In the high stakes world of crime and justice, understanding the legal system is not optional. It's critical. Hi, I'm Philip Holloway, host of the podcast, sworn from Tenderfoot TV and I Heart Radio. Last season, we looked at a number of crimes and cases that highlighted issues in our legal system. This season we have a new approach. We're tackling the problems directly. We'll look at faulty forensic science, false confessions and mandatory minimum prison sentences. Season two of sworn is underway and it's available now.
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Stuff you should read. Books, dot com preorder now. Welcome to Step. You should know a production of Heart Radio's HowStuffWorks. Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. There's Charles W.. Chuck Chuckers Bryant over there. Kerry was just here doing the Cauvin setup and then got out of the room really quick, hold their breath for five straight minutes. It's a new record. Really? New studio record. Sure. And this is stuff you should know.
That's no David Blaine record, by the way.
No, I mean, that's her studio record. You should see her when she's pearl diving, though.
Wouldn't that be something if Jerry did have a secret life? Pearl diving, that would be amazing.
It would. But we're not talking about Terry. Chuck enough about her. Instead, I propose that we have a nice, pleasant conversation about robber barons.
Yeah, this is an interesting topic because depending on who you ask, the robber barons were either the greatest thing to ever happen to this country. Right. Or one of the worst things to ever happen to this country.
Yeah. Yeah. And at first, from what I could tell historians, like immediately after in a few decades after the Gilded Age, which we'll talk about where, you know, the age of the robber barons worked and operated and lived in and really took it to be like their their presence, their existence was one of the worst things ever. But over time, there's kind of been a reformation of them, you know, kind of like a revisiting of them that has tried to to root to revive their image or actually make their image possibly better than it ever has been.
Yeah, I mean, it kind of I think a lot of this has to probably depends on what you feel about, you know, capitalism to this extent where it kind of doesn't matter how you make your money, if it's sort of underhanded and you sort of undercut competitors and monopolize things, that's all. Just free trade, man, free capitalism. And that's how it works out. And then those guys, Tonna gave a ton of money to society before they died.
And so they that's that's all. The end justifies the means. Yeah, I actually agree with that. Yeah. And that's the conservative way to look at it. And I ran across something, camera was called, but it's basically.
Oh, human imperfection. Did you know that the idea that humans are imperfect and there's really no reason to try to make a perfect society because it will always be imperfect and end in ruin? That that is a a cornerstone, a hallmark of conservatism. Did you know that? I didn't. But I mean, didn't he? Of course, you can't make a perfect society. It makes sense. Well, there was. So conservatives are saying that in opposition to all of the liberal efforts to make a perfect society, to have government regulation that says, no, no, we should all have clean water and we should do it at the expense of making corporations clean up the wastewater before they they release their waste into the shared common water resources, things like that.
Right. And that there's this idea that you can you can mold society into some perfect form, that that's the opposite of human imperfection, that that's like what liberals think. And that that is that right. There is one of the main dividing lines between conservative and liberal. I've been on the planet for almost 44 years now, and I had no idea that it was just that simple. And it really kind of is.
I think the word perfect is what's a stumbling block for me? Because I don't know, a single liberal thinks that they can make things perfect. Yeah. Goal is to make things better. Yeah. Yeah. Agreed. I don't know that it's it's a great word either, but I'd think that that's, you know, I mean, hey, you can argue with the Stanford Encyclopedia philosophy. I'm not. Bring it on, man. I'll punch that thing.
Renovates. Speaking of Stanford, did you know that Stanford University was named out and reboarded? Yeah. A robber baron named Leland Stanford, actually. Yeah. A lot of universities are named after robber barons. Yeah. There's a lot of problems with some of the early histories of of universities, as we'll find out in the coming weeks.
So we should get into the Gilded Age. We should hop in the old Wayback Machine, because that's the age that we're talking about. And when you hear Gilded Age, it might sound really great because, I mean, what's better than a gilded.
I don't know, toilet gilded Lily? Isn't that another one? That another thing? People Guild. Oh, no. That's very good. Band name, though. Gilded Lily. Yeah. Like a 90s power pop.
Oh, totally. He said, what about Breakfast at Tiffany's?
But the Gilded Age is. And Dave Roose helped us put this together. And he points out it's not a term of endearment when something is gilded. That means it's it's got a thin coating of gold. But underneath, it's, you know, it could be a gilded turd. Sure.
I hate that word so much. I love it. It's so great to you. Yeah.
And I hate it. I mean, I hate it. I love it. And how awful it is. Oh, gotcha. But I think it's so awful. It like comes out on the other side is just plain old awful to me. So yeah, that's the that's the idea of the Gilded Age, that it look great on the outside, but on the inside it wasn't so great. And when was this. So this was the second half of the 19th century, basically from pretty much the end of the civil war up until the first decade of the 20th century.
Yeah. And it was characterized by a huge, massive shift in the American economy where I saw somewhere that at some point in the 1860 to some point in the early eighteen eighties, in about 15 years, the American economy doubled, doubled in size in 15 years. That's how massive it was. And that's how fast it happened. And what it was is a transition from an agrarian society to an industrial society. And it happened virtually overnight as far as history goes.
And it was because it happened so quickly and because it was such growth. I think the government was like, we're going to stay out of this and kind of just let you you dudes do what you're gonna do. No regulation. You can be as competitive as you want to be and you can satisfy a scratch every capitalist if you want. And we're just going to let that happen because we're also kind of getting rich on the side. Right.
So that kind of raises something that I saw. Is that the idea that that it's kind of like a myth of the laissez faire government during this era, they were definitely laissez faire when it comes to regulation and letting corporatists run roughshod over labor.
But they were anything but hands off when it came to corporate welfare and political entrepreneurship and helping out the wealthy class at the expense of the people in general. So in one hand, on one hand, they were laissez faire. On the other, they they were not. Yeah.
And what we're talking about here is stuff like snatching up resources where you could hording them for yourself under a like building such a massive business that you could drive out every other smaller business, drive them right out of business by undercutting their prices. Jobs were more scarce. So you could. Have people work harder for less and less wages? That kind of thing? All right. Exactly.
And what's crazy like it was a dog eat dog economy. Yeah. It was just nuts how it happened. There was a lot of, like, learning on the fly and the learning curve was extremely steep. Because, I mean, this was just basically a country of farmers who had been, you know, looked down upon by Europe for a century or more. And they all of a sudden were captains of industry in the most ruthless. Among them were the ones that rose to the top, because, like you're saying, there was no rules, there was no regulation, there weren't any standards of business.
They were all figuring it out as they were going along. And they went immediately to the worst impulses that capitalism can can raise in a person when you're in pursuit of as much possible wealth as you can get. And there's plenty of it to be had. And then, like you're saying, not only to the federal government not get involved, they weren't equipped to get involved because at that point, most of the government was focused on local stuff. And now all of a sudden, as the United States is truly becoming a continent wide nation, the federal government is kind of lagging behind to catch up.
It wouldn't really begin to catch up in the progressive era. And some would say that the pendulum swung the exact opposite way to the exact opposite extreme direction that it had during the Gilded Age.
Yeah. I mean, let's let's talk about the Gilded Age and the I guess just, you know, at all the trains, really, and trains you to steel. So you've got to go back a little bit. Right. Steel was a very big deal in that when they found out Mr. Henry Bessemer and the eighteen fifties found out how to make steel like a lot cheaper. He got a new process going where it was just like a making vast amounts of steel for a fraction of the cost and speed.
Right. And all of a sudden you could open up those local rail lines to stretch across the country and all these regional specialty businesses and industries, whether it was, you know, Cincinnati was known for furniture. And obviously in places like Wyoming, you had coal and you had copper in Montana and you had a lot of timber in Oregon. You could get that stuff anywhere you wanted to go. And that changed everything.
Yeah. Not only could you get it to where you wanted to go, you could do it exponentially cheaper than it used to be overland or say, using canals and then also way faster, too. So now if you were making like really great armchairs and Cincinnati, like you're saying, like not only great, you'd have the town that they're just known for it. That's their mascot, I believe, with the baseball team.
You had the sitter. Right.
Not only did you have the town of Cincinnati and maybe some other regional parts of Ohio as your market, you know, had the entire country to supply with chairs. And that that happened at a really great time, the steel coming along and building the railroads because the United States economic engine was kind of idling at really high r.p.m. for a little while before this. Apparently, the War of 1812 caused the United States to kind of stop relying on Europe and turn inward and become much more self-reliant than it had been before.
So it started to exploit more industry and resources rather than rely on imports from Europe. That was a big one. And then on the civil war, had brought a lot of factories online in the north that hadn't been there before. And so when the civil war ended, these factories were already to go. And with the abundance of plentiful steel that the that the engine got put in a gear and it just kind of took off like a rocket. Yeah.
When I was reading this and I tried to find out, but I couldn't really get a firm hold. I wondered if back then when this started to happen, you know, how people rail against global trade and the globalization. I wonder if people railed against nationalization of commerce back then or if they all just thought it was all great?
No, no. One of the things I read about that's actually a mark in favor of the Gilded Age being a actually a good thing for America is that people, everyday people were super involved in politics, in the political process and agitating for what they wanted. And so if there were people who were definitely in favor of this kind of just taking off like a rocket, knitting the country together, that kind of stuff, nationalization, then there was definitely opposition parties to that, too, I figure, who saw the problems with it.
But the cool thing is, is that everybody was involved and everybody was like like like they cared about the direction the country was going rather than just sitting back and being like, well, nothing we can do about it.
I wonder, though, if it was like if there were business, like if there were furniture maker. In Cincinnati. Go in. I don't want to sell my shares out there. That is not what they said. Cincinnati, ZET, not the Cincinnati exit. No. OK. I might be thinking of Maine. You're right. But I wonder if I wonder who is opposing it.
I don't know. I don't know. I haven't seen that one. Some of the things that I saw were one of the big fights was over currency and whether it should remain on the gold standard or whether it should be easy money, which, of course, the so that the farmers wanted. I think they wanted easy money. I can't remember who wanted to stay on the gold standard and others wanted, you know, basically to leave the gold standard and make money a lot more easy to come by.
Although I was at the Rodney Dangerfield movie, that was easy, easy money, man. There's a tawdry movie was wasn't it. Yeah. It good though. Yeah. Hey, he's in the worst Dangerfield movie. I feel pretty great, great. And on that point, real quick, I'm sorry. I know we don't like to. Golf maintains its very often, but I have been watching Happy Days and surely lately.
Man that is some comfort food isn't it dude. They are. But not only that, it's only junk food though. They're like well-written. Well act if you're well directed. TV shows like Garry Marsh. Really. It's not at all like throwaway or disposable. It doesn't rely on slick special effects or anything like that. It's just good stuff, man. Yeah, I agree.
And you know what? Since we're on this tangent, we should tell everyone that we're writing a book and it's coming out this fall.
Yeah, it's called Stuff He Should Know, an incomplete compendium of mostly interesting things. And you can preorder it now if you want a special guest, a poster. Yeah. You preorder it and you can go and upload your receipt at stuff. You should read books, dot com. And then there's like a little thing that says, like, get your preorder gift and you upload a picture of your receipt and they mail it to you and you will be very happy with it because it's pretty awesome.
Yeah. And we want to sell. We do want to sell these books out there. We want to sell these books all over the world.
Yes. We're glad that the railroad exists so we can move these books around easily.
Oh, man, you ain't kidding. Ship these things to Cincinnati. Right. So where were we? So we were shipping things. Regional businesses were becoming national businesses. People were leaving the farms. They were leaving small towns. They were go into the big city. Immigrants were pouring in from Europe. African-Americans were going north because reconstruction didn't work out so well.
Yeah. And it was not abandoned. Yeah. Yeah. Have we done one on reconstruction? No. No. We really need to though. Totally. I mean, the more I've been I've been reading a lot about that, that period in history. And yes, we need to definitely do one on that.
But the point is there are a lot of people flocking to work. This is what was called the second industrial revolution, where we saw over a period of about 40 years, factory output went from one point nine billion to 13 billion dollars.
Right. I mean, like this happened almost overnight. It's it's astounding how fast this happened. I don't think it even happened this fast in the first industrial revolution. You know, the one that that started over in Manchester, like, I think that it's this is nothing like this has ever happened in the history of the world, as far as I know. I believe it. So are you sure? I was just getting revved up my own economic engines idling high right now.
Well, take your foot off the gas. OK. And let's take a little break and we'll talk a little bit about Mark Twain and what these few economic stats of the day right after this. All right, we're back, Charles. I'm feeling much better now that my foot off the gas is just good advice. Well, we mentioned Mark Twain, and the only reason we're going to talk about Mark Twain for a moment is because in 1873, he co-wrote a novel.
It's a satire called The Gilded Age Colon, A Tale of Today, where it followed a poor country farmer who is sort of I mean, does he move to the city trying to get in on the second industrial revolution? Yeah, totally.
It's exactly that kind of migration that you're talking about just a few minutes ago. And it didn't work out so well, right? I don't know. I've never read the book, but from from what I can tell. No, it didn't work out very well because he is taken advantage of by all manner of bad people, like crooked politicians and crooked businessmen and is basically run through the wringer, from what I can tell. But I've also seen that that wasn't it wasn't exactly the best piece of writing Mark Twain's ever come up with.
But the thing is that he releases in 1873. Yeah. And this is like at the very beginning of of the Gilded Age. So he saw it pretty quickly. What was going on.
And what he saw was this emergence from a relatively egalitarian society of a a group of Alterra mind bogglingly wealthy people that just rose up from the United States and through, you know, cheating and business acumen and taking advantage of people and overworking people and underpaying people. But also like having a lot of vision and foresight, all these things coming together grab control of almost all of the wealth that was being produced by the average American and all of the average Americans put together who had moved to these cities for the promise of better wages, better living than the farm could offer.
Some people were exploiting that more than other people. And those people came to be known as the robber barons. And they were the linchpin of why people think of the Gilded Age as a rotten part of American history. Yeah.
Here's some stats for you. In 1890, the top one and this should all sound very familiar. If you're alive and breathing oxygen today. Right. But in 1890, the top one percent of the U.S. owned 51 percent of all wealth. Yeah, dude, more than half of all wealth. In that nuts. It is nuts. But you're right, it does sound very familiar.
The top 12 percent owned 86 percent of all white and the lower 44 percent of the U.S. population, which is about half the population, owned one point two percent.
And here's that's even more nuts. Well, I mean, all these just top one another, I think. Here's the last one in 1897, the richest 4000 families. That sounds like a lot of people, but that's less than one percent of the population. The richest 4000 had as much wealth as the other eleven point six million families combined.
Yeah, how about that? So that is what you call economic inequality. Right. And I think the thing is, is especially over time. But I get the impression during that age, too, like the people who resent that liberals typically tend to be painted with this brush that says you're just jealous. You've never made that much money in your life. You probably never will. And it sickens you to see somebody else with that money because you don't have it.
And it's that second part. That last part about because you don't have it that I think misses the mark. And that even at the time during the Gilgit Gilded Age today, when people look at it in quality, that kind of stuff, what they're what a lot of them, I'm sure there are people out there who are just jealous and haters for that reason. But a lot of them say no, no, like that that level that that amount of disparity shouldn't exist where if there are people who are just genuinely suffering, who are just poor and aren't able to make it with whatever living they're making, if they exist, they shouldn't have people who have that much amount of money.
And that was a sentiment in the gilding Gilded Age as much to it wasn't like they didn't realize this was going on at the time. The sentiment was very much like it is today, except in the Gilded Age, they did things like form labor unions and strike and and just basically did something about it. They didn't take it laying down, which is actually criticism that's levied or has been levied in the past against people today. Yeah.
And I think there's also a notion that the more left leaning people are anti success. And that's that's not true either. It's. Well, that's all I'm going to say about that. That's just not true. It's just not true. They're not. You said. They're not anti success. And I don't think that every conservative thinks like. Yeah, man. Like, it's all fair. And you should be able to do whatever you want to get ahead and stomp on any one's head that you want to get there.
Right. I think these are just brush things that keep the country divided.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that. Yeah. I think both sides misunderstand each other. Conservatives and liberals misunderstand each other to a debilitating degree these days.
Agreed. So let's let's get off that. Let's go back to the original, the Oji robber barons who were not these guys. I'm talking about the term robber baron, which didn't happen in the 19th century U.S. for the first time. It happened thousands of years ago in Europe.
I don't know about thousands of years, but 1000 pretty close to it. Pretty close to 8000. I'll give you that. So apparently along the Rhine River, if you wanted to move goods up and down Northern Europe like that was your your way to go. But unfortunately for you, there are places where the Rhine River, like, really narrowed with high cliffs. And you were easy prey for local nobility who wanted to like set up toll booths basically, and said, you need to give me some money if you want to keep going.
Implying your goods along the Rhine. Yeah.
And yet you couldn't just ported your steamship up a mountain and over a mountain, you had to pay the piper.
Plus they didn't exist at the time. What steam matchups?
When it does come around the early 19th century, you have a much better just general world timeline that lives in your brain than I do.
Well, I understand history perfectly and without any error illusions or any of my opinions informing my vision of history.
I think that's what you're known for.
Wait, wait. Are you joking? Oh, no. OK. I just I always get the time periods confused, so I rely on books and research. Like a big dumdum.
So. So do I. Yeah. No. But then you keep it in your brain. Mind just floats out like. Like. Yeah. I guess cartoons with birds flying around people's head when they get knocked out. Chuck, I've seen every cartoon that ever existed and I remember each of them perfectly without any of my opinion coloring my view. Those birds are always above my head. I don't have to get hit with an anvil or a piano.
So the Rhine Gorge was one of those really narrow straits. And in twelve fifty, Emperor Frederick the third died. There was no successor and basically that meant no regulation. And believe it or not, even way back then, a lack of regulation meant that people would take advantage of that crusade as it is today. And it's almost like people are imperfect, almost. And so these thieves would move into that gorge, jam up those tolls, maybe just steal stuff if they wanted to as well.
And they were named the robber barons. That's where that term came from, those people.
Yeah, because they actually were like low level nobility and they already were well-off. But that didn't prevent them from, you know, trying to take advantage of the merchant class who were just trying to make their way and make a living. That's right. And that became like a really great description for some of the the the most successful business tycoons of the 19th century. I think it first popped up in an Atlantic article in a 1870. Yeah. Where it didn't directly say that.
It didn't say that these guys are the new robber barons, but it said that the the old robber barons of the Rhine Valley were actually probably more honest than the new aristocracy of swindling millionaires. And so that's a big, big time, Bert. So even in 1870, people were saying like, this is wrong. There's something like really wrong here. I mean, this is within just a few years of the Gilded Age, really starting to take off.
And people had already identified that there were some major issues developing.
Yeah, it's so weird to look at this stuff and just how apt it applies to what's going on today. And we think I think some people think that these are all new problems and new issues. But it's his oldest time, you know.
Yeah, so weird. It is a little weird, too. It's it is weird. What's even weirder, though, is like I, I believe if week, if we look back, if we zoom out far enough, we see humanity kind of ever going upward, even though there's like peaks and valleys in the year. And the line overall is kind of up moves upward toward something great, I think, but toward perfection. Mm. I was if maybe I was in, I wasn't alive 10000 years ago, so who knows, maybe that was the the pinnacle of human existence.
I don't know. Maybe so she can say.
Shall we talk about a few of these dudes. Yeah. So we, I feel like we have kind of set this up that the robber barons were ruthless business tycoons. And we're gonna start with one of the first ones, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who for my money was the Oge robber baron.
Yeah. And Commodore's a nickname that. And as you will see, he later Vanderbilt University is named for him and their mascot is the Commodores because of him. And a Commodore is a naval officer sort of above. Not quite an admiral, but above the captain. I think they. Yeah, fleet. Oh, well, that's actually pretty appropriate because he did command a fleet of ships, originally sailboats, originally a sailboat. I think when he was 14 and then steamships to ferry people around New York, I thought there were no steam showers.
There were by this time.
And you know you know what's ironic? We're talking about steamships. And when they were invented, the guy who invented steam, Robert Fulton. We did a whole episode on Steam Technol. Yeah. Yeah. He had a thirty year monopoly in New York to ferry people using steamships. Right. And ironically, Cornelius Vanderbilt had to overcome that monopoly, using ingenuity and his own resourcefulness and eventually was successful in breaking that monopoly just through good business tactics that actually resulted in far lower fares for everyday people and companies.
I think just said his first try by improving the the size of the steam engine and using cheaper anthracite coal. He managed to drop the average faery price from like seven dollars to three dollars in his first try. That's amazing. Yeah. So. So I think that's really kind of like instructive, though, man. Like, think about it. We think of this guy as like a ruthless robber baron. And in many, many ways he was, as we'll see.
But he was able to get to that position by by outwitting and outsmarting other robber barons. And that was the climate at the time. Like, it's so easy to sit back from this time and just be like just judge, judge, judge infectiously kind of fun, too.
It's a great pastime. But you also have to remember at the time that was that was the business climate. That's just what it was. And if you weren't willing to do that, well, then you were not going to make it in business, which is fine. Like maybe you'd say this is too cutthroat for me. I'm just going to sell out these guys. And there's nothing wrong with that. But the ones who were left standing are the ones that, you know, history still remembers, for better or for worse.
And it's worth pointing out, as we'll do with I think we're going to for these guys. But some had money born into it. Some started out very poor. And Cornelius Vanderbilt, even though that sounds like such a rich Hoity-toity name now, he was born very poor. He was born in 1794 in a farming family on Staten Island and quit school when he was eleven. And that's when he started working on the boat docks. And he was literally a self-made man, starting with that first little ferry boat that you mentioned at age 14.
He was a big dude and he was very savvy, but also very ruthless. He and this is something that you'll see with a lot of these men was a competition and a competitive edge in nature. Right. That was sort of the underlying thing with all of them. I think that I watch There Will Be Blood recently for movie crushin Daniel Plain View was very much based on some of these robber barons. Yeah. And he has that great, great classic line from that movie.
When he does have a competition in me, I want no one else to succeed and that just crystallizes that character.
And I think a lot of these guys, it wasn't enough to just get rich. They wanted to devastate the competition. Right. So it makes you wonder, like, is that just a normal? There's just at any given time, there is a, you know, a handful or a multiplicity of people who are like that. It's just that these guys happen to be living in a time where they had the freedom and ability to exercise that to their to their greatest ability.
Or was it that these guys shaped? The business world, because they all happen to be alive at the same time. I don't know. I wonder. It's interesting, though.
It's that competition. And again, with the plane, do you not just a competition to succeed, but a compas competition to see that others don't?
Right. So did you talk about the river jet? I didn't catch it. No. So, you know, it started off in the steam steamboats. But if you know Vanderbilt, you know, he was a railroad guy. And if you look at the list of robber barons, I'd say easily, like a third of them were railroad men. Yeah. Because there was so much money to be made from the railroads. It was just like printing your own money.
And one of the reasons why was because there's so much stuff being shipped over the railroads that if you own the railroad, you got a cut of every single industry because every single industry basically had to use your form of transportation. That's why they all got into it. Plus, it was wide open, like there was so much open space and so much room for expansion that it was a it was a good time to get rich off of the railroad for sure.
So his first railroad ride was thirty nine years old. He wasn't like in his 20s and early 30s getting into the railroad business. He wasn't even on a train until he almost 40. And that train crashed an axle broke and went down an embankment and he punctured lung, broke some bones and I guess was lying there wheezing out of a hole in his lungs, saying this is the future was so great.
And he got into railroads. It's it's crazy. Like a year later.
Yeah, he did. And one of the things that he had a really great talent for was identifying like loser railroads, seemingly loser railroads and figuring out ways that they actually had been overlooked. Yeah, and a really good example of that is the Harlem Railroad, which is just a short little line that other railroads, larger rivers used to connect to New York City. But Vanderbilt recognized that it was the only line that went all the way into the heart of Manhattan.
And so he bought that up. And he also, at the same time not only got control of that little railroad. This is a really early chance for him to show how good he was at driving up stock prices. So when he came along and bought the Harlem Railroad or started buying shares of the Harlem Railroad, that was worth in today's money, a hundred and sixty eight dollars a share. Not too shabby, but from what I could tell at the time, not very great at all.
By the time he was done cornering the stock, he had driven the shares up to fifty nine hundred and ninety eight dollars. So in just a few years. And so in doing so, not only did he make a ton of money for himself, he also developed this reputation that made owners of other railroads say, I own a bunch of shares in my railroad. You want to come by mine and drive my stock price. Right, and then buy me out.
And so, sure, he didn't he didn't even have to plunder other companies. They came to him and just said, Here, buddy, byas, please.
They were Blue Star Airlines. What is that? Remember that from this room there will be blood. There were no airlines and there will be blood. Now, remember Wall Street? That was the one that Martin Sheen worked for. Yeah. That geko that came in and bought out. And I think he shuttered them, though.
That was the difference. Yeah. Yeah. He was a corporate raider. He he and actually that era, the 80s junk bond era is frequently cited or it was at the time as the second Gilded Age. This is not the first time we're living in what's known as the second Gilded Age.
So to put a bow on Vanderbilt, he consolidated, like you said, all these railways between New York and Chicago. He manipulated stock. He fixed prices. He, like you said earlier, the government wants it looking. So you kind of do what you wanted. And he became very, very, very wealthy man. And like a lot of these guys late in his life, turned into a philanthropist, built Grand Central Station. It was called the Grand Central Depot at the time, which during the recession provided tons and tons of jobs for people.
And then the Central University of Nashville was eventually renamed Vanderbilt University because all he did was give me a million bucks and that crazy. All right. I guess back then, that's a lot more significant. Sure, sure. Like, I feel like we could get stuffy Chanel listeners to pitch in and get a university named after us.
Let's try that actually stuff. You should know you. We could do.
We could more organize a struggling university. How about that? Hey, one more thing about Vanderbilt. So he left about one hundred million dollars to his mostly to his eldest son, William, in six years. William doubled that, mostly by investing in railroads. That's how much money you can make in railroads. And William was also well known for throwing probably the most lavish party in the history of New York City. They spent one point eight million dollars in today's dollars on champagne alone.
Yeah, that was when he finished his mansion on Fifth have. And I looked it up because to see if any of these robber baron mansions were still around today. Oh, yeah. I don't yeah. I think I mean, I know this one was demolished in 1926.
So if you want to get a really good idea of just how rich these people were, go to Newport, Rhode Island, man visit millionaires, wrote it because there was a huge there's a huge overlooking this cliff. There's a a long row of the most astounding mansions you've ever seen built during the Gildas, one of the better walks you can take in life.
It really hit the ocean on one side and then these. Yeah. Mansions on the other. It's really cool in each mansion, each mentioned is so different from the others. They just tourism is amazing. You could just be utterly disgusted by the concept of billionaires or robber barons or whatever. And you can still enjoy taking this tour of these mansions. They're just works of art. You know, it's really it's really worth a visit. Plus, Newport is one of the more charming towns in the.
I love Newport.
Or you could take a hate walk and just look at those mansions and think about what it would wrecking ball would look like.
Shake your fists at the dumb waiters and all.
But then you turn around, look at the ocean and think, OK, all right, it's really cool. It's it's definitely cool to visit it for sure.
And by the way, it's a little piece of trivia. If you go if he enters Central Park at the Hundred and Fifth Street entrance, that big, beautiful iron gate was from that mansion. The Vanderbilt mansion, they they donated a lot of the stuff before they demolished it.
Is that right? Yeah. So I mentioned Morgan ization, and that's actually named after the next Robert Baer. And we're going to talk about. OK, do we break beforehand and know that we break after OJP? How about that? You're OK with that. Sure. OK. So. So then we're gonna hang in there. Everybody don't. Don't fastforward yet. We're going to stick around and talk about JP Morgan, right?
Yeah. He was born with money. He did not come from meager means and work himself up by his bootstraps. He was the son of a very successful banker and merchant and use those connections to get a plum job at Wall Street when he was 20 years old. And then when he was in his 30s, he partney partner with a guy named Anthony Drexel, who was a banker from Philly and created Drexel Morgan and Company. And it became one of the biggest investment banks at the time in the world.
Yeah. And this was when he was in his early 30s, like you said. Right. So J.P. Morgan was known as the guy who financed all the other robber barons. And he had his fingers in basically every pot that was going on. He also knew that, like, you could make money off of the roads because you're taking a cut of all the other industries. So he definitely got involved in them. But his whole thing was what's called horizontal integration, where you you you basically come along.
You say this industry should be doing way better than it is. I think there's too many competitors and they're all holding one another down. I want to slowly start buying them up. And here's the thing. This is how you get control of a full industry during the Gilded Age. You go to a couple, you start buying them up, and then you put all those together and you form a bigger company that's way leaner, has much better economies of scale, and you can compete better against all the other guys.
So you start buying some of the other guys up because they're facing going out of business now. And then you've got left the real holdouts, the ones that are never going to sell you because they hate your stupid face and they'll never give a penny to you. Make sure that you'll never set foot in their offices ever again. And what you do then is you start selling for less than Kostia. You're a big company, so you can totally stay in that for a much longer time than these holdout competitors.
And they face either financial ruin or you eventually put them out of business. And either way, you no longer have that competition. You literally control an entire industry consolidated into one beefy mega company. And all of a sudden you have what's called Moore Organization, which is I don't know if it was pioneered by JP Morgan, but he definitely perfected it enough that they named the process after him. Yeah, and that's a good example of what I was talking about earlier, is it's not enough to succeed and be successful, but to make sure no one else can be.
So, like, it would be the kind of thing that one company you were talking about that may be kind of pretty small even, but they might might hold. They have an iron grip on one very tiny region of the United States. Mm hmm. And you could just let them have their business or you could do what you're talking about and make sure that you squash them by any means necessary and force them to sell.
And that's I think that's where capitalism for a lot of people has gotten its bad name is like, yeah, work hard, succeed, do well, but not at at the expense of every other person trying to do well.
Right. Because it interferes with something this country's based on, which is called the quality of opportunity, which is the idea that at least under the eyes of the law, every single person in America has an equal shot at making it and making something of themselves, of having like a good life. And when somebody is cheating or engaging in Monopoly's or using underhanded tactics to to run out the competition so that there is no competition any longer, that that is problematic.
That that flies in the face of the idea of equality of opportunity.
That's right. And if you listen to our Monopoly game episode, you might remember that JP Morgan was the basis of Monopoly man Uncle PDVSA. Yeah, we talked about that. Good. OK, that makes me feel good. Yeah. He was modeled after old J.P. Morgan himself, and he was actually one of the first people to be targeted for antitrust. In 1984, Teddy Roosevelt came after him under the Sherman Antitrust Act and said, hey, this Northern Securities Corporation is really monopoly.
And Supreme Court said, yeah, it is busted up. Yeah.
And so today, when we think of trusts, we think of like, you know, a legal entity that can hold assets. At the time, the word trust meant basically an industry that had been organized where all of the competitors had been folded into one large company and the market was cornered by this one mega company, General Electric, U.S. Steel. Both of those were more organized companies. And apparently U.S. Steel was the first one billion dollar company that ever existed because of that that level of consolidation.
But then, yeah, when the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890, there was a clear sign that that this is not going to stand much longer. And I think Roosevelt was Roosevelt, you said, right? Yeah. Teddy, who busted that up.
And he ran on that and actually went against. He was a Republican. I believe anyone against the advice of the you know, the elder statesman in the Republican Party establishes himself as a genuine president of the people and helped set himself up for re-election. Just from that one antitrust act. So that's J-P. Now, do we take a break? Oh, one more thing, Chuck. Yeah, I'm not toying with you, I swear. So one one of the ways that Morgan one of the reasons he's reviled still and he did some philanthropy, probably more than he gets credit for, for sure.
But one of the reasons he's reviled is because one of the ways he made it so that he could compete with other companies was in sell for lower than than cost was by slashing wages, slashing the workforce and increasing productivity of the existing workers. And then just making sure that working conditions, he didn't spend a cent on improving working conditions to make them safe. And that that is really not. Why not? Because he amassed a fortune. Some people criticize him for that.
But it's tactics like that, like like becoming a billionaire basically on the backs of people who he wouldn't have spent a cent to make sure could stay alive working in his factories. That is the quintessential problem people have always had with robber barons. Is that kind of mentality? That's right. Now I'm done. All right. We'll come back right after this and finish up with two more robber barons.
In the high stakes world of crime and justice, understanding the legal system isn't optional. It's critical. Hi, I'm Philip Holloway, host of the podcast Schwan from Tenderfoot TV and I Heart Radio. We've got an all new season and this time we're tackling the problems directly. We'll look at faulty forensic science, false confessions and mandatory minimum prison sentences.
California has the largest prison system in the United States. The United States has the largest prison system in the world.
In some cases, capital murder cases just preventing a death sentence and getting life without parole was a win.
People just want justice so bad that they're willing to accept everything at face value when they need to really look deeper and really stand up when they hear about an injustice that's happening.
Season two of Schwan is underway and it's available now. Listen on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. Hello, everybody, we're back to talk about Andrew Carnegie. If you've ever been to Carnegie Hall or Carnegie Mellon University, I've been to both. You've been I went to the university with you. That's right. We do a little job there one time. That's when I've been to Carnegie Hall. I ushered a show there didn't usher.
I passed out the playbills, which meant I got to see the show for free. And I saw its show. Oh, man. It was one of those special nights I got to see Beethoven's Ninth with the full orchestra and German choir at Carnegie Hall. It was amazing. Wow. Something else that's pretty neat. And all I needed was a bow tie. Is that the one that did it? Did it? Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Did he know maybe I named it wrong.
It's the dun dun dun dun dun dun dun. Oh, the die hard song.
Yeah. The diehard song. I gotcha. Oh, it's not die hard in concert. It was great.
So Carnegie, we're talking about Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Scotland, and they came to Pittsburgh. He was very poor. He's about 13 years old and he worked in a cotton factory. And he and this will come into play later. He kind of self-taught himself from books that he borrowed from a wealthy benefactor from his private library, which is. Yeah. Come to play later. His favorite one was Flowers in the Attic.
Wow. I would've thought great expectations, but that's OK.
No, no. So he he, like Vanderbilt, is definitely a self-made man for sure. And I guess he kind of was he had his fingers in a lot of from pots, kind of like JP Morgan at first. And then he turned his attention to steel because again, remember, steel is like the basically the the foundation for this American economy just blowing up. And he was in Pittsburgh. Sure. So he he his name became synonymous with steel.
And I guess that first, up until about 1892, he had a reputation as being a friend of the worker and that the workers at Carnegie Steel in Homestead, just across the river from Pittsburgh, they they felt like, you know, Carnegie would take care of them. And they found out the hard way that that was not the case. When they they went on strike in 1892 during what came to be known as the homestead strike, which would result in the death of ten people, which is not how they they plan things to go.
And apparently the reason why that happened is because the Pinkertons were called in as strikebreakers.
Yeah, I might want to eventually do an episode on this, but that that's sort of the overview. You bring in the Pinkertons and then they battle with the like literally with guns. Pinkerton's died, I think like eight or nine of the 10 or 12 people that died rode the Pinkertons.
No, no. I think it just one, I think. Right. Were the strikers. Yeah. Okay. Well, we should definitely do a full episode then, because for sure when we get this right, Bob.
But what I read was that the the strikers so the Pinkertons showed up and barges and they were basically hired on as a private army to protect scab workers and and bust the strike up. But they arrived in barges. And after the initial violence, the striking workers and some of their families surrounded these barges and demanded that the Pinkertons come off. The boats didn't then burn Angleton's. That was so the Pinkerton's said, OK, we'll come off if you guarantee your safety.
And they said fine. And the Pinkertons came off and they got. Beaten by all of the strikers. They just completely went back on their word and then set their barges on fire. I guess the Pinkertons escaped through the factory with their life and the National Guard was called in to quell the violence.
Yeah, well, National Guard was called in not only to quell the violence, but also called in to act in the interest of Carnegie. So he kind of commandeered his own little personal army to help take care of things.
Right. Starting with the Pinkertons, then with the National Guard. And it's like this kind of collusion. That is also another huge criticism. Like we were saying, the government is known for being like laissez faire as far as regulation is concerned, but they'll totally send in the National Guard not just to quell violence, but to make sure that the strike breakers don't attack the scab labor to keep the factory going. And that that that kind of like government capital collusion at the expense of the workers is that is there's a long standing tradition of of that being almost universally reviled in America over enough of an arc of time if that keeps up.
More and more just everyday Americans start to notice and start to resent it. And that apparently is a really good force for social change because Americans don't like that kind of thing after a long enough period of time.
Yeah, and I think Carnegie tried to distance himself from that strike by saying that he was sort of out of the loop. He was in Scotland the whole time. But they have since found correspondence that shows that he was very much involved in that. And, you know, there's some speculation that he may have had some genuine moments of regret and guilt over that because he was a big time philanthropist later in life. Yeah. I think he said in his book, The Gospel of Wealth, The Man Who Dies.
Thus Rich dies, disgraced, and we mix in the libraries coming back into play. He built more than twenty five hundred libraries. And that's really one of his big legacies, along with the arts. The Carnegie Corporation and the Endowment for International Peace. Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Museum. But the libraries really have made a pretty big difference in this country. They really have for sure. And he was one of just the all time great philanthropists in American history for sure.
But he still pales in comparison to the the all time top record holder philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, who is also a robber baron. But he also is far and away America's most prolific and generous benefactor for sure. He was also one of the most visionary philanthropists of all time, too. Yeah.
And some people say that he was you know, if you just account for money and inflation, the richest man ever to live.
I'm not sure how they calculate that because his 900 million dollar peak in 1912 is about 23 billion today.
So here I saw how you're ready. I'm sure it's. Yeah, go ahead. If you do his wealth relative to the total economic output. Yes. In larger figure than gross domestic product. I had a feeling it was something like that. His wealth represented two percent of the total economic output of the United States at the time, too. To have that value today, you would have to be worth about 350 billion. Okay. And I think Jeff Bezos is worth 140 or something like that.
Yeah. And I think we didn't even mention that was at Carnegie that had at one point, like one dollar of every 20 dollars in circulation was is.
Yeah, that's right. That was Carnegie for sure. Yeah. I mean, these numbers are staggering for sure. People like Rockefeller and Carnegie is just it's unbelievable.
But the thing is, in like like John John D. Rockefeller was a ruthless, ruthless business man who put a lot of people out of business, brought a lot of misery and hardship on just small, everyday producers of oil, which we'll see. But again, it's really difficult to overstate the impact that his philanthropy has had on the United States. He peaked at 900 million, like you said, when he died. He had he given away everything but 26 million of that.
And he probably felt kind of bad that he had 26 million dollars left because he had he was a very religious man. And apparently he learned very early on that it was every man's religious duty to make as much money as you possibly can and then to give away as much money as you possibly can to. And he he apparently lived that even before he was wealthy, when he was still just a average worker. Yeah. He would give away something like 10 percent of all of his paycheck.
So he was a philanthropist his whole life for sure. He was still a robber baron to the. Yeah, and his hold, you know, of course, oil was his business Standard Oil. It was just a Goliath. And there and there were a bunch of big like sort of like the railroads. It was oil. And the railroads were industries where you could have a bunch of people that had these huge, huge corporations. But Standard Oil was far and away bigger than any of them.
By the early nineteen hundreds, they controlled more than 90 percent of the oil market. Can you imagine 90 percent in the way that he cornered the market was, you know, he did that standard organization kind of thing where he went around and bought it first and then started to turn up the heat on the competition, on the hold outs. But one of the ways that he turned up that heat was he colluded with the railroad, the different railroads in the area who were shipping all this oil to say not only were they going to give him a rebate, so he got money back where they wouldn't give money back to other oil shippers just because of, you know, volume.
That makes sense. But they also had to to get his business. And he had so much business that they would do this. They the railroads had to tax an added tax on all of his competitors. So they paid an extra 20 to 30 cents a barrel to ship, not just paid more than he did because of his rebates, they paid more in addition to that, just for not being John D. Rockefeller. And then on top of that, to keep him from taking that rebate and going around to other railroads and getting a cheaper rebate and abandoning that railroad, they actually gave him a kickback of that added tax.
So his competitors were getting taxed by the railroads and he was actually getting some of that tax himself, too. You just can't possibly compete with that. And it put a lot of smaller oil producers and shippers and refiners out of business. It's amazing.
It is. Let me see. He gave 75 million away to the University of Chicago. Well, it kind of founded the University of Chicago with that money.
Also, Spellman, too, which was established to educate freed slaves. He he he bankrolled Spelman for its founding as well.
And in one of our best and most favorite episodes, you might remember, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission helped eradicate hookworm in the South. Yeah, totally. I mean, that that is one of our better episodes for sure.
So those are just four of the sort of most famous and some might say notorious robber barons. Big, long list. You know, you could throw Henry Ford in there. John Jacob Astor. Charles Schwab. Andrew Mellon. Jay Gould.
Yeah, I looked if I was thinking about J. Paul Getty, but he was later on, he wouldn't have qualified.
So some of these guys had some terrible quotes, too, that also just made them despised through history. Carnegie said that it's not the man who does the work who gets rich. It's the man who gets other men to do the work, which is not very tasteful thing to say when you're ultra wealthy in breaking strikes with guns. That Jay Gold guy mentioned, he said that he could hire one half of the workers in America to shoot the other half to death if you wanted to.
Which is another nice thing to say. And apparently, John D. Rockefeller once said competition is a sin. So these guys had some terrible PR. And because of that, a lot of people have said like, well, I wonder if some of the ultra wealthy industrialists or innovators or people who basically the billionaires who are leading the world today, are they just like robber barons with better PR and better marketing? Maybe. And apparently, supposedly it's not necessarily the case.
And here's why. Remember, I was saying that like robber barons were kind of being reformed by historians these days. Yes. Especially conservative historians. Well, they point to some like really indisputable things, like these guys were ruthless and they engage in horror, thick, anti-competitive kind of anti capitalist tactics to get those that wealth. And they did it on the backs of workers. So they took advantage of and didn't pay very well and killed in their workplaces, basically.
But the reason that America is still powerful today is because of the work that these guys did of the the industries that they created. Public schooling came about and was kind of became widespread to prepare people for the jobs that these guys created. And you really can't you can't look away from the fact that some of them were the greatest philanthropists that the country has ever produced. To the that flies in the face, with kind of the exception of Bill Gates, it flies in the face of the people who are around today.
That that not only are they not great philanthropists necessarily. I'm looking at Steve Jobs, who isn't around anymore, but definitely was not a good philanthropist in his life. He is now. His family is. But he wasn't when he was alive. That's a big, big mark against people who have controls significant portions of the wealth in America today, but also even more than that. Those guys today are prison. They're presiding over a decline, a decline in wages, decline in living.
Missions, whereas these guys, these captains of industry and the robber barons from the 19th century, they were presiding over a rise like an improvement in the the the way that America lived. And the standard of living it, the kind of the polar opposite. Even though the inequality is roughly the same.
Very interesting. I think so, too. I also wonder, though, too, if this this inequality will usher in a second progressive era, which it seems like it has all the markings to do that. So we need to do a Progressive Era episode two sometime. OK. Deal. All right. Well, since you said deal, Chuck, I think it's time for listener mail.
Yeah, I think I alluded to this in another one about the word marijuana.
Yeah. And I talk about that total, but I didn't read the mail. Right. Not that I remember. All right.
This is from Jack Glick. Hey, guys. Love the show. Been listening for five years or so. Make sure not to miss any new episodes. Missing the one to Moccia when you started to talk about marijuana. Decided to get in touch. I am the lead analyst on cannabis taxation for the Canadian federal government. And we long ago made a decision to refer to the plant by its proper name, cannabis. Marijuana has a number of historically racist associations and I know you guys are always using wary of using appropriate terms for things.
Had a good laugh at the question over whether Woom was still okay to say and the ultrasound itself.
I thought you might like to know that. How outdated and implicitly offensive marijuana is. I'd like to encourage you to use word cannabis when referring to in the future. All the best. Keep it up.
That is from Jack Glik. That is a great name, Jack. Great job. Great name. Great e-mail from a great guy, I assume. Sounds like a great guy. If you want to show off what a great person you are, you can e-mail us yourself like Jack GLIC did. He would Grigny. You can wrap it up, spend it on the bottom and send it off to Stuff podcast that I heart.
Radio dot com. Stuff you should know is a production of heart radio's how stuff works from your podcasts. My Heart Radio is at the radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. In the high stakes world of crime and justice, understanding the legal system is not optional. It's critical. Hi, I'm Philip Holloway, host of the podcast, sworn from Tenderfoot TV and I Heart Radio. Last season, we looked at a number of crimes and cases that highlighted issues in our legal system.
This season we have a new approach. We're tackling the problems directly. We'll look at faulty forensic science, false confessions and mandatory minimum prison sentences. Season two of sworn is underway and it's available now. Listen on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast.