Wealthy Personalities of the Gilded Age

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The late 1800s and early 1900s in America was marked by massive industry and economic growth. This rapid growth created a major divide between the haves and the have-nots. This era became known as the Gilded Age, named after Mark Twain’s novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. Gilding in itself is the method of covering a cheap, sub-par metal with a thin layer of gold, thus making the overall product appear much more beautiful and of greater worth. It symbolizes how America’s problems, such as child labor, corrupted politics, underpaid workers, slums, and major income inequality, are masked by “a thin gold gilding.”

The Gilded Age was lead by wealthy capitalists who took advantage of the fact that laws were not yet in place to control monopolies on products/industries like railroads, oil and steel. These capitalists also took advantage of the lack of protection for workers, which lead to large amounts of workplace-related deaths. One such capitalist was JD Rockefeller. Another was Copper King and railroad magnet, William A. Clark. Both men used corrupt and unethical business practices to amass their wealth in ways that could not be justified by philanthropy.

JD Rockefeller was the founder of the Standard Oil Company and was the world’s first billionaire. He was born in New York in 1839.

William A. Clark is well known as being a highly influential and ruthless man of 19th century America. Clark was born in Pennsylvania in 1839. He traveled west to Montana in an attempt to strike gold. While there, he began to buy failing silver mines for cheap prices and converted them into copper mines. His most successful mine was in Jerome, Arizona. After Clark made a tremendous amount of money off his mines, he developed desires to enter politics. He ran in the 1899 election against his rival Copper King, Marcus Daly. He won the race for Montana Senator in 1899 by using methods and techniques that included pressuring the legislators of Montana.

A committee on April 23, 1900 found that William A. Clark had agents who “had paid mortgages, purchased ranches, paid debts, financed banks, offered bribes that ranged from $240 to $100,000, and blatantly presented envelopes of cash to legislators.” Ultimately, Clark knew he had zero chance of convincing the Senate to allow him to keep his seat and ended up resigning. The new Montana legislature was elected in 1901, and “most of the winning candidates received financial support from William Clark.” Clark was then able to get re-elected to the Senate by these new legislators.

In addition to participating in corrupt politics, Clark was also the creator of the infamous Milltown Dam in Bonner, Montana. He created the dam to generate electricity to his sawmills and his Western Lumber Company (which produced wood that would be used in his mines). When a large flood occured, soon after the dam had been built, heavy metals from the mines upstream began to collect. This caused the towns of Milltown and Bonner’s water to be filled with deadly contaminants, including a large amount of arsenic.

The dam has also been labeled a “biological barrier” due to the fact that it prevents trout from moving up and downstream. William A. Clark’s greed and thirst for wealth has had lasting and costly impacts on the people, wildlife, and politics of Montana. William A. Clark had interests only in himself. He treated himself lavishly. Clark spent a large amount of his money on a custom built house in New York, paintings from Europe, and Stradivarius instruments. It was reported that he and his first wife “yearly spent $3 million.” After his death, he left $2.5 million for his second wife. The only noted philanthropy of William A. Clark was his donation of 135 acres to Girl Scouts.

Both of these men amassed their wealth and power through shady practices. Their actions had lasting impacts on the environment and the people who were working for them. They contributed to corrupt politics. Despite JD Rockefeller’s attempts to use philanthropy as a way to atone for his wrongdoings, the fact still remains; he is (directly as well as indirectly) responsible for the deaths of 200 people. With large amounts money and power comes a great responsibility to improve the working conditions and take care of those who are suffering. Philanthropy should not be used as a justification for the abuse and maltreatment of workers.

Cite this paper

Wealthy Personalities of the Gilded Age. (2021, Nov 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/wealthy-personalities-of-the-gilded-age/

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