Could American industrial growth have occurred without the industrial giants of the period?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is, of course, a matter of personal opinion.  In addition, it plays into a major controversy in the study of history.  This is the controversy over the importance of individuals.

Some historians believe in the “great man” approach to history. In this approach, history is caused by the actions of “great men.”  In this view, for example, World War II would not have happened without Hitler. Historians who hold to this view would also say that the US economy would not have industrialized without the captains of industry because those people drove the changes that allowed industrialization.

The other school of historians believe that great trends, and not great men, cause historical events to happen.  In this view, the actual captains of industry are not particularly important. America industrialized because it had all the resources needed for industrialization and because industrialization is a natural step in the progress of an economy.  If people like Carnegie and Rockefeller had not existed, other people would have stepped in and become captains of industry in their place. The names in the history books would be different, but the overall trend in history would be the same.

Personally, I adhere to this second point of view, but there is no way to prove that I am right.  Which point of view do you agree with?


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