The Robber Barons details the history of a small class of men who arose at the time of the American Civil War and swept into power. They were aggressive, and in important crises, nearly all of them tended to act without those established principles associated with the common people of the community. At the same time, many of them showed qualities of courage. These robber barons, as were their medieval counterparts, were the dominating figures of an aggressive economic age.
In their hands the renovation of American economic life proceeded relentlessly: large-scale production replaced the scattered, decentralized production; industrial enterprises became more concentrated, where they had been purely individualistic and wasteful. To organize and exploit the resources of a nation upon a gigantic scale, to regiment its farmers and workers into producers, and to do this only in the name of profit—is the great contradiction whence so much disaster, outrage and misery has flowed.
Matthew Josephson illuminates the story of industrial concentration in the United States, which is here pursued through the study of the major financial events and personalities between 1861 and 1901. This book also focuses on establishing the manner in which the country's natural resources and arteries of trade were preempted, its political institutions conquered, and its social philosophy turned into an economic one, by the new barons. This is, by all odds, a classic study of the culture of American capitalism.