"Gilded Age" of the second half of the 19th century was the epoch of tycoons. Many Americans came to idealize
these businessmen who amassed vast financial empires. Often their success lay in seeing the long-range potential
for a new service or product, as John D. Rockefeller did with oil. They were fierce competitors, single-minded
in their pursuit of financial success and power. Other giants in addition to Rockefeller and Ford included Jay
Gould, who made his money in railroads; J. Pierpont Morgan, banking; and Andrew Carnegie, steel. Some tycoons
were honest according to business standards of their day; others, however, used force, bribery, and guile to
achieve their wealth and power. For better or worse, business interests acquired significant influence over
perhaps the most flamboyant of the entrepreneurs, operated on a grand scale in both his private and business
life. He and his companions gambled, sailed yachts, gave lavish parties, built palatial homes, and bought
European art treasures. In contrast, men such as Rockefeller and Ford exhibited puritanical qualities. They
retained small-town values and lifestyles. As church-goers, they felt a sense of responsibility to others. They
believed that personal virtues could bring success; theirs was the gospel of work and thrift. Later their heirs
would establish the largest philanthropic foundations in America.
upper-class European intellectuals generally looked on commerce with disdain, most Americans -- living in a
society with a more fluid class structure -- enthusiastically embraced the idea of moneymaking. They enjoyed the
risk and excitement of business enterprise, as well as the higher living standards and potential rewards of
power and acclaim that business success brought.
the American economy matured in the 20th century, however, the freewheeling business mogul lost luster as an
American ideal. The crucial change came with the emergence of the corporation, which appeared first in the
railroad industry and then elsewhere. Business barons were replaced by "technocrats," high-salaried managers who
became the heads of corporations. The rise of the corporation triggered, in turn, the rise of an organized labor
movement that served as a countervailing force to the power and influence of business.
technological revolution of the 1980s and 1990s brought a new entrepreneurial culture that echoes of the age of
tycoons. Bill Gates, the head of Microsoft, built an immense fortune developing and selling computer software.
Gates carved out an empire so profitable that by the late 1990s, his company was taken into court and accused of
intimidating rivals and creating a monopoly by the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division. But Gates also
established a charitable foundation that quickly became the largest of its kind. Most American business leaders
of today do not lead the high-profile life of Gates. They direct the fate of corporations, but they also serve
on boards for charities and schools. They are concerned about the state of the national economy and America's
relationship with other nations, and they are likely to fly to Washington to confer with government officials.
While they undoubtedly influence the government, they do not control it -- as some tycoons in the Gilded Age
believed they did.