Saturday, April 24, 2010

Were the Captains of Industry Good for the Country?



Welcome to our next to last blog posting. Remember, we need to write a comment for each posting after the Saturday meeting. The Captains of Industry meeting will be at 8:30 at the Wang Center on April 24, 2010. See you all there.

49 comments:

Joan said...

Once again, two well-prepared and knowledgeable people presented the pro and con sides of the focus question. I initially believed that the Captains of Industry were good for the country, but after listening to both viewpoints, I became more aware of the fact that there were alternative forms of organizing business, the obsession with "bigness" undermined American culture, democracy, and individualism, and that the "robber barons" were morally corrupt. As a result, society paid a big price of the business practices that exploited the labor force and put American competitors out of business. It seems that when technology brings advancements other aspects of society are collateral damage, which needs to be reflected upon and prevented as much as possible. However, the Captains of Industry made the U.S. the strongest country by the early 1900s economically, technologically, and politically, also raising the standard of living for many people. The involvement of the railroad barons led to the rapid expansion of rail lines in the U.S., which played a major role in the economy by having competitive and cheaper prices and building the infrastructure. America became an international competitor partly due to Carnegie’s decision to have science drive technology and thereby get an edge on its European competitors. The bottom line is that these men were businessmen who created an efficient chain of command in their business partnerships, they took cost accounting seriously, striving for efficiency to maximize profits. Because of these key businessmen, the U.S. emerged as a world power. Many comments throughout the day referred to a lack of moral and social conscience on the part of the "captains" and how this parallels the greed that led to the economic situation in the U.S. today. What was most interesting to me was Professor Sicilia's comment that after many years of attempting to teach this topic at a nearby business school in Maryland he has only recently been asked to do so. This attests to the fact that in addition to people receiving an MBA, they need to be reminded of history so that hopefully, they will learn from the past.

Christy said...

If we're talking about the overall impact on the country, then the Captains of Industry were good for the country. They were innovative businessmen who took risks and did what was necessary to make a profit and improve their industry. Without their work, U.S. citizens would have been waiting a very long time for the U.S. government to build up American manufacturing and transportation methods. These businessmen had enormous wealth at their disposal that the U.S. government would never have. They used that wealth to update and modernize their industry in pursuit of the lowest price possible.

While it's true that their success may have been a result of being born at the right time and having particular ancestry, the men made the business decisions themselves. They saw what the market needed and they took action.

I don't like the fact that their success came at the working mans' expense. I have a hard time wondering how these men could earn so much and pay their workers so little. However, the Captains of Industry weren't in the business of social reform. I suppose the fact that they were philanthropists should make up for the wages their workers were paid. They weren't obligated to give away any money, but they did anyway.

Mr. DeMatteo said...

Yes – but it feels like to me that it was an unintended side effect. Carnegie (and the other men like him) was an opportunist – a Capitalist - he entered into business for one reason …money. He made a lot of it. He enjoyed the process , as well as the profit. The market place was unregulated by government and controlled by people like him. He was a man driven by wealth and status. The argument was made that these men established the infer structure that were the deciding factors in both world wars. In that respect, I would agree – but it was an unintended byproduct of their greed. These factories stood as the monuments to exploitation of a desperate populace. The fact that they were finally useful to someone else other than their owners was happenstance.

Mrs. Stewart said...

Debate rages on about the impact of the so-called “robber barons” on American society and industry. Many believe that the business practices of people such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and the like were in fact detrimental to the United States overall. However, I would argue that the captains of industry were good for the country because, as speaker Jon Franklin noted in his summary, they allowed the United States to go “from a nation of potential to a nation of realized potential.” The captains of industry pioneered modern business practices, solving the problems of complex operations and high fixed costs through a management structure which brought stability to the marketplace, and through the innovations of modern cost accounting and capital markets. This allowed for tremendous economic growth in the late 1800s, and provided a job market able to absorb the waves of immigrants who more than doubled the workforce at that time. As output increased at this time, economies of scale and efficiency led to lowered prices, thus increasing the real income of the workers. The unprecedented speed with which railroads were built and markets were connected revolutionized options available to American consumers, and, more importantly, established the infrastructure which would be crucial as the United States entered the First World War. While the captains of industry may not be remembered as masters of labor relations or social engineering, we must put that in the context of both the standards of the day and the process of reform which was begun in that time period and which extends even until today. Overall, the captains of industry were good for the United States.

Thone said...

I think it’s impossible to argue that the Captains of Industry were not good for this country. Yes they may have used questionable business practices and not have treated their employees the best that they could have but that’s not what the question asked. The question specially asked if they were good for the country and not if they should be considered decent men. The overall impact that these men had on helping to transform the United States economically and socially are undeniable. The United States may not have the position that it holds in the world today without the efforts of these men. Men like Carnegie and Rockefeller helped to transform the American landscape. Cities, transportation systems, the military, westward expansion, immigration and America’s position in a global economy all were impacted in a positive manner by the efforts of these men.

Mrs. Cone said...

Andrew Carnegie and others who have been dubbed “captains of industry” were indeed good for our country. These men were leaders in the field of business who helped to stimulate the American economy. Carnegie, in particular, was a proponent of new technology. He employed the use of the Bessemer process and other new innovations which lowered costs and increased productivity. He recognized technological developments and was not afraid to implement them into his business strategy. Additionally, his organizational abilities in the field of cost accounting and management took him far, which in turn benefitted all. Carnegie, and the other so-called “captains of industry,” provided much work for laborers, increased productivity which led to keeping consumer costs down, expanded markets, and often indulged in philanthropic pursuits. All of these factors came at a time when westward expansion was underway and their business practices certainly helped to support this national mission. This was a budding country and the fact that Carnegie’s steel produced more than the country of Great Britain shows that he was helping to build this nation up as an industrial leader.

Mr. Cone said...

I believe that Carnegie, Rockefeller and Morgan helped build the industrial age in this country. Their leadership in the steel, oil, and finance industries helped the United States to expand and become a leading producer on the world stage. It is without question that these men played a large role in the American success story. Carnegie’s steel plants were extremely efficient and technologically superior to others of the time. Rockefeller led the way in large-scale oil distribution, and Morgan helped finance it all. These men were visionary leaders who worked with insight. They were bold, they took initiative, they thought strategically, and they were indeed change agents in this country.

M.Delaney said...

Were the captains of industry good for the country?

On Saturday we were introduced to two historians from the University of Maryland, Jon Franklin (pro) and David Sicilia (con). After hearing both sides of what the “captains” Carnegie, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan of industry did for our society, I have concluded that the “Robber Barons” were not thinking of the best interest of our country. The captains actually took advantage of the loop holes in our newly developing nation. Since there were no clear guidelines on businesses practices they did pave the road for future entrepreneurs and had some concise methods of running and operating a business. However, if there were guidelines and practice established by the government prior to their reign I believe that the average American citizen would have had more financial opportunities hence, “Spread the wealth.”
Maria delaney

mgoldberg said...

Were the Captains of Industry good for the country? First I would like to acknowledge that both presenters offered information that fueled both sides of the controversy and this made it an exciting class. The debate continues: were these men Captains of Industry, without whom this country could not have taken its’ place as a great industrial power, or were they Robber Barons, limiting healthy competition and robbing the poor to benefit the rich? Where do we draw the line between unfair business practices and competition that leads to innovation, investment, and improvement in the standard of living for most? Would the industrial economy have succeeded without entrepreneurs willing to take risks and competition to the extreme? In an era where business monopolies were rarely regulated by the government, men could use any number of business practices to gain substantial control over key resources and/or industries (vertical integration). These practices were not always legal or ethical, but the results were economically favorable. However, the success of these entrepreneurs were also at the expense of the workers who had no job security, a safe working environment , poor working conditions, or a voice to speak. I can understand both views; however I believe that they were Captains of Industry because they utilized their mass fortunes to help the less fortunate. Whether it came from a good place or whether it was a tactic to be recognized as philanthropists- their donations and contributions benefitted the lives of many to this day.

vwpaullos said...

I believe the Captain of Industry were essential to the rise of America as a global player and ultimately a super-power. The bottom line is that these entrepreneurs sought to make a lot of money, even though they limited competition or made the "little guy" suffer, which was great for the young American economy for many reasons.However the reason that struck me as a standout was that they helped the U.S. win WWII because it was our industrial base which these folks built out of nothing that essentially catapulted the U.S. to victory in Europe and Asia.
On a separate note, the presenters were helpful in better understanding the context of the times in which these fellows lived and I was thoroughly impressed with the graduate student's presentation. All things considered this was another success.

msmilow said...

Professor David Sicilia and University of Maryland graduate student Jon Franklin did an excellent job presenting arguments that were well-organized and packed with information for use in our cooperative debates. From the session it became apparent that though it would be hard to argue that the captains of industry were “good people” it cannot be denied that they actually were good for America. As Jon Franklin outlined the “businessman’s view” one advanced by economist Robert Heilbroner in the 1960s, it became apparent that these captains took risks, which resulted in tremendous benefits for our economy. For example, at the very least the introduction of economies of scale meant lowered prices for consumers so that the end of the nineteenth century witnessed deflation and economic growth. As pointed out by Jon the captains of industry were innovative and responsible for the efficiencies that led to the unprecedented growth. Managerial hierarchies, cost accounting, the development of a sustainable infrastructure that resulted from the development of the railroads all contributed to the improvement of America as a whole.

This is not to say that these captains of industry were not ruthless and uncaring. They pushed their workers to work long hours under unimaginable conditions. One of the cruelest examples was the schedule of the workers in one of Carnegie’s plants; they were required to work seven days a week, twelve hours a day with every other Sunday off after a 24 hour shift. Of course Carnegie, Rockefeller and the others were selfish and used Social Darwinism to further their agenda. This is undeniable and the fact that Carnegie provided libraries and church pipe organs to many communities does not absolve his sins. Furthermore, his philanthropy was an attempt to mold the recipients into the type of citizens he thought they should be. Nevertheless, the immigrants who came to America from abject poverty and near starvation in the Old World were employed and as Jon pointed out, since prices dropped, they actually saw an increase in income of 50%. Eventually greater numbers of Americans did benefit from the improved economy, government regulation was put in place and the United States was poised to take its place as a super power. If not for the growing pains and resultant innovations our country would not have been able to contribute substantially to the Allied efforts in World Wars I and II. The ability to manage large organizations efficiently and marshal resources for war was only possible because of the experiences of the captains of industry. So of course they were good for the country!

Mr. Ferrante said...

I thought it was an excellent session, the presenters gave very strong arguments for both sides of the equations. It is in some ways comforting to know that business programs are becoming more interested in the history of business and the economy. That being said, I am not really sure that my opinion of the Robber Barons has changed much. These people amassed a fantastic amount of wealth and did it at the expense of others. Many of these gentlemen claimed to be devote Christians. How you could walk into your factory or mill and see the misery you are inflicting and NOT wonder if maybe you are not following the tenants of your faith I find amazing. They built libraries and other charitable institutions? Just another way to make their workers dependent upon them so they are less likely to complain.
Did business and manufacturing grow because of their willingness it implement new technologies and are we perhaps better of economically for that - probably. Try explaining that to the people who lost their jobs (or arms) to the new machines or American workers today who have lost their jobs to a computer or to a cheaper labor force overseas.
What is the true bottomline for civilization - the profit margin or how humane we treat each other?

kimcraig said...

I feel that the so-called robber barons have left a mixed legacy. While introducing scientific management and increased efficiency, they also exploited workers, natural resources, and used “trickery” to bankrupt competitors. This is a topic I really enjoy discussing with my classes – it helps demonstrate that history is not ‘black and white.’

I cannot completely ignore their positive attributes, but personally I find many of the “Captains’” tactics unethical and underhanded – although often not illegal (at the time). These men acquired immense wealth but did not pay the laborers a livable wage or show regard for their well-being. While Social Darwinism was the justification at that time, I feel that this mentality still persists in our society. I don’t understand how corporations justify paying their CEOs million-dollar salaries, but balk when minimum wage workers want access to health benefits (I’m talking to you, Wal-Mart). Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he talked about the “Square Deal” – everyone deserves to rewarded for their labor and contributions. I won’t deny that the Captains of Industry were important and beneficial to our country in many ways – but it doesn’t make them good men.

Robin said...

The speakers for this controversy class were excellent, and both were very persuavive with their arguments. The question of course has to be looked at from both perspectives. There is never a simple yes or no answer. The Captains of Industry while good for the economy hurt the people and the welfare of the country. While on their quest to increase their wealth, they stomped on the common man who worked for them. Yes, Carnegie was a philanthropist but there were ulterior motives to his generosity. It was Rockefeller descendents who helped charities not the man himself. I guess one can argue that the Captains of Industry could have done much more for the country with the wealth and advantages that they had, perhaps the did not do enough.

Mr. Madeiras said...

We can call these men hypocrites for calling themselves Christians, but what truly motivates humans? Adam Smith would argue self-interest. We benefit from the self-interest of the baker, doctor and even the industrialist (or robber baron). Because of their desire to outperform and out maneuver their competition, the Morgans and Carnegies established industries of monumental proportion. This enormous economy of scale created thousands of jobs. Who else could have done it? A Marxist? Of course not. Yes, these golden pillars of American industry were greedy and tended to be malicious, but that shouldn’t be their legacy. They were trail blazers and set America on a course for industrial prosperity. Without realizing it, the Morgans and Carnegies of the past established the foundation for American capitalism. Today’s successful entrepreneurs have only ‘stood on the shoulders of giants.’

Mr. Karmin said...

While I was unable to attend this session, I believe I can add some insight into this debate. In economics, we discuss the role of the entrepreneur as the driving force in the economy. The entrepreneur is the spark that gets the engine moving. He or she takes high risks in exchange for high rewards. It is in this way that businesses grow and the economy expands. Without the entrepreneur, the economy would not grow, products would not be developed, people would not have jobs, and the economy would contract. To say that the Captains of Industry were good for the country would be a tremendous understatement. The old adage “the end justifies the means” is certainly true in the case where many were hurt by men like Carnegie and Rockefeller, but this is true in most cases of growth and expansion. Prosperity usually comes at the expense of others. The Captains of Industry were able to take risks, organize resources, and make decisions that would build the industry needed for the country to flourish.

Jennifer said...

Once again, I have a tough time with the wording of the question. To answer the question simply, I would have to say that the Captains of Industry were good for the country. But, in many ways these men were also bad for the country. I think the heart of this debate centers on the question of whether the good things they did for outweigh the bad. While no one can dispute the fact that Captains of Industry did amazing things for the US economy and quite possibly laid the foundation for us to become a superpower, it is difficult to ignore the fact that these men exploited their workers, the nation’s natural resources, and our lack of government regulation. None of that was good for the country and these men knew it. Many countries have more protections and benefits for workers, while the US still tries to squeeze as much as it can out of the worker – minimal vacation allowances, minimal family leave benefits, etc. One could argue that this aspect of US industry was a legacy left by the Captains of Industry. Men like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan could have achieved the same things while also providing better conditions for their workers.

stapes1976 said...

The Captains of Industry were good for the survival of the country. They provided the infrastructure on which the nation was built. The provided monetary support to a struggling nation, and allowed the United States to grow into a global superpower.
However if you are someone that takes ethical buisness seriously, they were terrible for the practice of Capitalism. And the unfair treatment of their employees was unacceptable.

bkilkenny said...

It would be difficult, if not impossible to argue that the Captains of Industry were not good for the US. Whether they are looked at as Robber Barons or Captains of Industry makes no difference. These men used their ambition, intelligence, and some luck to generate tremendous wealth for themselves. They did this on the backs of working class Americans and exploited the workforce; their labor and business practices may have been deplorable by today’s standards but they certainly improved the status and wealth of the US. The question at hand was very specific and the answer to the question is YES.

The means through which these men achieved their success could generate a completely different discussion and answer.

Mr. Toth said...

Unfortunately I was unable to attend class this Saturday and listen to the speakers. Judging by your responses the presenters were once again excellent. Once again as with all the controversies, a clear cut answer will never be found, but I think that overall the Captains of Industry were good for America. One of America’s greatest strengths, if not our greatest is/was our industry. It was our industry that catapulted forward a world leader and eventually a superpower. Without the methods used by Rockefeller and Carnegie, who knows how our progress would have went. Our impact in both World Wars would have been different, as well as the face of our nation today.

Of course the methods they used were at many times, ruthless and harsh, but I like to think that most Americans put in similar situations would also make many of the ruthless discussions they made. They were just the most successful at the American Greed…I mean American dream.

Michaela said...

One cannot say that the “Carnegies” and “Rockefellers” of the world were decent and honorable people. However, they were excellent businessmen. They forever changed the economic landscape of America and, in many cases, for the better. The managerial hierarchy of these businessmen is still emulated and utilized today. These captains of industry risked much financially in order to improve and accelerate their businesses. They never set out to be humanitarians. Their reactions to the strikers and protesters demonstrated their disinterest in the common man (the worker). Captains of industry were in many ways, merciless and callous towards their workers and, at times, seemed to derive pleasure and satisfaction from using their workers to the fullest extent, with complete disregard for their personal needs. In Carnegie’s plant, workers conducted shifts around the clock, seven days a week with complete disregard to Sunday (as a religious day of rest for many). In summary, captains of industry were good, in the long term, from an economic perspective. They provided the modern-day business structure, organized many major industries and generated much wealth for the nation. Other the hand, from a sociological perspective, they were atrocious, vicious and used their workers without mercy.

Anonymous said...

The “Captains of Industry” were beneficial to the development of the United States, but those benefits came at great cost. They created an economic system that provided the backbone for American power in the 20th Century. They developed a range of goods and services that improved life for million of people in the US and around the world. Their factories permitted the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Europeans out of the most impoverished and repressive regions of Europe. The Carnegies and Rockefellers also came to represent the idea of social mobility and entrepreneurship among the general public. The possibility of duplicating their success incentivized hard work.

However, the “Captains of Industry” also undermined the power of working Americans. Their mass production techniques built upon cheap, unskilled labor led to the abuse of powerless immigrants and the impoverishment of native born labor. The economic model of mass consumption that originates from this time period has had disaster consequences for the environment. Most significantly, the political legacy of the Gilded Age is the disproportionate influence over government policy gained by business interests during this period.

vbronzino said...

The question, "Were the captains of Industry good for the country?" has been debated throughout American high schools and college campuses for years. Some say, including the young, prepared graduate student, that the "captains" were responsible for building big business, expanding the American economy and more importantly laying a foundation for the United States as a super power. Others see it differently. They say that their business practices were unscrupulous and faulty at times and even worse their exploitation of the workers was downright deplorable. In addition, the captains of industry used bribery, industrial espionage, and price discriminations. Though these things seem vindictive, some would argue that they are really just a good way to handle a business. Point is that this question is difficult to answer because there is an economic perspective and a social/emotional perspective and depending on where the individual lye on the spectrum will determine their sentiment.

I personally believe that the captains were extraordinary industrialists with practices that changed the U.S.’s economy forever. Even though they used some debatable methods, in the end they were great businessman and praised icons in trade and industry and built the United States economy.

Mr. Gatto said...

I do not think the captains of industry were good for the country. They were against capitalism and fair competition. They did everything they could to intimidate, buy out and eliminate competitors to the detriment of the American consumer.

sahmedani said...

This question is as ambiguous as the men themselves. The answer is not wholly yes or wholly no. Carnegie is a dichotomy of a man and so follows a very confused view of him. Carnegie’s philanthropy is important even today- colleges, libraries, scholarships all in his name continue to be as relevant today as they were when they were endowed. His business practices, although unethical and unfair to laborers by todays’ standards, became the example by which businesses would draw from. Carnegie created a model based on cost, which allowed him to prosper. Without this system his business models would not have thrived. Considering that he prospered at the expense of the less fortunate feels morally wrong- however it is hard to escape the questions in my mind had he not adhered to social Darwinism. Would industry have boomed without him? Would the railroads, telegraphs, and steel industries have merged to build an empire? What would the effects have been on expansion? I find it difficult to condemn him when his efforts clearly revolutionized American business and American lifestyle with long lasting effects.

At the same time as I praise Carnegie’s strategy- it is clear that there are shades of moral grey. Carnegie seemed to have lived in a world all on his own- unable to hold meaningful personal relationships.. I do believe that he had a plan for himself in his world. Carnegie did not give out of the kindness of his heart- I believe that it was part of his plan to leave a mark on the world, his philanthropy made it possible for him to be remembered. His donations were even controlled and he only gave to those he felt were worthy of receiving (churches, libraries, education). All of his donations were objects that would last a long time if not forever. His philanthropy was his ultimate gift to himself - to be remembered as a generous man.

Anonymous said...

I really thought this class was going to be a standard-issue debate over whether these men were captains of industry or robber barons. Damn you, Carnegie…Damn you, Rockefeller…Damn you, J.P. Morgan and damn your nose, too! I think it was anything BUT your standard debate. My jaw hit the floor when Professor Sicilia mentioned that the United States may not had been ready for the World Wars had it not been for the rapid industrial development led by the aforementioned captains of industry. The professor dropped the comment and moved on. But I kept coming back to that. That thought had never really occurred to me and it really made me go back and assess the importance these men had on America. They led the country to become and industrial and technological powerhouse. Their industries fueled the “arsenal of democracy” when the country needed it the most.
So, do the ends justify the means? Maybe. Maybe not. They truly were great industrial pioneers who championed efficiency, but used ruthless tactics to achieve as much as they did. They turned a blind eye to the events unfolding in their factories (can anyone say “Homestead.”) Most of these business leaders couldn’t see beyond the walls of their mansions to truly see the plight of the factory worker, but even still, they didn’t care. Rockefeller didn’t care about the Tarbell family or the hundreds of other family-owned businesses he crushed in his quest to eliminate competition.
A change had occurred in American society. The same meritocracy that gave rise to men like Hamilton, Washington, and Jefferson would be crushed at the hands of the big business owners. W had strayed from the beliefs that were the core values of our Founding Fathers. But nobody’s perfect. I’m not excusing the actions of these men. However, I am grateful that we have since become stronger and more aware that the actions of these men were harmful to the things we hold dear in our hearts as Americans.

JKeller said...

Carnegie and the other “Captains of Industry” helped to create the business structure of the modern American economy. Their continued drive for efficiency has helped to establish great competiveness in the industries that they were successful in. In addition, they also helped to standardize and create the infrastructure of the American railroads, banking system, oil industry and steel industry. This does not however excuse Carnegie’s constant undermining of workers wages, workers rights and sometimes shady business practices. Carnegie undoubtedly wished to make money. This is evident throughout the book: continuing to work, competitiveness, slashing cost and maximizing profit. Despite these “negative” side effects Carnegie and the “Captains of Industry” contributed to the economic success of America during the late 1800’s – modern day.

nmusc said...

If we simply focus on the economy of our country, then the answer to this session's question would be easy....yes, the captains of industry were good for our country. They provided the infrastructure as our nation transformed from an economy based on farming to an economy based on industry. They were good businessmen who took advantage of their circumstances and ran with it. Although it could be argued that they also took advantage of their employees with low wages and poor working conditions, it can't be denied that they provided jobs to people who had none. Later, these employees would organize themselves into labor unions and fight for better pay and working conditions. Like everything else, things change as time goes by and the captains of industry only helped to spark our economy so it could develop into what it is today. The foundation was laid with them and although their ethics were questionable, their business sense was undeniable.

Lori Wilde said...

The question is asking if these “Captains” were good for the country. Not if these men were good people? Many viewed them as robber barons not captains. Carnegie, Rockefeller and others did engage in unethical business practices and were mainly out for their own wealth but it does not change the facts that our economy improved through their creations. They used their own money to create an industrialized nation. What they created developed a system for America to follow, even today. Fortunately, we now have a system in place where their unfair practices are illegal

Anonymous said...

I think this arguement has validity for both sides. The "robber barons" were good for industry. They were able to utilize the capitalist system to the fullest degree and thus created and utilized technology that furthered the advancement of industrial America. These individuals also gave tons of money and resources to the less fortunate. However, when it came to work these "robber barons" were all about business. They wanted to ensure that the production was constant, thus, firing those who were incompetant or unable to complete work. They provided no benefits to thier workers thus leaving them pennyless and sometimes handicapped. These bosses also would shut down the smaller companies that were just struggling to get by, as we see today with mom and pop shops being shut down by big business. I think truely this is a hard decision to clearly define.

-
L. Zederbaum

HSEMINTY said...

I have always been fascinated by American history before the gilded age. When America was founded, two forces forged existed that shaped the future of the nation: Capitalism and Democracy. Democracy I define as the the focus of the nation on the equality of all men in government. Before the era of the robber barrons, democracy was paramount and the ethos of democracy pervaded American thought Average men participated in politics in a variety of ways from voting, campaigning, protest, and litigation. The individual could have great impact on the political, economic, and social discourse of the nation. After Carnige and Morgan, I have always felt that Capitalism, or the focus of the nation on economic acquisition, reigned supreme after the Civil War. Due to this, I have never enjoyed reading about the gilded age. However, booth the book and the debate opened my eyes to many things. I can not get over the idea of the new business arragements that Carniege and the Pennsylvania railroad helped create. It is foreign to us living now that a hierarchical, department like business structure could not exist. How can business work if you don't have a specific chain of command? Or exact accounting procedures? Or specific areas of speciality for managers? The creation of this system allowed larger and more efficent business to exist. Like Mr. Galluci, I was also fascinated by the World War comment.

Anonymous said...

I have to believe that the Captains of Industry were good for the country. Were these men blinded by their greed? Yes, as many indivduals are today. They brought our nation into a new era and essentially made the United States one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Our nation began a big push towards new forms of technology that would change us, and the world. Yes these men (Carnegie, Rockerfeller, Morgan, etc) took advantage of the work force, but this would then lead to revolution of the working class

Liz said...

The Captains of Industry were positive for the development of this nation as an industrial power. However, it can't be denied that they were motivated by their own greed and self interest.

kvandover said...

This session was among the best, in my opinion, and of course there is no clear answer, as usual. The two sides were extremely well-presented by the experts, and I learned a great deal.

To be sure, even the best- intentioned captains of industry took advantage of their position and wealth. Exploitation of the labor force, monopolizing a particular industry through intimidation and bankrupting competitors, and price fixing were among some of the despicable practices of the time. Overall, however, I think that these barons of industry were good for the country.

Many, such as Carnegie, established philanthropic foundations that we still reap the benefits of today. People all over the world enjoy the thousands of libraries built through Carnegie's philanthropy. As educators, we benefit from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which provides research grants and scholarships for educators. The discovery of the structure of DNA, which led to the Genome Project was funded with Carnegie money, and who in NY has not enjoyed going to Carnegie Hall? Carnegie was not alone in his generosity. Rockefeller, Mellon, Ford, and JP Morgan, among others also established foundations that continue to benefit mankind.

In addition to their philanthropy these men were pioneers in their field. They developed the technology and solved the problems that arose at the dawn of the Industrial Age. Carnegie's cost-effective practices still are a paradigm for businesses today.

Although I cringe to think about the way workers were exploited, I also realize that these giants of industry provided jobs that laborers might not otherwise have had, and the technological advancement that was made possible by Carnegie and others did result in an improvement in the standard of living for the common man. Therefore on balance, I believe that the captains of industry were good for the country.

pcostell said...

This session was one of my favorites! The two speakers did a great job of supplying us with information io order to answer the always ambiguous question! Were the Captains of Industry good for the country? By referencing them as captains and NOT robber barons, it would seem the fix was in!
Many seem to think that our role in WWI was important, but try to imagine the scenario--an agricultural USA (or two countries if Lincoln hadn't fought Civil War...) unable to supply the warring nations with arms---Russia withdraws in 1917---but no USA---France either is defeated, or signs an armistice---no Versaille treaty---no resentment, reparations, no HITLER---I guess we could take that further to no real purpose! But was it a good war (WWI) that much is debatable. And without it maybe no WWII.
If one looks at this question from the perspective of labor and the common man, these men were criminals. The actions at Homestead are a bitter indictment of their business methods. However, the common man has not very often been the beneficiary of fortune in this land; built on his back for the enrichment of the very few!

R. Restifo said...

The speakers were outstanding!!The captains of industry were good for the country. Without there businesses the US certainly would not have grown as quickly. They provided jobs for tens of thousands of workers albeit not at great pay many times. The were business men who worked within the confines of law of the times. However many of the jobs were necessary in order for industry to grow. Without this industrial capacity the US would not have been to successfully fight two world wars.

Rick Iurka said...

The "Captains of Industry" were not good for this country. They were anti-capitalists who were obsessed with acquiring obscene amounts of wealth and power. They profited on the backs of countless numbers of laborers who toiled away their days in filthy unsafe work environments. True, these Robber Barons were masters at maximizing efficiency, which of course resulted in maximum cash flow for them and their share holders, but it also meant the exploitation of their workers and the inevitable rape of the environment. The worst part of their legacy is it showed future industrialists that all of this is okay... just give a little to charity and you'll look like a swell guy.

kevinallo said...

I have to say that it was really interesting to see the Robber Barons from the positive perspective. As a teacher, we usually are forced to paint the robber barons in a negative light. However, this also shows the watering down of history. The reality of what the one professor said was right. The robber barons really had no obligation to benefit society. No one goes into business to break even or lose money. However, with that said as a strong advocate of unions, it was also good to hear about their negative actions towards the United States. The reality of the situation was that the robber barons allowed the United States to catch up to the rest of the world economically, and based upon the events of the twentieth century, their impact was necessary in some regards, and could also be blamed in other regards such as the Cold War, and Vietnam. Had America been forced to look inward instead of becoming a global power, I feel that the nation would have been better off.

Christina said...

The “captains of industry” certainly have a mixed legacy, and like others, I feel it is dependent upon whether one looks at impact on individuals or the country as a whole. The growth of railroads, streamlining of industries such as steel and oil production, and investment in business led to economic growth that allowed the US to emerge as a superpower in the 20th century. However, their drive to make as much profit as possible led them to exploit workers and allow deplorable conditions in their factories. It also hurt consumers due to lack of competition in some markets, which led to higher prices. While these entrepreneurs did exploit, they also were philanthropists, but I feel this does not make up for their actions. I feel they should have used the money to improve conditions and benefits for workers.

Sill's World said...

Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller... these men revolutionized the economy of the United States and the world. They created "Big Capitalism" and gained wealth no one had seen since Alexander the Great pillaged Persepolis and Babylon and controlled the great riches of the fallen Persian Empire! They altered American business, built important infrastructure and helped to create an industrial nation.

However, What did they do with their riches? I was surprised that Chauncy would gloss over the treatment of the workers! These men treated them like simple cogs in their factory and did not treat them very humanely. Let's face it, there were Kings in history who treated their people better!

Now, I'm all about working hard and making a profit and, therefore, I believe these guys earned and had a right to keep the profits they made. My problem is, because of their abuses towards their workers, they forced the people into creating unions and established a very negative, unproductive worker vs manager culture in our society. This mentality still exists and has created a political rift that has led to a lack of compromise on both sides. Worst of all, it has allowed the government to get involved, and ultimately screw up, our economy. The government has tapped into the workers needs and used this as an excuse to gobble up more power and limit capitlalism in our nation.

So thanks "Captains of Industry," thanks for being the only ones who were really able to benefit from laissez-Faire capitalism and then screwing it up for the rest of us!

Mrs. Geldmacher said...

I had always believed that these captains of industry were truly Robber Barrons. I tended to focus on the idea that these individuals exploited the masses for there own economic gain. After our controversy, I still beleive this to be true but that does not diminish there contributions to our country. Without these people, we would not have had the infastructure in place that helped us establish our international dominance in both the Spanish American War and WWI. The development of the railroads out west led to increased economic opportunities and trade. It is easy for our to judge them based on our labor standards today but you can not take away what these captains of industry did for our country.

Mrs Raftery said...

Were the Captains of Industry Good for the Country?
Yes, these were hard-working, highly motivated entrepreneurs who were living the American dream. They were the true spirit of capitalism. Yes, it is true that as true capitalists they made cunning and often cruel business decisions, but those decisions and actions were taken to further their businesses and to continue to expand an industry which brought emplyment to many unskilled and skilled laborers.
I would agree that the speaks at this sessions were excellent. Both sides came well-prepared and offered fantastic insight.

Jeff Cohn said...

The "captains of industry" occupy a good portion of the post-civil war US History curriculum. All one has to do is look at the railroads, steel mills, textile factories, coal mines and food producing industries that started to dot our landscape in the latter part of the 19th century into the first half of the 20th century. Without the billions of investment dollars (as well as the cooperation of an often pliable congress) these "captains" could never have achieved their individual triumphs.

However, the success of the captains did not come without a price. They relied upon the hardship and tears of the men, women, and children who toiled for wages that left them with barely enough to survive from week to week. Without these other captains, our country could not have achieved the economic viability which is still envied today by many countries of the world.

Daniela McKee said...

As is always the case with TAH classes, it is hard to answer these questions definitively as the answer always seems to lie in a gray area. The captains of industry were instrumental in leading our economy and country in a very positive direction but did so using some controversial and ethically questionable techniques and means.

AFisk said...

Were the “Captains of Industry” good for the country? If we judge Carnegie and the other capitalists on their successes there is no argument that these men were very successful and savvy businessmen. Make no mistake that they were capitalists intent on creating successful businesses and in the process inadvertently created the America capitalist society as we know it today. The way of “doing business” before these men was extremely archaic and disorganized. While some of their business practices were bad for the employee, there is no denying the advances to the industrialization and business practices of the capitalistic society America would become the leader of in the future. These men laid the foundation for the rapid development that helped America to emerge as the world leader of today. We must also remember to not judge them by today’s standards – worker’s rights and the development of unions eventually balance the power of these captains. They were only the beginning of the employer/employee relationship that was soon to become a long process of long hard won rights for workers and concessions from employees. But, modernization had to begin somewhere and the captains of industry started the process – they weren’t perfect but they certainly had an impact and forever changed the landscape of America.

Zartler, Michael said...

Although the industrial entrepreneurs of the late nineteenth century did amass their fortunes by eliminating their competitors and taking advantage of their workers, they played an integral role in bringing about the large-scale industrial growth the United States witnessed during that period. This is perhaps most evident in the railroad industry. In order to raise the huge amounts of money necessary to finance their businesses, railroad entrepreneurs like Collis Huntington, Jay Gould, and James Hill sold bonds and stocks to the public. (Bond holders earned a fixed rate of interest, while stockholders received dividends only when the companies earned a profit.) In order to improve efficiency, they set up hierarchical organizational structures and divided their lines into geographical units, each with its own superintendent. They also established elaborate accounting systems to keep track of the cost of every operation (e.g., coal consumption, engine/car repair) for each division. To consolidate the hundreds of different rail lines that existed by the 1870s, these businessmen bought them up and standardized both the train equipment used and the "gauge" (or width) of the tracks. By 1900, nine major "trunk lines" had been established, linking all the regions of the country.

mnolan7715 said...

I was assigned the con side in this debate, and I’ve never had a more difficult time forming arguments. I thought the PhD student’s presentation was very convincing to show all of the positives that came out of the industries. Although people like Rockefeller and Carnegie were becoming extremely wealthy off of their industries, they were also providing wealth for many people as well. They created jobs, and standards of living, although still rather low for the workers, increased over time. They built infrastructure and helped bring the United States into the modern world. I suppose that they are criticized for not sharing more of their wealth, but they did a lot for the country and benefited it in many ways.

dmcgoldrick said...

The captains of industry were not good for the country despite the many business innovations and practices these men employed. They were self-serving in every respect and even the actions that could be interpreted as "patriotic" can be traced to selfish interest. For example, Morgan "saved " the U.S. Treasury not once but twice. One year after his death the Federal Reserve Act was passed which Our presentor used as evidence of Morgan's service to the country. How would have allowing the U.S. Treasury to collapse serve Morgan's interests? It wouldn't and twice this motivated him to step in. Could the passing of Morgan signaled a clear path to forming a Federal Reserve System that had enough power to be effective?
Another example is Carnegie's philanthropic efforts. Was the creation of libraries across the nation, Carniege hall, etc. proof of his benevolence or an attempt to secure his place in history?

As stated by others, these men made contributions in their respective fields of business which in many ways strengthened the economic foundations of the country but I believe they could have made these contributions while allowing some level of competition to exist and equitable reimbursement to others.

CTator said...

As the debate went on of whether or not the Captains of Industry were good for the country, the derogatory name of the Robber Baron kept creeping it’s way into thought. The term Robber Baron essentially refers to businessmen and bankers who dominated a particular industry and gained huge personal fortunes, typically by anti-competitive or unfair business practices. Men like Carnegie, Rockefellar, Vanderbuilt, J.P. Morgan, and James Fisk are some of the more notorious names that are synomous with this under the hand and devious acts of business exploitation.
So were they good people, perhaps not; good for the country, in hindsight they were. These men were ahead of their time; their business management strategies and economic system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services lay as the backbone of the any business plan, it’s business 101.
Without argue, these men exploited and oppressed workers, industrial competition, and society as a whole during their time. One can also argue that if it were not for these men and their unfair business practices, governmental business regulations and parameters would not have been instituted. These men laid the foundation of an industrialized and modernized country and the capitalistic fever of obtaining the American Dream.