Big Business and The Robber Barons

Powerful Essays
The decades after the Civil War rapidly changed the face of the United States. The rapid industrialization of the nation changed us from generally agrarian to the top industrial power in the world. Business tycoons thrived during this time, forging great business empires with the use of trusts and pools. Farmers moved to the cities and into the factories, living off wages and changing the face of the workforce. This rapid industrialization created wide gaps in society, and the government, which had originally taken a hands off approach to business, was forced to step in.

Many individuals took advantage of the rapid industrialization and high influx of cheap labor in the form of immigrants. Among these entrepreneurs were John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and George Pullman. Each made a name for themselves by forging their own corporate empire.

Rockefeller was an industrialist and philanthropist who made his fortune by founding the Standard Oil Company in 1870. Attempting to monopolize the industry and squeeze out the middle man, Rockefeller slowly gained almost complete control of the oil industry. He formed the powerful Standard Oil Trust in 1882, which united all of his companies and secured 95% of oil production in the United States for himself. Rockefeller was an industrialist who stamped out all of his competition with his trust, eventually leading to Congress intervention.

Andrew Carnegie found his fortune in steel. Arriving in America in 1848, he quickly made his way up society’s ladder and in 1870 founded the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh. Carnegie was opposed to monopolistic practices, but succeeded in eliminating the middle man. He pioneered the tactic of “vertical integration”...

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...elped to widen the rift between rich and poor. Farmers, who were once self-employed, were rapidly becoming factory workers. In 1860 half the nation was self-employed, but by 1900 two-thirds were dependent on wages. This trend caused the rapid urbanization of America, which brought out some issues. Wages were rising, so it was good to be working, but with dependent wages the workers we’re susceptible to economic downturns. The workplace also became much less personable as people began to move to factory jobs. New machines would often displace workers, and individual workers had little power to fight for their rights against the industries. There was always a fear of unemployment, and reformers struggled to protect wages and have provisions for temporary unemployment. As more people moved to the cities and the corporations grew, social rifts became larger and larger.
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