Learn American History through 50 pop songs

Robber Barons


Robber baron is a term used to refer to 19th century businessmen and bankers who dominated their respective industries and amassed huge personal fortunes, typically by anti-competitive or unfair business practices.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

Now coast to coast – the U.S.A. a European protégé
A race for riches, dreams and power a golden land’s golden hour

Usher in the Robber Barons, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan
Visionary entrepreneurship or were they ruthless and opportunistic?

A generation of sweat bore witness to the birth of American business
Railroads, steel, and Standard Oil the Barons got wealthy as the common man toiled

They lost their limbs, their lungs, and their lives, left hungry children and grieving wives
As across the land, with mines and mills Robber Barons well they filled their tills

And soon their thriving companies turned into pure monopolies
They cornered markets, and crushed competition through stock wizardry and speculation

But prices dropped on goods all over the cost of living indeed got lower
Now we can argue if these dynasties were just America’s destiny

Usher in the Robber Barons, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan
Visionary entrepreneurship or were they ruthless and opportunistic?

An answer to our growing needs or simple acts of flat out greed
Were they Robber Barons steeped in sleaze or were they captains of their industries?

Usher in the Robber Barons, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan
Visionary entrepreneurship or were they ruthless and opportunistic?


Robber Barons— 19th century businessmen who rose to the top of their industries through unfair business practices.

Rockefeller— John Davison Rockefeller (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American industrialist. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry. In 1870, he founded the Standard Oil Company and aggressively ran it until he officially retired in 1897. He became the richest man in America and America’s first billionaire.

J.P. Morgan— John Pierpont Morgan (April 17, 1837 – March 31, 1913) was an American banker who dominated corporate finance and industrial consolidation during his time.

Standard Oil— The Standard Oil Trust was formed in 1863 by John D. Rockefeller. He built up the company through 1868 to become the largest oil refinery firm in the world. In 1870, the company was renamed Standard Oil Company, after which Rockefeller decided to buy up all the other competition and form them into one large company

monopolies— A monopoly is a term used by economists to refer to the situation in which there is a single seller of a product for which there are no close substitutes.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

Explain what a robber baron was. Name two robber barons.

Tier 2 Questions

Explain what is meant by the question in the song “Visionary entrepreneurship or were the ruthless and opportunistic?”

Tier 3 Questions

Are there any monopolies today? Consider the following: Google and Microsoft. Make your argument convincing.

Test Prep Questions

1) In the late 1800s, the creation of the Standard Oil Trust by John D. Rockefeller was intended to

  • (1) protect small, independent oil firms
  • (2) control prices and practices in the oil refining business
  • (3) increase competition among oil refining companies
  • (4) distribute donations to charitable causes

2) Which type of business organization is being criticized in this cartoon?

  • (1) monopoly
  • (2) multinational corporation
  • (3) partnership
  • (4) proprietorship

3) Which government policy would this cartoonist most likely support?

  • (1) adopting antitrust laws
  • (2) easing regulations regarding mergers
  • (3) giving government subsidies to financial institutions
  • (4) encouraging large companies to relocate overseas

4) What is the main idea of this cartoon?

  • (1) The Standard Oil Company was a harmful monopoly.
  • (2) The best way to develop major industries was to form proprietorships.
  • (3) Government regulations were strangling the Standard Oil Company.
  • (4) Foreign competition in the oil industry was hurting American companies.

Speaker A: “When demand ran high, and markets were scarce, he showed little mercy, broke his contracts for delivery and raised prices.”

Speaker B: “The man of wealth must hold his fortune ‘in trust’ for the community and use it for philanthropic and charitable purposes.”

Speaker C: “It is cruel to slander the rich because they have been successful. They have gone into great enterprises that have enriched the nation and the nation has enriched them.”

Speaker D: “The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for the few, unprecedented in the history of mankind.”

5) Which two speakers would most likely label late 19th-century industrialists as robber barons?

  • (1) A and B
  • (2) A and D
  • (3) B and C
  • (4) C and D

6) The most valid conclusion that can be drawn from the different viewpoints of these speakers is that industrialists of the late 19th century

  • (1) benefited and harmed society
  • (2) treated their workers fairly
  • (3) used illegal means to gain wealth
  • (4) generally

7) Which 19th-century business practice does this cartoon illustrate?

  • (1) forming cooperatives
  • (2) establishing trade zones
  • (3) creating monopolies
  • (4) expanding global markets

8) The cartoonist would most likely support federal government attempts to

  • (1) pass antitrust legislation
  • (2) limit regulation of business
  • (3) establish high tariffs
  • (4) stop industrial pollutio