The robber barons transformed American business after the U.S. Civil War, helping found the modern, industrialized economy of the twentieth century. They developed techniques of organization and administration that led to the creation of expansive new industrial and financial enterprises. They revolutionized industrial production by pioneering a host of technological innovations, increasing output and lowering prices.
The term “robber baron” is synonymous with the highly successful U.S. business leaders of the later part of the nineteenth century.
As other avenues of American business grew to unprecedented proportions, the term was used to describe the captains of all types of American industry. These men amassed tremendous personal fortunes by developing huge business organizations through which they could control all aspects of their industries. The foremost examples of such robber barons are John D.
These men, along with others such as Philip Armour, Edward H. Harriman, J. P. Morgan, Gustavus Swift, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, with their colossal personal fortunes, became leaders of the new ruling class in American society. As such, they were often characterized as villainous scoundrels whose manipulations and ruthless business practices were responsible for the vast economic and social changes that industrialization brought the United States. These men were members of the last generation of American businessmen to operate in a relatively open and fluid environment that allowed unscrupulous practices and rewarded them with immense personal profit. The robber barons played this competitive game so well that they destroyed the system that created them, and American business leadership after them would be dominated by managers, corporate bureaucrats, and restrictive legislation.
Josephson, Matthew. The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace, 1995. Klein, Maury. “The Robber Barons.” American History Illustrated 6, no.6 (1971): 12-22. Morris, Charles R. The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2006.
J. P. Morgan
John D. Rockefeller