Gilded Age Robber Barons

During the Gilded Age, a number of businessmen made large sums of money by putting themselves in control of whole industries, such as railroading, banking, oil, and others. The practice of being the only person who controls a particular industry is known as having a monopoly over that industry. Four men in particular made names - and, subsequently, much money - for themselves during this time: JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie.

JP Morgan was born John Pierpont Morgan on April 17, 1837. He dominated the banking and finance industry during the Gilded Age. He had a monopoly over the steel industry after he purchased United States Steel Corporation and merged it with other steel companies. Due to the fact that the country was moving so quickly toward industrialization, there was a tremendous need for steel, which Morgan had in large supply. U.S. Steel wound up being extremely successful. Morgan would go on to become involved in other successful companies, such as General Electric and AT&T. Because of his wealth and his influence within the government, he managed to help the U.S. during periods of economic crises, such as the Panic of 1907.

Cornelius Vanderbilt was an American businessman who built his wealth through the railroading and shipping industries. Born in 1794, Vanderbilt was an early investor in the first railroads right as they were being built; because he got into the industry at the right time, he was able to accumulate an incredible amount of wealth.

In the late 1840s, when people flocked to the West with the promise of finding gold, Vanderbilt took advantage of Americans’ needs to head toward California. He set up the Accessory Transit Company, which many hopefuls used to travel to the West Coast during the Gold Rush.

John D. Rockefeller, another name you may recognize, was an American businessman who founded the Standard Oil Company, the first great U.S. trust. As part of his company, Rockefeller was directly in charge of producing, refining, and transporting the oil around the country. At this time, oil was an important commodity in the United States, as it was first used as a light source and later as a way to power automobiles. In his later years, he became a philanthropist, meaning that he gave great sums of his money to charities and to help fund research in areas such as medicine and education.

Finally, Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Scotland, came to the United States and eventually founded Carnegie Steel. In the late 1800s, the emphasis on railroad building and other industrial pursuits would drive up the need for steel and other materials, which Carnegie was ready to produce and ship out across the country.

It was because he was in charge of the process from the first step to the last that he became so wealthy. JP Morgan would later buy Carnegie Steel and transform it into his U.S. Steel Corporation. Like Rockefeller, Carnegie also became a philanthropist later on in life.