As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.
History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration in the Gilded Age
Introduction: Today, our story continues with a new chapter - a chapter that coincides with the "closure" of the American frontier which we have discussed over the past two days - and focuses on the rapid industrialization, urbanization, and immigration that occurred at the end of the 19th Century. This is an era that often is not taught in the schools but is essential to an understanding of contemporary American history - and era known as the Gilded Age.
So, how did this era get labeled "The Gilded Age?" In 1872, two wealthy men and their wives were having dinner together in Hartford, Connecticut. The men carried the conversation, talking about the "shameful corruption" of American politics. As their criticisms mounted, their wives dared them to write a book exposing such "shameful corruption." Thus, Mark Twain and his neighbor Charles Dudley Warner wrote, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, in which they satirized the business and politics of their day. The novel eventually gave a name to the historical period between 1860 and 1890 - The Gilded Age.
The name suggests both the golden gleam of a gilded surface on top of the cheap base metal underneath.
- Gold = the profound economic, political, and social progress that propelled us into becoming the world's strongest power.
- Base Metal = the underlying problems in American society that were the consequences of industrial "progress."
The Gilded Age period, then, is yet another example of one of the course themes - Progress is not always progressive. Indeed, I will argue that we cannot discuss the Gilded Age without addressing both the gold and the base metal - both the progress and the underlying problems it created.
- To take an introductory look at urban poverty at the end of the 19th century.
- To define relevant terms related to industrialization
- To discuss the factors that contributed to rapid industrialization during the Gilded Age.
- To examine the consequences of rapid industrialization during this period.
- To understand the growth of corporations and corporate personhood throughout the last 150 years.
- To examine the relationship between labor and management during the Gilded Age.
- To understand more about the urbanization and the huge wave of immigration that occurred during the Gilded Age - and in so doing, demonstrate the relationship between industrialization, urbanization, and immigration.
Discussion Goal #1: To take an introductory look at urban poverty at the end of the 19th century
At the end of the 19th Century when the American frontier and rural America were undergoing tremendous change, urban America was also experiencing tremendous social, political, and economic transformations. We are lucky because we can view primary documents from the period through the eyes of a Swedish immigrant by the name of Joseph Riis who spent his career taking photographs of the consequences of industrialized and urbanized America during the Gilded Age, In 1890 he published them in his book How the Other Half Lives - and his book became famous as the first effort to use photography to bring the plight of the urban poor to the attention of upper and middle class Americans.
But Riis was not the first person to bring the plight of poverty to Americans. In Henry George's essay, "The Crime of Poverty" - an excerpt from which you were supposed to read for today's discussion - published in 1885, he states in his first pages:
"Long ago it was said that 'one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.' ... The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate, of those who were underneath, so long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat ... I propose to talk of the Crime of Poverty ... Nine tenths of human misery, I think you will find, if you look, to be due to poverty ... And it seems to me clear that the great majority of those who suffer from poverty are poor not from their own particular faults, but because of conditions imposed by society at large. Therefore I hold that poverty is a crime - not an individual crime, but a social crime, a crime for which we all, poor as well as rich, are responsible ... I hold, and I think no one who looks at the facts can fail to see, that poverty is utterly unnecessary. It is not by the decree of the Almighty, but it is because of our own injustice, our own selfishness, our own ignorance, that this scourge, worse than any pestilence, ravages our civilisation, bringing want and suffering and degradation, destroying souls as well as bodies."
- Do you think this was a popular viewpoint in 1885?
- Do you think this is a popular viewpoint today?
Urban poverty, then, was a common problem during the Gilded Age. And poverty, as we shall see, was linked to the rapid industrialization that accompanied this era.
Goal #2: To define relevant terms related to industrialization
Industrialization occurs when a nation's economic
system decreases its reliance upon producing goods by hand and increases
its reliance upon producing goods by machine.
Industries arise when huge markets of capital and labor are combined
to lower production costs, raise each worker's output, and subsequently,
create large amounts of consumer goods.
The First Industrial Revolution occurred between 1820-1869 when New England textile mills employed thousands to turn the raw materials from the South into finished products. You can see an example of this early textile industry with the photograph of the Boott Cotton Mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. Outside of the growing textile industry, however, most Americans considered a large business to be one that employed 100 workers. Cities gradually grew in the North, while the South and the growing western regions remained primarily agricultural. By the end of this Revolution, most people still worked on farms.
The Second Industrial Revolution occurred during the Gilded Age between 1870-1910 when new industries employed hundreds of thousands to produce items needed for America's growing industries and goods desired by American consumers. Most industrial businesses employed thousands of workers. Industrial cities grew rapidly, especially in the northeast along the Great Lake region. By the end of this Revolution, the U.S. had become a mature industrial society in which two-thirds of Americans worked for wages in city jobs.
So what were the factors that contributed to this Second Industrial Revolution and the resulting rapid industrialization in urban America?
Goal #3: To discuss the factors that contributed to rapid industrialization experienced during the Gilded Age
Industries have always been a part of American life - but prior to the Civil War, most were extremely small-scale and known primarily as cottage industries - small businesses carried out in homes and communities with 2-5 employees. In the South, money-making crops were huge industries - not only the production, but also the exportation. By the 1900s, most businesses had industrialized and most employed thousands.
- By 1900, Singer Sewing Machines employed over 90,000 people and sold 1.25 million sewing machines each year.
- By 1900, Andrew Carnegie employed 20,000. Later that year when Carnegie Steel merged with J.P. Morgan’s steel enterprise to become U.S. Steel, the new corporate giant employed 168,000 people in 200 member companies - the largest industrial corporation in the world.
In its earliest years, industrialization grew largely in the north and northwest. Why? Geography. If we look at this map, we can see that the proximity to water in the north largely supports the rise of cities and industrialization, while the southern geography is better suited for agriculture. Thus, geography will shape both the economics and politics of these regions.
After the Civil War, American industry changed dramatically.
- Machines replaced hand labor as the main means of manufacturing, increasing the production capacity of industries.
- Inventors developed new products the public wanted, and businesses made the products in large quantities.
- Investors and bankers supplied the huge amounts of money that business leaders needed to expand their operations.
- A new nationwide network of railroads distributed goods far and wide.
- Many big businesses grew up as a result - businesses that included coal mining, petroleum, and railroad companies; and manufacturers and sellers of such products as steel, industrial machinery, automobiles, and clothing.
What, then, were the factors that contributed to this dramatic change?
- Improved transportation and communication.
- The growth of capitalism and a growing number of capitalistic entrepreneurs.
- New inventions and technology.
- New advertising and marketing techniques.
- Plentiful natural resources.
- Plentiful labor.
- Government support
Improved Transportation and Communication
By 1890s, the U.S. had the most extensive railroad network in the world - railroads linked together cities in every state. By 1900, there were 193,000 miles of tracks in U.S.
- Freight trains carried natural resources like iron, coal, and minerals to cities where they supplied for the raw materials for industrial use.
- Trains also carried food to the growing urban labor force and finished products from industry to all parts of the nation.
- Railroad linkage with telegraph and later telephone allowed it to standardize its operation/arrival and departure times,
- Railroad expansion promoted the growth of heavy industry - such as steel - because the railroads were the nation's largest purchaser of steel.
The growth of capitalism and a growing number of industrial capitalists (Robber Barons).
Capitalism is an economic and social system in which the means of production - capital - is privately owned by individuals. Under capitalism, labor, goods and capital are traded and the profits are distributed to owners and/or investors. The new industrial capitalists - men like Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie - benefitted greatly from capitalism during the Gilded Age. And they benefitted themselves at the expense of their workers. Consequently, they have been referred to as Robber Barons. The two illustrations below indicate how capitalism influenced the U.S. during the era of the Robber Barons as well as how capitalism influences the U.S. today.
- What are the differences between the two posters?
- What are the similarities?
Nineteenth Century Robber Baron industrialists gained and maintained their power by:
Making secret pacts with other industrialists that allowed them to
make huge profits and discouraged or eliminated competitors.
Paying their workers very poorly with wages that were
at best subsistence level (wage slavery) and with no benefits.
Working the federal and state political systems to make sure there was no government regulations on their businesses.
Framing their success by relating it to Social Darwinism
and the American tradition of Calvinism - private property held greater value than individual interests; poverty was the fault of the impoverished and sinful; and the social classes were not equal - especially rich and poor, capitalist and laborer.
Promoting the "rags to riches" belief that anyone in America who worked hard enough, could be rich. Horatio Alger popularized this idea through his famous book, Raggedly Dick.
Being protected by five very powerful institutions:
- Congress through generous federal subsidies designed to encourage entrepreneurial industrial growth - free land to build
railroads, high foreign tariffs on goods to eliminate competition, etc.
- States were the legal entities that grant corporate charters. Obtaining a charter simply required filling out a short form and paying a modest fee. Only if the corporation stated that it planned to break the law could a charter be denied.
- Contemporary cultural and religious institutions - the schools, churches,
and literature of the time - all produced one important message -
to be rich was a sign of superiority and to be poor a sign of personal failure.
- Law enforcers and military personnel through strike breaking.
- The U.S. Supreme Court which made decisions favoring industrial entrepreneurship.
Let's take a look at the richest Americans throughout history. And how did these wealthy men, make their money - almost always through new inventions and technology.
New Inventions and Technology
During the Gilded Age, the number of new inventions skyrocketed: between 1790 and 1860, the U.S. Patent Office granted 36,000 patents, but between 1861 and 1930, it registered 1.5 million patents. Inventions were created in conjunction with the emerging new technologies - electricity replaced steam power; the assembly production line replaced individual production; and single machines with huge output capacities replaced single workers.
1857 - The first packaged toilet paper was the invention of American, Joseph Gayetty who called it Gayetty's Medicated Paper. In 1879, the Scott Paper Company began selling the first toilet paper on a roll; however, toilet paper in roll form did not become common until 1907.
1861 - Doctor Richard Gatling patented the Gatling Gun, a six-barreled weapon, the first gun that was capable of sustained multiple bursts - a (then) phenomenal 200 rounds per minute. The Gatling gun was a hand-driven, crank-operated, multi-barrel, machine gun, the first with reliable loading,
1874 - Barbed wire was created to pen in the increasing number of animals raised in the west.
1881 - The cigarette making machine shaped the tobacco, encased it in paper into an endless tube, and snipped off the tube at cigarette-length intervals. This machine could produce more than 7,000 cigarettes and hour, replacing the worker who at best made 3,000 per day.
- 1887 - Muybriddge created the first motion-sequence still photographic experiment of a horse jumping over a hurdle.
New advertising and marketing techniques which increased consumer demands for goods.
When production outstripped demand, industries turned to advertising to seduce consumers into wanting their products.
- The first advertising agency founded in 1869 by Francis Wayland Ayer who handled Montgomery Ward, Proctor and Gamble, and the National Biscuit Company.
- In 1860, department stores' gross commercial revenues were $8 million; in 1900, they were $102 million - largely due to advertising.
Industrial American also turned to new marketing techniques - especially by using ads that promoted certain brands - Quaker Oats - and using gimmicks that encouraged consumer loyalty - like Pillsbury’s Best flour "strongly recommended by Eminent authorities - Physicians and Chemists - as a powerful Brain Muscle and Bone forming food, particularly adapted for Brain workers, growing children, and those suffering from digestive debility and disorders." And then there were the ads that promised a cure - like this 1885 advertisement for Cocaine Toothache Drops.
Plentiful Natural Resources.
The nation's abundant water supply helped power the industrial machines.
Forests provided lumber for construction and wooden products.
Miners took large quantities of coal and iron ore from the ground. Andrew Carnegie and other business leaders made steel from these minerals. In turn, steel played a vital role in the industrialization process. It was used to build machines, railroad tracks, bridges, automobiles, and skyscrapers.
Other industrially valuable minerals included copper, silver, and petroleum. Petroleum - the source of gasoline - became especially important as that newest of popular inventions, the automobile, became more popular in the early 20th Century.
Plentiful Labor. As industries grew, millions of people flocked to the cities in search of plentiful jobs. Working in the city had become more popular than farming. As Eric Foner in Give Me Liberty tells us, "By 1890, two-thirds of Americans worked for wages, rather than owning a farm, business, or craft shop." And who were these new workers? Migrants, women, children and immigrants.
- American migrants. Many Americans moved from the country to the city during this period. Several factors contributed to such migration:
- Low crop prices,
- High prices of new machinery.
- High debts drove farmers off the land to find new opportunities in the city.
- Young people were seduced by the thrills of city life. A character in the popular play, The City, spoke for such youths: "Who wants to smell new-mown hay, if he can breathe in gasoline on Fifth Avenue instead! Think of the theaters! The crowds! Think of being able to go out on the street and see some one you didn't know by sight."
- Women. In the 1870s and 80s, one in every six paid workers was a woman.
There were only two white collar occupations open to women, and they had to be English speaking: retail selling and office work.
Most women who worked outside the homes were the ones with the worst economic prospects: African-American and immigrant women who historically have been the most likely women to be wage earners working outside of the home.
- The vast majority of working women were unmarried - 6 in 7 - and their working outside of the home was extremely controversial. Some wondered if a woman who worked could be truly respectable. Others said that women who worked for "pin money" were respectable, thus giving rise to the argument that women could be paid less than men because they were not the real wage earners in a family.
- Most who could afford to stay home did so.
- Employment was hazardous to women's health. The death rate of women wage-earners was twice that of other women. They suffered the same horrid working conditions as men, received lower pay, were often sexually exploited - and then after 10-12 hours of work, also had to take care of household work in homes with no electricity or running water.
- Children. For the majority of America's history, child labor was a fact of life. Child labor was not the social horror it is believed to be today, but rather, it was a necessity. Indeed, throughout America, many parents were dependent upon their children - for help on the farm and for income in the cities. Their wages were usually about half of what adults received.
- Immigrants. A substantial proportion of the labor force consisted of immigrants. While we will talk more about immigration later today, I want to make two important points about immigration:
- During the Gilded Age, from 1871-1901, 11.7 million immigrants arrived, more than all previous immigrationcombined but fewer than the 13 million that came later.
- This was the largest voluntary immigration in world history. Gilded Age immigrants came overwhelmingly from southern and eastern Europe, Italy, and Russia.
Government Support. Rapid industrialization would not have been possible without a great deal of support from federal and state governments, as well as the federal and state courts. In fact, as we already have learned, the Robber Baron industrialists gained a great deal of assistance and power with the help from Congress, the states, cultural and religious institutions, law enforcement and the military, and the U.S. Supreme Court. And remember, despite the fact that the federal government gave industrialists a great deal of support, there was virtually no government regulation of their industries.
Discussion Goal #4: To examine the consequences of rapid industrialization during this period
As you have read in Chapter 11 of Voices of a People's History, many people rebelled against the excesses of rapid industrialization and in so doing, they
- The nation grew faster than it ever had, bringing about great shifts:
- from a largely homogeneous population of Western European immigrants into
a more heterogeneous population;
- from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy;
- from a predominately rural society to a predominately urban society; and
- from an isolated nation that was economically dependent upon European capital
and manufactured good to an international nation that became a major industrial,
financial, and trading power.
- American social beliefs became intimately tied to capitalism and Social Darwinism.
- Corporate owners loosely applied Social Darwinism - the "survival of the fittest" philosophy - in order to justify unbridled competition and they used an absolute belief in private property to keep the government out of private economic affair
- They also used Social Darwinism - as well as Calvinist traditions from colonial America - to justify the existence of poverty. Individuals were held responsible for their own actions. If people were poor, it was because they were not working hard enough.
- This is what made Henry George’s writings so controversial for the times. He argued that poverty is not a natural condition, but rather a manmade condition that can be remedied - " … poverty is a crime - not an individual crime, but a social crime, a crime for which we all, poor as well as rich, are responsible …"
- As workers rebelled against the excesses of industrialization, violent conflict arose between the industrialists/Robber Barons and American laborers (discussed below).
- For the first and only time in U.S. history, a significant minority of Americans turned to labor unions and the press to publicize and solve their grievances related to the excesses of capitalism - and some turned to socialism and anarchism as a substitute. We can clearly see this in the voices of August Spies, the anonymous witness at Thibodaux in Louisiana, Reverand Lyon in New Orleans, farmers who joined various alliances and the Populist movement, Mary Elizabeth Lease, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Edward Bellamy, and the Pullman Strikers - all found in Chapter 11 of Voices of a People's History.
- The nation became increasingly urban (discussed below).
- Corporations became increasingly dominant in the American economy
Goal #5: To understand the growth of corporations and corporate personhood throughout the last 150 years
By the late 19th Century, corporations began to grow both in size and in number. But before we can understand how this growth contributed to what is known in the 21st Century as corporate personhood, we need to define a few terms.
- What is a corporation? Corporations are formed by a group of people, are created through state charters with separate legal standing from its owners, and are designed to protect its owners from being personally liable in the event the company is sued. Today, there are several types of corporations:
- nonprofit corporations that engage in activities for the public good;
- municipal corporation, such as a city or town, which are organized to fund city and town needs;
- private corporation which are organized to make a profit; and
- B Corporations that create a material positive impact on society and the environment and that meet high standards of accountability and transparency. As of July 2014, there were more than 1,079 B Corporations in 34 countries representing 60 different industries. Notable B Corporations include Ben & Jerry's, Patagonia, Etsy, Seventh Generation, Dansko, Better World Books, Cabot Creamery, and New Belgium Brewery.
- What is a person? Under British common law, two types of persons existed: "natural persons" or human beings, and "artificial persons" or organizations that included governments, churches, and corporations - each of which needed a legal category so they could enter intro contracts, be held accountable to the law, and be assessed and made to pay taxes.
- To the Founding Fathers, natural persons or human beings were born with human rights - rights that were inherent and given to us by God. These rights were to be carefully safeguarded. To that end, they wrote the Constitution in a way that protects us and our rights from the government. Thus, the "Constitution doesn't give us rights; it restrains government from infringing on rights we acquire at birth by virtue of being human beings." (Thom Hartman, Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People and How You Can Fight Back. 2010:8) Thus, we have "natural rights" available only to "natural persons."
- To the Founding Fathers, the common law distinction between natural and artificial persons made perfect sense. Without such a legal category as "artificial persons," these governmental, religious, and corporate entities could not conduct business nor could they be taxed.
- What is corporate personhood? Corporate personhood is an American legal concept that a corporation may be recognized as an individual in the eyes of the law. Legally, corporations, as groups of people, may hold and exercise certain rights under the common law and the U.S. Constitution. Some of the rights and responsibilities that American corporations have as "artificial persons" include:
- First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and religion
- Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure
- Fifth Amendment rights through the "Takings Clause" - corporations must be compensated for property value lost due to laws protecting homes from mining subsidence.
- Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process.
Now let's get to some 21st century questions about corporate personhood
- Who benefits from corporate personhood? If
you are an ordinary stockholder or a wealthy corporate stockholder,
corporate personhood is in your interest. Corporate personhood allows the
wealthiest citizens in the nation to use corporations to control and use
government and to impose their will upon the people.
- Who may not benefit from corporate personhood? The voice of ordinary citizens is much smaller and less influential than corporations who are protected through corporate personhood. For example:
- Free Speech (including the freedom to influence legislation) - Corporations own most TV networks, radio stations, newspapers,
billboards, bookstores and magazines, so exercising their right to free
speech allows them to influence more people than what you, or any group
of persons, could say in a public place. While on corporate property,
workers do not have the right to free speech.
- Equal Rights - Equal rights laws protect people of different races, religions,
and ethnicities who wish to buy property or a business or to move
into a neighborhood. Corporations get the same protection - so if
a big box chain store wants to move into a community and threaten the existence
of small local retailers, it has the right to do so.
- Search and Seizure - People are protected against the search and seizure
of their property without a warrant. Corporations get the same protection
- they cannot be subject to random inspections to determine if they a polluting
a river, breaking environmental laws, or abusing their workers.
- Responsibility – Because corporations exist to make profits for shareholders, any rules that favor a community, environmental concerns, etc. are seen as impediments. Thus, they can shirk any responsibility to the public in favor of their responsibility to shareholders; that is, they can damage the public interest in pursuit of profit.
What are some other cost and effect factors of corporate personhood?
- Unequal protection from risk. Corporations and their shareholders may risk loss of income or loss of their investment while human risk as a result of corporate activity is much higher - environmental degradation, higher rates of cancer and other diseases, job-related disfigurement or death, community and family breakdown due to job loss when factories are closed and jobs are shipped overseas.
- Unequal payment of taxes. Over the past 100 years, the tax burden has shifted from corporations to individuals in at least four ways: income tax burden shifted from corporations to workers; property tax burden shifted from corporations to residents; federal tax breaks and subsidies have increased to help large corporations; and state and regional tax breaks have arisen to lure businesses.
- Unequal privacy. While corporations maintain their constitutional rights as a person seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, when a human steps onto corporate-owned property of his or her employer, that human voluntarily gives up their constitutional rights to privacy, freedome from search, and free speech. Your employers can read your email, monitor your computer use, secretly photograph you, listen in on your telephone calls, fire you if you say things it doesn't like, and demand ssamples of bodily fluids; however, the EPA cannot inspect a chemical factory without the permission of the corporation that owns it.
A full chronology of the history of corporations and the rise of corporate personhood can be accessed at http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist111/CorporationsHistory.html
Goal #6: To understand the problems between labor and management during the Gilded Age
Background: The American Civil War was followed by a boom in railroad construction. Thirty-five thousand miles of new track was laid across the country between 1866 and 1873.
At that time, the railroad industry was the nation's largest employer outside of agriculture, and it involved large amounts of money and risk. Speculators infused cash into the markets and thus caused abnormal growth in industry as well as overbuilding of docks, factories and related facilities.
In September 1873, the nation experienced the largest economic crash in its history.
The crash was the consequence of over-speculation in the railroad industry which, in turn, brought down many of the nation's largest banks. A five year depression followed the crash - a depression that was especially devastating for the growing number of urban poor.
But as ordinary Americans suffered, the super rich - the Robber Barons - used the crisis as an opportunity to buy up foundering competitors.
J.P. Morgan was one of these men who wanted to get rid of what he called "wasteful competition." For the the Robber Barons, the panic years were golden; they had enough capital reserves to finance their own continuing growth.
For smaller industrial firms, the situation was desperate; as capital reserves dried up, so did their industries.
The Robber Barons, led by the financial wizardry of J.P. Morgan, attacked free market competition by buying out their smaller competitors at rock bottom prices
Conspicuous consumption versus desperation. By 1890, over 1800 millionaires lived in the United States; half of them lived in New York City where their lives were marked by conspicuous consumption - thereby helping them to earn their label, the Robber Barons. An example of such conspicuous consumption occurred in 1883, when after the completion of their New York City mansion, the Vanderbilt's threw a party that showcased their immense wealth, as well as the wealth of their millionaire friends.
The picture is of Mrs. Vanderbilt as Electric Light. Her gown glitters with an unknown number of real diamonds.
As the panic deepened, ordinary Americans suffered terribly.
Between 1873 and 1877, as many smaller factories and workshops closed down, tens of thousands of workers - many former Civil War soldiers - became transients.
The terms "tramp" and "bum" became commonplace American terms. As both the wealth of robber barons and the unemployed soared, so did the resentment of the workers and their families.
Relief rolls exploded in major cities, with 25 percent unemployment (100,000 people) in New York City alone.
Strikes. Unemployed workers demonstrated in Boston, Chicago, and New York in the winter of 1873-74 demanding public work.
In New York's Tompkins Square in January 1874, police entered the crowd with clubs and beat up thousands of men and women. The most violent strikes in American history followed the panic, including by the secret labor group known as the Molly Maguires in Pennsylvania's coal fields in 1875, when masked workmen exchanged gunfire with the "Coal and Iron Police," a private force commissioned by the state. A nationwide railroad strike followed in 1877, in which mobs destroyed railway hubs in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cumberland, Maryland.
But when the Depression was over in 1880, conflict between the Robber Barons who were richer than ever, and the urban poor, who were poorer than ever, increased rather than diminished.
Working conditions were horrendous during the Gilded Age. In 1889 alone, 22,000 railroad workers were killed or injured on the job. Thousands of others died or were crippled in the nation's mines, steel mills, and textile mills. Not only were workers angry about poor working conditions and mistreatment, they were especially upset about losing their jobs to local or imported strikebreakers and increasing efforts of management to destroy their unions.
As many employers shut down their plants and attempted "to starve" their employees out of the union, violent outbreaks occurred in the North, South, and West, in small communities as well as in large metropolitan cities.
Perhaps the worst, as well as the most famous of all riots occurred in Chicago's Haymarket Square on Tuesday, May 4, 1886. It began as a rally in support of striking workers when an unknown person threw a bomb at police as they tried to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers and an unknown number of civilians. Consequently, eight anarchists were tried for murder.
This engraving shows the seven anarchists sentenced to die for the death of a police officer. The eighth defendant, not shown here, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Four were put to death, one committed suicide in prison, and two had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. In 1882, Governor Atgeld commuted the sentence of the three remaining in prison.
While workers reacted to the denial of their rights to belong to labor unions and resorted to strikes when conditions became unbearable, the outcome of their violent behavior never changed the course of events - the owners won and the workers lost.
Thus, America's Gilded Age witnessed deep and sometimes violent divisions over the definition of freedom in a rapidly industrializing society.
The battle continued into the 20th Century - a battle that pitted the Robber Barons who saw freedom as the opportunity to pursue economic interests without governmental regulation, against workers who believed freedom lay in collective efforts to create safe industrial opportunities for ordinary Americans.
Goal #7: To understand the relationship between industrialization, urbanization, and immigration
As industrialization grew in the late 19th century, more people came to American cities for jobs in the new industries. It stands to reason, then, that America became more urban. Just what does this mean?
An urban area is characterized by higher population density and higher concentrations of services in comparison with the surrounding areas.
Urbanization occurs when a community takes on the characteristics of a city.
A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement of people who generally have some type of system for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation and more.
By 1870, the nation had only 25 cities with more than 50,000 people - with a total population of 5 million. By 1890, there were 58 cities that size with nearly 12 million people; most were in the Northeast and near the Great Lakes. By 1898, cities were in great evidence in the east and mid east; but as the map shows, they were still quite scarce in the west. By 1900, New York City had 4 million residents!
What happened was fairly simply and also quite remarkable - after the Civil War as new technologies encouraged the growth of new industries where many jobs were readily available, huge cities grew to house both the growing number of industries and the growing number of industrial workers. The vast majority of cities grew with only minimal, if any planning. Most choices about land use and construction were made by individual landowners, developers, and builders who wanted to make large profits. Thus, everyone built the most working and li\ving space for the least cost - leaving little room for pleasant or open space.
So what were the consequences of rapid urbanization during the Gilded Age? On the positive side, urbanization brought new jobs, new opportunities, new housing, and new transportation; but on the negative side, urbanization gave rise to widespread urban poverty, sub-standard housing, environmental degradation, increasing crime and violence, violent clashes between labor and management, and political corruption.
- Housing problems. Urbanization in the late 1800s was especially bad in New York City. You can experience a virtual tour of the New York City Tenement Museum at 97 Orchard Street at http://www.tenement.org/.
- Crime: crimes against persons, crimes against property, crimes agains societal morality
- Environmental degradation included smog, litter, toxic waste in rivers and on land, and deforestation.
- Since there was no garbage removal system the streets were filthy. Even in the few areas where sewage lines existed, the sewage was emptied into some nearby body of water
- Few city streets were paved until the very end of the Century, with Washington D.C. taking the lead.
- The quality and quantity of the water supply varied from city to city. Mostly it was very poor and contained many disease-carrying organisms. By the turn of the century, only 6% of urban residents received filtered water.
- Lumber demand increased and forests were destroyed. Example - Between 1869 and 1899, lumber production increased 500% in south, destroying the forests of LouisIana and Alabama.
- Poor air quality - such as that seen in this photograph in Pittsburgh in the late 19th Century.
- Political corruption, patronage, and the "well-greased" political machine
- The Democratic Party bribed the state legislature to pass laws that increased
the power of the city to tax, borrow, and spend.
- Then a leader built public support by spending tax funds on various charities,
helping the poor, and funding construction projects.
- The poor and those receiving jobs and construction contracts, in turn,
were expected to vote for the politicians.
- When helping construction businesses, city governors expected kick backs
from the already inflated construction budgets, as well as votes.
- It all worked like a well-greased machine. When a machine amassed
great power - as it did in New York City, it would often have a well-known
- Unparalled immigration and migration.
- Immigration is the process of moving from one nation to another
nation to permanently resettle.
- Migration is the process of moving from one location within a
nation to another location within that same nation.
And what motivates people to move?
- Push - Some people are pushed - either through encouragement or
force - leave their homes and move to another country. Encouraging push factors include diminishing
land resources, unemployment, poverty, drought, economic depression.
Forceful push factors include enslavement and imprisonment.
- Pull - Some people are pulled to search out
a new life in another place. These can political, ideological,
and economic - but again, most pull factors are economic.
The U.S. is truly a land of immigrants - unless you are of American Indian heritage, someone in your family immigrated here at one time or another. By 1850, immigration really began to grow - and as it did, new immigrants contined to be a large percentage of the 19th century population.
- 1851-1860 = 2,598,214 (9.7% total population)
- 1861-1870 = 2,314,824 (13.2% total population)
- 1871-1880 = 2,812,191 (14.0% total population)
- 1881-1890 = 5,246,613 (13.3% total population)
- 1891-1900 = 3,687,546 (14.7% total population)
- 1901-1910 = 8,795,386 (13.6% total population)
- 1911-1920 = 5,735,811 (14.7% total population)
Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration in the Gilded Age
- During the Gilded Age, two transforming experiences changed many aspects of American life – industrialization and urbanization.
- Such changes did little to alter the traditional political, social, and economic structure of American life - white men of European descent continued to control the political environment, the nation was still divided by class, and the rich got richer while the poor maintained their poverty or got poorer. Our economy was and still is directed by the "haves," but built upon the backs of the "have nots."
- Similar to the closure of the frontier, industrialization led to both positive and negative consequences, thus giving credence to the term, The Gilded Age. Progress is not always progressive.
- Industrialization was accompanied by the rise of corporations whereby corporate leaders sought to control the markets for their products, the production of their products, their competitors, their workers, and their political environment.
- Seven primary factors contributed to the rapid industrialization of America: improved transportation and communication; the growth of capitalism and a growing number of capitalistic entrepreneurs; new inventions and technology; new advertising and marketing techniques; plentiful natural resources; plentiful labor; and government support. Technology fuels most political, social, and economic change.
- The primary consequences of industrialization were: the nation grew faster than it ever had; American social beliefs were intimately tied to capitalism; violent conflict arose between the industrialists/Robber Barons and American laborers; the nation became increasingly urban; and corporations became increasingly dominant in the American economy..
- The progress that accompanied urbanization came at a high cost to Americans. On the positive side, urbanization brought new jobs, new housing opportunities, modern building construction and transportation techniques, and more consistent wages. On the negative side, urbanization gave increasing impetus to racial and class conflict, widespread poverty, environmental degradation, violent clashes between union workers and their corporate managers, inadequate housing, crime, and political corruption. Progress is not always progressive. Freedom is never free.
- The corporate industries of late 19th Century America were the first beneficiaries of the welfare state. Through the help of legally obtained and generous governmental subsidies, hundreds of monopolies were formed that directly benefited corporate owners and directly harmed their workers. Our civil liberties require citizen maintenance and protection.
- During the Gilded Age,, the federal government largely defined liberty through the eyes of business entrepreneurs and corporate entities. Federal officials believed that such unlimited economic freedom would benefit the nation as a whole and all Americans. To that end, the federal government played a big role in defining and protecting liberty in at least six capacities:
- Passed the Freedom Amendments protecting the rights of America’s freed men and women, but failed to enforce both the 14th and 15th Amendments.
- Promoted industrial and agricultural development.
- Removed Indians from western lands to encourage free labor and settlement for white Americans.
- Supported the liberties of industrial capitalists at the expense of the liberties of their laborers (wage slaves).
- Supported federal and state court decisions that struck down state laws regulating economic enterprise by arguing two things: such laws interfered with the rights of free laborers to choose employment and working conditions, and such laws infringed upon the rights of the business capitalist to use his property as he saw fit.
- Supported Social Darwinian theories of economic growth and laissez faire that gave individuals the right to pursue their interests without government interference over the Social Gospel beliefs of equalization of all wealth and power that gave the collective citizens the right to true equality.
- At the end of the19th century, Americans were divided by two conflicting notions of freedom/liberty:
- Employers (big business, industrial and agricultural corporations) believed freedom required their complete control over property rights - control that was not restrained by union demands or government regulation. Such control was in the public good.
- Workers (farmers and industrial laborers) believed freedom required economic security and economic independence - independence that was hampered by employers' tyranical over their lives. Such control restrained their freedom.
- Some contemporary scholars have argued that today, in the early 21st Century, we are experiencing another Gilded Age. To find some evidence of contemporary tenement housing conditions, click here.