The rise of business was in large part due to the successes of one man, Andrew Carnegie. Mr. Carnegie was viewed as robber-baron, philanthropist, and a captain of industry depending on the perspective of the person observing his life. While he was, and continues to be, a polarizing figure in American history, Mr. Carnegie was above all, an entrepreneur who believed strongly in free enterprise. Andrew Carnegie used his business acumen, and increased federal support for corporations, to build America’s first steel monopoly.
Like all things in life, while Mr. Carnegie gained power and wealth, others suffered. Laborers in factories would often work long hours with few or no breaks. The light bulb and electricity that fueled them insured that work could continue without pause long into the night, with no overtime, for as little as 3 dollars a week. Labor Unions, like the American Labor Federation (1886) began to form and fight for fair pay, safety regulations, and weekends off.
Farmers also suffered a great deal as the Carnegie Steel Company grew. Carnegie Steel was America’s first truly vertically integrated company. As such Carnegie owned every aspect of the steel making process, including railroads. Carnegie routinely manipulated railroad shipping prices making it difficult for small farmers to ship goods to America’s growing cities. Farmers fought for legislation and eventually helped pass the Sherman Antitrust Act, and the Interstate Commerce Act.
Late in his life, Mr.Carnegie, perhaps influenced by the Social Gospel Movement, penned the Gospel of Wealth. In his book, he stated that the rich should use their wealth to help society at large. It was Mr. Carnegie’s belief that a man would not rise in society if the rich simply increased the wages of workers, but would ascend the social ladder if libraries, museums, and colleges were available to him. Mr. Carnegie gave away vast amounts of his fortune in support of the arts and educational programs.
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