"Robber Barons and Rebels" is the title of the eleventh chapter of Robert Zinn's A People's History of the United States. The following is a summary of that chapter.
Zinn writes that 1877 marked the beginning of a period of great transformation in the United States. The Civil War and Reconstruction had finally ended, and the nation was free to focus its energies on economic expansion. The country became industrialized and urbanized. Farms were mechanized. Coal and steel fueled the expansion.
A "pyramid of wealth" was a key feature of a thriving America as the elites became wealthy and the vast majority were exploited. J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and other ruthless and unprincipled "robber barons" acquired huge fortunes—often through the use of monopolies.
The Horatio Alger story is often used to justify the unequal distribution of America's wealth. Zinn refutes this theory by arguing that "rags to riches" is basically a myth as ninety percent of the robber barons came from middle or upper-class families.
The "rebels" were the people who fought against the egregious inequality that characterized the era. They included workers who labored twelve hours a day for a pittance. The rebels' struggle was difficult as the American government and its Supreme Court favored the robber barons. But the rebels' cause was argued by persuasive authors such as Henry George and Edward Bellamy. There were myriad bloody strikes as workers sought to organize and demand better pay and working conditions.