Since the time of its birth, the United States has been a democracy that was pieced together by the beliefs and ideas of different people. This has resulted in a system in which nothing can be classified as “black or white” and there are many areas of gray. Therefore, it is difficult to label anything as a singular extreme. This is the case for the leaders of the industrial period. While they made unusual advancements that greatly helped the public, they also caused many problems that proved to be quite harmful.
While the Industrialists of the late 19th Century were indeed Captains of Industry, they were only able to reach that level by using the power they obtained. More often than not, America’s capitalists are accused of being the “robber barons” of industrial America. The myth is that these men took advantage of a naive and growing economy and collected its benefits without giving anything in return. True, the majority of America was poor in relation to the few high-class people, but the idealist efforts and contributions of these men cannot be denied.
If not for these men and their efforts, there would have been no one to spread the road to America’s industrial control. Successful capitalists of the late 1800s were referred to as “robber barons” because of the common belief that they were responsible for the farmers’ grievances. The weapon of these “robber barons” was the trusts created to gear economic power and domination toward these men. True, these men did utilize trusts and methods such as horizontal and vertical unification.
However, if these men did not create such methods to harness the industry, there would have been no other alternative for America as a whole to grow. The South had already proved that dependence on a one-crop economy was a failing gamble, and all other adaptations were too primitive and needed these men’s wealth and power to grow anyway. The laboring class argues that work conditions were horrible, and they were filthy, overbearing, exhausting, and the list continues.
While this argument holds true, it cannot be denied that if more money had been spent on salaries and the beautification of the working environment, the manufacturers would have had no wealth to shift to idealist purposes. If Rockefeller had not “stolen” from his workers, who then would have contributed to the University of Chicago’s educational and enlightenment funds? If Carnegie had not donated his funds to the creation and prosperity of Carnegie University, how then would the University’s present day achievements have come alive?
The fact of the matter is that if it were not for these “robber barons” and their humanitarianism, there would be no solid educational basis for America to grow from. And without some form of education, the innovations that America’s greatest inventors created would have not found their way to industrial success and popularity. Without the determination and progress induced by John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, items that are part of our everyday lives may have taken many more years to be invented if they were ever created at all.
Their actions may not have been fairly sound, but without them, the country could have been at a standstill for a significantly long time. Their contributions have been upheld, and to this day the effects of their industrial and idealist work can still be felt nationwide. Had they not gained the power that they did through their often times controversial actions, they would have never had the strength to move our country in the right direction. It is impossible to argue that they were not Captains of Industry, but it is also impossible to contend that they did so without also being Robber Barons.
Ultimately, the two are not mutually exclusive. Instead, it is more effective to look at each title as dependent on the other. Had they not been Robber Barons, they would never have been Captains of Industry and had they not been Captains of Industry, they would never have needed to be Robber Barons. Their actions were strategic in gaining as much control as they could, and once they reached the level they desired, they were then in a position to make many positive contributions that forever changed the status of this country.
So while it is true that these capitalists’ wealth widened the gap between the rich and poor, the argument that these men were more like the leaders of a growing industry is even more valid. These Northern capitalists led the South away from sole agricultural economic dependence, but more importantly, they used their wealth for the growth of America’s industry. If these men did not transfer their wealth towards educational development, there would have been no means for industrial development. And if America’s industry could not develop, it would never have risen to industrial excellence.