Some historians consider industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, of the late 1800's and early 1900's to be captains of industry while others argue that they...

Some historians consider industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, of the late 1800's and early 1900's to be captains of industry while others argue that they were robber barons. Discuss both sides of this argument. Explain how they made their money and how their workers were treated.

1 Answer | Add Yours

gsenviro's profile pic

gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The industry giants/captains of late 1800's and early 1900's, J P Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt, have been called both Great Philanthropists and Robber Barrons. Each of them, in his own right, is a classic case study of great entrepreneurship. 

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), born to poor parents, had interests in steel and railroads and his net worth (to current scale) was over $300 Billion and he donated almost 90% of it to charity.

J P Morgan (1837-1913) was a banking wizard who controlled the financial world and had enormous influence on government decisions and managed the creation of some of the world's largest companies.

 Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) built his wealth in railroads and shipping and his wealth in current dollars is estimated at billions of dollars.

All three of them donated to philanthropic causes, none so much as Carnegie, who gave away almost all of it. Morgan donated to the American Museum of Natural History and the Church. Vanderbilt, of course, donated to Vanderbilt University, among other causes.

Each of them has been a pioneer and did unthinkable and unprecedented things and took the word "success" to new levels. How they achieved all this great wealth and how only they succeeded and others didn't is often the cause of controversy. Many believe that they used money, influence and extreme practices to bend the laws, maintain their supremacy, and demolish any rival. Another controversy regards their treatment of their workers. 

Andrew Carnegie was known to work his workers and mills non-stop 24/7 to be competitive. 1892's Homestead strike in which 10 people were killed was an example of Carnegie not willing to share his profits with his workers. 

Morgan was a perfectionist and kept people under strict control. However, he never showed nepotism and valued talent. Vanderbilt is also reported to have paid his workers badly, kept them in poor working conditions, and broken strikes through use of force, similar to Carnegie.

Depending upon how you view it, they may be called either great industrialists or robber barons. No doubt, each started new businesses, provided livelihood to thousands and millions, generated billions of dollars of business and helped the US reach great heights and spent billions in charity; each has his own share of controversies regarding the treatment of their workers and malpractices to achieve success.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,994 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question