Are the Robber Barons Still Around?

Robber Barons or the Men who built America?

In recent weeks, I have studied the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age – we know them as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, J.P Morgan, Jay Gould, Charles Schwab, and John D. Rockefeller. If you are unfamiliar with the term, let me explain. These men were given the name Robber Barons by Matthew Josephson during the Great Depression. He depicted them as tycoons of big business; the faces of major industries comprised of greed, competition, and more importantly, wealth.

Beginning soon after the Civil War, an industrial revolution was rumbling in the background. Machinery gave companies the ability to mass-produce their product and make large profits. Eventually, as some people think, big business running the market where Government barely intervened led to the Panic of 1907 and the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

As I mentioned above, in 1934 Josephson coined the phrase and labeled men like Vanderbilt, Carnegie and Rockefeller as Robber Barons. Men that take money from the weak and the poor. In my recent research, I have seen an uptick in positive information about the ‘robber barons,’ mostly in works published after what our generation knows as the financial crash of 2008. The most recent being the History Channel’s “Men who built America” series (which was amazing!).

I worry constantly that we do not think about our history and how it repeats in different forms. Why are we trying to glorify the tycoons of industry from the Gilded Age as the financial crisis from 2008 still looms? Was “too big to fail” evident then? Are we not being hypocritical to look over a hundred years in the past at big business (in favor almost) but not look at what is in our backyard and what possibly caused the Real Estate bubble, the banking issues, AIG and the major car manufacturer’s collapse?

As states petition the government to secede from the country, I leave this open for discussion. Should we blame the President or should we blame ourselves for letting history repeat?

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2 thoughts on “Are the Robber Barons Still Around?

  1. Why propose the question about the President and the national debt on a post that started out talking about Robber Barons. You hinted at what seems to be a more topical argument at the beginning of your penultimate paragraph. Should the Robber Barons be looked at as greedy power mongers that sought personal gain over all else, or should they be seen as nation builders whose dedication to their visions helped create our modern nation and helped cement the ideal of the “American Dream”?

    What about Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth,” or the philanthropic efforts of the Robber Barons, do they make up for their business decisions that forced fellow Americans out of their jobs?

    Sorry if I seem preachy or anything, but I think if your goal is to start historical dialogues, shouldn’t it be topical to your original post? Otherwise it just seems that you have wasted your time talking about the Gilded Age when you wanted to know people’s thoughts on our current economic state?

  2. Thanks for your comment Z. Our goals on our blog are to entertain but also to provide some thought provoking topics. We strive to reach a variety of people that are interested in history or might carry an interest. Ideally, we don’t want to be stiff and steer away from certain topics. Again, the introduction was simply that.. an introduction.. it wasn’t to school everyone about the pure history of the so-called ‘robber barons’. This post was merely to provoke thought about the current uprise of positive works to reframe these men and how it might apply to the current situation. We write not to provide abstracts with multiple page article submissions, but to educate and entertain people that might not be as involved with history as we are, or evidently, as you are too!

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