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Robber Barons or Industrial Statesmen?

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Late nineteenth century industrial leaders have been called “industrial statesmen” for the great economic power they helped America become. They have also been called “robber barons” because they built their great wealth by abusing the system, abusing their employees, and destroying their competitors to satisfy their own needs. These “kings” off industry displayed characteristics of both industrial statesmen and robber barons. It is therefore justified to characterize the industrial leaders of the nineteenth century as both industrial statesmen and robber barons.

Because they used vicious tactics to destroy competition and created monopolies, the industrial leaders of the late nineteenth century are sometimes called robber barons. Enforcing harsh rules, ordering long work hours, and harsh treatment of employees gave them their names as robber barons. They were thought to have greatly abused their power. They knew that the skilled and unskilled workers of the factories had to work in order to survive. They also knew that they could get off cheap and pay them less because the workers had to work and would work for whatever pay possible. Because of this, the workers had to work long, hard hours. This was true corruption of the workers, as well as greed on the industrial leaders’ parts. By paying off the political parties, the industrialists were able to have laws passed that were favorable to their needs, regardless of the hurt it caused the workers. The industrialists, even though they helped America become a great economic power, sacrificed morals, in order to achieve their wealth. That was what established them as robber barons.

From another view, the industrial leaders are sometimes remembered as industrial statesmen. They enhanced and modernized the American capitalist system by making the nation more productive and therefore stronger economically and internationally. With their money, they built factories to manufacture goods, which helped people find jobs, and helped America grow. The biggest contribution the leaders achieved were the factories they built because it created jobs for people and contributed to the growth of American cities. They are sometimes also believed to have brought together the different cultures in the factories, which form the ethnic characteristic of our country today.

Andrew Carnegie was an example of one of the industrial leaders who is a combination of both a robber baron and an industrial statesman. As an industrial statesman and the giant of industry, he was among the greatest influences of the second industrial revolution. He was a firm believer that anyone could make it to the top, and that it was the wealthy people’s job to help the poor work towards a better life. He believed that surplus money should be given as benevolent acts to the poor. Carnegie was a philanthropist because he sent money to benefit libraries, the arts, and the colleges. But he is also looked back on as a robber baron. His workers’ wages were too small and their hours were way too long. He should have been more ethical and he should have acted more generous to his workers in the factories than to just the common person. He should have also raised their wages and cut their hours, or given them more time off, rather than once a year.

During the closing part of the nineteenth century, industries began to flourish across the United States. Local businesses and merchants gave way to larger corporations and industries. The rise of big business in industrialism and robber barons contributed great difficulties over American beliefs, practices, and values. The leaders of these industries were looked upon as robber barons by some and industrial statesmen by others. The downside was that the way the industrial leaders treated their employees was harsh and unfair. But they also helped America grow and become stronger economically and internationally. No matter how unethical these men were, they helped the country in such a way that it would not be anywhere near where it is today without them in the industry world.

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