Mid-Semester Reflection

The passage from Starr that I found particularly interesting was the idea of the Progressive Era in the United States and the zeal towards antitrust politics that was implemented by Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.[1] I found it fascinating the correlation between the legal and political struggle with the financial strain that Bell was feeling with his company. The Gilded Age was filled with Robber Barons and large, successful companies; however this was combatted by Roosevelt and Taft, ultimately leading to less big businesses and a fairer playing ground for capitalism to work itself out. I find the antitrust legislation so interesting because it halted the building of monopolies in certain industries, but as we discussed at the end of class Wednesday, the phone industry is in the hands of only a few. Thus, the Progressive Era was absolutely effective in disallowing single monopolies; however over time, there have become industries that are very close to monopoly, i.e. food and telephone industries. This is an interesting way to look at the telephone industry, because the antitrust legislation clearly had an immediate impact on it. I find the idea of trying to stop monopolies and companies finding loopholes within the legislation extremely interesting. Another part of this passage that interested me was how Bell eventually lost his company, and Theodore N. Vail ultimately became the president of AT&T. Bell’s fall is intriguing, because it could have been for a few different reasons. Obviously he lost control of the company, but Starr does not include exactly what he was thinking that made him make the decisions that ultimately lost him his job.

From this, I want to learn more about the telephone companies and their abilities to merge from a large quantity of companies, into a select few that are dominating our market today. I would love to dive into the primary sources, particularly diary entries from Alexander Graham Bell (if they are available) and see his direct reaction to the antitrust legislation put in place during the Progressive Era. I can imagine, and Starr points this out, that Bell would not be happy with such legislation, as it would hurt his ability of becoming as wealthy as an Andrew Carnegie or Cornelius Vanderbilt did during the Gilded Age. In addition, I would love to also look at Bell’s diary to understand what was going through his mind while he was losing his company, and what his thought process was behind the crippling decisions he made for AT&T. This passage most notably made me want to look into the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and their effects on media and communications. Learning about how the Gilded Age impacted media and communications would be a fascinating study, as one could look to see whether industries such as the Post Office and newspapers had anyone near the influence that Carnegie had on the steel industry. So far in this class, I have found that there has not been an issue with monopolies in media and communications history (except for maybe the telephone industry which is the most recent one we have studied). It would be interesting to see if that is a marked difference between the print media communications and the non-print, maybe seeing that the non-print industries come much closer to monopolies. Also seeing whether or not the Progressive Era had a major or minor impact on media and communications would be interesting because then one could compare it to other industries of that time and see if it was an aberration or part of the mold of the time. An in-depth study into the Gilded Age/Progressive Era and the history of media and communications could prove to bring great new insights into the historiography.

[1] Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 206.

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