Captains of Industry or Robber Barons?Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, were all instrumental in cementing the wealth of the United States. Were their...

Captains of Industry or Robber Barons?

Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, were all instrumental in cementing the wealth of the United States. Were their influences upon American society for the better or the worse??????

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timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When I think about issues like this, I like to make believe these men had never existed and imagine what would have happened.  There is always some of what we have come to call "class envy" when we think about those who have "made it" --- the rich.  There is also the fact that some of these men, particularly Morgan, may not have been among the kindest of men.  But I suspect they are just the people who happened to be there and who made their industries work.  Were it not for them, someone else probably would have done the work. But while they were accumulating great wealth for themselves, they were creating jobs for many and creating the industries we needed to make America a great economic power.  

I think some of what they did would have had a permanent negative effect, but the other side of America took over, this time in the person of Theodore Roosevelt who "busted" up some of the trusts and left a lot of the good they did behind.  And the rise of the labor union movement built on the empires they had created and shared more of the profits with the workers who created most of the value.  So, in one sense at least, it worked out for the good of everyone. 

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That depends upon whose point of view you take.  It was definitely better for their own families--all of whom are still incredibly wealthy today.

However, it may not have been to the advantage of small business owners, landowners, and the laborers who worked for them.  With all business decisions, there are those who benefit and those who do not.  Inventions are wonderful things as well, but with inventions come both pros and cons.  For instance:  take the TV remote.  It brought with it convenience of changing channels without getting up yourself or turning your small child into a remote control.  It also brought with it the lack of movement needed to change the channel...obesity and TV dinners closely followed.  Not altogether a good thing.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's a mixed bag, but I tend to come down on the side of their being robber barons.  It wasn't that their philanthropy wasn't significant or that some of them didn't work their way up from the bottom (Carnegie), it's that the wealth they amassed was done so on the backs of ordinary workers, and at a gigantic human cost.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I do think we owe something to these men. They built our country, and established the systems we have now. Of courselves, the ends don't always justify the means. The practices they engaged in were indeed corrupt and immoral sometimes.