The Industrial Age in America

During the turn of the 20th century a period of industrialization occurred in the United States, this period is known as the Industrial Age. In this week’s history essay I will be covering this industrial age through these five men, Cornelius Vanderbuilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P Morgan, and Henry Ford, who were all very important business figures during this time in history.

Cornelius Vanderbuilt

Cornelius Vanderbuilt was born in 1794, in Staten Island, New York. His father was a ferryman and ran a ferry in New York Harbor, so a lot of Vanderbuilt’s childhood consisted of him helping his father run and manage that ferry. When he was just sixteen years of age, he decided that he wanted to run a ferry just like his father. So he began saving up money and got some money lended to him by his family; this enabled him to buy a small ship called the Swiftsure, and become a ferryman.

Because of his rather intense determination in the shipping industry, he got the nickname “Commodore” that stuck with him until his death. Vanderbuilt got married to one of his cousin’s(she proved to be very supportive of her husband’s endeavors in business), in 1813. They had thirteen children. Soon enough Vanderbuilt was doing well enough in business to buy several other ship routes and steamboats, he also had moved his routes outside New York harbor. This left him without time to captain his own ships of course, so he hired people to do that job for him. One of his business mentor’s was a man named Thomas Gibbons, who taught him much about running a successful business.

As for competition, Vanderbuilt had many competitors. But he carefully and successfully found ways to beat each of his competitors. Some of the ways that he did this was by causing a lawsuit to shut that business down, buy out the competition, and sometimes he even became business partners with that competitor. This beating of his competitors gave him a reputation of being quite cut throat in business. In the 1850s a new and competing industry arous, Railroads. So in a rather risky and dangerous move, for his business, he sold off all of his shipping businesses, and used that money to buy railroads. In 1870 he created the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which was a combination of his two largest railroad companies. He even built the Grand Central Depot in Manhattan, which helped him connect all of his railroads. When Vanderbuilt passed away in 1877, his estate was worth 100 million dollars US, which is worth much more today. Vanderbilt’s large impact in the US’s transportation helped shape the Industrial age in the US.

John D. Rockerfeller 

John Davison Rockerfeller was born in 1839, to a very poor family family. His father was a con man who did very little when it came to providing for his family. So because of his family’s rough financial situation, Rockerfeller began working to help provide for his family at a young age. Though with these struggles John made two personal ambitions, the first to live to 100 years old, and the second to make 100,000 dollars. Both of these ambitions he was very close in achieving. In 1859 he and some partners started a produce business, but he soon discovered that a produce business was not the way to get rich, so in 1863 he invested in an oil refinery. By 1865 John had bought out all of his business partners except for one, which left him in control of his very first oil refinery. In 1870 John founded Standard Oil in the US state of Ohio, with this new large company he began adding more oil refineries to his company.

Standard Oil grew so much that it controlled 90% of America’s kerosene industry in less than ten years, which brought lamp light into every home in America. Even with these successes he was not satisfied, and wanted to expand and cut costs. One of the ways he cut costs was by building pipelines through Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Though this project was costly it removed the cost of paying for rail transportation. Like all business men, John had competitors from different industries including electric light, steel, and railroad, all of which wanted to unseat him, but were unsuccessful in doing so. But the Sherman Antitrust Act, brought upon the lawsuits against very large or monopolistic businesses, Standard Oil included. Because of the lawsuit against him he was forced to break up his company.

But thanks to his sharp and wise business skills he made sure to have a lot of stock in each of the new companies that Standard Oil was broken up too. Because of this his wealth rose to an astounding 900 million(400 billion today), in the coming years. During the end of his life he mainly focused on donating his money. He passed away at the age of 98, leaving a pretty large impact in the US.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835, in Scotland in a one room weaver’s cottage. His father was a weaver who was successful enough to keep his family out of poverty for a time, but with all the new weaving factories his father could never keep up. So in 1848 Carnegie and his family immigrated to America. Life in America wasn’t any easier for the family, Andrew’s father could never effectively provide for his family, which forced Carnegie to get his first job at thirteen years of age in a cotton mill. He made an incredibly low income of 1.20 dollars per week. But in 1850  Carnegie got a job as a telegraph messenger, which paid better. Because of his great work ethic he became the fastest telegraph operator in the area, which in turn got him the attention of Tom Scott(a railroad businessman), who became Carnegie’s employer and mentor.

Scott taught Carnegie how to invest, and even gave him advice on building the first major bridge across the Mississippi river. This bridge company was a small success but it did introduce him to a new building material, steel. Steel is much stronger than iron so Carnegie started a steel mill to produce steel for his bridge company. Realizing that steel had so much potential he created the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh. Carnegie as a businessman was rather intense and cut throat, which left his business and himself a bad reputation, which took awhile to turn around. But this issue did not prevent him from success. In 1901 J.P Morgan(another famous businessman who I will be discussing), bought Carnegie Steel, for 480 million dollars(which again was a lot more in that time). Andrew pocketed 225 million, which left him as the richest man in the world, more so than Rockefeller(the two were having a little competition on who would become the wealthiest). In the end of his life he used most of that money to fund universities that used his name. He passed away in 1919, leaving a legacy as one of the greatest industrial giants.

J.P Morgan

John Pierpont Morgan was born in 1837, to the very successful businessman and banker Junius Morgan. So he was born well off, unlike the other men I am discussing in this essay. Morgan’s father groomed his son from a very young age to takeover the family business. Morgan had a good education growing up, going to College in Germany and Switzerland. Once he graduated from College he became involved in his father’s banking firm, moving to New York in 1858 to join the main branch. Even early on he was known for his risky and questionable business dealings. One of the main ways that his father made money was by finding nearly bankrupt small businesses and then grouping them together into a larger firm, he made profit for his services; this was called consolidation deals.

Morgan became so good at brokering these deals, which gave those deals the nickname of “remorganization.” With these deals he usually requested a payment of being a member of the company’s board and stock in the company. It made him soon very wealthy, not quite so as Rockefeller and Carnegie. But in 1895 he brokered a deal that made him famous. This deal occurred after The Panic of 1893(a financial issue in the US), caused the US Treasury to be very close to exhausting its gold reserves. Morgan because of this forced other powerful New York bankers to go with him to bail out the government, by sending 30 million ounces of gold to the treasury. Thanks to this move, Morgan was both praised and hated upon. This move brought him to the top of the banking industry, and gave him a pretty good reputation. 

After his father passed away in 1890, Morgan branched out from just banking, by supporting the new invention at the time, the electric lightbulb. He also branched out by buying Carnegie Steel, for 480 million dollars. With Carnegie Steel, he organized it into The United States Steel Company, now known as US Steel. Morgan now controlled 30% of Railroads and 60% of the steel industry in the US. When Theodore Rooesevelt became president, John began having more issues. Rooesevalt felt that Morgan had too much power, so he got the attorney general to sue antitrust charges to Morgan’s railroad consolidation, which forced Morgan to break up his railroads. But things turned to the better when another financial problem occurred in 1907. Morgan again organized the New York bankers to stop the panic, by brokering a deal, using 30 million dollars from US Steel. Because of this US Steel was given immunity from any antitrust charges. Morgan passed away in 1913, leaving behind several of the largest corporations in America.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford was born in 1863, to immigrant parents. He grew up on a farm during his childhood, and loved to tinker with machines. After his father’s death he moved to Detroit and became a machinist for several different companies. In 1891 he began working for the Edison Illuminating Company, and in 1893 he began to tinker with automobile inventions on the side. He received approval to continue working on these inventions from Edison himself in 1896. In mid 1896 he successfully test drove his Ford Quadricycle. By 1899 he created the Detroit Automobile Company. The company was unsuccessful, so Ford began experimenting with race cars, with this new endeavor he successfully beat the record land speed with one of his car’s. This record helped spread the name of the Ford Motor Company(his company).

In 1908 Ford introduced the Model T car, which was his greatest success. The Model T was affordable enough that the average american could buy it(until then cars were for the wealthy). Like a lot of businessmen Ford wanted to cut costs, and keep up with the product demand. So in 1913 he began using a system known as the assembly line(which was invented by some of his employees), which was the first time that system had been used. By 1927 15 million Model T cars were sold, and most Americans had learned to drive one. Ford wanted to improve life for his employees, so he raised the wages, which helped prevent employees from quitting, because working at the Ford Motor Company was not an easy job. In 1947 Ford passed away, leaving a legacy that still somewhat lives on today.


Vanderbuilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Ford were five men that played a large part in shaping the US Industrial Age, with their very large businesses. In this week’s history essay I discussed the Industrial Age in the US, through five famous and well known business men.


  1. Esther says:



    Liked by 1 person

      1. Esther says:


        Liked by 1 person

  2. digstar34 says:

    I always liked reading about the industrial age, it’s so cool how much technology exploded in the 19th century

    Liked by 1 person

    1. digstar34 says:

      (“exploded” as in progressed)

      Liked by 1 person

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