Who were the robber barons of the Golden Age? - Defined history (2023)

The Gilded Age was a period in American history that spanned from 1877 to the early 20th century, give or take a few years. It was a time of economic growth, technological advancement, and industrialization. Much of this breakthrough came from a group of businessmen, entrepreneurs, and industrialists known as the titans of industry, or "robber barons."

The robber barons were the men who led the charge during the Golden Age and who benefited most from it. As they advanced in the United States, many of their practices were considered ruthless, brutal, and unethical. As a result, many of them became extremely wealthy and powerful, but often at the expense of others.

If you are curious and want to know who the most famous robber barons were and what they did, you have come to the right place. This article also examines why these men were called robber barons and whether they deserved the name.

Who were the robber barons of the Golden Age? - Defined history (1)

What is a robber baron?

Robber Baron is a term used to refer to various prominent figures during the Golden Age. These men were involved in various industries including finance, steel, oil, railway industry and many more.

These men were called robber barons, not out of affection, but because many people considered them thieves and scoundrels. Additionally, many in the public felt that the robber barons' business practices made them extremely wealthy, but at the expense of their employees and the general public.

In addition, many perceived as "robber barons" monopolized certain parts of the industry. That way, they could hold items for a while, raise the price, and then sell those items at a hefty premium.

Who were the robber barons?

There are more than two dozen men who were considered robber barons in the Golden Age. However, five men became much more famous, powerful, and wealthy than the others, which is why they are known as the top five robber barons.

Andrew Carnegie

Althoughsome see Andrew CarnegieAs a greedy robber baron, he is an inspiration to many. Born in Scotland, Carnegie came to the United States with his family in 1848 when he was a boy. Unlike other robber barons, Andrew did not come from wealth.

Instead, he was the son of poor Scottish immigrants and had to take his first job at a cotton mill when he was 12 years old. During his time in Pittsburgh, it was common for Carnegie to work 10-12 hour days for less than minimum wage.

From there, Carnegie worked in a telegraph office for a railroad company, where he quickly rose up the corporate ladder.

Who were the robber barons of the Golden Age? - Defined history (2)

A decade after starting out as a telegraph operator, Carnegie was the superintendent of his railroad bureau. He invested his hard-earned money in the oil, railroad and steel industries, and it was in steel that he eventually made his fortune.

In short, Carnegie would later form the Carnegie Steel Company. However, what made him so wealthy compared to other business owners was that Carnegie used vertical integration.

Carnegie owned every part of his business, including the mines that produced the steel, the railroads that transported it, and the factories that processed it.

In this way, Carnegie monopolized the steel industry and became one of the richest men in the world. He then sold the Carnegie Steel Company to another robber baron, JP Morgan, for a whopping $480 million, making him the richest man in the world at the time.

John D Rockefeller

The second famous robber baron we will see isJohn D Rockefeller. Arguably the most famous robber baron, Rockefeller, was to the oil industry what Carnegie was to the steel industry. After the Civil War, Rockefeller quickly realized that oil was the future of the United States, and he founded the Standard Oil Company.

Like Carnegie, Rockefeller did not come from a wealthy family. Instead, he was born into a lower-to-middle-class family and his first job was as a clerk. However, Rockefeller was wise with his finances and gradually saved his money.

Who were the robber barons of the Golden Age? - Defined history (3)

Eventually he had enough money to buy his first oil company. Then, using the proceeds from that investment and another company he owned, he bought up one oil company after another and one pipeline after another until he controlled about 90% of all oil production in the US. In this way, Rockefeller monopolized the oil industry, resulting in expensive oil and indiscriminate working conditions.

This also led to Rockefeller becoming one of the richest men in history and America's first billionaire. To see just how wealthy John D. Rockefeller was, his adjusted income today would be over $400 billion, almost as much as the combined net worth of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates!

Cornelius Vanderbilt

born 1794,Cornelius Vanderbilthe was the oldest member of the gang of robber barons. Vanderbilt earned the nickname "The Commodore" because his first business was a fleet of ferries that shuttled people between Staten Island and Manhattan. Vanderbilt built his fortune in the railroad industry. He was able to embark on the ground floor and be part of the first railways in the country.

In addition to profiting from the rail industry, Vanderbilt expanded its ferry operations into a full-fledged shipping operation. His ships carried goods and customers throughout the country and parts of Central and South America.

Who were the robber barons of the Golden Age? - Defined history (4)

Vanderbilt also benefited during the Gold Rush as the Americans rushed West. He set up a trust that these people used, earning him a small fortune. That trust, combined with the railroad and shipping industries, brought in more than $100 million for Vanderbilt in the mid-19th century.

Vanderbilt is not considered a real robber baron like Rockefeller or Carnegie. However, because he partially monopolized the shipping and rail industries, he remains a robber baron.

John Piermont "JP" Morgan

You've heard of John Morgan thanks to his nickname JP. he is the sameJ.P. Morganfor whom the modern finance company is named, and helped found the company as early as 1871.

Unlike the other robber barons we've seen, JP Morgan was born into wealth rather than poverty.

Just as other robber barons monopolized their respective industries, JP Morgan monopolized the financial industry. Morgan became so wealthy and successful that he bailed out numerous banks during the panic of 1907.

Who were the robber barons of the Golden Age? - Defined history (5)

However, after Morgan did so in 1907, the government realized just how much power it had. As a result, they passed the Federal Reserve Act, which led to the creation of the Federal Reserve, America's central banking system.

Morgan used his fortune to buy the Carnegie Steel Company from Andrew Carnegie. He also helped finance large companies and corporations, including General Electric. Due to his success in the financial industry, JP Morgan is considered a symbol of capitalism and is highly respected by financiers and bankers around the world.

Henry Ford

The last robber baron we are going to see is probably the most famous,Henry Ford. Ford is not necessarily most famous for his power, but because he is credited with producing the first motorized vehicle in the United States aimed at the general public, the Ford Model T. He is also the founder of the Ford Motor Company.

Obviously, Ford is best known for its contributions and successes in the automotive industry. He was also one of the first American industrialists to use the assembly line in the production of his vehicles. Although we now consider the assembly line concept to be common sense, it was not used until Ford made it famous.

Who were the robber barons of the Golden Age? - Defined history (6)

Of all the robber barons on this list, Henry Ford is by far the least deserving of the title. He was known to treat his employees well and was generous with his money.

For example, instead of having its employees work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for minimum wage, Ford launched the concept of5 day, 40 hour work week. It also paid its employees twice as much as other vehicle manufacturers at the time.

Due to how well he treated his employees and subsequent charitable donations, Ford is viewed more favorably in the story. However, he was also considered a robber baron because he also controlled and monopolized the first major automobile company in the United States.

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