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Content Reading Guide: Big Business in the Late 1800s and Early 1900s
In 1873, Andrew Carnegie left the railroad business and joined the steel industry. By 1899, The Carnegie Steel Company made more steel than all of Britain combined. Carnegie consistently sought to improve technology and offered talented employees stock as innovative ways to improve his profits.
In this time, many companies began to dominate their market so that competition against their businesses hardly existed. These businesses became monopolies. Through Horizontal Integration, companies bought out all similar companies to decrease competition. Through Vertical Integration, companies bought out all of their suppliers. Then, they drastically increased the price of these supplies to keep others from competing against them.
Andrew Carnegie was a pivotal leader in the steel industry and claimed hard work helped him to succeed. Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 to explain his biological theory of the complexity of various species as being attributed to natural selection and survival of the fittest. Philosophers, such as Herbert Spencer, claimed economic success could be explained through Darwin’s findings as well. Social Darwinists felt the healthiest companies would thrive and the weak companies would die out and that this was beneficial to society. A “Laissez Faire” (hands off government) economy with little intervention to help labor was viewed as ideal by Social Darwinists. This meant the government should be involved as little as possible in the economy.
Since the Civil War, thousands of millionaires emerged in the USA. Many Protestants had a strong work ethic and, despite religious tension with biological Darwinism, Protestant industry leaders embraced the new philosophy of Social Darwinism. Many believed the theories of Social Darwinism excused the cruel actions taken against factory workers. The poor were tragically viewed as lazy or ineffective to Social Darwinists. Yet, many factory workers worked grueling hours for low pay. Many factories also had hazardous conditions.
In 1892, J.P. Morgan united Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric Company and formed General Electric. In 1901, Morgan also merged his steel company with the Carnegie Steel Company. John D. Rockefeller united the Standard Oil Company with other companies through trust agreements by giving stock to members of a board of trustees. By 1880, Rockefeller controlled 90% of the Oil Industry. He paid workers low wages to maximize profit. He also charged extremely low prices to put competitors out of business. Then, he drastically increased prices when he was the only seller left. Without competition, people had to use his business or do without oil. There is a mixed perception about the historical impact of Rockefeller. At times, he was a ruthless business leader. Yet, he gave a way a significant portion of his wealth to charities. Rockefeller donated over $500 Million dollars to charity to fund education and advancement in medicine.
Many in the USA government began to assert that monopolies damaged the common good of all. The Sherman Anti-trust Act tried to break up monopolies and make them illegal. Initially, the big businesses used their influence and the Sherman Anti-trust Act did little to halt their monopolistic pursuits.
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