Capt. of Industry or Robber Baron

The Industrial Age in America: Robber Barons and Captains of Industry
CP US History Assignment
Although a century has passed since the heyday of the great industrialists and
financiers, the debate continues: were these men captains of industry, without whom
this country could not have taken its place as a great industrial power, OR were they
robber barons, limiting healthy competition and exploiting the unskilled labor force
(poor) to benefit their desire for enormous wealth and power?
Where do we draw the line between unfair business practices and competition that
leads to innovation, investment and improvement in the standard of living?
The entrepreneurs of the late 19th Century were willing to take competition to the
extreme. Today we continue to struggle with similar kinds of questions about fair
and unfair business practices and the benefits and costs of competition.
Guided Questions:
What various practices of industrialists led to their being labeled “robber barons” OR
“captains of industry”?
In what ways did such industrialists harm and/or benefit the U.S. economy and the
quality of life of its citizens?
Learning Objectives:
Students will uncover some of the less honorable deeds as well as the shrewd
business moves and highly charitable acts of the great industrialists and financiers.
It could be argued that only because such people were able to amass great amounts
of capital could our country become the world’s greatest industrial power. Some of
the actions of these men, which could only happen in a period of economic laissez
faire, resulted in poor conditions for workers, but in the end, made America the
economic superpower it is today.
Students will examine the following industrial entrepreneurs of the late 19th Century:
Andrew Carnegie
John Rockefeller
Cornelius Vanderbilt
J.P. Morgan
For each person, you will look specifically at how they acquired their wealth (looking
particularly at business strategies, practices, etc), how they treated their workers,
how they spent their money, how/where they donated their money, and how they
should be remembered in history.
1. You will start with the database ABC-CLIO, found on the north library website.
You will need to log in with a user name and password if you are accessing the
site away from school. (lions, lions)
2. Once in the database, choose the American History database link, the choose
Topics, Rise of American Industry 1850-1900, Business of America.
Here you will listen to video clips under the Course Essentials Link:
captains of industry
robber baron
laissez faire capitalism and government
the players
the Ideology of business
3. Then click on General Resources and go down to the biographies:
a. Andrew Carnegie
b. J.P. Morgan
c. John Rockefeller
I have hard copies of these biographies if you want them and you can also
listen to audio recordings on the website.
I also have a guided reading summary of all three of the men in one
4. You will thoroughly complete the charts on each of the men.
Please DO NOT “share” your charts with your classmates. Your work must be
completed by you only.
5. We will divide into groups and discuss each of the men.
6. We will have a debate on their place in American history.