The Rise of Big Business in America: Robber Barons Vs. Captains of Industry


The 19th century entrepreneurs were Captains of Industry leading the nation’s shift to industrialization. These Captains of Industry made the industries they were involved in more efficient, set fair prices for their products, and accumulated large amounts of wealth for themselves through their efforts.

In the late 19th century, American Captains of Industry were greatly successful in making America more efficient due to their competitive nature and their ability to consolidate resources and create an effective enterprise, even while facing harsh resistance from those who viewed them as ruthless. The enterprises used combination to make their industries more efficient. John D. Rockefeller combined various oil and refining companies, increasing production and making the industry more efficient (The Prize). Rockefeller also created the Standard Oil Company to increase efficiency (The Prize). Andrew Carnegie made the steel industry more efficient by eliminating the middle man (Kennedy). Technological innovations increased efficiency as well by providing faster ways to produce superior products. Henry Ford realized the assembly line was the most efficient way to quality automobiles at an affordable price (Kennedy). Cotton mills were erected in the south which allowed farmers to delegate their personnel more efficiently (Kennedy). Railroads allowed for faster transportation of oil, steel, and many other products to more people across the country (Kennedy).


In the late 19th century, all the way up to present day 2008, in the United States, businessmen have had the right to set their own price, allowing for a healthy profit, even if it is viewed as overcharging because the consumer still has the final say about the price which they will pay for a product. Allowing the businessmen to set prices is good for healthy competition. Rockefeller set prices at an affordable rate for the consumer (The Prize). Setting his price as he did led Rockefeller’s business to become a monopoly, which made it more successful (The Prize). The consumer continued to have a choice in which company to buy from. Rockefeller cut his prices in order to compete better with the other businesses (Klein). A businessman’s objective is to make a profit, and they have a right to do so. Pursuit of happiness in guaranteed in the Constitution and allowing the businessmen to set their prices so they can earn a profit allows them to do this. The only way a capitalistic society can function is by allowing the businesses to make a profit. Ford was able to introduce automobiles at an affordable price and still managed to make a profit (Kennedy).


In the late 19th century, Captains of Industry accumulated vast amounts of wealth through their entrepreneurial efforts in the United States, despite the hardship the corporations and the owners themselves faced. Without the efforts in producing more efficient products, profits would have been minimal. Rockefeller increased profits by consolidating his resources, including oil drilling companies and oil refining companies (The Prize). Southern farmers worked to find new technologies to replace the work done by former slaves without losing money (Kennedy). Ford invested his money to develop an assembly line, which eventually lead to large profits for him (Kennedy). Carnegie combined different parts of manufacturing to increase the wealth of his steel industry (Kennedy). Many Captains of Industry were able to create their business empires though they started with little wealth or experience. In 1848 Carnegie was earning only $1.20 a week, but by 1900 he was taking in $25 million each year (Kennedy). Rockefeller almost lost his enterprise with the invention of the light bulb, but he adapted his industry to suit the combustible engine (The Prize). J. P. Morgan was originally a banker, but began accumulating wealth much faster after his acquisition of the steel industry (Kennedy).


For all of these reasons the entrepreneurs of the 19th century are better described as Captains of Industry and not as Robber Barons.