Robber Barons and Industry Captains in the 19th Century

Industrial tycoons of the nineteenth century used whatever they could to get to the top of the economy, by either contributing positively or in some cases even if it meant destroying all the other industries that got in their way. In the nineteenth century industrial tycoons were known as either a robber baron or an industry captain. Depending on how someone contributed to the growth of businesses, labeled them as one or the other. Some of the contributing factors that played an effect on identifying an industrialist as a robber baron or industry captain are how they came to power of the business industry, how they used their power, and how they gave back to society.

These industrial tycoons were some of the wealthiest men in the US.

The term Robber Baron describes a leader that got their fortune by stealing from the public. Robber Barons drove their competitors to ruins to find their way to the top of the industry.

They didn’t only want to be the top competitor, they wanted to be the only competitor. So whatever they could do to take them down they did. They were American industrialists or financial magnates of the late 19th century who became wealthy by unethical means, such as questionable stock-market operations and exploitation of labor.

To be a Captains of Industry means you’re a business leader whose means of gathering a personal fortune contributes positively to the country in some way. This may have been through increased productivity, expansion of markets, or providing more jobs.

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Captains of Industry were more likely to be trusted than robber barons. Workers were treated better, paid better, and worked in better conditions.

Jay Gould was known to as the king of all Robber Barons. Gould was a railroad financier. Holding a position on the board of directors of The Erie Railroad, he earned a terrible reputation. Gould devalued company stock and tried to corner the market in gold, causing the U.S. Stock Market panic. In 1879 after being forced out of the Erie Railroad, Gould started, to build up a system of railroads in the Midwest by gaining control of four western railroads, including the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In 1880, he was in control of 10,000 miles of railway. Then Gould withdrew from management of the Union Pacific in 1883 amongst political controversy over its debts to the federal government, realizing he had a large profit for himself.

He had also obtained a controlling interest in the Western Union telegraph company. Eventually, he was connected with many of the largest railway financial operations in the United States from 1868-1888. During the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886 he hired strike breakers. A strike breaker was someone who works or is employed in place of others who are on strike, thereby making the strike ineffectual. Gould was also the main reason for the 1873 depression. The Panic of 1873 triggered a severe international economic depression in both Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879. Gould wasn’t known to have many good things about him, that’s why he was known as the king of Robber Barons.

On the other hand Henry Ford was known as a Captain of Industry. He was the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. The assembly line created a more efficient was of working. The only bad thing about the assembly line was that workers did the same thing over and over all day long. But Henry Ford did not like Jews at all. He supported the anti-Jews act. He was also a long-time supporter of Adolf Hitler. During World War I. Ford wrote a series of viciously anti-Semitic articles for The Dearborn Independent, which he then published in book form as a hate-filled diatribe against Jews called “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem”, which basically blamed Jews for all of the problems of the world. But besides that Henry Ford treated his workers fairly. Workers would only work eight hour shifts and got paid five dollars a day.

He cared about worker’s safety. Henry ford was very generous he gave the most back to society out of all the other Robber Barons and Industry Captains. In 1930 Henry Ford had his peak of wealth; he reached five hundred to seven hundred million dollars from his company. Ford didn’t gain his success solely on his innovation in the automobile industry. He was a friend to the middle class public as well as the workers in his factories. For this he was rewarded with financial success by the same people he looked out for. Furthermore, he repeatedly gave back to society through donations, philanthropic foundations, and the creation of organizations that would help to educate and benefit the people. Henry Ford was a man who gained world-wide business success through his innovative ideas.

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Robber Barons and Industry Captains in the 19th Century. (2022, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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