Quotes on the Myth of the Robber Barons

"All this we say is likely to happen. So far as the special interests of the Pacific Mail Company are concerned, we have not a word to say in deprecation of any mischief which may overtake them in the course of their conflict with the great steamboat Sepoy. They have for years contributed to his coffers, to his influence, to his confidence in his own power to brave public opinion and override the moral instincts of the commercial community; and they have done this that they might keep their own hold more firmly upon the necessities of the public. Like those old German barons who, from their eyries along the Rhine, swooped down upon the commerce of the noble river, and wrung tribute from every passenger that floated by, Mr. Cornelius Vanderbilt, with all the steamers of the Accessory Transit, held in his leash, has insisted that the Pacific Company should pay him toll, taken of all America that had business with California and the Southern Sea, and the Pacific Company have submitted to his demand. There are honorable and highminded merchants, American gentlemen of the best stamp among the Directors, who have thus bowed the knee to this man’s dictation, and they must doubtless have writhed under the consciousness of the true part that they were playing. Nevertheless they played it; and they must now take the consequences."

Henry J. Raymond
The New York Times
February 9, 1859
Library Topic

"A summary description of the method by which Gould’s fortune was acquired can be conveyed only by such negative words as ‘wrecking,’ ‘depredation,’ and ‘looting,’ not by any words that denote the creation and enhancement of values. But when a man whose object is money-getting amasses, by any means whatever, a large fortune, there necessarily comes a time when the instinct of preservation overcomes the desire for spoliation, when the destructive becomes a conservative, and the wrecker an advocate of vested interests. He must put his winnings somewhere, and he must desire to protect them. This happened to Gould, and when it happened he was in a position to show what his ability was in production and conservation, and in building up properties that his whole previous career had been devoted to tearing down."

The New York Times
December 3, 1892
Library Topic

"Another topic in which our people rightfully take a deep interest may be here briefly considered. I refer to the existence of trusts and other huge aggregations of capital the object of which is to secure the monopoly of some particular branch of trade, industry, or commerce and to stifle wholesome competition. When these are defended, it is usually on the ground that though they increase profits they also reduce prices, and thus may benefit the public. It must be remembered, however, that a reduction of prices to the people is not one of the real objects of these organizations, nor is their tendency necessarily in that direction. If it occurs in a particular case it is only because it accords with the purposes or interests of those managing the scheme.

Such occasional results fall far short of compensating the palpable evils charged to the account of trusts and monopolies. Their tendency is to crush out individual independence and to hinder or prevent the free use of human faculties and the full development of human character. Through them the farmer, the artisan, and the small trader is in danger of dislodgment from the proud position of being his own master, watchful of all that touches his country's prosperity, in which he has an individual lot, and interested in all that affects the advantages of business of which he is a factor, to be relegated to the level of a mere appurtenance to a great machine, with little free will, with no duty but that of passive obedience, and with little hope or opportunity of rising in the scale of responsible and helpful citizenship.

To the instinctive belief that such is the inevitable trend of trusts and monopolies is due the widespread and deep-seated popular aversion in which they are held and the not unreasonable insistence that, whatever may be their incidental economic advantages, their general effect upon personal character, prospects, and usefulness can not be otherwise than injurious."

President Grover Cleveland
The American Presidency Project
December 7, 1896
Library Topic

"There have been abuses connected with the accumulation of wealth; yet it remains true that a fortune accumulated in legitimate business can be accumulated by the person specially benefited only on condition of conferring immense incidental benefits upon others. Successful enterprise, of the type which benefits all mankind, can only exist if the conditions are such as to offer great prizes as the rewards of success.

The captains of industry who have driven the railway systems across this continent, who have built up our commerce, who have developed our manufactures, have on the whole done great good to our people. Without them the material development of which we are so justly proud could never have taken place. Moreover, we should recognize the immense importance of this material development of leaving as unhampered as is compatible with the public good the strong and forceful men upon whom the success of business operations inevitably rests. The slightest study of business conditions will satisfy anyone capable of forming a judgment that the personal equation is the most important factor in a business operation; that the business ability of the man at the head of any business concern, big or little, is usually the factor which fixes the gulf between striking success and hopeless failure."

President Theodore Roosevelt
The American Presidency Project
December 3, 1901
Library Topic

"Such were the conditions five centuries ago, and now in the twentieth century come the modern robber baron, and evolution of the original article, in the shape of the railroad financier; he swoops down from his office like his ancient prototype from his castle, and by obtaining control of this or that railroad property, after he has assured himself that it is on a sure paying basis, takes everything in sight by means of the Holding Company, or the Securities Company, which he and his robber baron friends arrange to organize within the law, to the detriment of the surprised and unwilling minority owners of the property."

L. B.
The New York Times
December 7, 1902
Library Topic

"Now, where is the difference between the robber barons of old and these modern railroad financiers? None whatever, I take it, except that the former helped themselves at will, and the latter are helping themselves within the protection of laws made to legalize the robbery."

L. B.
The New York Times
December 7, 1902
Library Topic

"The present position of the Standard Oil Company is one of abundant prosperity and power. It is opposed by a combination— the Pure Oil Company — which works in harmony with an independent seaboard pipe-line—the United States PipeLine— and with sixty-six independent refineries. The Standard controls ninety per cent. of the export trade and eighty per cent. of the domestic trade. By its control of the pipe-line situation it has become quite independent of the railroads. By its preponderant purchases of crude oil it has been able to steady and roughly direct the course of prices of petroleum. By its advantages in locating its refineries near their several markets and in utilizing byproducts it has effected enormous economies in transportation and manufacture, and increased its dividend from twelve per cent. in 1892, when the Standard Oil Trust was dissolved, to forty-eight per cent. in 1901. The power of the Standard Oil Company is tremendous, but it is only such power as naturally accrues to so large an aggregation of capital; and in the persistence with which competition against it has continued, in the quickness with which that competition increases when opportunity for profit under existing prices appears, and in the ever-present possibility of competition which meets the Standard Oil Company in the direction of every part of its policy, lie the safeguards against the abuse of this great power."

Gilbert Holland Montague
Harper & Brothers
1903
Library Topic

"The facts set forth in this report are for the most part not disputed. It is only the inferences from them that are disputed, and even in this respect the dispute is practically limited to the question as to whether the transactions are or are not technically legal. The report shows that the Standard Oil Company has benefited enormously up almost to the present moment by secret rates, many of these secret rates being clearly unlawful. This benefit amounts to at least three-quarters of a million a year. This three-quarters of a million represents the profit that the Standard Oil Company obtains at the expense of the railroads; but of course the ultimate result is that it obtains a much larger profit at the expense of the public. A very striking result of the investigation has been that shortly after the discovery of these secret rates by the Commissioner of Corporations, the major portion of them were promptly corrected by the railroads, so that most of them have now been done away with. ...

But in addition to these secret rates the Standard Oil profits immensely by open rates, which are so arranged as to give it an overwhelming advantage over its independent competitors. The refusal of the railroads in certain cases to prorate produces analogous effects. Thus in New England the refusal of certain railway systems to prorate has resulted in keeping the Standard Oil in absolute monopolistic control of the field, enabling it to charge from three to four hundred thousand dollars a year more to the consumers of oil in New England than they would have had to pay had the price paid been that obtaining in the competitive fields. This is a characteristic example of the numerous evils which are inevitable under a system in which the big shipper and the railroad are left free to crush out all individual initiative and all power of independent action because of the absence of adequate and thorough-going governmental control."

President Theodore Roosevelt
The American Presidency Project
May 4, 1906
Library Topic

"It is unfortunately not true that the Standard Oil Company is the only great corporation which in the immediate past has benefited, and is at this moment benefiting, in wholly improper fashion by an elaborate series of rate discriminations, which permit it to profit both at the expense of its rivals and of the general public. The Attorney-General reports to me that the investigation now going on as to the shipments by the sugar trust over the trunk lines running out of New York City tends to show that the sugar trust rarely if ever pays the lawful rate for transportation, and is thus improperly, and probably unlawfully, favored at the expense of its competitors and of the general public."

President Theodore Roosevelt
The American Presidency Project
May 4, 1906
Library Topic

"In the Standard Oil case the Supreme and Circuit Courts found the combination to be a monopoly of the interstate business of refining, transporting, and marketing petroleum and its products, effected and maintained through thirty-seven different corporations, the stock of which was held by a New Jersey company. It in effect commanded the dissolution of this combination, directed the transfer and pro rata distribution by the New Jersey company of the stock held by it in the thirty-seven corporations to and among its stockholders; and the corporations and individual defendants were enjoined from conspiring or combining to restore such monopoly; and all agreements between the subsidiary corporations tending to produce or bring about further violations of the act were enjoined."

President William Howard Taft
The American Presidency Project
December 5, 1911
Library Topic

"But to tell only how the captains of industry 'made themselves and the country rich' would be to leave out much of the story. We must turn aside from their purely mercenary operations to picture to ourselves for a moment how these barons of coal, iron, or pork, by a natural and concomitant effort to which many interests led them and many voices called them, extended their sway throughout the social order; how like earlier invading hosts arriving from the hills, the steppes or the sea, they overran all the existing institutions which buttress society; how they took possession of the political government (with its police, army, navy), of the School, the Press, the Church; and finally how they laid hands upon the world of fashionable or polite society, which in all times seems to persist as a 'kept class' attached to the ruling power yet holding a subtle sway over this power as well as over the manners and opinions of the people."

Matthew Josephson
Harcourt, Brace and Company
1934
Library Topic

"In short order the railroad presidents, the copper barons, the big dry-goods merchants and the steel masters became Senators, ruling in the highest councils of the national government, and sometimes scattered twenty-dollar gold pieces to newsboys of Washington. But they also became in even greater number lay leaders of churches, trustees of universities, partners or owners of newspapers or press services and figures of fashionable, cultured society. And through all these channels they labored to advance their policies and principles, sometimes directly, more often with skillful indirection."

Matthew Josephson
Harcourt, Brace and Company
1934
Library Topic

"While busy carving up the country into baronies, overrunning the social capitals, penetrating the schools and the churches, the captains of industry worked also with unremitting vigilance in the field of political action. Here public opinion, as it accepted the pecuniary doctrines of the railway or industrial magnate, seemed also to welcome his penetration, through the government, into the highest assemblies of the country: the Congress, the Senate, and even sometimes the President’s cabinet. ...

Paradox arose from the existence of democratic institutions, universal suffrage, equality before the law and equality of privileges. The masters of industry, though imperialists in their daily business, were confronted with democratic and individualistic lawmaking bodies and their judiciary and police departments. They quickly developed a technique for dealing with the democracy. Having virtually completed the conquest of the nation’s resources and possessed themselves of lordly properties or seized the 'narrows' of trade, the barons were thereafter most happy to advocate complete laissez faire within the nation. They were uncommonly eager to have existing private-property rights sanctified and protected by all the authority of the country. Having won extraordinary economic privileges in the conduct of their business, they saw no objection to leaving to the people at large the residue of individual liberties and rights; they would keep the whole charter of so-called popular liberties intact. Finally, as a fiscal policy for the nation they advocated a 'sound currency'; to 'raise the standard of living' they successfully urged the protective tariff; and to keep marauders of other races or colors away, to safeguard both here and abroad their growing investments, they generally insisted upon a big navy."

Matthew Josephson
Harcourt, Brace and Company
1934
Library Topic

"While I was still in Paris this clutter of recollections, impressions, indignations, perplexities, was crystallized into something like a pattern by Henry D. Lloyd’s brilliant 'Wealth Against Commonwealth.' I had been hearing about the book from home, but the first copy was brought me by my English friend H. Wickham Steed, who, fresh from two years’ contact with German socialism, took the work with great seriousness. Was not this conclusive proof that capitalism was necessarily inconsistent with fair and just economic life? Was not socialism the only way out, as Lloyd thought?

I was more simple-minded about it. As I saw it, it was not capitalism but an open disregard of decent ethical business practices by capitalists which lay at the bottom of the story Mr. Lloyd told so dramatically."

Ida Minerva Tarbell
University of Illinois Press
1939, 2003
Library Topic

"[Standard Oil]—and [Mr. Henry Rogers, director at Standard Oil who met with Tarbell] probably—never understood how much he had done to make me realize the legitimate greatness of the Standard Oil Company, how much he had done to make me understand better the vastness and complexity of its problems and the amazing grasp with which it dealt with them.

Their complaint against me, Mr. Rogers' complaint, was that I had never been able to submerge my contempt for their illegitimate practices in my admiration for their genius in organization, the boldness of their imagination and execution. But my contempt had increased rather than diminished as I worked.

I never had an animus against [Standard Oil's] size and wealth, never objected to their corporate form. I was willing that they should combine and grow as big and wealthy as they could, but only by legitimate means. But they had never played fair, and that ruined their greatness for me."

Ida Minerva Tarbell
University of Illinois Press
1939, 2003
Library Topic

"Jay Gould, whose swashbuckling market manipulations and titanic battles for corporate control earned him the reputation as the most hated man in America, had much in common with his business enemy Vanderbilt. Born on a Delaware County, New York, farm in 1836, he overcame a frail, sickly constitution to become the quintessential Robber Baron. He was so intelligent, so strikingly original, and so devious that Josephson dubbed him 'Mephistopheles.' His positive achievement was as full as it was complex. No one developed more of the American West than Gould did through his investments in railroads, mines, real estate, timber, and other industries.

After an early career in tanning, Gould came to Wall Street to try his luck, bringing little capital and no contacts but a formidable intellect. All his life he remained an outsider to the establishment, forging his independent way backed by a corps of trusted followers, whom he led in a soft-spoken, self-deprecating style. Once, late in life, he told a reporter that he was a mere passenger on the vehicle of his enterprises; but those in the know never doubted who was at the wheel, even when the enterprises grew immense.

Between 1874 and his death in 1892, Gould reshaped even more dramatically than Vanderbilt the two key sectors of transportation and communication. He reorganized the floundering Union Pacific Railroad and put it on solid footing, then bought into the small Missouri Pacific Railroad and used it as the nucleus for a giant rail system through the largely undeveloped Southwest. His forte was developing not only railroads but the regions through which they ran. Unlike many men of wealth, he put none of his money into safe investments like government bonds but instead committed it to the development of mines, stockyards, industries, timberland, and other sources of freight traffic along the roads he controlled."

Maury Klein
City Journal
The Manhattan Institute
1995
Library Topic

"The Robber Barons put their stamp on cultural as well as business institutions in New York and most other cities. There is scarcely a museum, art gallery, concert hall, orchestra, theater, university, seminary, charity, or other social or educational institution that does not owe its beginnings and support to these men. Whatever their motives, the enduring results remain one of the most impressive monuments to the Robber Barons' careers."

Maury Klein
City Journal
The Manhattan Institute
1995
Library Topic

"E. H. Harriman, who by the time of his death in 1909 controlled more railroad mileage than anyone else and had brought the industry into a new era based on long hauls of large volumes at low rates, pronounced the most clear-sighted judgment on himself and his fellow Robber Barons. During an interview, he startled a reporter by pulling out a sheet filled with data on improvements to the Union Pacific Railroad. 'As he read from it,' the reporter later recalled, 'I realized it was the apologia pro vita sua.'

'But the public assails and attacks you,' said the reporter when Harriman had finished, 'and impugns your motives and accuses you of all sorts of things. Doesn't the thanklessness of the job ever embitter you?'

Harriman responded by slapping the sheet of statistics with his hand.

'That,' he said defiantly, 'remains.'"

Maury Klein
City Journal
The Manhattan Institute
1995
Library Topic

"James Jerome Hill, builder of the Great Northern railroad, was the only railroad entrepreneur of the nineteenth century who received no federal subsidies to build his railroads. All other builders, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, received aid. Perhaps more than any other American, Hill helped to transform the American northwest by opening it to widespread settlement, farming, and commercial development. In the process, he became one of the wealthiest men of the Gilded Age, amassing a fortune estimated at $63 million."

Daniel T. Oliver
The Freeman, Volume 51
Foundation for Economic Education
July 2001
Library Topic

"Students learn about the robber barons -- ask any high school graduate, and that's likely to be the only thing he or she remembers about the 50 years between the Civil War and World War I. But they should also learn about the dynamic American economy that has brought an unprecedented standard of living to almost 300 million people, and about how those 'robber barons' drove down the prices of food, energy, and clothing to make them affordable to more people. The era of the robber barons was the era of the oil well, the railroad, the telephone, the phonograph, the copier, and the skyscraper."

David Boaz
Cato.org
Cato Institute
July 7, 2004
Library Topic

"As common as it is to speak of 'robber barons,' most who use that term are confused about the role of capitalism in the American economy and fail to make an important distinction — the distinction between what might be called a market entrepreneur and a political entrepreneur. A pure market entrepreneur, or capitalist, succeeds financially by selling a newer, better, or less expensive product on the free market without any government subsidies, direct or indirect. The key to his success as a capitalist is his ability to please the consumer, for in a capitalist society the consumer ultimately calls the economic shots. By contrast, a political entrepreneur succeeds primarily by influencing government to subsidize his business or industry, or to enact legislation or regulation that harms his competitors."

Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Mises Daily
Ludwig von Mises Institute
September 23, 2006
Library Topic

"...[U]sually the free market, not government intervention, gets the blame. Thus, all of the railroad men of the late nineteenth century have gone down in history as 'robber barons' although this designation definitely does not apply to James J. Hill. It does apply to his subsidized competitors, who deserve all the condemnation that history has provided them. (Also deserving of condemnation are the politicians who subsidized them, enabling their monopoly and corruption.)"

Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Mises Daily
Ludwig von Mises Institute
September 23, 2006
Library Topic

"The lesson here is that most historians are hopelessly confused about the rise of capitalism in America. They usually fail to adequately appreciate the entrepreneurial genius of men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, and more often than not they lump these men (and other market entrepreneurs) in with genuine 'robber barons' or political entrepreneurs. ...

Political entrepreneurs and their governmental patrons are the real villains of American business history and should be portrayed as such. They are the real robber barons.

At the same time, the market entrepreneurs who practiced genuine capitalism, whose genius and energy fueled extraordinary economic achievement and also brought tremendous benefits to Americans, should be recognized for their achievements rather than demonized, as they so often are. Men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt were heroes who improved the lives of millions of consumers; employed thousands and enabled them to support their families and educate their children; created entire cities because of the success of their enterprises (for example, Scranton, Pennsylvania); pioneered efficient management techniques that are still employed today; and donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities and nonprofit organizations of all kinds, from libraries to hospitals to symphonies, public parks, and zoos. It is absolutely perverse that historians usually look at these men as crooks or cheaters while praising and advocating 'business/government partnerships,' which can only lead to corruption and economic decline."

Thomas J. DiLorenzo
Mises Daily
Ludwig von Mises Institute
September 23, 2006
Library Topic

"In the 40 years following Appomattox, the United States amazed European investors and bankers with the speed at which it changed from a backward agricultural republic to the most powerful industrial force on the planet. During the years of the so-called robber barons, America outpaced other nations by large margins when it came to growth in per-capita income, industrial production, and rising values generally. Moreover, the Gilded Age saw economic participation at all levels of society, including numerous previously disenfranchised constituencies.

In this way, the industrial captains of the era enabled, in the long term, their very greatest gift: the rise of that most radical and democratic of things—a strong, stable, educated middle class."

Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Commentary
June 2007
Library Topic

"One measure of prosperity is the misery index, which combines unemployment and inflation. During Coolidge’s six years as president, his misery index was 4.3 percent—the lowest of any president during the twentieth century. Unemployment, which had stood at 11.7 percent in 1921, was slashed to 3.3 percent from 1923 to 1929. What’s more, Mellon was correct on the effects of the tax-rate cuts—revenue from income taxes steadily increased from $719 million in 1921 to over $1 billion by 1929. Finally, the United States had budget surpluses every year of Coolidge’s presidency, which cut about one-fourth of the national debt."

Burton W. Folsom Jr.
The Freeman, Volume 58, Issue 10
Foundation for Economic Education
December 2008
Library Topic

"[Andrew] Mellon was not always consistent in his free-market arguments. He supported high tariffs for many products, but he recognized that a 'subsidy can be paid only by taking money out of the pockets of all the people in order that it shall find its way back into the pockets of some of the people. ...

The slashing of the tax rates, however, was where Mellon did his most good. He carefully studied the effects of confiscatory rates and concluded that most wealthy Americans were avoiding payment of taxes by exploiting tax loopholes—foreign investments, the buying and selling of art and coins, and the purchase of tax-exempt bonds.

Why not, Mellon argued, cut the top rate from 73 to 25 percent? In fact, why not chop all rates by the same proportion? That idea—which would be called the Mellon Plan—would not only encourage the rich to invest in the American economy, it might actually generate more revenue. 'It seems difficult for some to understand,' he wrote, 'that high rates of taxation do not necessarily mean large revenue to the Government, and that more revenue may often be obtained by lower rates.'

Coolidge fully backed the Mellon Plan, and Congress passed it in stages during the 1920s. Cutting both federal spending and tax rates across the board worked wonders for the American economy. American businessmen plowed capital into radios, cars, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, telephones, and a variety of new inventions from the air conditioner to the zipper. Entrepreneurs knew they would be able to keep most of what they invested, and the American economy grew rapidly during the 1920s."

Burton W. Folsom Jr.
The Freeman, Volume 58, Issue 10
Foundation for Economic Education
December 2008
Library Topic

"In a capitalistic free market, as was seen in the time of the Robber Barons, the only way to build true, long-lasting wealth is to offer a product of greater quality and/or lower price than one’s competitors to as many people as possible. As such, a capitalist is only able to amass wealth by providing his fellow man with something that he would otherwise not be able to enjoy or afford."

J. P. Arendt
RiseofReason.com
2009
20
Library Topic

"Not only did these Robber Barons improve the lives of their customers, but they provided countless jobs and created growth in the economy. Carnegie not only provided jobs to his steel workers and administrators, but he also made it possible for men to have jobs laying his steel along Vanderbilt’s railways, building Rockefeller’s oil derricks, manufacturing Ford’s automobiles, or building skyscrapers in Manhattan. Furthermore, each of the men created huge amounts of wealth for other people that either invested in their respective concerns or purchased their goods and used them to build up companies of their own. Each Robber Baron created many times the wealth and income that he, himself, took home.

So, it seems that Robber Barons did not really rob anybody – in fact they seemed to have improved the lives of most of the people in this nation. So why the nasty name? It must be their unrelenting selfish greed that brought on this negative perception of these magnates. After all, a man such as John D. Rockefeller cannot build up $320 billion in wealth without greedily hoarding everything he can get his hands on like Ebenezer Scrooge, right? Wrong. The Robber Barons, despite their name, were notorious for actually giving away their money. Never has there been a series of philanthropists such as these. Each man puts Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Bono of U2 to shame."

J. P. Arendt
RiseofReason.com
November 20, 2009
Library Topic

"Not only did these men provide cheap goods and services, countless jobs, and unprecedented wealth, but they also gave more to charity than anyone before or since. The free market set the sky as the limit for these men and they capitalized on it. By doing so, they improved this nation and the lives of its citizens. It is time we stop referring to these men as 'Robber Barons' and call them what they are: Capitalists."

J. P. Arendt
RiseofReason.com
2009
20
Library Topic

"The sobriquet 'Robber Baron' has hence struck a pejorative chord in generations of graduates of schools that continue to teach that individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan used the capitalist system to exploit the working class, form anti-competitive trusts, and obtain the accumulation of personal wealth above all else. Muckraker Ida Tarbell, author of the History of the Standard Oil Company, reinforced the idea that these soulless, industrialist Robber Barons were a destructive force and were willing to circumvent laws to accomplish their personal selfish ends."

Bob Adelmann
The New American
July 16, 2010
Library Topic

"John D. Rockefeller had a rare business mind. He was at once a visionary, foreseeing a world in which his kerosene illuminated millions of homes, and an accountant obsessed with day-to-day penny-pinching. Upon buying his first refinery in 1863 at the age of 23, Rockefeller started optimizing every part of his business, from his storage facilities to his refining methods to the number of non-kerosene-refined products (waxes, lubricants, etc.) that could be squeezed from every barrel.

In pursuit of efficiency, Rockefeller employed then-rare business strategies such as vertical integration and economies of scale. For example, by purchasing his own forest and producing his own barrels, Rockefeller lowered per-barrel costs from $3 to $1 while increasing reliability and quality. To transport oil, Rockefeller obtained large rebates from railroads, not through corrupt conspiracies (the typical explanation) but by dramatically lowering the railroads’ costs. Where others offered railroads unreliable, highly variable traffic, Rockefeller offered guaranteed daily fleets of Standard-owned tank cars, loaded and unloaded by Standard-provided facilities, for straight-line trips from Cleveland to New York. The Lake Shore Railroad’s James Devereux testified that Standard Oil lowered transport costs from $900,000 to $300,000 a trip.

Rockefeller was simply a man ahead of his time — and his competition."

Alex Epstein
The Daily Caller
May 13, 2011
Library Topic

"The 16th Amendment to the Constitution, authorizing the federal government to impose and collect taxes, and ratified in 1913, was the culmination of a backlash against the robber barons of the early 1900s. The tax it authorized was directed at the relatively small number of people generating great wealth in railroads, steel, oil, real estate and finance. Their names remain prominent today, the Mellons, the Astors, the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers and J.P. Morgan.

Their contributions, their ingenuity, as well as their greed and ruthlessness, helped build the country we know today, and whether or not they complained about paying their fair share, it was the law of the land. Initially, the newly imposed federal tax netted out to just one percent tax on income, and less than one percent of the population paid it. It was for all intents and purposes a millionaires' tax.

Today we have a whole new breed of robber barons, and too many make their money in a far less productive way than the robber barons of the last century. The Carnegies built the network of libraries we still enjoy today; others founded the manufacturing base that took the country into the industrial age.

Too many of today's millionaires and billionaires made their money dreaming up new and exotic ways of securitizing paper wealth, creating a financial bubble that, when it burst, took away the savings of ordinary taxpayers and plunged the country into a deep recession."

Douglas Cohn
Eleanor Clift
Pocono Record
2011
19
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Andrew W. Mellon belonged to a remarkable American generation which witnessed the creation and accumulation of individual fortunes in unprecedented abundance by such men as Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Morgan, and Frick.

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From the New York Daily News:

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James Jerome Hill, builder of the Great Northern railroad, was the only railroad entrepreneur of the nineteenth century who received no federal subsidies to build his railroads.

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When Matthew Josephson wrote The Robber Barons in 1934, he tipped his hand as to his personal prejudice against the capitalists of the late 19th century.

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Honest, objective historians of the so called 'robber baron' era, such as Gabriel Kolko and Burton Folsom, know that the capitalist bogeyman perspective is simplistic and overwrought.

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"All the ire at banks and multinational companies by dangerous communists and anti-globalisation hippies is misdirected. They should reserve their venom for the rustic rich-world farmer living the life of Henry David Thoreau."

While tech start-ups are busying themselves inflating the bubble, the Googles and Apples of the industry have bigger ambitions: creating a monopoly.

"Although Barack Obama is the first black president of the United States, he is by no means unique, except for his complexion. He follows in the footsteps of other presidents with a similar vision, the vision at the heart of the Progressive movement that flourished a hundred years ago.

Many of the trends, problems and disasters of our time are a legacy of that era. We can only imagine...

We are now at the mercy of modern Robber Barons, and if history is any judge, it is either them or us.

The Gilded Age expressed Mark Twain’s disillusionment over the decline in his nation from the ... kindly America he remembered from his boyhood to the America of Black Friday, Credit Mobilier, Boss Tweed, Tammany, and the hustle for the fast buck.

This piece comments on the Standard Oil Trust case. According to Epstein, history shows that during Rockefeller's time in the oil industry, prices dropped dramatically, suggesting that Rockefeller's drive and ability to do exceptional business helped rather than hurt the American people.

Can America's schools teach history? The question ought to be ridiculous -- of course they can. What do we pay them for? History is as essential as reading and writing to a republic of free citizens. America's schools have always taught America's history.

It sounds like such an ugly term, 'Robber Baron.' The phrase brings to mind thoughts of abuse and theft. But who and what exactly did these so called Robber Barons rob?

t is worth noting that the term 'robber barons' was first applied to 19th-century captains of industry by Matthew Josephson in his 1934 book of that name.

The AP History view of the 'robber barons' like John D. Rockefeller is that they monopolized entire industries, forced smaller competitors out of business ... and generally did all of this much to the detriment of the American consumers.

Chart or Graph

Look at America's billionaires as they stood at the peak of wealth concentration--and the peak of the relative frequency of billionaires-- in approximately 1900.

Created by G.F. Keller in 1882, this cartoon depicts the octopus-like reach of the railroad industry monopoly.

John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870. He retired from Standard Oil in 1897. Look at what happened to the price of oil during the time he ran the company.

Created by Udo J. Keppler in 1904, this famous cartoon depicts John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company as an octopus wrapping its tentacles around all areas of government.

Analysis Report White Paper

"From 1906 to 1911, antitrust authorities prosecuted Standard Oil, a case that culminated with John D. Rockefeller's company being forcibly broken up into several smaller businesses."

This work traces the business enterprises of notorious Robber Baron Jay Gould.

"Some years ago I wrote an article for the Business History Review that bore the title 'In Search of Jay Gould.'"

"Early in 1869, the more sensitive citizens of New York became aware that an insufferable hayseed from Vermont named James Fisk Jr. was exceeding even his previous demonstrations of vulgarity."

Contrary to popular opinion of John D. Rockefeller, this article declares that his chief goal was to provide oil for the poor at a decent price. Folsom goes on to describe Rockefeller's strong work ethic and philanthropic spirit, while also describing his sharp and successful career in the oil business.

College and university administrators have always been scrambling for money, and the papers, pledge books, and office files of John D. Rockefeller document the fund-raising efforts of many school administrators in the late nineteenth century.

"The purpose of this paper is to determine whether the pre-dissolution Standard Oil Company actually used predatory price cutting to achieve or maintain its monopoly."

"'Robber Barons': that was what U.S. political and economic commentator Matthew Josephson (1934) called the economic princes of his own day. Today we call them 'billionaires.'"

Robber Barons and the pyramid of wealth in the late 19th century.

This paper traces the rise of the Robber Barons in American history. Specifically focusing on Cornelius Vanderbilt, T. J. Stiles describes how Vanderbilt's competitive spirit and enterprising nature led the way in the growth of American corporations.

"Carnegie and the other great business leaders of his generation inaugurated a golden age of American philanthropy."

This document contains a variety of classic cartoons relating to the monopolies generated by the Robber Barons in the late 19th century. Many of the cartoons portray these monopolies as invasive and detrimental to society.

This piece describes the growth of the petroleum industry and how the law of supply and demand played a big role in it. It also discusses John D. Rockefeller's role in the oil refining industry.

"The most vehement and persistent controversy in business history has been that waged by the critics and defenders of the ‘robber baron’ concept of the American businessman."

"Too many generations of Americans have swallowed whole Matthew Josephson's portrait of the great nineteenth-century entrepreneurs as Robber Barons...."

This piece briefly describes the lives and habits of two prominent Robber Barons: J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are often referred to as the time of the 'robber barons.'

"Among the great misconceptions of the free economy is the widely-held belief that 'laissez faire' embodies a natural tendency toward monopoly concentration."

Video/Podcast/Media

Simply put, Vanderbilt helped to shape our modern corporate economy, often ruthlessly.

LeFevre discusses some common arguments against the "Robber Barons" of the 19th century: the idea that these businessmen acquired their wealth at the expense of other people; that they wanted to become monopolists; and that they had poor taste.

Don Boudreaux of George Mason University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about when market failure can be improved by government intervention.

Thomas E. Woods, Jr. discusses various conceptions about American history, including the idea that the "Robber Barons" were harming Americans.

Burt Folsom spoke to conservative students about the role of government, the free market economy, and the history of business and industrial regulation. He also responded to questions from the audience.

"Mr. Krass talked about the life and legacy of Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Krass is the author of Carnegie, published by John Wiley and Sons."

"Edward Renehan, Jr., talked about his biography Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, published by Basic Books. In his book he recounts the life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), who built his fortune on the development of transportation systems and became synonymous with American business. His wealth was historic as upon his death his fortune in today's dollars would have...

John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. (July 8, 1839 - May 23, 1937) was an American industrialist and philanthropist. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of modern philanthropy.

"Professor Friedman explodes the myth that America's 19th century industrialists exploited the ordinary man."

"Edward Renehan talked about The Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons, published by Basic Books. In the book, he argues that Jay Gould, owner of the Union Pacific railroad company and one of the largest investors of his day, has been portrayed unfairly by the press and in previous books about his life. Mr. Renehan says that Mr. Gould's...

"T.J. Stiles talked about his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Knopf, 2009). He was interviewed by Paul Hutton, author of Phil Sheridan and His Army. He also responded to questions from members of the audience."

"America’s experiment with laissez-faire capitalism in the 1800s was a disaster, historians tell us, because businessmen used anticompetitive tactics to form giant, invincible monopolies. The textbook example of these evils of Big Business is John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust. In an era before government regulations and antitrust laws, the story goes, Rockefeller wielded market power to...

"Mr. Chernow discussed his biography Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., published by Random House. Mr. Rockefeller, the world's first billionaire, created the powerful monopoly, Standard Oil, which at one time refined and marketed almost 90 percent of the oil produced in America. Mr. Chernow talked about the life of the industrial tycoon whose life was clouded by controversy and...

Reed explains the many flaws with the prevailing theory that Standard Oil was a monopoly or that the company's founder and president, John Rockefeller, was exploitative....

Primary Document

James J. Hill was a great businessman and amassed the immense fortune typical for an early 20th century robber baron. As the title suggests, this book compiles his many speeches.

This economic classic is noted for providing us with terms for and expositions of such key economic ideas as the division of labor, "invisible hand," self-interest as a beneficial force, and freedom of trade.

"This is neither the time nor the place to characterize or eulogize the maker of ‘this strange eventful history,’ but perhaps it is worth while to recognize that the history really was eventful. And strange. Nothing stranger ever came out of the Arabian Nights than the story of this poor Scotch boy who came to America and step by step, through many trials and triumphs, became the...

This archive from the New York Times gives an interesting glimpse into the philanthropy of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Senator Stanford explained the objects to be attained by the bill recently introduced by himself in the Senate of the United States, with reference to the formation of co-operative associations, substantially as follows….

Written in 1877, this New York Times article provides a contemporary account of the life of a famous Robber Baron, Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt.

Written in 1902, this letter to the editor of the New York Times describes medieval robber barons and then compares them to the robber barons of the early 20th century.

This archive from the New York Times briefly chronicles the life of Henry Clay Frick. Frick worked closely with Andrew Carnegie and was classified as one of the great Robber Barons.

Gibbons v. Ogden is considered a landmark supreme court case on the issue of the Interstate Commerce Clause. Aaron Ogden was given an exclusive license to operate a shipping business within the State of New York. He sued a man named Thomas Gibbons, who ran a competing shipping business between New Jersey and New York City, claiming that Gibbon's operations in the...

Written at the time of his death, this archive from the New York Times describes Jay Gould's impressive rise from a fourteen-year-old determined to make his own way in life, to a successful businessman amidst the interests of Wall Street.

In this message, President Grover Cleveland addresses the issue of trusts and monopolies often related to the Robber Barons.

Nations, like men, are travelers. Each one of them moves, through history, toward what we call progress and a new life or toward decay and death.

This citizen was J. Pierpont Morgan, who had just organized the most powerful industrial and financial institution the world has ever known.

This piece presents an extensive biography of J. W. Gates at the time of his death. Classified as a Robber Baron, Gates built his success through steel-related initiatives and investments in the stock market.

This archive from the New York Times presents an obituary for Jay Gould, one of the infamous American Robber Barons.

This document provides a selection of letters written between John D. Rockefeller Sr. and John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Autobiography of John D. Rockefeller.

"The Sherman Act authorized the Federal Government to institute proceedings against trusts in order to dissolve them. Any combination 'in the form of trust or otherwise that was in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations' was declared illegal. Persons forming such combinations were subject to fines of $5,000 and a year in jail. Individuals and companies...

For many years, John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company dominated much of the oil production in the United States. In the early twentieth century, Standard Oil was taken to court on the allegation that they had violated the Anti-Trust Act of 1890. This Supreme Court decision delineates the outcomes of this lawsuit.

This archive from the New York Times details the politics in the early 1900s involving the Standard Oil company. Apparently an attempt at an "October surprise," John D. Rockefeller announced his support for the Republican candidate, William Taft. Due to the anti-trust issues Teddy Roosevelt had hurled at Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company in the preceding years, Roosevelt's White House...

The problem of the Government is to fix rates which will bring in a maximum amount of revenue to the Treasury and at the same time bear not too heavily on the taxpayer or on business enterprises.

This document provides a look at J. P. Morgan and his business dealings and practices from the eyes of one of his contemporaries.

In this book, Andrew Carnegie, one of the members of the "Robber Baron" class, describes his views on wealth, business, and moral character.

This famous example of early twentieth century "muckraking" was produced by Ida Tarbell in 1904. According to Ms. Tarbell, the Standard Oil Company "was the first in the field, and it has furnished the methods, the charter, and the traditions for its followers." Part two of this volume can be found...

In this book, ‘Masters of Capital’, we have a most remarkable ‘Time and Motion Study’ of Capitalism in action.

Seven men dominate the financial and railroad policies upon three-quarters of the railroad mileage of the United States. Every great highway of commerce lies within the control of one or another of them.

The rise and progress of the Standard Oil Company, from its inception in 1865 till its control, in 1878, of ninety-five per cent. of the oil business of the United States, has presented itself to different critics in somewhat different characters....

Written by Matthew Josephson, this book coined the term "robber baron" and influenced several generations of Americans against the industrial capitalists of the late 19th and early 20th century.

This article offers a look at some of the robber barons through the eyes of their contemporaries.

The old laws, and the old customs which had almost the binding force of law, were once quite sufficient to regulate the accumulation and distribution of wealth.

In this speech, President Teddy Roosevelt addresses several issues related to the Standard Oil Company's monopoly on the American petroleum industry.

"The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and poor in harmonious relationship. The conditions of human life have not only been changed, but revolutionized, within the past few hundred years. In former days there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, and environment of the chief and those...

Along with Ida Tarbell's The History of the Standard Oil Company, Henry Lloyd Demarest's Wealth Against Commonwealth portrayed the oil monopoly in a negative light and influenced Americans against business and enterprise.

In May last the Supreme Court handed down decisions in the suits in equity brought by the United States to enjoin the further maintenance of the Standard Oil Trust and of the American Tobacco Trust, and to secure their dissolution.

This piece from 1859 compares Cornelius Vanderbilt to German robber barons. According to T. J. Stiles, this piece is probably "the first known use of the metaphor in American journalism."

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