Was J. P. Morgan a Robber Baron?

J.P. Morgan was a wealthy American capitalist and businessman who has often been referred to as a “robber baron.” The term was traditionally used in 19th-century America to describe aggressive, successful and powerful men or women who attained their wealth by unethical or questionable means. Other so-called robber barons of his time period include Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Charles M. Schwab and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Though the term is less common in subsequent centuries, the same characteristics are still recognized in prominent businessmen across the globe. Defining traits of a robber baron are the tendency to exploit workers, exercise undue influence over government policies and regulations, create monopolies by taking over the competition, overtake or control national resources and manipulate the stock market. J.P. Morgan had business dealings in railroads, steel, electricity, manufacturing, banking and more.

During the Great Depression, author and political commentator Matthew Josephson gave credence to the term robber baron in a book bearing the same title. The book, and its premise that unscrupulous businessmen caused the economic turmoil and devastation of the Great Depression, fueled contempt and scorn for large corporations that succeeded at the expense of ordinary citizens. A pop icon for a robber baron is immortalized in the mascot for the Monopoly board game, depicting a man in a suit with a black top hat.