Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931)
Edison was the inventive genius of American
industrialization who symbolized the modern fusion of science, technology,
Edison was regarded as a very slow student,
and consequently his formal education lasted only three months. Still a boy,
he turned to selling newspapers on the streets of Port Huron, Michigan, handing
over some of the money to his family but spending the rest on books and chemicals.
At age fifteen he went to work for the telegraph. His first inventions were
electrical stock tickers and vote recorders.
He took out over a thousand patents in his life.
Among his lesser-known inventions were synthetic chemicals, waxed paper, portland
cement, the mimeograph machine, and light sockets and fixtures.
Although celebrated as a solitary genius, Edison
actually developed the new forms of team research and systematic technological
innovation. His laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey, was set up in 1880 and
employed teams of researchers financed by industry.
Quote: The first
step is an intuitionand comes with a burst, then difficulties arise.Bugs, as such little faults and difficulties are calledshow
themselves, and months of anxious watching, study, and labor are requisite.I
have the right principle and am on the right track, but time, hard work, and
some good luck are necessary, too. (Letter, 1878)
REFERENCE: Paul Israel, Edison:
A Life of Invention (1998).
Andrew Carnegie (1835 - 1919)
Carnegie was a Scottish immigrant who became
the leading industrialist of the American steel industry and a prominent philanthropist.
His parents, Scottish hand-loom weavers, were
well informed and very interested in education. The family came to the United
States when Carnegies father was thrown out of work by the new textile
mills. Carnegies boyhood dream was to dress his mother in silks, and
she lived long enough for him to shower her with expensive gifts.
Carnegie decided early in his career that he
should eventually give away most of his money. He spent much of his time associating
with literary people and writing magazine articles and books. Eventually,
he gave away an estimated $350 million, including $60 million to American
Charming, smooth, and polished, Carnegie was
generally popular with the public.
and an income of $50,000 per annum.Beyond this never earnmake
no effort to increase fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent
purposes. (Memo to himself, 1868)
REFERENCE: Joseph Frazier Wall, Andrew
John D. Rockefeller (1839 - 1937)
Rockefeller was the industrialist who organized
the Standard Oil Company and became the leading symbol of American capitalism.
His mother was harsh, austere, and religious,
and Rockefeller inherited these qualities from her. He was generally frugal
and humorless. As a young man, he taught Sunday school and always remained
a committed member of the Baptist church.
Rockefeller avoided serving in the Civil War
to devote himself to business. He began his career by working with a Cleveland
merchant and bought his first refinery for $72,000.
He retired from active control of Standard Oil
in 1897. By the 1920s his net worth was probably a billion dollars.
Quote: In speaking
of the real beginnings of the Standard Oil Company, it should be remembered
that it was not so much the consolidation of the firms in which we had a personal
interest, but the coming together of the men who had the combined brainpower
to do the work.It is not merely capital and plans and the strictly material
things that make up a business, but the character of the men behind these
REFERENCE: Ron Chernow, Titan:
The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998).
Samuel Gompers (1850 - 1924)
Gompers was the American labor leader who organized
the American Federation of Labor and promoted the strategy of conservative
Almost entirely self-educated, Gompers gained
much of his knowledge by reading and attending lectures in New York City.
He was very well acquainted with European socialist thinkers and even learned
German so he could read Karl Marx in the original. But he always believed
the Marxists and socialists were wrong and worked to develop arguments against
Gompers loved drama and pageantry but kept the
secret brotherhood approach out of the AF of L unions. He disliked
reformers and intellectuals, calling them industrially impossible.
Although strongly patriotic, after World War I Gompers and the AF of L were
often accused of being un-American for promoting labor organization
Quote: The trusts
are our employers, and the employer who is fair to us, whether an individual
or a collection of individuals in the form of a corporation or a trust, matters
little to us as long as we obtain fair wages. (1912)
REFERENCES: Harold Livesay, Samuel
Gompers and Organized Labor in America (1987); David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labor (1987).