1900-2000 One Hundred Years Of Business In America

  • Category: Business
  • Words: 1569
  • Grade: 90

Disclaimer: This is only a brief recounting of key events that have affected the way we conduct business in America throughout the last century. If I had gone in depth with any one subject, I may have written a novel.

        Capitalism is one word no one takes for granted anymore. As early as the 18th century, forms of Capitalism have co-existed with other economic structures, such as democratic socialism. The idea of the common mans' desire to own and operate a business with as little government interaction as possible seemed only a dream. America has prevailed over the last century in showing the world just how real that idea is.
        For centuries, landowners had the upper hand in the socio-political strata, allowing few people to achieve their rank and status. The belief that the more land a person owned determined the amount of respect he was due, was above all else. Well, that was about to change drastically around the turn of the 19th century, when people like merchants and bankers would upset the delicate balance of ownership and prove whole-heartedly, that freedom in enterprise was a great concept. By the end of the Industrial Revolution, America (as well as many other countries around the world) had new and powerful tools at their disposal, machinery replaced manpower, electricity replaced oil, and steel became a dominant feature in all types of construction. In all, we were becoming much more efficient as a nation.
        (1900-1920) In the early 1900's, the arena of business was a messy one. Most companies had little to no organizational structure and most employees were worked like slaves, while the workload greatly outweighed the pay. For years, people attempted to gather together and create unions, but in the end, the companies would resort to bully boy tactics to keep rebellious workers from forming a defensive. Several Federal Laws were
passed during the first 20 years in an attempt to regulate uncontrolled business practices, but it would take a long time before anything would come into play. We would see a slow rise in the interests of the individual as Labor Laws were written, workers gained benefits no one had ever seen before, like workers compensation and a minimum wage. In 1903, we would see the creation of the Department of Commerce, used primarily for the investigations of state-to-state commerce. Henry Ford would have a tremendous impact on business early on by creating the Ford Motor Company in 1907, and popularizing the ideas of mass production, profit sharing and paying his employees well above the average. He was instrumental in the effort to produce vehicles for the First World War (1914-1918), which created many jobs and helped to boost the economy. Ford would also salvage the Oil Industry from complete collapse despite a little known gadget called the light bulb. After the breakup of the monopoly known as Standard Oil in 1911, the Rockefellers turned their sights towards the automobile industry and proved that they were not down for the count.
        (1920-1940) Debts carried over from the First World War, and those few that had immense prosperity (oil refiners, car manufacturers, and the steel industry) would have an incredible impact on the unskilled laborers of the 20's, creating the biggest rift between abject poverty and fabulous wealth this country had ever seen. The Great Depression (1929-1939), as it was known, was the longest economic disaster in American History. At its peak, 16 million people were out of work and, as a result of the Depression, a new agency was brought to the forefront of the business world. Established in 1933 by the federal government, the FDIC would prove a valuable tool in the protection of personal
assets. Too many people were losing money from banks that were going belly-up, and insurance was an absolute necessity. Still, the nation would not resurface from the crash until the 40's when the government would begin to spend heavily on defense.
(1940-1960) In the years following the end of World War 2 (1939-1945), a well-developed consumer based culture emerged. Automobile financing became one of the largest contributors to a 40 billion dollar increase in consumer credit between 1947 and 1958. A census report taken in February 1947 concluded that a huge influx of people over a two-year period had increased the population with over 13 million GI's returning home looking for a life. "˜Baby Boomers', as they were known, were buying up everything from stoves and washing machines, to refrigerators and new cars. Nobody truly realized how much debt the general public began to build. The Interstate Highway System was started by the Eisenhower administration to help improve efficiency of travel, state-to-state commerce and as a direct form of assistance for national defense issues (martial law, for example). Most highway revenue comes from Federal taxes as well as those annoying tollbooths that come up at turnpikes around the country. A new idea that would revolutionize the way we shop was introduced in 1956 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The idea was an enclosed mall, the very first in America. The mall would have a great impact on centralizing a plethora of goods and services in one convenient location for the consumer. In one trip, a person could get a haircut, deposit a check, shop for groceries and see a movie without ever going outside.
(1960-1980) The 60's gave rise to a term known as the "˜franchise', introducing the opportunity for groups and/or individuals to gain permission from corporations to run
and operate a commercial enterprise. Owning and operating a convenience store, gas station, or fast food chain, would be typical examples. Forty years later, this popular idea has flourished. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA came into existence in 1970 to maintain the well-being of workers involved in hazardous environments. Inspections would occur regularly to ensure long term safety issues did not persist, like removal and replacement of asbestos as an insulator and ceasing the use of harmful pesticides. In 1963, discrimination in the workplace would receive a heavy blow from a newly introduced EEOC, created to keep businesses from hiring employees based on biased opinions, the idea of equal opportunity would finally have a solid place to do battle for years to come.
(1980-2000) Entrepreneurial endeavors emerged during this era to become one of the most popular forms of the business-minded. Today, the individual is able to step away from unions, bosses and paranoid micro-management to become successful in his own right. Whatever the case, landscaping, home improvements or graphic design, people often take their skills and offer them directly to the public, sometimes with little or no training. Dangers are inevitable, since you provide your own safety net, your business depends upon your foresight into capital investment, company growth, management, etc.
Today, we enjoy the swift-paced reality of the computer. In the business world, everything is E-related in some way, from e-commerce and e-bay to e-mail and e-tail (on-line retail) and transactions are performed at the stroke of a key. This convenience is handy, living in such a fast paced world. Speed is a positive factor, but it has a price to pay as well. In every age, there are those who would abuse the system and the Age of
Computers is no exception, with everything from online banking and investing to buying an airline ticket, there is always a risk involved. Another matter entirely, is copyright infringement. Since computer software is made on an easily duplicated medium, it is difficult to maintain and control solely for the purpose of the consumer. Anyone can copy and redistribute the software. This creates a huge disadvantage for software companies, as they take a massive profit loss in trying to prevent pirating from happening in the first place. In the end, computers have adversely affected the way we conduct business today.
My personal opinion: The short-term future of Americas business and/or economy rests on two main factors, technology and defense. Technology, it seems, is growing by leaps and bounds, and at this point it seems to have limitless growth potential for businesses of all kinds. Every year, we see something new and amazing in the advancement of computers used in our every day life. Computers are utilized in many ways, from maintaining large databases for banks and colleges, to analyzing the problems with your car, which probably has a computer underneath the dashboard. As the life of computer technology tirelessly marches forward, integrated components get smaller, and manufacturing those parts gets progressively cheaper. The business opportunities are endless.
        Because of the recent events surrounding the World Trade Center bombing, defense is a great "˜business' to get into these days. People are more concerned about their personal safety and well being now than they have been in years. Insurance companies, pharmacies, personal protection products, martial arts, even books and lectures on "˜How To Survive a CBR* Attack' are great for business and huge generators of easy money. In contrast, as the threat of terrorist activities begins to dwindle and people begin to rest easy once again; survival will remain a hot topic. The world of business has survived off of public fears in the past, so this is something that will not change drastically over time. Knowing this, no one will ever accept Capitalism as just a passing fad.

*Chemical, Biological, Radiological
Bibliography: Class Textbook; various chapters, Columbia Encyclopedia 6th edition (Online Library), American Heritage Dictionary 4th edition (Online Library)
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