The Gilded Age 1878

What does “gilded” mean? It’s an artistic technique of applying metal
powder or ultra-thin pieces of metal (leaf) to another surface—usually
something much less expensive that the metal itself, like wood, stone,
plaster, or cheaper metals.
What does “progressive” mean? It describes ideas and actions that are
meant to modernize life and to make gradual but important improvements
or reforms.
Improvements or reforms of what? The national or local economy, politics,
social and moral behaviors.
Why? To reduce waste and inefficiency; to decrease or eliminate disease,
crime, poverty, and ignorance.
The Gilded Age (1878-1889 ): a time of explosive industrial growth and
expansion dominated by the growth of big business, expansion west,
transportation improvements, and improved communication. These features
were the “gilding” or glitter of the time.
The Progressive Era (1890-1913): a time of economic, political, social, and
moral reform aimed at fixing the problems that plagued the Gilded Age.
Social Darwinism: Based on Charles Darwin’s concept of “survival of the
fittest,” social Darwinists believed that being poor was the result of being
genetically inferior.
Why does it matter? Many Social Darwinists thought that criminal behavior,
health, and intelligence were all connected to genetic makeup. This
conflicted with ideas of Progressives.
Corporation: a business formed for profit by the people who own it to be a
separate legal entity from those people. It may be publicly or privately
Monopoly: when an industry is controlled and/or owned entirely by one
Trust: when a few companies make an agreement to work together to
control an industry.
Tenement: an apartment or dwelling that is run down and poorly
maintained and home to poor, working-class families.
 Transportation: Railroads expand!
 1860—30,000 miles of track
 1870—52,000 miles of track
 1880—93,000 miles of track
 1890—163,000 miles of track
 1900—193,000 miles of track
• Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.
 Communication: Telegraph and Telephone
• Telegraph makes communication faster and more
efficient across the country and around the world.
• Telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in
1876, and was in use by the 1890s.
The modern corporation emerges: corporations had
existed since the colonial period, but following the Civil
War, corporations began to sell stock to the public in
order to finance their businesses and large projects
The first corporations: railroad companies were the first to
incorporate in large numbers
Others incorporate: Soon other industries such as steel,
mining, meatpacking, and manufacturers created
Scottish immigrant and
owner of Carnegie Steel
Net worth in 2007 dollars:
$298.3 billion
American Financier
and Banker
Net worth in 2007
$1.42 billion
Owner of Standard Oil
Net worth in 2007
$318.3 billion
 Steel
and elevators develop: these
developments led to the creation of
skyscrapers, allowing the city to grow up
instead of out.
 Subways, Elevated
Trains, Cable Cars and
Trolleys: All developed to help transport
people around increasingly growing and
developing cities.
 Electricity
changed life in cities dramatically:
The phonograph is invented in 1877 and in
1879 the light bulb is invented.
The First Skyscraper:
Home Insurance Building, Chicago
Edison’s Phonograph, 1877
Brooklyn’s first Trolley
(upper picture) and the
New York subway in
1871 (lower picture)
Lewis Howard Latimer:
Granville Woods:
Created a new and improved filament for Edison’s
light bulb.
Created the electric incubator, electro-magnetic
brakes for trains, and an automatic circuit breaker.
Henry Ford:
• In the 1890s, Henry Ford began experimenting with a
gas-powered automobile engine
• By 1908, his famous Model T rolled off the assembly
Henry Ford’s Model T
Incomes Rise: Almost at every level people were
making more money. While not everyone was rich
like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Morgan, this increase
in wages earned created the middle class.
Jobs of the middle class: middle class workers were
typically clerks, accountants, middle managers,
doctors, lawyers, and in other “white collar”
The middle class as consumers: with the mass
production of goods, came a new consumer culture.
Products such as ready-made clothes and machinemade furniture resulted in lower prices making nice
things available to more people.
Shopping: with the new consumer culture came the
development of department stores and mail order
• F.W. Woolworth opened in 1879
• Montgomery Ward opened in 1872
• Sears Roebuck opened in 1887
• Macy’s opened in NY
• Filene’s opened in Boston
• Wanamaker’s opened in Philadelphia
Macy’s New York
1897 Sears Roebuck and Co.
Sports: with more leisure time formal sporting events and
new games developed
• Baseball develops into the national pastime:
 The Cincinnati Red Stockings is created, 1869
 1903-First modern World Series
• Football, Boxing, and Basketball also develop into popular spectator sports.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings
 Other
Forms of Entertainment: Theatre,
Italian Operas, Musical Comedies,
Vaudeville (variety shows), movie theaters,
and nickelodeons all appeared.
 Literature: Mark Twain
wrote The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn, Stephen Crane wrote
The Red Badge of Courage, and Upton
Sinclair wrote The Jungle.
• Literature began to focus on the social problems of
the day. For example, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
focused on the poor sanitation of the meat packing
Vaudeville Show
Free Public Secondary Education: The number of
public high schools grew during the Gilded Age. By
1900 there were 6,000 public high schools.
Carlisle Indian Industrial School (Penn): a school that
emphasized a practical “industrial” education for
Native Americans. The school also sought to “civilize”
Colleges and Universities: Land Grant Colleges were
created beginning in the 1860s.
Education for Women: In the 1880s many women’s
colleges began emerging. Vassar, Wellesley, Smith,
Bryn Mawr, Wells, and Goucher all opened their doors
This student attended the Carlisle Indian
Industrial School and was “civilized.”
Vassar College
Wellesley College
 Monopolies
and trusts develop:
• In order to control their industries, corporations
began to consolidate or to make deals with one
another in order to make as much money as
• These monopolies and trusts made it so that no
small businesses could compete in the market.
• While the business owners made large amounts
of money, that money did not trickle down to the
average worker.
This political cartoon is a comment on the oil monopoly controlled by
Standard Oil. John D. Rockefeller’s corporation is taking over the country
by capturing competitors as well as the government.
Workers in factories faced many dangers and hardships
• Machinery was loud and dangerous
• Accidents were common
 Steel workers were burned from hot steel
 Coal miners died in cave-ins
 Textile (cloth) workers suffered lung problems because of the fibers
they inhaled.
 Garment workers suffered in sweatshops with poor lighting and little
• 10 to 12 hour work days
• Low pay
Women workers:
• By 1900, more than a million women worked in industry
• Women earned about half what men earned doing the same task
Child labor was common
• Laborers were not supposed to be younger than 10 or 12, but
children much younger could be found in factories
Child Labor in Factories
Besides the dangers of their
work, the working class could
only afford to live in cramped
and unsanitary conditions in
There were many health
problems in these areas. Many
died of whooping cough,
diphtheria, and measles.
Tuberculosis was common as
Poverty also led to more crime.
Orphaned children became
pick-pockets and gangs
formed in urban areas.
Business was booming…
at the same time, so was political corruption.
Political Machines: Powerful organizations linked to
political parties that controlled government in many
 Corrupt Politicians: These political bosses accepted
bribes from tenement slumlords to overlook the poor
conditions, received campaign contributions from
contractors hoping to do business, and accepted
 Boss Tweed: The most famous of the political bosses,
he “owned” politics in New York City with the help of
his “Tweed Ring” or his network of city officials.
Boss Tweed
In the mid-1880s, immigration to the U.S. began to
surge once again.
New Immigrants were from southern and eastern
Europe. Because they did not speak English nor did
they have similar customs and cultures to other
Americans, they had a hard time assimilating.
Immigrants settled in large cities worked in the
booming factory system for low wages and lived in
the tenements.
Nativism: This movement was aimed to favor the
native citizens and to prohibit further immigration of
“inferior” Europeans.
Solving the Problems of Progress: Although the Gilded
Age created many opportunities and progress, there were
equally as many problems. As the 19th century ended,
people began to try to fix these problems.
Socialists: Socialists believed that all of the nation’s
resources and industry should be owned and operated by
the government to avoid the poverty that was growing.
The leader of the socialists was Eugene V. Debs.
Progressives: While this group was also alarmed by the
wealth of so few and the poverty of the many, they rejected
socialism. Instead they supported government efforts to
reform industry and society. Also, this group formed
community organizations to help remedy other problems.
 Muckrakers: These
journalists were
progressive reformers who sought to expose
injustice and corruption. They were called
“muckrakers” because they raked up the
muck or dirt and corrupt of politics and
 Famous Muckrakers:
• Lincoln Steffens—Exposed Corrupt Political Machines
• Ida Tarbell—Exposed the Oil Trust
• Upton Sinclair—Exposed the Meat Packing Industry
Muckraking Leaders
Lincoln Steffens
Ida Tarbell
Upton Sinclair
Labor Organizations: Unions develop to help combat poor
working conditions and low wages.
Knights of Labor: A union of garment cutters established in
1869. The union when national under the leadership of
Terrance V. Powderly.
American Federation of Labor: This union was created in 1881
and represented workers of various crafts. Samuel Gompers
led the group and helped to fight for higher wages, shorter
working hours and better conditions. The group established
collective bargaining.
Strikes: Strikes were the major tool of the union. By ceasing
work, the strikers were hoping to force employers to meet
their demands.
Founders of the Knights of Labor
AFL Seal
The Pullman Strike, Illinois
Political Reform: The federal government passed legislation to end
trusts and monopolies. Also political parties such as the Populists
developed to fight for the common people.
Conservation: The nation’s first conservation efforts began during the
progressive era with the creation of national parks such as Yellowstone
and Yosemite.
Social Work: This work included helping immigrants assimilate, meeting
the needs of the poor, and bettering living conditions.
Farmers’ Unions: The Grange was established to offer farmers education,
fellowship, and support. The group also fought against corrupt railroad
Temperance: Groups of women (and men) who fought to make alcohol
Suffrage: Woman fought for the right to vote.
Women’s Clubs: Groups of women who worked to bring culture
throughout America.
 As
a group, you are going to learn about
nation and local efforts to reform during
the progressive era.
 Consider what role women played in
these reforms, what they were trying to
reform, how wide-spread these reforms
were, and the successes and/or failures
of these reforms.
Appleby, Joyce, et. al. Discovering Our Past:
The American Journey to World War I. New
York: McGraw Hill Glencoe, 2006.
Brinkley, Alan. American History, A Survey
vol. II, 10th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 1999.

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