Question by oy, Sib!: In what way did Andrew Carnegie?
exemplify the spirit and beliefs of other U.S. industrial entrepreneurs of the late 19th century?
Basically, what did he do to influence them?
Answer by joe h
Andrew Carnegie typified those characteristics of business enterprise and innovation that changed the United States from an agricultural and commercial nation to the greatest industrial nation in the world in a single generation – between 1865 and 1901. The era has sometimes been called the “Age of the Robber Barons” on the assumption that because no public regulation or direction existed large fortunes were built by unprincipled men who corrupted officialdom, despoiled the country’s natural resources, and exploited its farmers and laborers. Surely, there were some men who manipulated the corporate securities of the companies they controlled in the stockmarket for their own gain, but the only victims were their fellow speculators.
The entrepreneurs of the period not only built and modernized industry, but because they were technologically minded, they increased the productivity of labor in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and railroading. As a result, the real wages of workers and the real wealth of farmers went up sharply.
In all this, Carnegie was a pacesetter. He was a stiff competitor; plowing back company earnings into new plants, equipment, and methods, he could lower prices and expand markets for steel products. In years of recession and depression he kept running his plants, undercutting competitors, and assuring employment for his workers.
These 19th-century entrepreneurs were successful in a dog-eat-dog world for several reasons. Government followed a hands-off policy: it did not regulate; it also did not tax. Government had not yet made commitments to social justice, protection of the poor, or more equitable distribution of the national product. At the same time, the customs, attitudes, and sanctions of the period – and the law writers, courts, economists, Protestant clergy, and even the trade unionists affiliated with the American Federation of Labor – accepted the unequal distribution of wealth. In fact, success in the marketplace was equated with the virtues of hard work, thrift, sobriety, and even godliness.
It was in this kind of world that Carnegie, a man of boundless imagination and great organizational skills, built his companies and made steel efficiently and cheaply. He fought competitors and also efforts at market and price controls by the mergers and oligopolies that began to appear in the 1890s. Because he was successful, he had to be bought off: this was the origin of the U.S. Steel Corporation in 1901, the greatest merger of the era; and it was the end of Carnegie’s career as a steel-master. But it was not his end as a citizen, for he closely followed national and international developments, particularly the search for world peace, and expressed himself forcefully in writings and before legislative committees on questions of the day; and he helped lay plans for the organizations he set up to use his very large endowments.
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