Robber baron (industrialist)
In social criticism and economic literature, Robber barons became a derogatory term applied to wealthy and powerful 19th-century American businessmen that appeared in North American periodical literature as early as the August 1870 issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. By the late 1800s, the term was typically applied to businessmen who used what were considered to be exploitative practices to amass their wealth. These practices included exerting control over national resources, accruing high levels of government influence, paying extremely low wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors in order to create monopolies and eventually raise prices, and schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors in a manner which would eventually destroy the company for which the stock was issued and impoverish investors. The term combines the sense of criminal ("robber") and illegitimate aristocracy (a baron is an illegitimate role in a republic).
We hear now on all sides the term "Robber Barons" applied to some of the great capitalists"... "The old robber barons of the Middle Ages who plundered sword in hand and lance in rest were more honest than this new aristocracy of swindling millionaires.
—Lida F. Baldwin, quoting the August, 1870 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, writing in 1907 about how little business had changed in 35 years.
The term robber baron derives from the medieval German lords who charged nominally illegal tolls (tolls unauthorized by the Holy Roman Emperor) on the primitive roads crossing their lands or the larger tolls on ships traversing the Rhine—all such actions without adding anything of value, (see robber baron) but instead lining one's pockets to the detriment (added costs) of the common good.
U.S. political and economic commentator Matthew Josephson further popularized the term during the Great Depression in a 1934 book by the same title. He attributed the phrase to an 1880 anti-monopoly pamphlet about railroad magnates. Like the German antecedent princes, Josephson alleged that American big businessmen amassed huge fortunes immorally, unethically, and unjustly. The theme was popular during the Great Depression amid public scorn for big business.
After the Depression, business historians, led by Allan Nevins, began challenging this view of American big businessmen by advocating the "Industrial Statesman" thesis. Nevins, in his John D. Rockefeller: The Heroic Age of American Enterprise (2 vols., 1940), took on Josephson. He argued that while Rockefeller may have engaged in some unethical and illegal business practices, this should not overshadow his bringing order to industrial chaos of the day. Gilded Age capitalists, according to Nevins, sought to impose order and stability on competitive business, and that their work made the United States the foremost economy by the 20th century.
This debate about the morality of certain business practices has continued and many modern industrialists and media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and powerful rich individuals who hold political office and control media entities, such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy are referred to as robber barons by their critics.
List of businessmen who were labeled as Robber Barons
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2013)|
- John Jacob Astor (real estate, fur) – New York
- Andrew Carnegie (steel) – Pittsburgh and New York
- William A. Clark (copper) – Montana
- Jay Cooke (finance) – Philadelphia
- Charles Crocker (railroads) – California
- Daniel Drew (finance) – New York
- James Buchanan Duke (tobacco) – Durham, North Carolina
- Marshall Field (retail) – Chicago
- James Fisk (finance) – New York
- Henry Morrison Flagler (railroads, oil) – New York and Florida
- Henry Clay Frick (steel) – Pittsburgh and New York
- John Warne Gates (barbed wire, oil) – Texas
- Jay Gould (railroads) – New York
- Edward Henry Harriman (railroads) – New York
- James J. Hill (railroads) – Minnesota
- Charles T. Hinde (railroads, water transport, shipping, hotels) - Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, California
- Mark Hopkins (railroads) – California
- Collis Potter Huntington (railroads) - California
- Andrew W. Mellon (finance, oil) - Pittsburgh
- J. P. Morgan (finance, industrial consolidation) – New York
- John Cleveland Osgood (coal mining, iron) - Colorado
- Henry B. Plant (railroads) – Florida
- John D. Rockefeller (oil) – Cleveland, New York
- Charles M. Schwab (steel) – Pittsburgh and New York
- Joseph Seligman (banking) – New York
- John D. Spreckels (sugar) – California
- Leland Stanford (railroads) - California
- Cornelius Vanderbilt (water transport, railroads) – New York
- Charles Tyson Yerkes (street railroads) – Chicago
In popular culture
In 1975, students at Stanford University held an election to choose a mascot for the athletic teams and voted for Robber Barons. The university's administration refused to implement the vote, and the teams remain without an official mascot, instead being referred to as the Cardinal. (The university's colors are cardinal and white.)
|Look up robber baron in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Baldwin, Lida F. (November 1907). "Google books online, pp-683 article reprint: 'Unbound Old Atlantics'". The Atlantic Monthly C (Google books online reprints, pp 683). Retrieved 2013-08-13.
- Dole, Charles F. "Google books online, (Atlantic Magazine bound reprints): 'THE ETHICS OF SPECULATION'". The Atlantic Monthly C (Google books online reprints, pp 812). Retrieved 2013-08-13.
- Worth Robert Miller, Populist cartoons: an illustrated history of the third-party movement in the 1890s (2011) p. 13
- "A Romance of the New Era". Harper's New Monthly Magazine. LXXXIX (DXXXIV). November 1894. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
- Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861–1901, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934.
- Allan Nevins, John D. Rockefeller: The Heroic Age of American Enterprise, 2 vols., New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1940.
- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/bruce-springsteen-bankers_n_1559776.html Bruce Springsteen: Bankers Are 'Greedy Thieves'" (Huffington Post)
- "Yet Another Media Robber Baron Not Getting It" (Ackerman)
- http://www.chacha.com/question/how-is-donald-trump-a-robber-barron "How is Donald Trump a Robber Barron?" (Chacha Q&A)
- David Leon Chandler, Henry Flagler: The Astonishing Life and Times of the Visionary Robber Baron Who Founded Florida (1986)
- Edward Renehan, Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould, King of the Robber Barons (2005)
- Keys, C. M. (January 1906). "The Overlords of Railroad Traffic: The Seven Men Who Reign Supreme". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XIII: 8437–8445. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
- "The Redstone Story re-lives the industrialization of the West" Redstone, Colorado website, history
- T. J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (2010) p 328
- John Franch, Robber Baron: The Life of Charles Tyson Yerkes (2008)
- Rod Kennedy and Jim Waltzer, Monopoly: The Story Behind the World's Best-Selling Game (2004)
- What is the history of Stanford's mascot and nickname?
- Cardinal Chronicle
- "Stanford Vote Favors 'Robber Baron' Tag". Spokane Daily Chronicle. December 5, 1975. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
- Folsom, Burton W., and Forrest McDonald, The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America (1991).
- Goldin, Milton. "Andrew Carnegie and the Robber Baron Myth". In Myth America: A Historical Anthology, Volume II. 1997. Gerster, Patrick, and Cords, Nicholas. (editors.) Brandywine Press, St. James, NY. ISBN 1-881089-97-5
- Josephson, Matthew. The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861–1901 (1934).