During this unit, we are learning about the monopolies in business following the Civil War. Huge businesses arose after the war and in many cases, one company would gain control of an entire industry, creating a monopoly. These monopolies are controversial because they both helped and hurt the economy and the people after the Civil War. Two men in particular prospered immensely during this time and became leaders of monopolies, Rockefeller and Carnegie. We learned about these topics by analyzing articles about them and watching videos from ABC Clio. We were split into groups and each group had to analyze these sources thinking about either the key people, main ideas, important events, and essential terms. We all took notes on these sources in one big class Google Document. Then, we all, as a class, had to come up with an essential question for this unit. We decided that our essential question was going to be: How did the actions of monopolistic leaders, such as Rockefeller and Carnegie, affect the common worker?
John D. Rockefeller was a very competitive man. He eventually became the leader of the oil industry. He became a wealthy man by helping the Union during the Civil War. When oil started being drilled, he saw an opportunity to prosper. He opened up a few oil companies to start pumping oil, and he started buying other competitors around him. When the depression hit, many oil companies around him started to crash, but his was able to stay efficient and strong. He saw this as an opportunity for even more power and was able to expand his company and prosper while others were crumbling. He bought out most of the oil companies in the U.S. and started partnering with intelligent business partners such as Henry Flagler. If he wasn't able to buy a company, he would partner with them so he was still able to regulate prices and gain power. He was able to keep production costs low meaning lower prices for the population. He founded the Standard Oil Company which absorbed almost all of the competing oil companies and was able to negotiate lower shipping prices, stabilizing and lowering oil prices. However, people got nervous about his ruthlessness and having too much power, and they thought he was just making decisions for greed and money. They eventually took it to the Supreme Court where he was forced to disperse his trusts. He gave lots of his money to charities and donated to education, medicine, and science. He believed strongly in spreading his wealth, and he said in an interview with William Hoster " I believe the power to make money is a gift of God ... to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind. Having been endowed with the gift I possess, I believe it is my duty to make money and still more money and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man". He was able to become one of the wealthiest men in U.S. history because of his monopoly.
Andrew Carnegie controlled a similar monopoly in the steel industry. He too became wealthy by helping the Union during the Civil War. However, he was very poor as a child so he knew what it was like to be a common and poor worker. After the war, he realized that steel production was deteriorating, and he invested all his money in it to help it out. Carnegie knew the great need for steel, and tried to get advice from Europe on how to make it flourish. He was able to figure out a way to make high quality steel for lower prices he kept production costs, wages, and salaries low. He then grew even more with vertical integration which allowed him to control the raw materials, transportation, and dispersion of steel, meaning he controlled every part of steel. Common people became mad at Carnegie. A group called the iron and steel workers' union wanted to keep some power of their own and create better contracts for the workers, and word leaked that Carnegie planned to destroy them. This resulted in the brutal battle of Homestead Strike. However, he was able to keep expanding the company by buys materials at lower prices because of the depression, and he was the leader of the industry.
Even though these monopolies were able to help the U.S. by lower prices and increasing production, the common worker struggled immensely. Big monopolies also lowered wages and salaries to make bigger profits which was bad for the common worker. Monopolistic leaders wanted the most profit possible and since they had so much power, they could give workers very low wages. They controlled whole business so if a worker didn't like the way they did something, they had to stay in the job because they couldn't go anywhere else; everything was controlled by that one person. So workers had to deal with the bad wages to make sure they kept their jobs or else there weren’t many other job options. The common man didn't like one person controlling all of the business like a dictatorship and becoming rich in a time of depression. They tried to rebel a few times with events such as the Homestead Strike, but the leaders were very powerful. Carnegie grew up poor, so he knew the mindset and problems of the common and poor worker. However, he forgot about them and didn’t help them when he became rich and successful. This frustrated workers during economic depression, but they didn’t have much of a choice. The following picture shows how the common worker was completely at the mercy of the monopolistic leaders, and they could decide how to manage the money of the U.S.