The AP History view of the “robber barons” like John D. Rockefeller is that they monopolized entire industries, forced smaller competitors out of business, made lots of “offers people couldn’t refuse” and generally did all of this much to the detriment of the American consumers. So, these bastards needed to be stopped! Enter in the progressives. Of course, much of that wisdom is not true, one such simple illustration follows.
John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870. He retired from Standard Oil in 1897. Look at what happened to the price of oil during the time he ran the company:
In other words, the real price of oil fell by 50% over the time Rockefeller started the company and the time he left. Incidentally the real price in 1865 was double what was in 1870, and the real price continued to fall in the decade (and beyond) after Rockefeller left. Beyond reducing these costs substantially, Rockefeller was famous for conserving resources – and found uses for oil by-products in the 200+ range. You can also make a serious argument that the single most important person in saving the whales (which were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, largely for their blubber oil) was the evil robber baron Mr. Rockefeller. And to the best of my knowledge, the history books are not full of stories of Mr. Rockefeller showing up with guns at the doorsteps of terrified employees and customers forcing them to work there and consume his product.