Gilded Age
8th Grade Gilded Age Inquiry

Is Greed Good?
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Staging the Question Discuss examples from everyday life when greed is good and times when greed is bad.
The compelling question may be staged by having students discuss examples from everyday life when greed is good and times when greed is bad. For example, people may have a greed for things that are good such as knowledge. Greed can serve as a motivation to get things done and can encourage economic activity. Greed can be bad when it leads people to harm one another. Later in the inquiry, students return to this initial discussion on greed via the Summative Performance Task in which they make an informed, evidence-based argument.

Supporting Question 1- What were some of the political, social, and economic conditions driving industrial growth from 1870 to 1900 in the United States? 
  • Source A: United State Patent and Trademark Office, chart of patent and invention activity in the 19th century, U.S. Patent Activity Calendar Years 1790 to the Present; chart of notable American inventions, 2015 NOTE: Patent activity in the United States increased dramatically in the second half of 19th century into the early 20th century. From 1850 to 1910, the number of “Utility Patents” or patents for inventions increased many times over from 2,193 patent applications issued in 1850 to 63,293 applications in 1910.
    The United States Patent and Trademark Office displays information on the annual US Patent Activity Since 1790 on its website at:
  • Source B: Map bank: United States railroads, 1860 and 1890
  • Source C: Scholastic, graph of United States immigration from 1820 to present, “Total Immigrants by Decade”

Supporting Question 2- What were the positive aspects of industrialization in the Gilded Age? 
  • Source A: Graph bank: Graphs of oil prices and Gross National Product
  • Source B: Senator Leland Stanford, an interview with Stanford on his thoughts about the nature of capital, New York Tribune (excerpt), May 4, 1887
…LABOR IS THE CREATOR OF CAPITAL, And capital is in the nature of a stored up force. It is like the balance wheel of an engine, which has no motion that has not been imparted to it, but is a reservoir of force which will perpetuate the motion of the machinery after the propelling power has ceased. A man takes a few thousand dollars of capital, builds a workshop, buys raw material advantageously, and engages a hundred workmen to manufacture boots and shoes. This is the foundation of enterprise. The employer of labor is a benefactor. The great majority of mankind do not originate employments for themselves. They either have not the disposition, or the ability to so originate and direct their own employment. Whatever may the fault, it is truth that the majority of mankind are employed by the minority.

Supporting Question 3- What were the negative aspects of industrialization in the Gilded Age?
  • Source A: W. A. Rogers, The Forty T-----, [Thieves]: Baba Jonathon: I don't like your looks, Mr. Merchant, you had better move on, illustration, Harper's Weekly, 17 March 1888
  • Source B: Author unknown, an essay offering a counter argument to Andrew Carnegie’s theory about wealth, “Workingman’s Prayer for the Masses” (excerpts),1894 Public domain. Letter from “A Workman” to the National Labor Tribune. Reprinted in The Coming Nation, 10 February 1894.
  • Source C: Author unknown, letter to the editor critical of the power of industrialists, “Evolution of the Robber Baron,” New York Times, December 7, 1902
Evolution of The Robber Baron
To the Editor of The New York Times:
With your kind permission I would like to say a few words upon a subject which I will call the “Evolution of the Robber Baron.”
It is well known that in the early Middle Ages, or rather during the Dark Ages, the original robber barons, the feudal lords of certain small German principalities, made periodical raids upon their vassal subjects, despoiling them of the hard-earned accumulations of years and otherwise appropriating their substance either by right of eminent domain or by main force exercised by the strong against the weak. At a later period, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the same process was carried on by both English and German rulers against their Jewish subjects, who were then considered legitimate prey whenever an impoverished exchequer had to be replenished. “My Jews,” as these rulers used to call them, whenever they had accumulated enough wealth to yield a rich harvest, were made to disgorge in short order.
Such were the conditions five centuries ago, and now in the twentieth century come the modern robber baron, an evolution of the original article, in the shape of the railroad financier: he swoops down from his office like his ancient prototype from his castle, and by obtaining control of this or that railroad property, after he has assured himself that it is on a sure paying basis, takes everything in sight be means of the Holding Company, or the Securities Company, which he and his robber baron friends arrange to organize within the law, to the detriment of the surprised and unwilling minority owners of the property. Take the Manhattan Hallway Company, for instance. It’s owners (general stockholders, have for years been carrying this magnificent property at a nominal income, hoping the time would come when they would be repaid for their patience; well, the time has come, or is about to come, but not for them. True they are to receive a better income than heretofore, but the sponsers of the Inter-urban Company will see to it that they don’t get too much now that much better earnings are in prospect for the property, and they have also seen to it that they get all the balance over 7 per cent, for all time to come.
Now, where is the difference between the robber barons of old and these modern railroad financiers? None whatever, I take it, except that the former helped themselves at will, and the latter are helping themselves within the protection of laws made to legalize the robbery.
New York, Dec. 1, 1902
Public domain. The New York Times Company, December 7, 1902, Page 33.
  • Source D: Theodore Roosevelt, special message to Congress (excerpts), May 4, 1906 Public domain. Theodore Roosevelt: "Special Message," May 4, 1906. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

New York State Social Studies Framework Key Idea & Practices 8.2 A CHANGING SOCIETY: Industrialization and immigration contributed to the urbanization of America. Problems resulting from these changes sparked the Progressive movement and increased calls for reform.
 Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence      Comparison and Contextualization