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Crossroads: Middle School Curriculum
Unit VII: What, Then, Is This American? ca. 1865 - 1900

Question/Problem 7: Were industrial leaders "captains of industry" or "robber barons?"



Description of lesson/activity


Objectives: The students will be able to:

  1. distinguish between positive and negative attributes of industrial leaders.

  2. apply their understandings of these attributes to a specific industrial leader.

  3. write a persuasive essay supporting a point of view.

Description of lesson/activity:

  1. The teacher should lead discussion on the differences between "captains of industry" and "robber barons." This lesson should focus generally on the rise of industry and the capitalists who provided leadership.

  2. Prior to beginning the research project, the teacher should review and collect sufficient materials on an industrial leader. Generally information is widely available on such well know leaders as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. The teacher could add Collis P. Huntington, John J. Hill, Jay Gould, Russell Sage or J. Pierpont Morgan as materials are available.

  3. The teacher should direct students to use the collected material to gather information about the industrial leader selected in terms of the following categories:

    - examples of business techniques used
    - examples of financial successes
    - examples of business ethics (conduct and values)
    - examples of concern for humanity (philanthropy)

  4. Students should be directed to classify the information they gathered in the four categories found in Step 3. They should decided whether each piece of information demonstrates that the industrial leader was a captain of industry or robber baron, and list each under the appropriate heading.

  5. After looking over both lists, students should choose one position to support, either captain of industry or robber baron.

  6. The teacher should assign the writing of a persuasive essay. A persuasive essay is an expository writing piece containing an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement at the end; the main paragraphs, stating the arguments with the strongest t one last; the final paragraph giving the thesis statement first and summarizing each topic.

  7. In a concluding discussion, the teacher should draw attention to the two sides to being an industrial leader in the late 19th century.


  1. Student textbook
  2. Library media center material as available
  3. Resource: Assessment Criteria: Industrial Leader Essay

Back to Crossroads: Unit VII:What, Then Is This American? 1865-1900