5 Huge Finance Lessons from the History Channel’s ‘The Men Who Built America’
As much as we all love Ancient Aliens, something tells me that ancient astronaut theorists are doing nothing to improve viewers’ understanding of factual historical events. That’s why it’s so refreshing to find actual history content on the History Channel. The Men Who Built America focuses on how five men helped grow our country to be the superpower it is today, and not surprisingly, many of their accomplishments were financial in nature.
Taking place during what is often referred to as the golden age of capitalism, The Men Who Built America is really about how the most powerful men of the time grew massive fortunes and developed the modern U.S. economy.
The 5 Men Who Built America
Here’s a look at the five figures featured in The Men Who Built America and what they did to impact today’s financial system.
1. Andrew Carnegie
The perfect story of the American Dream, Andrew Carnegie rose from a childhood of poverty while living in Scotland to become one of the wealthiest men in America. After moving to the U.S., Carnegie began working for Pennsylvania Railroad where he quickly climbed the ranks and began earning an impressive income.
Carnegie then saw opportunity in the growing steel industry, and used his money to make wise investments in steel and oil that would grow his fortune immensely. He used his strong business sense and relentless ambition to help develop the country, but also became a tremendous philanthropist, donating more than $350 million to various educational projects.
2. Henry Ford
We can thank Henry Ford for fostering the U.S. auto industry, as he founded the Ford Motor Company and developed the first Model T — the first mass-produced vehicle made available to every day Americans.
However, in addition to providing people with technology that revolutionized transportation and led to the creation of suburbs, highways and provided more freedom in daily life, he also made huge advancements in manufacturing, like developing an assembly line that allowed workers to spend less time in factories.
3. John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan
Many people today still recognize the name J.P. Morgan, the man who founded the private banking company that eventually became JP Morgan Chase. Morgan was responsible for funding many of the steel, oil and electricity initiatives of the other “Men” in the series, even eventually purchasing the Carnegie Steel Company from Andrew Carnegie.
Though Morgan is often criticized as having had too much control over financial markets and even manipulating them in order to benefit himself, he is also credited for helping to stabilize the stock market during several financial crises like the Panic of 1907.
4. John D. Rockefeller
Founder of the Standard Oil Company, John D. Rockefeller was known for avoiding unnecessary risk, but saw opportunity in the oil industry. Starting with the purchase of a Cleveland, Ohio-based refinery, Rockefeller’s oil empire grew into a full fledged monopoly.
In fact, the business practices implemented by Rockefeller led to the creation of anti-monopoly laws that now protect American businesses. And while Rockefeller’s reputation among the general public was quite negative, he also established himself as a generous philanthropist, donating over $530 million to various causes.
5. Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt started his own business in the shipping industry when he was just 16-years-old, a successful venture that turned out to be just one of many he would pursue. Vanderbilt gained a reputation for having a fierce competitive streak and undercutting his competition to steal away customers and force other companies out of business.
He took the money made from success with steamboats to invest in the railroad industry next, and made great strides in expanding the U.S. railroad system, using his same ruthless business tactics.
It’s important to note that while these five men made monumental accomplishments in business, industry and finance, they often did so at the expense of many others — even each other.
The History Channel’s miniseries does a great job of showing both the strengths and shortcomings of these men who built America, and hopefully makes viewers appreciative of the work and sacrifice than went into making the United States one of the richest countries in the world.
Image courtesy of the History Channel