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Robber Barons and the Age of American Industrialism

1) Do you feel the title The Robber Barons as applied to the post Civil War industrialists is justified? Why or why not?

2) Who among the so-called Robber Barons is your hero? Who, if anyone, would you consign to the lower reaches of Hell?

3) In addition to the industrial revolution which gave such a fillip to the possibilities of generating wealth from the conversion or manufacturing process, there was a significant agricultural revolution. What were its components? What were its problems? Have these problems been resolved?

4) Discuss the fictions and realities surrounding the theory of the protective tariff? What did it protect? Did it really protect? Who actually paid the tariffs?

5) In the post-Civil War era, a new concept developed that challenged the then sacrosanct theory of Adam Smith, that the proliferation of competitors imposed an automatic limit to the price that can be charged for any item. Now, giant industrial entities were developed, whose managers tried to control the market, claiming that the efficiencies of scale in itself would be an effective leveler of prices. Now, consider the possibilities of competition as a regulating device in the period before the Civil War and after it, when the giant factory complexes were being built. Can competition regulate prices when there are of necessity only a few producers? What other check on prices are possible?

6) Consider the relationship among industrialization, the rise of cities, migration, and immigration and problems these relationships developed.

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OTA 105878/Xenia Jones

On 'Robber Barons'

John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Grenville Dodge, Leland Stanford, Henry Villard and James J. Hill - these are just among the many 'industrialists' of 19th century America labelled under the pejorative term 'Robber Barons'. The denominator between all of these successful entrepreneurs was that they amassed wealth using methods and thinly veiled 'acts of larceny' (DiLorenzo, 2005). To succeed they had to exert and use influence among politicians and groups who have a direct effect on the development of their business. This is not uncommon. While it is possible to create a successful business practice on pure market capitalism, political manoeuvrings can result to protection of monopolies. Since back then some of the 'larcenies' these men are accused of haven't been illegalized yet, at best what they have committed to protect their interests are unethical. In such a competitive environment however, it is hardly surprising that the most successful men can so easily practice political entrepreneurship to gain an advantage. At best, the exploits of Rockefeller and company created a thriving American market and brought a kind of order to the economic chaos. Depressions and inflations aside, the feverish activities of wealth-creation by the so-called 'Robber Barons' laid down the foundation of American free trade. Matthew Josephson's attribution of the term 'Robber Barons' to the likes of Rockefeller and Vanderbilt was I think a little to derogatory to their contribution as industrialists in a post Civil War America. I think the moniker only stuck because it was too catchy and has a notorious ring to it but to call these men as 'robbers' in a sense that they stole to get to where they are is not justified.

On the Best and the not so good: Carnegie & Vanderbilt

It is difficult for me to 'judge' these industrialists in that I can only form my opinions based on what was written about them in history books and their many biographies. I have no experience of who they were as individuals and to say one should be 'sent to hell' is rather too prejudiced. At best I can say that while in the course of their lives they might have committed acts that were larcenous, unethical ...

Solution Summary

The solution is a 1,446-narrative that explores and provide answers to the 6 listed questions in the original problem on the topic of the Robber Barons, American Industrial history, the theory of Capitalism by Adam Smith and other topics in the history of American Business enterprise. References are listed, both web and print, to allow students room for further research. A word version of the solution is attached for easy download and printing.