The Development of the American Economy

The United States of America after the Civil War was devastated socioeconomically and politically, particularly in the South after the emancipation of the African American slaves. Yet, the aftermath of the civil war ushered in an era of capitalistic expansion that spurred America’s economy to heights it had not experienced before, a model that persists to the present day. Although numerous individuals, businesses, and political administrations contributed to the growth of the competitive consumer markets, some individuals and organizations emerged and laid the foundation of the workings of present-day economic and legislative processes. 

Leading Industrialists 

Andrew Carnegie was an astute entrepreneur that made use of shrewd investments to grow his wealth. Profit maximization underpinned Carnegie’s specific investments. For instance, in order to dominate the steel industry, Carnegie invested in capacities such as the acquisition of sources of raw materials, related logistics infrastructure, and factories (Graybar, 2018). Over time, Carnegie’s investment portfolio in steel made him the dominant player in that industry. Carnegie, like his contemporaries, benefited through the consolidation of an industry by eliminating waste and competition.

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John D. Rockefeller was a visionary businessman who came to monopolize the supply and distribution of oil across the United States through his company, Standard Oil. Rockefeller’s primary strategy of domination was the acquisition and amalgamation of his competitors’ oil franchises into what eventually became Standard Oil through the exploitation of the still-nascent oil industry (Trolander, 2018). Rockefeller’s business acumen, though critiqued as being predatory and unethical, demonstrated the potency of the role of entrepreneurship in the capitalist economy.

John Pierpont Morgan was a post-war banker that brought together banking with industry in a way that redefined banking, investments, and market perceptions by providing essential bases in the financial services industry. In essence, Morgan matched investors with promising business opportunities, such as his actions in mitigating adverse competitive outcomes in the rapidly expanding railroad industry and consequently, the American financial market at large (Chernow, 1990). In the course of Morgan’s consolidation of the financial services industry, he came to accumulate significant personal wealth, as well as control of the U.S. financial market. Morgan’s lasting legacy is the JPMorgan Chase bank that remains in operation to this day. 

Influential Labor Unions 

The Knights of Labor (KOL) were an agglomeration of individuals from smaller labor unions that sought to enhance the protection of its members from employee activities adverse to KOL (Knights of Labor [KOL], (2015). KOL advocated for workers’ rights issues such as improved wages and shorter working hours through non-violent means, with strikes being a popular advocacy method (KOL, 2015; Lause, 2003). In addition to striking, KOL also forayed into politics by supporting legislative actions such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in the anticipation that the action will result in high wages for members. Although KOL had become potent in its advocacy, its tolerance of those among their ranks that favored using outright violence turned authorities and most of its constituent unions against its leadership.

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) union emerged from the fragmenting KOL as an advocate for unions by initiating change in managing collective bargaining. The AFL espousal of the improvement of workers’ rights in areas such as better wages and secure pensions through advocacy that did not involve the tolerance of extreme positions as KOL had practiced increased its membership (Gompers’s testimony, 1883). Relatedly, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was made up of smaller unions representing industrial workers that the AFL expelled from its ranks. The CIO shared the AFL’s overall philosophy of galvanizing workers but observed the latter’s unwillingness to recognize industrial workers collectively as weakening the workers’ bargaining power (Bill, 2011). After a period of intense, predatory competition AFL and CIO eventually merged to form the AFL-CIO union that continues its operations and is a leading labor union organization today. 


Bill, R. (2011). The Birth of the CIO. The Socialist Retrieved from

Chernow, R. (1990). The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. Grove/Atlantic. 

Graybar, L. J. (2018). Andrew Carnegie. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Knights of Labor (KOL). (2015). In T. Riggs (Ed.), Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History (2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 692-694). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. Retrieved from¤tPosition=8&docId=GALE%7CCX3611000477&docType=Organization+overview&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=&prodId=UHIC&contentSet=GALE%7CCX3611000477&searchId=R1&userGroupName=canyonuniv&inPS=true

 Knights of Labor Constitution of 1878 Knights of Labor (n.d.). Retrieved from

Lause, M. A. (2003). Knights of Labor. In S. I. Kutler (Ed.), Dictionary of American History (3rd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 539-540). New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Retrieved from¤tPosition=9&docId=GALE%7CCX3401802262&docType=Topic+overview&sort=Relevance&contentSegment=&prodId=UHIC&contentSet=GALE%7CCX3401802262&searchId=R1&userGroupName=canyonuniv&inPS=true

Samuel Gompers Testimony before Congress Regarding the AFL American Federation of Labor (1883), Samuel Gompers (2019). Retrieved from

Trolander, J. A. (2018). John D. Rockefeller. Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

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