Robber Baron was a term applied to a businessman in the 19th century who engaged in unethical and monopolistic practices, utilized corruptpolitical influence, faced almost no business regulation, and amassed enormous wealth.
In the 1870s the term began to be used to describe business tycoons, and the usage persisted throughout the rest of the 19th century.
The late 1800s and the first decade of the 20th century are sometimes referred to as an age of robber barons.
The Rise of Robber Barons
As the United States transformed into an industrial society with little regulation of business, it was possible for small numbers of men to dominate crucial industries.
Conditions which favored vast accumulations of wealth included the extensive natural resources being discovered as the country expanded, the enormous potential workforce of immigrants arriving in the country, and the general acceleration of business in the years following the Civil War.
Railroad builders, in particular, needing political influence to build their railways, became adept at influencing politicians through the use of lobbyists, or in some cases, outright bribery.
In the public mind, robber barons were often associated with political corruption.
The concept oflaissez fairecapitalism, which dictated no government regulation of business, was promoted.
Facing fewimpediments to creatingmonopolies, engaging inshady stock trading practices,or exploiting workers, some individuals made enormous fortunes.
The men who were called robber barons were oftenportrayed in a positive light, as "self-made men" who had helped build the nation and in the process created many jobs for American workers.
However, the public mood turned against them in the late 19th century.
Criticism from newspapers and social critics began to find an audience. And American workers began to organize in great numbers as the labor movement accelerated.
Events in labor history, such as theHomestead Strikeand thePullman Strike, intensified public resentment toward the wealthy.
The conditions of workers, when contrasted with the lavish lifestyles of millionaire industrialists, created widespread resentment.
Even other businessmen felt exploited by monopolistic practices as it was virtually impossible to compete in some fields.
Common citizens became aware that monopolists could more easily exploit workers.
Critics noted the concentration of wealth as evil or weakness of society, and satirists, such as Mark Twain, derided the showiness of the robber barons as"the Gilded Age."
In 1894 the protest march byCoxey's Armydrew enormous publicity to a group of protesters who often spoke out against a wealthy ruling class that exploited workers.
Legislation Aimed at Robber Barons
The public's increasingly negative view of trusts, or monopolies, transformed into legislation with the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890.
The law did not end the reign of robber barons, but it signaled that the era of unregulated business would be coming to an end.
Over time, many of the practices of the robber barons would become illegal as further legislation sought to ensurefairness inAmerican business.
America is currently in its SECOND Gilded Age ...
Don't be a naive boy, grow up.
And, I'm very happy to see a modern day Robber Baron like David Koch finally die. Too bad it didn't happen sooner. Good riddance to this billionaire douchebag.