Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration in the Gilded Age

Jacob Riis Photograph

Below,  please find the guides for today's discussion.

Henry George, The Crime of Poverty (1885)

"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."

Full text of Henry George, "The Crime of Poverty" (1885) at


Discussion Goals:
Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration in the Gilded Age

  1. To define relevant terms related to industrialization
  2. To discuss the factors that contributed to and the consequences of rapid industrialization experienced during the Gilded Age.
  3. To understand the growth of corporate personhood throughout the last 150 years.
  4. To examine the relationship labor and management during the Gilded Age.
  5. 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.

Boott Cotton Mill in Lowell, MassGoal #1: 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.

Photograph of Pittsburgh Steel Mill in 1900The Second Industrial Revolution occurred 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 - like this photograph of a Pittsburgh steel yard in 1895 - 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.

Goal #2: To discuss the factors that contributed to and the consequences of rapid industrialization experienced during the Gilded Age.
  1. Improved transportation and communication.
  2. The growth of capitalism and a growing number of capitalistic entrepreneurs.
  3. New inventions and technology.
  4. New advertising and marketing techniques.
  5. Plentiful natural resources.
  6. Plentiful labor.
  7. 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.

Map railroads 1830, 1840, 1850

Map railroads 1860Map railroads 1870

Map railroads 1880Map railroads 1890

The growth of capitalism and a growing number of industrial capitalists (Robber Barons).

Capitalism is an economic and social system in the means of production - capital - is privately owned. 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. Consequently, they have been referred to as Robber Barons.

19th Century poster of Wobbly's Interpretation of capitalism20th century poster interpreting capitalism

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. (List of 19th Century Inventions at

New technologies were diverse: electricity replaced steam power; the assembly production line replaced individual production; and single machines with huge output capacities replaced single workers. For example:

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.

Painting of Cocaine Advertisement in 1885Industrial 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.

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 Foner 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?

Collegial and Government support. Nineteenth Century Robber Baron industrialists gained and maintained their power by:

  1. Making secret pacts with other industrialists that allowed them to make huge profits and discouraged or eliminated competitors.
  2. Paying their workers very poorly with wages that were at best subsistence level (wage slavery) and with no benefits.
  3. Being protected by five very powerful institutions:

Consequences of Rapid Industrialization

  1. The nation grew faster than it ever had, bringing about great shifts:
  2. American social beliefs became intimately tied to capitalism and Social Darwinism.
  3. Violent conflict arose between the industrialists/Robber Barons and American laborers (discussed below).
  4. The nation became increasingly urban (discussed below).
  5. Corporations became increasingly dominant in the American economy.

Goal #3: To understand the growth of corporate personhood throughout the last 150 years

In the eyes of the law, a corporation has many of the same rights and responsibilities as a person. A corporation may:

The History of American Corporations and Corporate Personhood

European Precedents - English common law included two types of "persons" - "natural persons" or human beings and "artificial persons" like governments, churches, and corporations. By the 1500s, this artificial category became especially important so that the law could be applied and taxes assigned to the growing number of corporations.

1500s - The first corporations were created by the Dutch. The Dutch government authorized trading companies that were allowed to buy and sell things as artificial entities - entities that were subject to government control.

1600 - Queen Elizabeth authorized a group of 218 London Merchants and nobelmen to form a corporation to compete with and take control over the global spice trade - the East India Company. Logo of East India CompanyThe Company received monopoly privileges on all trade with the East Indies. By 1681, most members of the British government and royalty were stockholders in the East India Company.

Colonial Period - While there were very few corporations in colonial America, the ones that existed were quite powerful - the Dutch West India Company that founded NY. Corporations were the original governing bodies of Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas.  Until 1776, there was a great deal of conflict between citizens trying to establish rule by elected government and the British corporations that wanted to rule the colonies for profit.

1607 - The first permanent English colony in North America - Jamestown - was carved out of land owned by the East India Company and deeded to another English corporation tied to the East Indian Company - the Virginia Company.

1770 - England's East India Company was nearly bankrupt after decades of going into debt to support its growth and a recent surplus of tea with no where to sell it. The Company had been hurt by competition from North American small businessmen who ran small ships that brought tea and other good to America and small business retailers that bought wholesale tea from Dutch trading companies rather than the East India Company.

1773 - Parliament passed the Tea Act which was designed to give the East India Company full and unlimited access to the American tea trade and exempted the Company from paying taxes to Britain on tea exported to the American colonies. The main goals of the new law were to increase Company profitability to stockholders (which included the King) and to help drive out its small business competitors in the colonies. Without a tax burden, the Company was able to undercut local North American importers and local merchants who sold tea and who were now required to pay higher taxes and more money for tea.

On December 16, 1773, the Boston Tea Party occurred. According to the only first hand account by George Hewes, the participants saw themselves as anti-corporate protesters who fought the actions of the East Indian Company and the British government which supported the Company at the expense of North American small business owners and the colonists. To those involved in the Tea Party, "taxation without representation" did not mean they did not want to pay any taxes, but rather that every one and every entity - small businesses and the East India Company corporation alike - should pay their share of taxes and that no one or entity should be taxed without representation at the governmental level.

Early Republic Period - The newly-independent colonies kept corporations on a short leash.  Any firm seeking a corporate charter had to go to the state legislature to  prove that they were serving the public good – most often by constructing a road, bridge, canal, or other public-works project. They could sue and be sued and were subject to all the laws of the land and any restrictions that the state placed in their charters.  Their tenure was limited and they were prohibited from deviating from their original chartered design.  They could not own shares in other corporations,  lobby elected officials, or give campaign contributions.  If they did so, they could have their charters revoked.

1791 - The nation's first privately-owned corporation was created - the First Bank of the United States. It's chief architect and defender, Alexander Hamilton, defended the creation of this corporation by arguing that what the government could do for a person (incorporate), it could not refuse to do for an "artificial person", a business. The Bank of the United States, being privately owned and not a government agency, was a business.

By 1800, less than 200 large corporations existed and these were controlled by the state legislatures which clearly defined them as “artificial” creations of their owners.

1817 - James Madison Portrait of James Madisonexpressed anti-corporation sentiment typical of anti-Federalist, Democratic thought: "There is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by...corporations. The power of all corporations ought to be limited in this respect. The growing wealth acquired by them never fails to be a source of abuse."

1819 - Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward U.S. Supreme Court decision intervened in state power to control corporations they chartered. In 1769, King George III had chartered Dartmouth Colleage as a private college. Decades later, the state of New Hampshire revoked Dartmouth's charter and rechartered it as a public college. The Supreme Court ruled that the charter was a contract between New Hampshire and the college and the state had no right to revoke it.

1823 In Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts v. Town of Pawlet, an English corporation dedicated to missionary work that owned land in the U.S. sought to protect its rights to that land under colonial-era grants against an effort by the state of Vermont to revoke the grants. The Court explicitly ruled that the same protections to corporation-owned property should be extended as it would have to property owned by natural persons.

1830s – Three things occurred that made corporate personhood a future possibility:

1833 - President Andrew Jackson Portrait of Andrew Jacksonattacked the corporate powers of the Second Bank of the United States (chartered in 1816) by arguing "... the question is distinctly presented whether the people of the United States are to govern through representatives chosen by their unbiased suffrages or whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgment and control their decisions." He succeeded in putting the bank out of business.

1860s - Over 2000 corporations had been chartered - mostly factories, mines, railroads, and banks. Many wealthy business people sought to use the Federal government, especially the courts, to get their corporations out from under control of the states, many of which had revoked corporate charters that violated laws. 

Gradually, state legislatures gave corporations limited liability whereby investors or partners risked only the amount they invested, not any debts of the corporation.  Thus, the investor or partner was no longer personally responsible for the debts and obligations of the company in the event that they were not fulfilled. Limited liability encouraged business investments by ensuring that if a company failed, an individual’s assets could not be seized by creditors.  But it could also insulate stockholders and directors from company debts and misdeeds.

1868 - The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution reversed the 1857 Dred Scott decision which had excluded African Americans from the protections of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The new amendment made African Americans citizens who were entitled to the same "equal protections" under the law enjoyed by white citizens. The Amendment left a loophole for interpreting "persons" by not distinguishing between "natural" and "artificial" persons.

1870s - Corporate lawyers began arguing that under the law, corporations had historically been referred to as “artificial persons" not corporations. Thus, they should be considered "natural persons” with the same rights as “persons" enjoyed under the 14th Amendment.   

1873 - Chief Justice of Wisconsin's Supreme Court, Edward G. Ryan told the graduating class of the University of Wisconsin Law School: "[There] is looming up a new and dark power...the enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquests only, but for political power...The question will arise and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine, which shall rule - wealth or man; which shall lead - money or intellect; who shall fill public stations - educated and patriotric freemen, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital."

1886 - Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (118 U.S. 894 (1886)) argued at the lower court level that corporations were persons.  Before oral arguments took place when the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court reporter J.C. Bancroft Davis wrote the following as part of his headnote for the case, "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to corporations.  We are all of the opinion that it does." And so the decision handed down in 1886 gave corporations all the rights of "natural persons."

The immediate effect of the decision was the protection of corporations from some, but not all, state regulation.  Corporations tested any efforts of states to regulate in federal courts to see if they violation the corporation's constitutional rights.  If a state successfully, and with federal court approval (which was rare), prohibited any industry from dumping waste in streams and rivers and then actually enforced such a law (highly improbable), then the industry simply moved to a state that had no such law or did not enforce any such laws.

1888 - Grover Cleveland Portrait Grover Clevelandincluded the following in his State of the Union Address: "The gulf between employers and the employed is constantly widening, and classes are rapidly forming, one comprising the very rich and powerful, while in another are found the toiling poor. As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinatins, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters."

1907 - President Theodore Roosevelt warned against corporate persons in a Congressional address: Portrait Theodore Roosevelt"The fortunes amassed through corporate organization are now so large, and vest such power in those that wield them, as to make it a matter of necessity to give to the sovereign - that is, to the government, which represents the people as a whole some effective power of supervision over their corporate use. In order to ensure a healthy social and industrial life, every big corporation should be held responsible by, and be accountable to, some sovereign strong enough to control its conduct."

Congress passed the Tillman Act - the first U.S. legislation that prohibited any nation bank or corporation to "make a money contribution in connection with any election to any political office."

1914 - Clayton Antitrust Act outlawed tying together corporate mergers and multiple products, as well as mandated the creation of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to control corporate wrongdoings.

1919 – In Michigan, Henry Ford was sued by his shareholders for a plan in which he proposed to sell his cars at below-market prices so he could create more jobs and “spread the benefits of this industrial system to the greatest possible number, to help them build up their lives and their homes.”  The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the shareholders, thereby setting a precedent that corporate business should be conducted “primarily for the profit of the stockholders.”

1950 - Model Business Corporation Act was proposed by the American Bar Association's Section of Business Law, Committee on Corporate Law. By 2009, 31 states had adopted some version of the proposal which gives corporate shareholders no responsibility for the acts or debts of the corporation they own. They can invest with only financial risk and no legal risk.

1961 - In his Farewell Address, President Dwight Eisenhower Portrait Dwight Eisenhowernoted that after World War II, the U.S. had created "an immense military establishment and a large arms industry." Then he warned that "We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications...In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process...Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

1963 Historian C. Peter Magrath discovered exchange that took place prior to the public release of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company decision. The correspondence was between Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite and court reporter J.C. Bancroft Davis. On May 26, 1886, Davis wrote the following in a letter to Chief Justice Waite to make sure his headnote was correct: "Dear Chief Justice, I have a memorandum in the California Cases Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific. In opening the Court stated that it did not wish to hear argument on the question whether the Fourteenth Amendment applies to such corporations as are parties in these suits. All the Judges were of the opinion that it does. Waite replied: "I think your mem. in the California Railroad Tax cases expresses with sufficient accuracy what was said before the argument began. I leave it with you to determine whether anything need be said about it in the report inasmuch as we avoided meeting the constitutional question in the decision." In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that corporate personhood is legal; instead, the decision about whether to include the declaration of corporate personhood was left to the court reporter.

1967 - See v. City of Seattle (387 U.S. 541 (1967)) ruled that corporations have 4th Amendment constitutional rights to freedom from random inspection.  Without random inspections it became virtually impossible to enforce meaningful anti-pollution, health, and safety laws.

1976 – Buckley v. Valeo held that corporations had the right to contribute money to political campaigns as a free speech right under the First Amendment.

1978 - First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (435 U.S. 765 (1978) held that corporate persons have the same free speech rights as natural persons and could spend unlimited sums of money "speaking" in the forms of ads and campaign contributions.  In other words, corporate donations to political campaigns were now equated to free speech.  Thus, 1st Amendment rights were conferred to corporations.

1994 - Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that requires the removal of most tariffs and restrictions on trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Under NAFTA, a corporation can sue a foreign government and can also force the taxpers of the defendant nation to pay the corporation for any profits it might have earned if the nation had not passed laws that "restricted free trade." The consequence is that NAFTA has expanded the rights and powers of multinational corporations giving them even greater powers than many sovereign governments.

1998 - In November, the city of Arcata, California became the first metropolitan area in the U.S. to pass an anti-corporate personhood bill. By a vote of 3193 to 2056 (60.83% to 39.17%), the citizens of Arcata supported Measure F, "The Arcata Advisory Measure on Democracy and Corporations" which called on the Arcata City Council to co-sponsor two town hall meetings to address the issue, "Can we have democracy when large corporations wield so much power and wealth under law?" and to immediately establish policies and programs which ensure democratic control over corporations conducting business within the city and a manner that would ensure the health and well-being of the community and its environment.

2001 - Several Pennsylvania townships passed laws forbidding corporations from owning or controlling farms in their communities.

2003 – A new tobacco company was chartered in Virginia – Licensed to Kill IncorporatedLogo of Licensed to Kill, Inc.Cofounder Robert Hinkley declared the company’s purpose was to manufacture and market its product in a way that “generates profits for investors while each year killing over 400,000 Americans and more than 4.5 million other people worldwide.”  Their motto – “We’re rich, you’re dead” – and the corporation were created to demonstrate how states sanction and protect corporations.  Virginia didn’t want to grant the charter, but had no choice - the corporation’s structure or purpose did not break any laws.

2004 - The movie The Corporation featured efforts of communities (including Arcata) and small businesses across the nation to fight corporate personhood.

The Arcata City Council became the second city in the nation to pass a nonbinding resolution opposing constitutional rights to corporations.

2006 - In June voters in Humboldt County California adopted "Measure T: the Ordinance to Protect Our Rights to Fair Elections and Local Democracy" by a vote of 55% to 45%. The measure prohibited corporations from outside the county from bankrolling political campaigns. The measure makes clear that Humboldt citizens do not believe corporations are legal people and that only humans have constitutional rights.

2008 In 2008, Blackwater sued the City of San Diego to force the city to issue them a certificate of occupancy for its training facility in Otay Mesa before the plan went through the city's public review process. U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff ruled in Blackwater's favor. "Blackwater is a person and has a right to due process under the law and would suffer significant damage due to not being able to start on its $400 million Navy contract."

2010 - In January, the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decided that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited, because doing so would be unconstitutional. The decision resulted from the non-profit corporation Citizens United's case before the court regarding whether the group's film - Hilary: The Movie - that was critical of a political candidate could be defined as a campaign advertisement under the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act. The decision reached the Supreme Court on appeal from a 2008 decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which sided with the FEC, holding that under the McCain-Feingold Act the film Hillary: The Movie could not be shown on television right before the 2008 Democratic primaries. The Supreme Court's decision struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold Act that banned for-profit and not-for-profit corporations and unions from broadcasting "electioneering communications" in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. Justice Kennedy wrote the court's majority opinion, while the four dissenting justices were represented in a dissenting statement from Justice Stevens.

In April, Maryland became the first state in the nation to pass Benefit Corp Legislation that created a new type of corporation - the B-Corporation is required to create a material positive impact on society and the environment and to meet higher standards of accountability and transparency. Its primary goal is to redefine business success by using business power to solve social and environmental problems. B-Corp Legislation has been passed in seven states: California (AB361), New York (A4692), Hawaii (SB298), Virginia (HB2358), Maryland (SB690 and HB1009), Vermont (S263), and New Jersey (S2170). As of 2012, legislation was pending in four other states. There are over 450 Certified B Corporations across 60 different industries.

Questions about corporate personhoodCartoon of 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:

What are some other cost and effect factors of corporate personhood?

Goal #4: 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.

Photo of J.P. MorganIn 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, 1883 photo of Mrs. Vanderbilt dressed as Electric Lightas 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 Photograph of 7 anarchists found guilty at Haymarket trialjobs 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 #5: To understand the relationship between industrialization, urbanization, and immigration

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.

Map of American cities in 1898By 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!

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.

  1. 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
  2. Crime: crimes against persons, crimes against property, crimes agains societal morality Photo of air pollution in Pittsburgh late 1800s
  3. Environmental degradation - such as that seen in this photograph in Pittsburgh in the late 19th Century.
  4. Political corruption, patronage, and the "well-greased" political machine
Immigration, Emigration, and Migration Defined

Cartoon of Lady Liberty stirring up the melting potImmigration is the process of moving from one nation to another nation to permanently resettle.

Emigration is the process of moving from one nation to another, with the possibility of returning to one's original homeland.

Migration is the process of moving from one location within a nation to another location within that same nation.


 Major Factors for Immigration

Push - The forces that push - either through encouragement or force - people to immigrate.  Encouraging push factors include diminishing land resources, unemployment, poverty, drought, economic depression.  Forceful push factors include enslavement and imprisonment.

Pull - The attractive forces that pull persons to search out a new life in a distant place.  These can political, ideological, and economic - but again, most pull factors are economic.

Industrialization, Urbanization, and Immigration in the Gilded Age

  1. During the Gilded Age, two transforming experiences changed many aspects of American life – industrialization and urbanization.
  2. 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 is directed by the "haves," but built upon the backs of the "have nots."
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Four primary factors contributed to the rapid industrialization of America: improved transportation and communication; new inventions and technology; new marketing and merchandizing techniques; and plentiful labor.  Technology fuels most political, social, and economic change.
  6. The primary consequences of industrialization were fourfold: the nation grew faster than it ever had; American social beliefs were intimately tied to capitalism; a series of myths arose which romanticized the harsh nature of industrialization; and the nation became increasingly urban.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 economy is directed by the "haves," and built upon the backs of the "have nots."
  9. During the Gilded Age, the federal government played a big role in defining and protecting liberty in at least six capacities:

In short, 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.

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