the Chronycle

The birth of contemporary society in 9 paragraphs

Let me tell you a story.

In separate capacities, Vanderbilt and Scott build a railroad empire. 40% of the freight on their trains is oil. Rockefeller, who built his oil refining business on the back of a bankruptcy-avoiding deal made with Vanderbilt, invents the pipeline to cut the railroads out of the oil business.

After discovering the potential of structural steel while nearly ruining himself building the first bridge over the Mississippi, Carnegie, Scott's right-hand man, switches the market focus of his steel manufacturing operation from railroads to building construction.

When his father dies, JP Morgan comes into enough money to
1. save his failing investment in Edison (DC current),
2. use the influence of the investment bank his father built to practically bankrupt Westinghouse and his investment in Tesla (AC current), despite AC becoming the international standard,
3. finally force Westinghouse to transfer the ownership of all AC patents to General Electric,
all this in spite of Rockefeller attacking the entirety of the electrical lighting idea, rightly perceived as the death knell of his kerosene lighting oil empire.

Rockefeller finds a use for a by-product of oil refining, gasoline, which his company has been dumping into rivers for decades because they had no idea what to do with it, while Carnegie becomes the first defense contractor.

Rockefeller, Carnegie, and JP Morgan collaborate to ensure that Democratic candidate Bryan, inventor of the contemporary presidential campaign, loses to McKinley, who is assassinated in 1900, making trust-busting Theodore Roosevelt President of the United States.

Already in control of the railroad business, JP Morgan makes a deal - without lawyers or contracts - to buy Carnegie's steel business for USD 400 Bn in today's dollars (making Carnegie the richest man in world history), before orchestrating the dig of the Panama Canal.

After having been forbidden to sell cars by the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM) cartel, owners of a patent on "the car", Ford, a convinced anti-monopolist, becomes a celebrity by winning a race against the fastest man in America despite never having raced a car before.

While Rockefeller becomes the richest man in documented world history because his company gets broken up by anti-trust laws, Ford defeats the automobile cartel in court, invents the assembly line factory, pays his workers a living wage, standardizes the 40-hour work week, and begins the consumer economy in the process.

Getting well along in age, Carnegie kicks off contemporary philanthropy by giving away USD 67 Bn in today's dollars to build 2,500 libraries, because according to him "A man who dies rich, dies disgraced." Rockefeller gives away USD 100 Bn before dying at 97.

A quick note: when JP Morgan presents his home lit with electricity to his father, Junius Morgan tells him Edison has played him for a fool.

[This article is a quick summary of the television mini-series "The men who built America" (2012), by the History Channel.]

philip m. shearer


shelter island, ny, usa