Life during the industrial era
The industrial boom had major effects on the lives of the American people. The availability of jobs in industries drew
people from farms to cities in record numbers. In 1870, only about 25 per cent of the American people lived in urban areas.
By 1916, the figure had reached almost 50 per cent.
The lives of people in the cities contrasted sharply. A small percentage of them had enormous wealth and enjoyed lives
of luxury. Below them economically, the larger middle class lived comfortably. But at the bottom of the economic ladder, a
huge mass of city people lived in extreme poverty.
The wealthy. The business boom opened up many opportunities for financial gain. The economic activity it generated enabled
many people to establish successful businesses, expand existing ones, and profit from investments. Some business leaders and
investors were able to amass huge fortunes. The number of millionaires in the United States grew from perhaps about 20 in
1850 to more than 3,000 in 1900. Among the millionaires was a small group who accumulated fortunes of more than $100 million
each. They included Andrew Carnegie, Marshall Field, J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. The wealthy
Americans built enormous mansions, wore the finest clothing, ate in the best restaurants, and could afford to buy almost anything
The middle class. Other city people prospered enough to live lives of comfort, if not wealth. They included owners of
small businesses, and such workers as factory and office managers. They became part of America's growing middle class.
The underprivileged. The laborers who toiled in factories, mills, and mines did not share in the benefits of the economic
growth. They usually worked at least 60 hours a week for an average pay of about 20 cents an hour, and had no fringe benefits.
As the nation's population grew, so did the competition for jobs. The supply of workers outstripped the demand. Business
leaders felt little pressure to improve the lot of workers. They knew that job competition meant poor people would work under
almost any conditions. The oversupply of workers led to high unemployment. In addition, depressions slowed the nation's economy
to a near standstill in 1873, 1884, 1893, and 1907. Unemployment soared during these depressions. Workers suffered through
the periods of idleness without the unemployment benefits that are available today. Such economic hardship meant that, in
many cases, every family member except very young children had to seek a job.
The everyday life of the city poor was dismal and drab. The poor lived crowded together in slums. Much of their housing
consisted of cheap apartment buildings called tenements. The crowded slum neighborhoods bred crime. Overwork, poor sanitation,
and inadequate diet left slum dwellers vulnerable to disease. Many poor children received little or no education, because
they had to work to contribute to their families' welfare. In addition, schools in the slums were poorly equipped for educating
those who attended them.
In spite of harsh living conditions, hope made the lives of many of the poor tolerable. The poor knew that economic advancement
was possible in the United States. Some families, through hard work and saving, were able to start small businesses. And--even
if some workers themselves could not advance economically-they believed that in America their children would.
The farmers. American farmers also suffered hardships after the Civil War. Advances in agricultural equipment and techniques
had enabled most of the farmers to increase their production. However, middlemen between the farmers and the consumers took
a large share of the money earned from farm products. The middlemen included owners of railroads, grain elevators, mills,
The Gilded Age. American author Mark Twain called the era of industrialization "The Gilded Age." Twain used
this term to describe the culture of the newly rich of the period. Lacking tradition, the wealthy developed a showy culture
supposedly based on the culture of upper-class Europeans. The enormous mansions of the newly rich Americans imitated European
palaces. The wealthy filled the mansions with European art works, antiques, rare books, and gaudy decorations. They spent
their leisure time attending operas, relaxing at luxurious resorts, or engaging in other functions they believed were signs
Most Americans, however, had a far different idea of culture. They enjoyed fairs that exhibited industrial machines, the
latest inventions, and other items related to America's material progress. The fairs included the Philadelphia Centennial
Exposition of 1876 and the Chicago World's Colombian Exposition of 1893. The American people were eager spectators at circuses,
vaudeville shows, and sporting events. Baseball became so popular after 1900 that it was called the national pastime. Also
after 1900, a new kind of entertainment, the motion picture, began attracting public interest. Many Americans of the industrial
era enjoyed playing popular songs from sheet music on parlor pianos, or, after 1877, from records on crude phonographs. The
people liked magazines filled with pictures, and dime novels-inexpensive books that emphasized adventure and the value of
hard work and courage.
Government and the people. After the Civil War, the Democratic and Republican parties developed strong political machines.
Members of these organizations kept in contact with the people, and did them favors in return for votes. But in general, political
and government leaders strongly favored business interests. They did little to interfere with business or to close the gap
between the rich and poor.
Government of the era was also marked by widespread corruption. Ulysses S. Grant became president in 1869. Members of
Grant's used their government positions for their own financial gain (see GRANT, ULYSSES S. (Government frauds)). Corruption
also flourished in state and local government. The people seemed little concerned, however. For example, in 1872, Grant won
a second term and received more votes than he did the first time.
A strong spirit of reform swept through the United States during the late 1800's and early 1900's. Many Americans called
for changes in the country's economic, political, and social systems. They wanted to reduce poverty, improve the living conditions
of the poor, and regulate big business. They worked to end corruption in government, make government more responsive to the
people, and accomplish other goals.
During the 1870's and 1880's, the reformers made relatively little progress. But after 1890, they gained much public support
and influence in government. By 1917, the reformers had brought about many changes. Some reformers called themselves progressives.
As a result, the period of American history from about 1890 to about 1917 is often called the Progressive Era.
Early reform efforts included movements to organize laborers and farmers. In 1886, skilled laborers formed the American
Federation of Labor (AFL)-now the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Led by Samuel
Gompers, this union bargained with employers and gained better wages and working conditions for its members. Farmers founded
the National Grange in 1867 and Farmers' Alliances during the 1870's and 1880's. These groups helped force railroads to lower
their charges for hauling farm products and assisted the farmers in other ways.
Unskilled laborers had less success in organizing than did skilled laborers and farmers. The Knights of Labor, a union
open to both the unskilled and skilled workers, gained a large membership during the 1880's. But its membership declined sharply
after the Haymarket Riot of 1886. In this incident, someone threw a bomb during a meeting of workers in Haymarket Square in
Chicago, and a riot erupted. At least seven police officers and one civilian died. Many Americans blamed the disaster on the
labor movement. The Haymarket Riot aroused antilabor feelings and temporarily weakened the cause of unskilled workers.
The drive for woman suffrage became strong after the Civil War. In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded
the National Woman Suffrage Association. The Territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote the same year. Soon, a few
states allowed women to vote, but only in local elections.
Early reformers brought about some changes in government. In 1883, their efforts led to passage of the Pendleton, or Civil
Service, Act. This federal law set up the Civil Service Commission, an agency charged with granting federal government jobs
on the basis of merit, rather than as political favors. The commission was the first federal government regulatory agency
in the nation's history. In 1884, Democrats and liberal Republicans joined together to elect Grover Cleveland president. A
reform-minded Democrat, Cleveland did much to enforce the Pendleton Act.
The Progressive Era. The outcry for reform increased sharply after 1890. Members of the clergy, social workers, and others
studied life in the slums and reported on the awful living conditions there. Educators criticized the nation's school system.
A group of writers-called muckrakers by their critics-published exposes about such evils as corruption in government and how
some businesses cheated the public. The writers included Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida M. Tarbell. Increasingly,
unskilled workers resorted to strikes in an attempt to gain concessions from their employers. Often, violence broke out between
strikers and strikebreakers hired by the employers. Socialists and others who opposed the U.S. economic system of capitalism
supported the strikers and gained a large following.
These and other developments caused many middle-class and some upper-class Americans to back reforms. The people wondered
about the justice of a society that tolerated such extremes of poverty and wealth. More and more, the power of big business,
corruption in government, violent strikes, and the inroads of socialism seemed to threaten American democracy.
As public support for reform grew, so did the political influence of the reformers. In 1892, farmers and some laborers
formed the People's, or Populist, Party. The Populists called for government action to help farmers and laborers. They gained
a large following, and convinced many Democrats and Republicans to support reforms. See POPULISM.
Reformers won control of many city and some state governments. They also elected many people to Congress who favored their
views. In addition, the first three presidents elected after 1900-Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson-supported
certain reform laws. These political developments resulted in a flood of reform legislation on the local, state, and federal
Local and state legislation. Reformers in local and state government passed many laws to help the poor. Such laws provided
for tenement house inspection, playgrounds, and other improvements of life in the slums. Some reform governments expanded
public education and forced employers to protect workers against fires and dangerous machinery in factories. The many reformers
in local and state government included mayors Samuel M. "Golden Rule" Jones of Toledo, Ohio, and Tom L. Johnson
of Cleveland; and governors Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey and Robert M. "Battling Bob" La Follette of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin went so far as to pass an income tax, a measure bitterly opposed by the wealthy Americans.
Federal legislation. In 1890, the federal government passed the Sherman Antitrust Act. This act outlawed trusts and other
monopolies that hindered free trade. But the government did little to control monopolies until after Theodore Roosevelt became
president in 1901. Roosevelt was a liberal Republican who called for a "square deal" for all Americans. He won lasting
fame as a "trust buster." Roosevelt did not oppose monopolies altogether, but he believed they should be regulated
whenever they operated against the public interest. In 1903, Roosevelt established the Bureau of Corporations, an agency that
collected information on businesses. When the bureau found that a business was violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, the government
sued. During Roosevelt's presidency, the government brought suits against more than 40 companies. The most famous suit broke
up John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company in 1911.
Roosevelt became the first president to aid laborers in a strike against
employers. In 1902, the United Mine Workers struck for better wages and working conditions. Roosevelt asked the miners
and the mine owners to settle their differences through arbitration, but the mine owners refused. Angered, the president threatened
to have the Army take over the mines. The owners gave in, and reached a compromise with the miners.
In 1906, Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, a novel about unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry. Roosevelt
ordered an investigation of Sinclair's charges, and found they were true. At Roosevelt's urging, Congress passed the Meat
Inspection Act and the federal Food and Drugs Act to regulate food and drug processing.
Republican William Howard Taft succeeded Roosevelt in 1909. Although a conservative, Taft helped further the cause of
reform. He brought twice as many suits against businesses as Roosevelt did. He also extended civil service and called for
a federal income tax.
In 1912, conservative Republicans backed Taft for their party's presidential nomination, and liberal Republicans supported
Roosevelt. Taft won the nomination. The liberals then formed the Progressive, or "Bull Moose," Party and nominated
Roosevelt for president. The Republican split enabled reform Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency. The Democrats
also gained control of Congress.
The reform movement flourished under Wilson. Two amendments to the Constitution proposed during Taft's were ratified in
1913. The 16th Amendment gave the federal government the power to levy an income tax. The 17th Amendment provided for the
election of U.S. senators by the people, rather than by state legislatures. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 struck a blow
against monopolies. It prohibited corporations from grouping together under interlocking boards of directors. It also helped
labor by making it impossible to prosecute unions under antitrust laws. In 1914, the government set up the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) to handle complaints about unfair business practices. The many other reform measures passed during Wilson's presidency
included the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913, which lowered a high tariff that protected American business from foreign competition.
During the 1870's and 1880's, the United States paid relatively little attention to foreign affairs. In comparison to
such European nations as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the United States was weak militarily and had little influence
in international politics. Among Europeans, American diplomats had the reputation of being bumbling amateurs. German leader
Otto von Bismarck summed up the European attitude toward America. He said, "A special Providence takes care of fools,
drunkards, and the United States." During the 1890's and early 1900's, however, the United States developed into a world
power and took a leading role in international affairs.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 marked a turning point in United States foreign policy. Spain ruled Cuba, Puerto Rico,
the Philippines, and other overseas possessions during the 1890's. In the mid-1890's, Cubans revolted against their Spanish
rulers. Many Americans demanded that the United States aid the rebels. On Feb. 15, 1898, the United States battleship Maine
blew up off the coast of Havana, Cuba. No one was certain what caused the explosion, but many Americans blamed the Spaniards.
Demands for action against Spain grew, and "Remember the Maine" became a nationwide war cry. On April 25, 1898,
at the request of President William McKinley, Congress declared war on Spain. The United States quickly defeated Spain, and
the Treaty of Paris of Dec. 10, 1898, officially ended the war. Under the treaty, the United States received Guam, Puerto
Rico, and the Philippines from Spain. Also in 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii. See SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR; HAWAII (History).
America becomes a world power. The war with Spain lasted only 113 days, but it had far-reaching effects. As a result of
the conflict, the United States took over most of Spain's overseas territories, leaving it with only a few outposts in northern
Africa. Also in 1898, the United States took possession of what had been the Republic of Hawaii. In 1899, the United States
signed a treaty with Germany and the United Kingdom, gaining what is now part of American Samoa. Because of its new possessions
in the Pacific Ocean, the United States became more involved in Asian politics.
A world power. Roosevelt succeeded McKinley as president in 1901. He expressed his foreign policy strategy with the slogan,
"Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick." Roosevelt meant that the country must back up its diplomatic efforts with
In February 1899, a Filipino patriot named Emilio Aguinaldo led a revolt against American control of the Philippines.
The rebels waged guerrilla warfare, which involved small-scale hit-and-run attacks, for over three years. To defeat the guerrillas,
U.S. soldiers used cruel tactics, including the killing of civilians. As a result, many Americans turned against U.S. imperialism
(controlling territories for political or economic gain).
The United States also used military force in China. In 1899, McKinley's secretary of state, John M. Hay, issued what
became known as the Open-Door Policy. This policy sought to give all nations equal access to the profitable trade in China.
Since the 1890's, a secret Chinese society known as the Boxers had opposed Western and Japanese influence in China. In 1900,
the Boxers began an uprising called the Boxer Rebellion to drive out the foreigners. McKinley sent 5,000 U.S. troops to help
Germany, Japan, Russia, and other nations crush the rebellion and rescue Europeans and Americans held in Beijing. By thus
using his authority as commander in chief, McKinley helped strengthen the presidency. See BOXER REBELLION; OPEN-DOOR POLICY.
Open-Door Policy is a term used in international relations. It means that powerful countries have equal opportunities
to trade with colonial or developing countries. When countries agree to observe the Open-Door Policy in an area, they simply
agree to permit their merchants and investors to trade freely there.
John Hay, United States secretary of state, started the idea of the Open Door in 1899. At that time, several Western powers
had special interests in China. Each power was trying to get all the trading rights for itself. Hay sent notes to the competing
powers, asking them to maintain complete equality for all nations that wished to trade with China. The competing powers accepted
Hay's proposal, and they signed treaties agreeing to observe the Open-Door Policy.
The United States built up its armed forces under Roosevelt. In 1902, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy blockaded
Venezuela in an attempt to collect debts from that South American nation. Citing the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt forced the
Europeans to withdraw. In 1903, the president used a threat of force to gain the right to dig the Panama Canal (see PANAMA
CANAL (History)). America took over the finances of the Dominican Republic in 1905 to keep that country stable and free from
European intervention. In 1916, during Wilson's , American troops occupied the Dominican Republic to keep order there. These
and other actions showed that the United States had emerged as a power.
The Panama Canal. Between 1902 and 1905, Roosevelt persuaded Congress to approve building 10 battleships and 4 armored
cruisers for the U.S. Navy. He believed the larger fleet would give the nation greater influence in international affairs.
But the fleet would need to shift rapidly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A canal across Central America seemed necessary.
In 1902, Roosevelt began negotiating with Colombia for the right to build a canal across Panama, a province of Colombia.
The negotiators signed a treaty, but the Colombian Senate rejected it. Roosevelt then supported a revolutionary government
that took control of Panama, and the United States recognized the Republic of Panama. Less than two weeks later, the United
States and Panama signed a treaty granting to the United States the use and control of a strip of land on which to dig a canal.
Roosevelt said he was prouder of the canal than of any other accomplishment of his administration. He visited Panama in 1906-the
first president to travel in a foreign country while in office.
1. What is industrialism?
2. How did industrialism effect America's citizens?
3. How did industrialism effect social classes in America?
4. Why was child labor the rule, rather than the exception?
5. Describe the living conditions that the poor people lived in.
6. What were working conditions like?
7. What was the effect of modern technology on agriculture?
8. What impact did industrialism have on American culture? (E.g., impact on leisure time, music, literature, etc...)
9. Paragraph 12 describes the term laissez-faire. What is described in the paragraph?
10. Why did Gilded Age government in need of reform?
11. What is the name given to the historic time period in which the nation was reformed?
12. What organizations represented each of the following groups of the Progressive era?
a. unskilled workers?
b. skilled workers?
13. What is suffrage? Who lead the women's suffrage movement?
14. Why is the Civil Service Act considered progressive?
15. How did muckrakers assist the progressive movement?
16. Who used violence against organized labor? Why?
17. Who were the Populists?
18. Why were presidents T. Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson considered to be Progressive era presidents?
19. What progressive action was taken at the local and state levels of government?
20. What progressive action was taken at the federal level of government?
21. What is a monopoly?
22. What amendments were passed as a result of the Progressive Era?
23. What is imperialism?
24. How did the Spanish-American War make the US an imperial power?
25. At the same time (but not part of) as Spanish-American War, what other Pacific territory was added to the US?
26. What was the Open-Door Policy? How did it effect China?
27. How did Roosevelt justify US imperialism in the western hemisphere?
28. How did US beliefs about naval power influence its decision to pursue an Atlantic-Pacific canal?
29. How was revolution used by the US to gain the canal?