A wide debate throughout history has been whether or not to consider post-Civil War capitalists as Captains of Industry or Robber Barons. Many things lead the latter description to be the more accurate. These industrials leaders, such as Carnegie and Vanderbilt, often mistreated their workers, undermined their fellow citizens and showed little empathy.
There was much mistreatment in the workplace, even after the rise of labor unions in the late 1800s. In many different industries, there were instances of child labor, unsanitary conditions, and workers being underpaid. Andrew Carnegie, for example, was very troubled by this, for he knew much about workers’ rights, but continued to treat his employees poorly. Coal miners were also greeted with similar issues, and many of them were underaged. This is shown by the Breaker Boys at Woodward Coal Mining. In the photo, it is clear that many of them are far too young to be working. Still, they fought for a better standard of living, due to having to sit in poorly ventilated areas all day, among other things. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that industrial leaders did not care about their workers’ health and safety, making them Robber Barons.
Industry tycoons also had tendency to undermine their counterparts. The wealth gap grew as industrialization increased, leading to the less fortunate becoming dependent on the wealthy. Businessmen tended to turn a blind eye to those struggling to get basic necessities. This led to them believing that the rich were wiser, and better at making decisions for the poor. Instead of mentoring the less privileged, they wanted the poor to blindly follow them and believe that they’re always keeping the workers’ best interests in mind. This kind of manipulation paints them as Robber Barons.
Big industry leaders at the time also showed very little empathy, as can be seen in the previous paragraphs. Most were not very charitable, despite having large amounts of money. For instance, Vanderbilt built a large summer cottage when many people, including his own workers, were struggling with basic needs.
Contributions to charities would have expanded the nation’s progress even more. Barons also used predatory practices to form monopolies, and to eliminate their competition. Vanderbilt and many others built up money by buying out other companies and cutting out the middleman. J.P. Morgan slashed worker’s pay to maximize profits, and when regulations threatened this, he banded with some other Robber Barons at time to ensure their candidate, William McKinley was elected in 1896.
It is quite evident that post-Civil War capitalists fit the description of Robber Barons more so than that of Captains of Industry. They were corrupt in their ways, despite bringing quite a few good things to the nation.
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