United States - Economy a Brief History Inventions, Development and Tycoons
Inventions, development and tycoons
The rapid economic development following the Civil War laid the groundwork for the modern U.S. industrial economy. An explosion of new discoveries and inventions took place, causing such profound changes that some termed the results a "second industrial revolution." Oil was discovered in western Pennsylvania. The typewriter was developed. Refrigeration railroad cars came into use. The telephone, phonograph, and electric light were invented. And by the dawn of the 20th century, cars were replacing carriages and people were flying in airplanes.
Parallel to these achievements was the development of the nation's industrial infrastructure. Coal was found in abundance in the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania south to Kentucky. Large iron mines opened in the Lake Superior region of the upper Midwest. Mills thrived in places where these two important raw materials could be brought together to produce steel. Large copper and silver mines opened, followed by lead mines and cement factories.
As industry grew larger, it developed mass-production methods. Frederick W. Taylor pioneered the field of scientific management in the late 19th century, carefully plotting the functions of various workers and then devising new, more efficient ways for them to do their jobs. (True mass production was the inspiration of Henry Ford, who in 1913 adopted the moving assembly line, with each worker doing one simple task in the production of automobiles. In what turned out to be a farsighted action, Ford offered a very generous wage -- $5 a day -- to his workers, enabling many of them to buy the automobiles they made, helping the industry to expand.)
The "Gilded Age" of the second half of the 19th century was the epoch of tycoons. Many Americans came to idealize these businessmen who amassed vast financial empires. Often their success lay in seeing the long-range potential for a new service or product, as John D. Rockefeller did with oil. They were fierce competitors, single-minded in their pursuit of financial success and power. Other giants in addition to Rockefeller and Ford included Jay Gould, who made his money in railroads; J. Pierpont Morgan, banking; and Andrew Carnegie, steel. Some tycoons were honest according to business standards of their day; others, however, used force, bribery, and guile to achieve their wealth and power. For better or worse, business interests acquired significant influence over government.
Morgan, perhaps the most flamboyant of the entrepreneurs, operated on a grand scale in both his private and business life. He and his companions gambled, sailed yachts, gave lavish parties, built palatial homes, and bought European art treasures. In contrast, men such as Rockefeller and Ford exhibited puritanical qualities. They retained small-town values and lifestyles. As church-goers, they felt a sense of responsibility to others. They believed that personal virtues could bring success; theirs was the gospel of work and thrift. Later their heirs would establish the largest philanthropic foundations in America.
While upper-class European intellectuals generally looked on commerce with disdain, most Americans -- living in a society with a more fluid class structure -- enthusiastically embraced the idea of moneymaking. They enjoyed the risk and excitement of business enterprise, as well as the higher living standards and potential rewards of power and acclaim that business success brought.
As the American economy matured in the 20th century, however, the freewheeling business mogul lost luster as an American ideal. The crucial change came with the emergence of the corporation, which appeared first in the railroad industry and then elsewhere. Business barons were replaced by "technocrats," high-salaried managers who became the heads of corporations. The rise of the corporation triggered, in turn, the rise of an organized labor movement that served as a countervailing force to the power and influence of business.
The technological revolution of the 1980s and 1990s brought a new entrepreneurial culture that echoes of the age of tycoons. Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, built an immense fortune developing and selling computer software. Gates carved out an empire so profitable that by the late 1990s, his company was taken into court and accused of intimidating rivals and creating a monopoly by the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division. But Gates also established a charitable foundation that quickly became the largest of its kind. Most American business leaders of today do not lead the high-profile life of Gates. They direct the fate of corporations, but they also serve on boards for charities and schools. They are concerned about the state of the national economy and America's relationship with other nations, and they are likely to fly to Washington to confer with government officials. While they undoubtedly influence the government, they do not control it -- as some tycoons in the Gilded Age believed they did.