Summary of the Chapter “The Emergence of Big Business” in Mansel Blackford’s Business Enterprise in American History

Mansel Blackford attempts to express the important roles railroads fulfilled before and during the rise of big business in the United States in this chapter.  He claims that railroad companies fore-fronted big business and bureaucracy because of the unprecedented amount of capital they required to operate and the precise organization needed to run the complex, high-speed, dangerous form of transportation . Blackford stresses the importance of the company, and governmental, hierarchies created to effectively and efficiently run the lines in influencing America’s general view on businesses and how they  should be ran. The two major components Blackford rewarded for this revolution of business are the need for small-detail precision of a large operation and the forming of large corporations to control the market instead of smaller, competing companies.

Bureaucracy and departmentalization are the hero’s of this story according to Blackford. Early Railroad companies, undoubtedly, imitated military operations in terms of having powerful employers over looking superintendents overlooking railroad officers overlooking specialized operators to ensure they could confidently control their lines. As forward thinking people such as Benjamin Latrobe from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad or Herman Haupt from the Pennsylvania started to add more and more middle men along with different departments to oversee the varying responsibilities of running a railroad, the lines started to grow into these huge corporations or bureaucracies that not only ran railroads potently but also supported a towering amount of people.

The railroads were not simply expensive , advanced travel devices. No, they were social, economic, and political connections that provided a speedy way to expand commerce along with outreach. Markets benefited as a result. The railroads themselves generated $17-35 million each, but their success supported, but really required, the success of other industries. Farming, textiles, and consumer goods are the most obvious beneficiaries of far-reaching, quick transportation, but the most notable could be information. Railroads required communication and information to be shared over significant distances. Telegraphing, and later on telephoning, grow right along with 1.6 million miles of telegraph wires in operation by 1915 and 13.3 million telephones in use by 1920. Railroads quite literally paved the way for success in America.

All in all, I agree with a lot, if not all, of what Blackford is saying. It makes since to me. I mean the chapter tends to lead in the direction of railroads dominating the reason for success in other markets since Blackford does not provide any alternatives. I would recommend this quick read to anyone interested, but if you desire more information, then check out the following links.

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I found this reading extremely interesting and I had a hnch others did as well, so I found a popular (good or bad) media for all things history to rely onto you, Crash Course. The first link is a video done by john green about the industrial revolution but more specifically railroads during the industrial revolution. It speaks about many of the topics discussed in the reading but in a more flashy way. I found the fact that railroads standardized time zones intriguing, so I decided to include an article speaking on the topic from  Not only did railroads metaphorically change time and space by providing a way for people to travel long distances quickly unlike ever before, but quite literally changed them by creating time zones and unfortunately defacing Mother Earth.

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-Joel Scarbro

11 Replies to “Summary of the Chapter “The Emergence of Big Business” in Mansel Blackford’s Business Enterprise in American History”

  1. In regards to what you said in this post, I agree with all of it. I think you did a very good job summing up what I think was the main argument of the paper, Railroad development and consequences. In the article, Blackford really stresses how important the railroads are to further development and the path they paved for the future development of technology. The large business approach mentioned above led to the overall success of railroads as a whole. They were seamless operations that needed to be carried out in a systematic way. Below I have a link to an article that goes into further detail regarding the railroad business side of things.

  2. you made very good stigmatization of the article. And I would say Blackford’s article makes a lot of sense for me. The benefit brought by a well-developed railroad system is countless. In my home we have an old saying that “to be wealthy, to build roads first.” The railroad is something that connect almost everything together. Especially bake in 19th century, the importance of railroad is self-evident.

  3. I think it’s incredible how the railroad industry became the go-to form of transportation for both short and long distances in the U.S. within decades of existence. Before the public knew it, railroad companies were able to jack up prices because they owned a monopoly in their own niche-controlled market. These were times prior to the creation of the FTC and without the checking on big business, they’re wealth skyrocketed in no time, hence the generation of 17-35 million dollars a year for most companies.

  4. Joel,
    I think you did a great job of summarizing the passage. I find it very interesting when you talked about the advancements of the railroad industry and how it emerged into an everyday transportation device. The link that you provided gave even more useful information which helped to understand the entity of the passage. Great Job!

    – Tayler Anderson

  5. Joel,

    Excellent bit of writing here. I particularly liked the section where you describe bureaucracy and departmentalization.

    The section at the end where you include your own opinions adds a good personal touch to the post.

  6. Great post! As Blackford discusses, railroads really changed the way people lived, traveled, and did business. Before the railroad, the best form of transportation was by canal. Canals took a lot of money to build, and as such were prime places of investment for business leaders prior to the railroads. As railroads became more prominent, however, business leaders began investing in them. One big investor in railroads was J. P. Morgan, who helped standardize rail measurements so that trains from different railroad companies could run on the same tracks.

  7. Joel,

    This is a good summary of Blackford’s passage. I found it extremely fascinating that the railroads set up the varying times zones in the U.S. As you have stated, it is obvious how much bureaucratic and departmental managing changed the face of business, and it continues to modern times. If you have ever been around construction sites and companies, they follow a very similar structure, especially with communication. A message begins at the source, and works it’s way up the hierarchy ladder until an answer/solution is found. I find it helpful to connect history with modern society and my own experiences.

  8. Great post! I really liked how you connected the railroads to more than just a means of transportation. With railroads social, economic, and political connections were created and provided a speedy way to expand commerce along with outreach.

  9. This is actually a very interesting topic because this is an example of a company contributing a lot to the national economy and being rewarded for it with a major foothold in a multi-billion dollar industry. On one hand, this benefitted so many people and improved their quality of life. But, because of how capitalism works, industries that get big early cannot be toppled. For example, as part of a series of mergers, B&O is now a part of the massive CSX Transportation, which was worth $31 billion in 2013.

    I’m not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with this, but it is interesting to see how it would be extraordinarily difficult for a new company to compete. Atleast in the east coast area, you would have almost no choice but to use their service if you wanted to use railroads. Fortunately, there are other methods of shipment, but if there wasn’t, you would hardly be able to call it a free market when no one else could compete.

  10. This is a great post! I really liked that you added your own opinion at the end instead of merely summarizing the article, it gave me a different point of view to analyze. I agree with your statement that railroads metaphorically changed time and space. They are a very innovative invention that changed the way humans traveled and transported goods in a way that o other invention ever could.

  11. Powerful article. Really liked the correlation made with the railroad industry in social lives of people. Do you think that if the railroad industry had not occurred the way it did, would other industries such as the telephone, steel, and coal industries developed at the same rate as they did with the railroad industry?

    Check out my post on the same article for more information on the same topic.

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