The Age of Big Business

by

Burton J. Hendrick

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THE AGE OF BIG BUSINESS

A CHRONICLE OF THE CAPTAINS OF INDUSTRY

BY BURTON J. HENDRICK

NEW HAVEN: YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS TORONTO: GLASGOW, BROOK & CO. LONDON: HUMPHREY MILFORD OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

1919

CONTENTS

I. INDUSTRIAL AMERICA AT THE END OF THE CIVIL WAR
II. THE FIRST GREAT AMERICAN TRUST
III. THE EPIC OF STEEL
IV. THE TELEPHONE: AMERICA'S MOST POETICAL ACHIEVEMENT
V. THE DEVELOPMENT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES
VI. MAKING THE WORLD'S AGRICULTURAL MACHINERY
VII. THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF THE AUTOMOBILE
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

THE AGE OF BIG BUSINESS

CHAPTER I. INDUSTRIAL AMERICA AT THE END OF THE CIVIL WAR

A comprehensive survey of the United States, at the end of the Civil War, would reveal a state of society which bears little resemblance to that of today. Almost all those commonplace fundamentals of existence, the things that contribute to our bodily comfort while they vex us with economic and political problems, had not yet made their appearance. The America of Civil War days was a country without transcontinental railroads, without telephones, without European cables, or wireless stations, or automobiles, or electric lights, or sky-scrapers, or million-dollar hotels, or trolley cars, or a thousand other contrivances that today supply the conveniences and comforts of what we call our American civilization. The cities of that period, with their unsewered and unpaved streets, their dingy, flickering gaslights, their ambling horse-cars, and their hideous slums, seemed appropriate settings for the unformed social life and the rough-and-ready political methods of American democracy. The railroads, with their fragile iron rails, their little wheezy locomotives, their wooden bridges, their unheated coaches, and their kerosene lamps, fairly typified the prevailing frontier business and economic organization. But only by talking with the business leaders of that time could we have understood the changes that have taken place in fifty years. For the most part we speak a business language which our fathers and grandfathers would not have comprehended. The word "trust" had not become a part of their vocabulary; "restraint of trade" was a phrase which only the antiquarian lawyer could have interpreted; "interlocking directorates," "holding companies," "subsidiaries," "underwriting syndicates," and "community of interest"--all this jargon of modern business would have signified nothing to our immediate ancestors. Our nation of 1865 was a nation of farmers, city artisans, and industrious, independent business men, and small-scale manufacturers. Millionaires, though they were not unknown, did not swarm all over the land. Luxury, though it had made great progress in the latter years of the war, had not become the American standard of well-being. The industrial story of the United States in the last fifty years is the story of the most amazing economic transformation that the world has ever known; a change which is fitly typified in the evolution of the independent oil driller of western Pennsylvania into the Standard Oil Company, and of the ancient open air forge on the banks of the Allegheny into the United States Steel Corporation.

The slow, unceasing ages had been accumulating a priceless inheritance for the American people. Nearly all of their natural resources, in 1865, were still lying fallow, and even undiscovered in many instances. Americans had begun, it is true, to exploit their more obvious, external wealth, their forests and their land; the first had made them one of the world's two greatest shipbuilding nations, while the second had furnished a large part of the resources that had enabled the Federal Government to fight what was, up to that time, the greatest war in history. But the extensive prairie plains whose settlement was to follow the railroad extensions of the sixties and the seventies--Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota, the Dakotas--had been only slightly penetrated. This region, with a rainfall not too abundant and not too scanty, with a cultivable soil extending from eight inches to twenty feet under the ground, with hardly a rock in its whole extent, with scarcely a tree, except where it bordered on the streams, has been pronounced by competent scientists the finest farming country to which man has ever set the plow.

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