He bought up coal and iron mines along with the supply lines that carried raw materials to feed the steel business. Later, he and his son acquired plants that made tools, railroad cars, and weapons.
In the United States, John D. Rockefeller dominated the petroleum industry by gaining control of oil wells, oil refineries, and oil pipelines. Andrew Carnegie, who started out as a poor immigrant from Scotland, worked his way up to build an American steel empire. He later used his wealth to fund libraries, universities, and other charities.
Sometimes, a group of corporations would join forces and form a cartel, an association to fix prices, set production quotas, or control markets. In Germany, a single cartel fixed prices for 170 coal mines.
The rise of big business sparked a stormy debate. Admirers saw the Krupps, Rockefellers, and Carnegies as “captains of industry” and praised their vision and skills. They pointed out that capitalists invested their wealth in worldwide ventures, such as railroad building, that employed thousands of workers and added to the general prosperity. They also claimed that monopolies increased efficiency by driving out less efficient corporations.
This 1899 American political cartoon shows a monopoly as an octopus-like monster covering a city.
Which side of the debate about the effects of monopolies does this cartoon support? Explain.
To critics, the aggressive magnates were “robber barons” who ruthlessly destroyed competing companies in pursuit of profit. With the competition gone, they were free to raise prices. Destroying competition, critics argued, damaged the free-enterprise system. Reformers called for laws to prevent monopolies and regulate large corporations. By the early 1900s, some governments did move against monopolies. However, the political and economic power of business leaders often hindered efforts at regulation.
Why was there a move toward developing monopolies?
The population explosion that had begun during the 1700s continued through the 1800s. Between 1800 and 1900, the population of Europe more than doubled. This rapid growth was not due to larger families. In fact, families in most industrializing countries had fewer children. Instead, populations soared because the death rate fell. Nutrition improved, thanks in part to improved methods of farming, food storage, and distribution. Medical advances and improvements in public sanitation also slowed death rates.
Since the 1600s, scientists had known of microscopic organisms, or microbes. Some scientists speculated that certain microbes might cause specific infectious diseases. Yet most doctors scoffed at this germ theory. Not until 1870 did French chemist Louis Pasteur (pas TUR) clearly show the link between microbes and disease. Pasteur went on to make other major contributions to medicine, including the development of vaccines against rabies and anthrax. He also discovered a process called pasteurization that killed disease-carrying microbes in milk.
In the 1880s, the German doctor Robert Koch identified the bacterium that caused tuberculosis, a respiratory disease that claimed about 30 million human lives in the 1800s. The search for a tuberculosis cure, however, took half a century. By 1914, yellow fever and malaria had been traced to microbes carried by mosquitoes.
As people understood how germs caused disease, they bathed and changed their clothes more often. In European cities, better hygiene helped decrease the rate of disease.