Robber Barons, Then and Now


RobberBarons, Then and Now


RobberBarons, Then and Now

Theindustrial revolution, experienced in America, sired an immensenational expansion, experienced between 1865 and 1900. The nationalexpansion was realized in both economics and physical means, whichmeant that contradictions from various entities were inevitable. Theperiod of expansion gave room to various divergent entities, as thiswas the time of monopolistic repression, perpetuated uponbusinesspersons and individual laborers, and Horatio Algerianopportunity, which provided a platform for individual entrepreneurs.Notable entrepreneurs such as J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefellercapitalized on the era`s window period, used various unscrupulousmethods to achieve wealth and power. &quotRobber barons&quot is aterm that was derived by social critics in the 19th century, as adescription of such individuals who swindled their way to financialsuccess (Zinn,2016).These robber barons created a trend that gave rise to some infamouscontemporary criminals such as Joaquin Guzman and Robert A.Standford, including other notable criminals. In a bid to discuss thephenomenon of the robber barons, in comparison to infamouscontemporary criminals, this paper examines the rise of criminalcareers and digs into the lives of some notable criminals and theirattempts to legitimize their criminal proceeds.

Historyof the Robber Barons

Accordingto historians, the late 19th century was termed as the &quotrobberbaron`&quot era, with the derogatory statement being attached tonotable characters such as J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, andthe 19th century`s railroad engineers (Zinn,2016).These individuals spearheaded the United States` transformation,industrializing what was once an agricultural society, via theconstruction of gigantic business empires. These political andindustrial elites achieved their goals at the expense of black,white, Chinese, European, female and child laborers, who wererewarded in a relative hierarchy of race, social class, nationalorigin and sex. It was a means that was used to create varied levelsof oppression, a skillful maneuver that intended to stabilize thewealth pyramid.

Inthis period, human labor was replaced by electricity and steamenergy, wood was replaced by iron, and iron was replaced by steel.Steel tools could now be driven by machines, and oil could lightfactories, streets, and homes. Goods and people could now move usingrailroads on steel rails, which were propelled using steam (Zinn,2016). Various machines such as the typewriter, the adding machine, and thetelephone accelerated the work of many businesses.

Amongthe industrialists was J. P. Morgan, who began his &quotrobberbaron&quot career as a simple stock trader, selling stocks forrailroads. In the event of the Civil War, Morgan purchased 5,000rifles from an arsenal, which cost him $3.50 per piece, and sold themfor $22 per piece, to an army general. However, he had made afraudulent deal, since the rifles were found to be defective andwould blow off the thumbs of soldiers using them. To legitimize thiscriminal act, Morgan sought out a legal defense and escapedconviction when a federal magistrate upheld the business deal as theattainment of a legal contract. Again, in 1895, the United States`gold reserves were depleted, while a cartel of bankers, led by J. P.Morgan, was hoarding gold in their vaults, amounting to $129 million.The bankers offered to trade in the gold for bonds, which theyimmediately sold at exorbitant prices, earning over $18 million inprofits (Zinn,2016).

Anotherrobber baron is John D. Rockefeller, who began his career as abookkeeper, turned merchant, who later on decided to branch into theoil industry. He believed that whoever owned the oil refineries hadcontrol over the entire oil industry. Following his belief later onin 1862, Rockefeller purchased an oil refinery and had Standard OilCompany set up by 1870 (Zinn,2016).He organized secret meetings and agreements with various railroads totransport his oil, in exchange for discounted prices in oil, thus,choking his competitors out of the oil business. Populist revolts,sparked by the robber barons, pioneered to advocate anti-monopolylegislations and social reforms. Social critics viewed the ways ofRockefeller, and other robber barons as unfair towards society sincethey ruined many livelihoods and broke too many ethical rules.

Today`sRobber Barons

Unlikethe previous American society, which had futile attempts to abolishthe ethically questionable activities of these criminals, the currentsociety has legislated strict measures to regulate the operation ofvarious business activities. Business ethics laws, as legislated bythe American government, in the famous Sherman Anti-Trust Act, lookedto safeguard businesses and communities from greedy and unscrupulousbusiness ventures (Zinn,2016).However much this did not halt the robber barons` reign, it signaledthe end of the era of unregulated business activities. In comparisonto these robber barons, various infamous contemporary criminalsfollowed suite, with the goal of self-benefit over ethical and moralstandards.

BernieMadoff, the acclaimed &quotPonzi scheme&quot mastermind, built afortune perpetrating white collar crimes. Ascott Partners, theinvestment manager`s hedge fund, came out as a giant scam, forcingother hedge funds to raise downward stock-price pressures andliquidate their holdings, scarring non-transparent investments andhedge funds. Madoff had convinced global investors to place largesums of money into his hedge fund, promising great returns that wereunknowingly realized (Zinn,2016).He managed to legitimize his criminal activities via seeking legalpermits that enabled him to convince various corporate companies suchas Sterling Equities, owners of America`s New York Mets.

JoaquinGuzman is another infamous contemporary criminal, responsible for themajor trafficking of cocaine across the United States and Mexicanborder. Fashioned by some social critics as a 21st century &quotRobinHood&quot, El Chapo is ranked amongst the most powerful individualsin the world, accumulating over $1 billion from cocaine sales (Zinn,2016).In a bid to legitimize his drug cartel, El Chapo gained fame, overthe years, among Mexican citizens by organizing charitable activitiesthat aimed at providing infrastructural developments and free basicamenities to the less privileged citizens.

Thedawn of industrialization, followed by the rise of corporateindustries, created a bridge for various fraudsters to capitalize onthe market. Following Bernie Madoff`s Ponzi scheme, Robert AllenStandford founded the Stanford Financial group. The company partookin an accumulative $8 million worth of fraud savings (Zinn,2016).Stanford was able to conceal the truth about investments and CDreturn rates while documenting fake investment results. It turned outthat Stanford had conducted all his investments using a trick fromMadoff`s book, which left many investors stranded after he wasapprehended by law enforcement officials in Houston.


Therise of robber barons came about as a result of society`s expansion,with the exploration of new developments in the fields ofinfrastructure, finance, and labor, among others entities. Theseindividuals identify and capitalize on the gaps that are present inany avenue that guarantees monetary returns. Individuals such Morgan,Rockefeller, Stanford and Guzman, saw various opportunities thatguaranteed enormous returns and capitalized on them. The legislationof business ethics laws realized enabled the apprehension andconviction of these kinds of individuals. However, governments shouldresearch on further ways to curb such ventures from arising in thefuture, as society develops and technology gives a whole newexpansion to criminals, who use ingenious means to achieve profit.


Zinn,H. (2016). RobberBarons and 29 July 2016, from