Tag Archives: The Men Who Built America

Fortune Everlasting

24 Jun

The other day, I was sitting on the couch at parents’ house and picked up a copy of Fortune 500, the annual list of America’s largest businesses. Like most people, I look at the top companies, but I also look for other things. How many are based in Tennessee? How many are new additions? How many dropped out? There is a lot of interesting information once you start digging in.

This year, I noticed something else. It was not that long ago that the History Channel put out a program called The Men Who Built America about the big industrialists of the late 1800s. It covered Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford. There were others, but those guys were the main characters.

As I thumbed through the Fortune 500, I thought back to those men and wondered how many of their companies are on the 2014 list. Obviously, Ford Motor Company is going to be on there. Heck, everyone has seen a Ford vehicle going up and down the road. But, what about those other guys?

Cornelius Vanderbilt was into ships and railroads. In the old days, his companies dominated, but I could not find any of them on the current list.

Andrew Carnegie made his fortune with Carnegie Steel. He sold out and spent the rest of his life giving money away. Carnegie could do that because he sold the company to J.P. Morgan, and this is where things get interesting.JP Morgan

Morgan learned investment banking from his father and took it to a new level. He bought Carnegie Steel and merged it with another mill to form U.S. Steel, which currently ranks 166th on the list. Morgan also owned General Electric, currently the 9th largest company in the United States. However, that is not all. He was also on the ground floor of American Telephone and Telegraph. We know it better as AT+T, and it ranks 11th.

This means that J.P. Morgan owned three corporations that currently rank in the Fortune 500. But, there is more. J.P. Morgan Chase and Company is the 18th largest business in the country.

Then, there is the story of John D. Rockefeller, who owns Standard Oil. He created a trust system, which allowed him to controlled the vast majority of the world’s oil supply. The United States government, fearful of an important resource being controlled by one person, busted the trust into smaller companies. Being a major stockholder in the new companies, Rockefeller became the richest man in the world. In other words, the federal government really showed him.John D Rockefeller

Anyway, a few of those smaller companies still exist. Exxon Mobil ranks 2nd. Chevron ranks 3rd. Marathon comes in 25th.

The History Channel called them The Men Who Built America. Others call them robber barons for their ruthless business techniques. Regardless of what one might think of them, there is no doubt that they played major roles in the American economy. What is more, they continue to play major roles many decades after their deaths.

Me and My Dad

5 Mar

Tonight, my dad and I finished watching The Men Who Built America, the History Channel miniseries about the major industrialists of America’s Industrial Revolution.The Men Who Built America

My dad has always been interested in the history of business and economics because he was industrialist, as well.

We had a great time watching it together, and I liked when he asked questions of me. I paused the DVD, and I told him what I knew about the time period. He also told some stories that I have never heard before.

In one episode, J.P. Morgan and George Westinghouse were fighting over whose electricity was going to be used by the country. That led my dad to tell a story from his childhood. When he was born, electric lines did not reach to the house of his parents. However, his aunt and uncle who lived down the road had electricity. Because his aunt and uncle could keep milk refrigerated, my dad spent most of his time with them.

While I was growing up, I knew that my dad was as close to his aunt and uncle as he was his parents. In fact, he referred to his aunt as Mama. I never understood why this was. It was like he had two sets of parents, and, as a result, I had an extra set of grandparents. It turns out that it was all caused by some electric lines.

That’s really something to think about. The decision by the electric company to stop the lines at a certain point affected family relations for a couple of generations. I’m certain that the person who made that decision never realized the effects that decision would have. My dad’s aunt and uncle were childless, and my dad became the son they never had.

It’s funny what watching a history documentary will do. I learned about Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan, but I learned about my dad, too.

It also helped me with a blogging decision. A few years ago, I wrote a history of my dad’s business as a Christmas gift to him, and, over the next several posts, I am going to reproduce it on this blog. Along the way, I am going to break some self-imposed rules. I am going to use the names of the people who I write about. I do it because I am proud of my dad’s accomplishments and want others to know about them.

Those readers who live in my town may recognize some of the names and be able to put faces to names. Those who live in other parts of the world will have no clue who or what I am writing about. No matter who you are or where you live, I hope you enjoy reading the next few posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.