American Entrepreneur: The Fascinating Stories of the People Who Defined Business in the United States

By Larry Schweikart; Lynne Pierson Doti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Big Business Backlash:
1870–1920

An 1889 cartoon by J. Keppler, called “The Bosses of the Senate,” showed diminutive senators sitting in their chamber while behind them stood a line of obese figures in top hats with the names “Steel Beam Trust,” “Copper Trust,” and “Sugar Trust” emblazoned on their vests. By the turn of the century, many Americans shared the cartoonist's view that huge business combinations controlled their lives—or, at least, their economic lives. Politicians tapped into such fears and hostility and turned it into votes for reform and regulation. The attempts by some individuals to monopolize, the constant search for government favors, and the hostile attitudes toward labor all contributed to the Janus-faced image of businessmen in the late 1800s. On one hand, they looked forward, standing for achievement and progress, personally embodying the American dream of rags to riches. Few people rejected material wealth in the name of greater spiritual or ideological values at the time, and fewer still did not somewhat envy the successful individuals who had attained prosperity, especially if they had earned it rather than received it through inheritance.

On the other hand, business looked backward to the mercantilist era when it received monopoly power through government favors, or

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