and siphoning power from smaller or less stable businesses, they truly were captains of industry whose work greatly benefitted the American economy.

Grace said...

Jen, I agree that the business leaders of the 1800s could be seen as "captains of industry," but don't overlook the fact that those men benefitted the economy at the expense of others. They forced other businesses in the competing industry to close, cut the wages of their workers, and didn't allow their employees to work rational business hours. Yes, they were captains of industry. But their greed is what contributed most to their success.

Ty said...

Jen, while you make strong points when defending the upper classes that benefited from American Industrialism, your antithesis does not take into account some of the most significant opposition. Yes, the robber barons were paying higher wages than what a job in agriculture would have provided, if you ignore the horrible conditions and much more expensive price of living in a city. Furthermore, the industries the robber barons developed could have been developed more efficiently and at the benefit of the populous if not for their corporate greed. According to Howard Zinn, Andrew Carnegie averaged $40 million a year by 1900, when his workers, the real laborers, were lucky to make $250 after toiling in his steel factories 12 hours a day non-stop for a year straight. The rich may have made the American economy, but it was built by the poor.

Agnes said...

I agree with Becky, “Entrepreneurs as a whole can not be classified as robber barons or captains of industry. Levels of greediness differ from one man to another.” Hanna nicely incorporated Mark Twain’s view of the Gilded Age, saying that, “these entrepreneurs are more complex beneath the surface.” And Michelle furthered this point by saying that it’s all dependent on the viewpoint from which it’s looked at. Overall, big business and corporation leaders helped the economy grow. However, because of this, there was lots of child labor, low wages, and there were extremely unsafe working conditions.

Claire said...

Kyle, I would have to disagree that the good Carnegie, Rockefeller, and the like did was completely overshadowed by the bad. The Carnegie foundation still gives donations, libraries were built because of his money. History is never just black and white. Everything falls in a gray era. The railroads that crisscrossed the country allowed more farmers to get their products to market. Yes, ideas such as rebates made the system corrupt, but think where we would have been without it. To say these men were entirely Captains of Industry or Robber Barons isn't true to the nature of what they did or the nature of history as a whole.