Josh and I have watched an incredible amount of tv this afternoon. We've been watching the series The Men Who Built America that aired on the History Channel last month. For once the History Channel actually showed some history! I love American Pickers and Pawn Stars is okay, but it feels like the History Channel has lost their focus lately. Obviously, the History Channel cares about my opinion of the programming!
This is a fascinating show! There is no doubt that Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, and Carnegie were ruthless at times, but they were darn good at what they did. Did you realize that Rockefeller, Morgan and Carnegie controlled the same amount of wealth as the top forty wealthiest people in America today (adjusted for inflation)? That is insane! Rockefeller control 1% of the American economy. That may not sound huge, but it is! Carnegie had the largest personal fortune ever amassed in the modern world (310 billion dollars).
I remember reading about these men in AP US History. I was fascinated by the Gilded Age, but since then I haven't done a lot of reading about history. Life kind of got in the way. This series or mini series, I'm not really sure which, gives a lot more details than we were able to cover in class. I didn't realize the amount of life those three big men controlled. They truly did buy William McKinley's presidency (to my AP History buddies, good ol' William Jennings Bryan was in this..of course he was...that man would Not die!).
I can't imagine having the power and obscene amounts of wealth that those men had. They had blood on their hands, the blood of the common men that they underpaid and overworked. A man working in a Carnegie steel factory had a one in eleven chance of dying in a year. They all knew the conditions their workers faced and they didn't care. They wiped that blood on golden towels.
You do have to respect these men somewhat for the empires that they created considering most of their backgrounds. They took massive risks that paid off even more massively. They are the reason that we still buy into the American dream today.
Good and bad, this show seemed to present the material pretty fairly. It might have been slightly skewed toward the Carnegie/Rockefeller/Morgan side, but not outrageously so. DVR it the next tie it comes on and watch it with some hot chocolate and feel like you learned something!