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John D. Rockefeller: A Robber Baron
Or the Efficient Businessman


John Davison Rockefeller has been accused by many as being a Robber Baron over the past century. He created the most powerful corporation the United States had ever seen: The Standard Oil Company. He began Standard Oil in 1865 and by 1881, it was comprised of more than forty other companies. In 1882 Rockefeller created the Standard Oil Trusts, and his company had become the most efficient corporation, producing the highest quality products as well as charging the lowest prices. Unlike Jay Gould, who used the judicial system to acquire companies, make a profit, and then leave that company in bankruptcy, Rockefeller was philanthropic in his endeavors, incorporating his acquired companies into the ever enlarging Standard Oil. He believed in Social Darwinism and the “Gospel of Wealth,” and as a result the Standard Oil Company helped to strengthen the American economy, created jobs, and was one of the leaders in making the United States the industrial giant that it is today. John D. Rockefeller was not a Robber Baron because he did nothing wrong, he was a product of the Industrial era, and played by its rules to attain the greatest victory, absolute economic success.

After the Civil War, from 1860-1914, the United States was transformed from a predominantly agrarian society into an industrial nation with an output so great that it quickly caught up and surpassed all of Europe. Factories appeared everywhere and new agricultural technologies caused a massive influx of farmers into the large urban centers where the factories were operating. In some cases, city populations nearly doubled. The amount of industrial capital in the United States economy was multiplied twenty-two times over, and the value of manufactured goods increased twelve times. The population of the United States tripled due to the many immigrants flocking to America for jobs, and with the use of better, more efficient technologies, which increased farm outputs. Never before had the coupling of industry, natural and physical sciences been attempted, but in America, it was attempted, implemented, and perfected to such a degree as to create a nation that surpassed all others. The industrialization created a new breed of people who thrived on education and competition, and became the most powerful and successful embodiments of the American Dream.

While many historians argue that Rockefeller was a Robber Baron, much evidence contradicts the arguments. Rockefeller can be considered an “Industrial Statesman,” or better yet, and Industrial Philanthropist. During the industrial era in which he amassed his fortunes, the idea of the American Dream was still the leading motive for working in many minds. Rockefeller took the concept to the extremes. When he began the Standard Oil Company, it was not with the intention of monopolizing the industry; he wanted to create order and stability in the volatile petroleum market, and the economy. Rockefeller realized that the nation was changing and that the American frontier had long since disappeared, thus the rugged American individualism was no longer the way to success; organization was the key to success. Factory workers had banned together in the form of unions to fight the opposition: the employers. Rockefeller did the same thing to the oil industry, by gaining support or control of the rivaling factions and bringing them together under his watchful eye. Thus, he sought better profits; the workers sought higher wages, he sought organization to fight off his competition; the workers formed in Unions to organize their fight against the employers. Rockefeller was attacked and accused of being an un-moralistic Robber Baron that cared about nothing but making money, but on the contrary he said “I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic that a man who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of money for money’s sake.” Why did the workers slander Rockefeller’s name, but the workers organized themselves in the same way Rockefeller organized Standard Oil? It was because of his status and publicity. Someone had to take the blame. Much like the famous people of today, or the politicians, people will rarely look for the good in the person, they root out the bad things, and magnify them. Rockefeller had grown up with a set of morals that told