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The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  588 ratings  ·  65 reviews
The Myth of the Robber Barons describes the role of key entrepreneurs in the economic growth of the United States from 1850 to 1910. The entrepreneurs studied are Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, James J. Hill, Andrew Mellon, Charles Schwab, and the Scranton family. Most historians argue that these men, and others like them, were Robber Barons. The story, however ...more
Kindle Edition, 170 pages
Published July 1st 2010 by Young America's Foundation (first published 1991)
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Lena Tumasyan
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually read history books, but this one was a Conservative viewpoint on history's "robber barrons." Granted, i'm not a conservative, but i really appreciate their different viewpoint on economics and govert's effects on the major businesses of the 1800's and early 1900's, mainly Railroad, Steel, and Ferry. The book discusses Vanderbilt, Hill, Rockefeller, and many other important men from that period and their struggle against gov't regulation. The final chapter discusses other history ...more
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently read The Myth of the Robber Barons by Burton C. Folsom Jr. (non-fiction).  This short book is a great overview of some of the 19th Century capitalists that built America and contributed to raising the standard of living.  Contrary to popular opinion, many of them came from humble roots and worked to build their business, without climbing over the backs of the poor, oppressed common people.

The book definitely has a free-market slant that it backs up with facts and a seemingly thorough,
Patrick Peterson
14 Aug. 2017 - I remember reading this shortly after it came out in the 80s when the title was Entrepreneurs vs. the State. I believe this edition has only minor edit changes from the one I read. I have since referred to the book many times to show folks the real history of the famous businessmen who created some of the first great companies in America and provided massive benefits to consumers, often battling the government and/or competitors.

Very good start at attacking the Robber Baron myth,
Samantha Joy
Aug 24, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, economy
I'm putting this one in history and avoiding the decision as to whether to shelve it in fiction or non-fiction.

Much of what Folsom says is undeniably true, and his data do support his conclusions--but it's also undeniably true that he's cherry picking his data.

I am aware of how much he left out or misrepresented in the subjects I know something about, which made me suspicious of him on the rest.

I would love to see this work handled by an objective writer, but I doubt it will ever happen.

Jason Keisling
Jan 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
The Myth of the Robber Barons distinguishes between two types of entrepreneurs:

Market Entrepreneurs-a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on financial risk to do so. In order to turn a profit, the market entrepreneur must satisfy consumer demand.

Political Entrepreneurs-A political entrepreneur uses government funds in business, which greatly reduces any financial risks to the entrepreneur, and often lobbies to pass laws that hinder competitors.

Burton C. Folsom Jr. does a great
"Those who tried to succeed... primarily through federal aid, pools, vote buying, or stock speculation we will classify as *political entrepreneurs.* Those who tried to succeed... primarily by creating and marketing a superior product at a low cost we will classify as *market entrepreneurs.* No entrepreneur fits perfectly into one category or the other, but most fall generally into one category of the other. The political entrepreneurs often fit the classic Robber Baron mold; they stifled produc ...more
David Robins
Sep 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had heard of this book for a while and expected it to be a larger volume; but this short book delivers as promised, outlining the lives and more importantly works of six American entrepreneurs - creative and hard-working market entrepreneurs, that is, not parasitical political entrepreneurs. A perfect counter to ignorant assertions of capitalist "robber barons" in American history, and a fascinating read too.
Feb 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know I have strange reading taste for a teenager, but I can pin this one down on an adult. It was lent to me by an older gentleman at our church, and I'm incredibly greatful. Amazing book. It opened my eyes to a whole world of business and history that I thoroughly enjoyed!
An interesting look at some of the well known "robber barons" and the circumstances surrounding their success. This book was surprisingly full of shockingly familiar federal "investments" that hampered real innovation, led to significant price fixing/gauging/padding and a slew of corruption. Folsom contrasts the consistent failures of government-backed inventiveness and market solutions with the entrepreneurs that were leaders in private success and beating out the ensuing government's mess ever ...more
Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Folsom analyzes the rise of the big-business entrepreneur in America from a pro-capitalist viewpoint. Each chapter is dedicated to a different figure, from Andrew Carnegie to Andrew Mellon, and details their rise to power and how free-market principles encouraged their innovation in order to create competitive advantage. The success of these entrepreneurs is contrasted with those who depended on government subsidy to succeed and could not compete because they had no market incentive to impro ...more
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Myth of the Robber Barons is a unique look at some of the big players in the growth of American industry and big business. Folsom points out that there were two types of people that typically fall under the label of "Robber Barons". Market entrepeneurs, who tended to use their expertise, cost-cutting, and efficiency to build up their industry, and political entrepeneurs who tended to use government subsidies, favors, and obstructionism to stall their competition. Folsom uses many examples fr ...more
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, railroads
I thought this was a good, unconventional look at the big businessmen who won more bad press than they deserved. (Yes, they deserved some, I won't argue that they weren't human.)

The title is a little misleading, in that the author concedes that there were "robber barons," business men who operated without ethics, without concern for law or human life. The point is that the men named as the most successful businessmen of the era were not the same as the ones that bribed, cheated and stole their w
Jul 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, history
Folsom's work does an excellent job contrasting the tactics employed by many famous businessmen of the 1800's, "the robber barons." He contrasts political and economic entrepreneurs, the former of whom used and influenced government policies to grant them exclusive rights and advantages to force out competition, and the latter whose companies grew to dominating sizes naturally, through perseverance and providing valuable services and goods to consumers. This book is a must read for anyone intere ...more
Russell George
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Well researched and full of information

I read some reviews that this book was biased and cherry picked historical events; I didn't get that impression, however. I didn't check all the references, dust the ones I did supported the authors claims. Also, all the negative reviews where incredibly vague and did not give any sources for research. The impression I get is: they didn't like what they read, so they said it wasn't true. This book was insightful and a good source of information for its siz
Ron Housley
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Myth of the Robber Barons — A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America, by Burton W, Folsom, Jr., Ph.D.

a short Book Report by Ron Housley

When I was a child in New Jersey, the Lehigh Valley Railroad practically ran through my back yard. Every day at suppertime a dark red passenger train, powered by one of those ALCO PA diesel locomotives, roared by and I always wondered where it came from, where it was going, and who was on it. Little did I know that Charles Schwab’s Bethlehem Steel pr
May 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give the book five stars for content and 2.5 stars for the writing. I've heard the author speak, so I know that he speaks better than he writes. However, the book has a wonderful message that is rarely contrasted in our modern world where management of monopolies by the government is considered a good thing. This book has fascinating history that's not in any standard history book. You didn't get this information in school.
Nick Tredennick
Aug 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fresh look at "robber barons" and the history of industrial development in America. We cannot learn from history if its writers are not objective. Historians present a tainted, liberal (capitalism is evil) point of view. The robber barons generally divide into market entrepreneurs and political manipulators.
Brandon Byrd
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairly quick, good read. It was a little different than I expected. It was mainly mini biographies of the supposed robber barons. The last chapter was interesting when it picks apart some of the research regarding social mobility (i.e., do the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor).
It was interesting to see how Folsom differentiated between what he calls "political entrepreneurs," those who compete for corporate welfare and other political favors, and "market entrepreneurs," those who compete on price and quality. Rather enlightening and well researched.
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not a person who typically reads economics books, but I found this book fascinating. I learned a lot. I wish this book were required reading for history teachers and members of Congress.
Jan 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read, shows what unfettered entrepreneurs are capable of accomplishing and how, most times when government tries to pick the winners and losers, it has at best a poor record.
Sep 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a must read for every young American (and old) who does not understand that Capitalism and Freedom are meant to be together (and not Socialism).
John Jenkins
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is a perception that most of the industrialists who developed new ways of solving business problems between 1820 and 1930, enriching themselves in the process, were greedy, unethical and harmful to their customers. This perception is strongly repudiated by Burton Folsom in The Myth of the Robber Barons as he demonstrates how college textbooks and other media have irresponsibly perpetuated erroneous versions of economic history.

Dr. Folsom carefully distinguishes between political entreprene
Einar Arnarson
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a fascinating little book and interesting primarily for two reasons.

One is that it portrays the robber barons in a totally different view than I was aware of before and gives insight into many of their great entrepreneurial achievements. The book doesn’t focus too much on the personalities of the Robber Barons (which as I understand weren’t always very praiseworthy) but rather on their conduct in business, how they organized their firms and in what ways their customers and society around th
Sheryl Tribble
Thoroughly enjoyed this. Already knew what a hero James Hill was but I was intrigued by the huge difference Rockerfeller made in so many people's everyday life. And shocked by how few history books recognize it.

I like Folsom's distinction between a "market entrepreneur" and a "political entrepreneur," and agree with him that one is a good thing, and the other a bad. I also like having some useful terms to distinguish them. The most annoying thing about the last presidential election, for me, was
Austin D.
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book, easy to read

What a pleasure reading the life stories of these industrial titans of the 1800s, early 1900s era. The author gives just the right balance of detail to give the personages depth and also keep the reader fully engaged in the adventure of their rise to fame and business success. It was also so refreshing to have a historical narrative from a pro-market point of view.

The author brilliantly tells the bare facts of their life stories and the economic conclusions are self evide
As a high schooler, this book was a tremendous account into the entrepreneurs that shaped and were the foundation for American business today. The author has an easy-to-follow, conversational writing style, and this book was surprisingly engaging and intriguing. I have learned so much more about the truths of capitalism and the US government's roles in the creation of the booming industries that we see today. Truly, a great intellectual read!
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent alternative view of the "Robber Barons" and the process to which they became titans of industry. Being fierce competitors these individuals cut prices and costs in an effort to gain the edge over everyone else, but most importantly did so without subsidies.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, thought
One of the fewer non marxist histories. Sure, the proletariat had less comfort on Vanderbilt's boats, but high ticket prices and subventions paid by the many hurt the proletariat more than the capitalists.
Marc G.
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well written.

A very quick and enjoyable read. Shows that a lot of what we learned in history classes about "robber barons" was wrong.
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Burton W. Folsom, Jr. (born 1947 in Nebraska) is an American historian and author who holds the Charles F. Kline chair in history and management at Hillsdale College and is a senior fellow in economic education for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“The second point is that, in the key industries we have studied, the state failed as an economic developer. It failed first as a subsidizer of industrial growth. Vanderbilt showed this in his triumph over the Edward Collins' fleet and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company in the 1850s. James J. Hill showed this forty years later when his privately built Great Northern outdistanced the subsidized Northern Pacific and Union Pacific. The state next failed in the role of an entrepreneur when it tried to build and operate an armor plant in competition with Charles Schwab and Bethlehem Steel. The state also seems to have failed as an active regulator of trade. The evidence in this study is far from conclusive; but we can see problems with the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Sherman Anti-trust Act, both of which were used against the efficient Hill and Rockefeller.” 1 likes
“in the 1890s, American rails were inferior to some foreign rails, so Hill bought English and German rails for the Great Northern. The subsidized transcontinentals were required in their charters to buy American-made steel, so they were stuck with the lesser product. Their charters also required them to carry government mail at a discount, and this cut into their earnings. Finally, without Congressional approval, the subsidized railroads could not build spur lines off the main line. Hill's Great Northern, in contrast, looked like an octopus, and he credited spur lines as critical to his success.” 0 likes
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