Was John D. Rockefeller A Robber Baron? PART ONE – Issue #2: Was John D. Rockefeller a Robber Baron? A “robber baron” was someone who employed any means necessary to enrich themselves at the expense of their competitors. Did John D. Rockefeller fall into that category or was he one of the “captains of industry”, whose shrewd and innovative leadership brought order out of industrial chaos and generated great fortunes that enriched the public welfare through the workings of various philanthropic agencies that these leaders established? In the early 1860s Rockefeller was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, who came to epitomize both the success and excess of corporate capitalism. His company was based in northwestern Pennsylvania.
A major question historians have disagreed on has been whether or not John D. Rockefeller was a so-called “robber baron”. Matthew Josephson agreed that Rockefeller was indeed a “robber baron”. In the book Taking Sides, He claims that Rockefeller was a deceptive and conspiratorial businessman, whose fortune was built by secret agreements and wrung concessions from America’s leading railroad companies (Taking Sides 25). When John D. Rockefeller merged with the railroad companies, he had gained control of a strategic transportation route that no other companies would be able to use.
Rockefeller would then be able to force the hand on the railroads and was granted a rebate on his shipments of oil. This was a kind of secret agreement between the two industries. None of the competition knew what the rates were for the rebates or the rates that Rockefeller was paying the railroad. This made it hard for the competition to keep up with the Standard Oil Company. The consequences led to many oil companies getting bought out by Rockefeller secretly.
All in all, 25 companies surrendered to Rockefeller’s relentless expansion, which was 20% of the oil industry in America. John D. Rockefeller and his comrades had stolen a long march on their 3 opponents, their tactics shaped themselves already as giant industrialists of the future conquering the pigmies. Josephson said, “Entrenched at the narrows of the mighty river of petroleum, they could no more be dislodged than those other barons, who had planted their castles along the Rhine”(Taking Sides 35). Ralph W. Hidey and Muriel E.
Hidey disagreed with Josephson. In the book Taking Sides, They believe that John D. Rockefeller and his associates created and applied a system for operating a large integrated industrial enterprise, which was one of the earliest representatives of Big Business. He contributed to the development of American petroleum industry and through it to the growth of the economy. The Hidey’s believed that Rockefeller’s greatest contribution, beyond the concept of Standard Oil combination itself, was the persuasion of strong men to join the alliance and to work together effectively in its management. Oil policies went deep into the personalities and early experiences of Rockefeller and his colleagues.
They had heightened uncertainty and speculation about their activities by their secrecy in building the alliance and by their evasive and legal testimony on the witness stand. There tended to be aroused antagonism because the very newness and size dominance, and efficiency of the combination. The antagonism also ran as far as the absorption of Rockefeller’s competitors in adversity and its search for the lowest possible railroad rates. The Standard Oil Company has done great work in the sense that oil refining has been simply reduced to a business and transportation. The Standard Oil Company brought a measure of order to a formerly confused industry. Anton Chaitkin agreed that John D.
Rockefeller was indeed a robber baron of his time. In Treason of America, he disputes his argument by stating that in the 1860’s Rockefeller ruthlessly consolidated oil refineries and oil-carrying railroads so as to create a giant trust known as Standard Oil. This trust controlled nearly all the oil in America. The monopolization of oil was very difficult to maintain for Rockefeller because many reformists were making allegations to right the wrongs of Standard Oil. Twice, the company was taken to the Supreme Court and dissolved. Rockefeller was vilified in the press and in popular literature as perhaps no other figure in American history has been vilified (Chiatkin 327).
However, there appeared to be other reformers that came to his rescue by informing him about what he could do with his money to get the attackers of his back. These reformers were advisors to Rockefeller, so he could keep his money well invested and out of the publics grasp. In the article, “Study in Power: John D. Rockefeller, Industrialist and Philanthropist”, Vincent P. Carosso believed that Rockefeller was not a robber baron. He goes on to say that Rockefeller lived in a time of constant and rapid change and worked in an industry, which in his day grew from insignificant to an indispensable element in the world economy.
His capacity was laid in planning and organization. This played in the development of vertical integration when it was still a novelty in business. As a young bookkeeper, Rockefeller learned he had an infinite capacity for detail. Wisdom of seeing what lies ahead and the ability to choose competent and energetic subordinates were two characteristics of his foresight. The ability to integrate and exercise effective control over numerous and widespread functions of his enterprise classified Rockefeller as a rare business genius (The American Historical Review 158). Also, with all the profits he was seeking John D. Rockefeller still managed to donate a half billion dollars to good causes and established a model for all philanthropists who followed.
In the textbook, America Past and Present, the authors portrayed John D. Rockefeller as a robber baron. He imposed order on the industry and had an ambition to build. Competition was wasteful and small-scale enterprise was inefficient. Consolidation was the path of the future because it revolutionized the way of doing business all over the world. Rockefeller was a man of religious beliefs, but he lacked charm, due to his distant and taciturn attitude. Anything that could increase profit Rockefeller would act on.
Even if it was to reduce the number of drops of solder on kerosene by one penny could bring in more money at less cost. He always had the highest quality for the lowest price. As a result Rockefeller’s success, the first of modern trusts were born. This innovation started a trust movement in the lead, whiskey, and sugar industries. Trusts were known to be associated more with monopoly. This angered the public and sparked protest among the reformers.
In the book The Rockefeller Files, by Gary Allen, Rockefeller is viewed as a robber baron. When John D. Rockefeller was coming close to monopolizing the oil industry, one of his most effective ploys was to capture a competitor from the inside. He would place his men inside a competitor’s office, or bribe employees of other firms to do his bidding( Allen 155). Today, John D.’s descendants now play the same game with our government.
In 1894, Rockefeller’s corrupt influence started in the White House. CRITIQUE SECTION I disagreed with Matthew Josephson because I believe that the only way to get ahead in business is to buy out your competition. Rockefeller was trying to monopolize the oil industry and he was going about it the right way, by building a partnership with the railroad company. I agreed with the Hidey’s points because Rockefeller was one of the main contributors to the big business boom. The alliances the Standard Oil Company made the competition disintegrate. Rockefeller revolutionized business by joining two businesses together that coincide with one another, which was oil and the railroad. Together they helped the economy flourish.
I agreed with Vincent P. Carosso because in the time Rockefeller was living there were rapid changes due to his success. He was a major factor in the world’s economy, which goes far beyond the barriers of the robber baron. The innovations Rockefeller was a part of still have foundation in today’s economy. I disagreed with Anton Chiatkin because monopolization is what a businessman wants to ultimately achieve. That was the view of John D. Rockefeller.
Chiatkin believed that monopolization was all that was wrong with American business. The jealousy of the public interfered with the overall monopolization of the oil-railroad industry, which made it impossible to accomplish. I disagreed with the textbook; written by Divine, Breen, Fredrickson and Williams; because in big business every little penny counts when you are trying to monopolize it. Every advantage, no matter how slim it may be, means something. As long as the product appeals to the overwhelming majority the business will thrive a great deal.
I agreed with Gary Allen because I feel everyone can be bought with the right amount of money. This showed Rockefeller’s enormous power despite his absence from the political realm. Sometimes you have to take desperate measures in order to succeed. The way he bought out competitors may have been sneaky, but in the end it still got the job done. In conclusion, I disagreed that John D.
Rockefeller was a “robber baron”. He was more of an innovator of business. The doors to new ways of successful entrepreneurships and partnerships will be forever indebted to the ideas of John D. Rockefeller. In the 1870′ s the economy was booming because of the so-called robber baron’s ambitions to build.
Today the economy has permanent scars of the great businessman. Whether or not the public thought he was ruthless and dispassionate, it did not justify his enormous accomplishments for the economy. Success and riches measured his ideas. Some of his tactics were conniving and deceitful, but that is what money can do to some people. The people that complain about his sneaky ways just do not understand because they were never and will never be exposed to probably one thousandth of his money. The fact that he had over 900 million dollars when he retired proved that he was probably one of the most prominent businessmen in American history, if not the most prominent.
PART TWO- Issue # 10: Was the New Deal an Effective Answer to the Great Depression? The catastrophe that occurred, in 1929, because of the Wall Street debacle crippled the American economy, deflated the optimistic future most Americans assumed to be their birthright and ripped apart the values by which the country’s businesses, farms, and governments were run. In the 1920s the whirlwind of the boom economy was no longer present. During the next decade the inertia effect of the Great Depression stifled Americans attempts to make ends meet. By 1932 over 9 million people would be unemployed, but Franklin D. Roosevelt was the newly elected president and had a plan to give Americans some relief from this Great Depression, by issuing the New Deal.
A major question that historians have disagreed on has been whether or not the New Deal was an effective answer to the Great Depression. Roger Biles of Taking Sides, agreed that Roosevelt’s proposal was effective. It did not get America out of depression, but it implanted many stabilizers to avert another such depression(Taking Sides 221). Although many New Deal programs were temporary emergencies; like the Glass-Steagull Act, which forced the separation of commercial and investment banking; others lingered long after the return to prosperity. The New Deal was impressive in relief and social welfare programs, but they never went as far as demanded or recommended.
It achieved much that was good, but left much undone. Frequently path breaking in their delivery of federal resources, outside normal channels also retained a strong commitment to local government and community control, while promising only temporary disruptions prior to the return of economic stability. Gary Dean Beast disagreed with Briles on the issue. He feels as though the New Deal was a tragic failure to recover from the depression during the eight peace time years. There were certainly positive contributions under the New Deal, but they may not have outweighed the negative.
This does not fall squarely on the shoulders of Roosevelt. The actions of Congress and the Supreme Court in nullifying, modifying and rejecting many proposals of the New Deal are good examples of how the President was not entirely at fault(Taking Sides 237). If Congress and the Supreme Court implemented these actions, maybe the depression would not have lasted so long. In the book, A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn disagreed that the New Deal had an impact that led America out of depression. When the New Deal was over, capitalism remained intact.
The rich still controlled the nation’s wealth as well as its laws, courts, police, etc. This made Roosevelt look like a hero to millions, but the same system that brought depression and crisis remained (Zinn 395). John A. Garrity, who wrote “The New Deal, National Socialism, a …