During the second half of the nineteenth century, America became a land of opportunity, but an opportunity reserved for a small group of people who made a lot of money very quickly.
With the end of Civil War, rail track opened the center and the western portion of the continent, with the mining of gold, silver and coal, with the development of petroleum, railway, navigation, the bank and steel industry coupled with low or no taxes and lean government restrictions, those bent on making money would find a way to do it.
The result was fabulous wealth for people like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Mellon, Morgan, Carnegie, Harriman, Astor, Frick, Gould and others of lesser fame today. But the result was also the designation for these people as “robber barons” and for the period of 1861 to 1901 to be identified as (by the humorist Mark Twain, with little humor intended) “The Gilded Age.”
The greed shown by the robber barons during the Gilded Age helped to develop and industrialize the USA and paved the way for the country’s entry on the world stage at the twentieth century as a superpower. But greed also propelled these barons wasteful showcase of indulgence to satisfy their boredom and created in this land of equality, a moneyed class that sought for itself a special privilege at the expense of others.
Consider these examples of waste:
- The head of the Southern Pacific Railroad system paid $ 2 million in building a mansion at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York, then decided not to live there, as a rival Baron, William H . Vanderbilt, built a mansion several years ago, but then died shortly after moving in it.
- The owner of a mine in Nevada moved to New York, has paid the most money ever to a land in the city (opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue), then told a decorator to do whatever had to be done to complete his new house. The bill was: $ 450,000.
- Dinner receptions between New York social elite are so beautiful that during a dessert, guests received cigarettes wrapped in a hundred million dollars for smoking. Another dinner given in honor of the host dog, closed by the owner to present the animal with a $ 15000 diamond necklace.
- A magnate had created a bunk made of oak and ebony, inlaid with gold, all at a cost of $ 200000.
- The rich hosted social balls built around ever more ostentatious themes-for example, the coal and gold barons who hosted parties in simulated coal or gold mines, complete with waiters dressed like miners, or the ball held on horseback in a hotel ballroom, with guests in their riding clothes dining on champagne and truffles from a table attached to the horse.
The era was marked by booms and busts, by periods of overheated speculation, where the unscrupulous made his fortune, while the unwary that have lost theirs. Even skilled speculators and traders, who should have known better, have lost huge fortunes. A robber baron, Jay Cooke, made so much money as a head of a bank that financed Union during the Civil War that he built a $ 1 million mansion in Philadelphia with fifty rooms decorated with three hundred paintings. He finally went bankrupt in the panic of 1873 (however, a few years later, he scraped together $ 3000 for a stake in a small silver mine Utah, in which five years later he sold for nearly 1 million dollars). Thus, many things in this golden era marked by greed that accumulated large sum of wealth in the late nineteenth century. Mark Twain pointed out to his friend Joseph Twichell, “Money-lust has always existed, but not in the history of the world was it ever a craze, a madness, until your time and mine.”