The period around the turn of the twentieth century has been called the “era of finance capital” in American history. It was during this period that the first of the great trusts were formed, combining in some cases hundreds of corporations into one. Investment bankers, in particular J. P. Morgan, were the major orchestrators of these schemes, but other leading financiers and industrialists were also active in controlling several corporations apiece. George F. Baker and James Stillman in banking; Edward H. Harriman, James J. Hill, and the Moore brothers in railroads; and John D. and William Rockefeller in oil and other industries were prominent among the leading capitalists of the age, and they dominated much of the business scene at that time.
One of the remarkable aspects of this period is the rare unanimity among scholars and journalists about its main characteristics. There is general agreement that financial corporations were the most powerful of the period, that a relatively small number of individuals dominated the corporate world, and that if it was ever possible to speak of a ruling class in American society, this was the period (e.g., Riesman, 1953; Bell, 1960; Parsons and Smelser, 1957).