An American Industrial Revolution Unit

for Middle School Students and their Teachers

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Where Did The Monopolies Start?



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The railroad became very important after the Civil War. It allowed for expansion of the west. As the railroad system grew, the bigger railroads bought the smaller ones and consolidated. Consolidation was done by railroad barons. Cornelius Vanderbuilt was the richest and most powerful railroad baron. He also owned a steamship line and new how important the railroad was going to be to a growing nation.

The Players
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Andrew Carnegie
J.P. Morgan
John D. Rockefeller

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Side Note:

To Trust...
or Not to Trust...

 Carnegie argued:

Competition ruins businesses, and puts people out of work.

Large corporations can make goods cheaply and this helps the consumer.










Others argued:

  • Trusts and monopolies end competition.
  • Businesses have no reason to keep prices low.
  • It is hard for new companies to start up and compete.
  • Employees feel they are treated badly by large corporations.
  • Huge trusts might have too much economic and political power.


Notice that the government was not a player!  President Thomas Jefferson cut down the size of the government because he believed that the government should not interfere in people's lives.  This idea is called "laissez faire" from the French term for "let alone."  How much control should the government have?  

Should government regulate cloning?  tobacco use?  seat belts?  handguns? hunting and fishing?

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What is a Muckraker? Theodore Roosevelt gave that name to the reporters who were always sifting through the dirt or muck to find stories about corruption.

He meant the name as an insult, but muckrakers took up the name proudly.

There were several well known muckrakers. Lincoln Steffens wrote about city corruption in St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Ida Tarbell wrote about unfair practices used by Standard Oil Company. Upton Sinclair wrote the most shocking stories. In a novel called The Jungle, he revealed some gruesome details about the meatpacking industry in Chicago. Joseph Riis wrote about the life of the poor. Once people saw the photographs he took, and read his book, How the Other Half Lives, many people demanded reform.

Muckrakers helped change the attitude of the public. Before their stories were published, many people tolerated corruption. Once people saw how corrupt politicians and businesses could possibly threaten the good of the nation, they joined the muckrakers in demanding reform.



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Connection to Today


Does Bill Gates have a monopoly?

Decide for yourself: 

Yes, it's a monopoly



No, it's not a monopoly

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Student Activities


 ACTIVITY:  Become a muckraker:  Find out the scoop on one of the above millionaires of the 19th century.  Write a news article about them.  Try and find out exactly what dirty rotten things they are doing to be able to get so rich.

Next, find other classmates that chose someone else.  Use ClarisWorks 4.0 Newsletter format to write a Headline and then insert your articles.  Include an article on every man.


ACTIVITY:  Watch Disney's Newsies   How were rich living as opposed to the poor?


ACTIVITY:  Go to the Library and get a copy of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, an original muckraker.  He wrote about how the immigrants worked in meat factories before there was any government regulations!  That meant that if a finger got cut off and it went into the meat, oh well.  Fire the worker, but keep the meat coming!  There's plenty of gross stories in that book.  Americans were outraged and eventually passed meat processing laws. Write a book report after reading the book.



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