Unit 1: The Gilded Age
“Gilded Age” term created by famous
American author Mark Twain
To “gild” something is to lay a thin layer of gold
over some rougher/cheaper base material
Gilded Age
• Refers to the period after the Civil War
through 1900
• Period of great economic and population
• Refers to the new found wealth of
industrialists, which masked the extreme
poverty of the majority
– 9% of Americans held 75% of the nation’s $ in
The home of a Gilded Age
The home of a Gilded Age factory
New forms of energy
• 1859 Edwin Drake struck oil
– Kerosene production
– Future products such as gasoline
• Thomas Edison
– Dependable lightbulb
– Central power stations made electricity widely
• George Westinghouse
– Alternating current/transformers made home use
Electricity changes business and life
electricity increased productivity (amount of goods created in a
period of time)
• Lengthened hours of operation
• Powered machinery
• New inventions (especially appliances)
changed factory work (longer work day)
improved standard of living (lights in home)
new products available
new forms of entertainment
new forms of transportation (electric trolley)
allowed people to live further from work
Communication Revolution
• Telegraph
– Morse code; 1870 linked the country; almost
instant communication
• Telephone
– Alexander Graham Bell 1876
– Used switchboard/operators to connect
– Mainly used by businesses until early 1900s
• More efficient ordering/production
Railroads create national networks
Industry relied on RR for shipping
Created nationally linked market
1st “big business” model
Communication revolution made RR more
• 1883 national time zone system
Bessemer Process
• Manufacturing process made steel production
more efficient and cheaper
– Steel RR rails
– Skyscrapers (contributed to growth of cities)
– Suspension bridges
Robber Barons or Captains of
• Different interpretations of the same
• Robber Barons--negative
– Stole from the public, drained natural resources,
bribed officials, destroyed competition, abused
• Captains of Industry—positive
– Leaders, increased supply of goods, created jobs,
gave money to worthy causes (philanthropy)
Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth”
-they deserved the $, but had a responsibility
to help society
-$ should go to worthy causes, not be inherited
Andrew Carnegie was a poor Scottish
immigrant who became the wealthiest
man in America, owner of Carnegie Steel.
He gave most of his money away at his death
to the Carnegie Foundation (Carnegie Hall,
Carnegie Libraries)
J P Morgan,
John D. Rockefeller,
Standard Oil Trust
Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroads
Laissez faire
• As industry grew rapidly, the US government
promoted free enterprise (business that can
operate competitively for profit with little
government involvement/regulation)
• Laissez faire (“leave alone”)—freedom of
economic conduct from dictation by the
Pros/Cons of Laissez faire
• Pros
– Allows the market to govern itself, based on
supply and demand
• Cons
– Limited government control reduces the
possibility of regulation
– Increased chances for corruption
Business on a large scale
• Railroad network, communications, electrification
made it possible for businesses to expand
• Larger pools of capital ($) available
– More $ coming into business
– Corporations/investors
• Revised role of ownership—professional
managers run business
• New methods of management—formal rules,
specialized departments
Gaining a competitive edge
• Monopoly—one business has complete
control of a product or service
– Vertical consolidation—gaining control of all steps
that it takes to create a product
• Creates economy of scale—as production increases,
manufacturing cost per item decreases
--Horizontal consolidation—bringing together
many firms in the same business
Horizontal Consolidation—
control of one phase of a
product’s development; a sideto-side line
Vertical Consolidation—control all phases of production from raw material to finished
product; up and down line
Response to big business
• Many Americans resented monopolies
(competition usually leads to better prices for
• Interstate Commerce Act
• 1890 Sherman Anti-trust Act—federal law
forbidding businesses from monopolizing a
market or limiting free trade
• Early 1900s effort to limit “bad” monopolies,
but allow “good” ones (not very effective)
Working in the Gilded Age
• Millions of immigrants and Americans moved to
cities for jobs
• worked 12 hours/day, 6 days/week, could be
fired for being late, not working
• Few hundred $/year
• Piecework—workers got paid a fixed amount for
each finished product
• Unsafe work conditions
• Sweatshop—employees work long hours at low
wages in poor conditions
• Division of labor—worker performs one task in
production, never sees finished product
• Workers seen as machinery; never interact
with owner
• Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management
– Analysis of worker’s movements/workspace to
increase productivity
Working families
• Women
– Young, single
– Unskilled jobs, mostly in textiles
– Paid less than men
• Children
5% of industrial workforce
Left school at 12/13 to work full time
Unsafe work in dangerous conditions
Families often depended on kids’ income to survive
Darwin applied to society
• There was no public assistance/welfare,
worker’s comp, or unemployment insurance
• Social Darwinism—applied survival of the
fittest to people
– Poverty resulted from personal weakness
– Relief for poor/unemployed would encourage
• Labor leaders criticized owners/managers for
– Reducing competition (making prices higher)
– Paying low wages
– Unsafe working conditions
• Knights of Labor
– National union, skilled/unskilled, women, blacks
• American Federation of Labor (AFL)
– Craft union, skilled workers, “bread and butter”, used
collective bargaining (workers negotiate as a group)
Employers Reaction
• Dislike and fear
– Forbid meetings
– Fired organizers
– “yellow dog” contracts (to never join a
– Refused collective bargaining
– Refused to recognize unions as representatives
Railroad Workers Organize
• Great Strike of 1877
– Unfair wage cuts/unsafe working conditions
– Violent/unorganized strike
– President Hayes sent troops to put down strike;
employers rely on fed/state troops to repress labor
• Eugene V. Debs/ American Railway Union
– 1877 strikers organized “brotherhoods”, craft unions
– Debs proposed industrial union for all railway workers
Haymarket Riot, 1886
• Issue: 8 hour workday
• Violence between workers and scabs
(replacement workers)
• At a rally to support strikers, anarchists (radicals
who oppose all government) joined in
• Someone threw a bomb that killed a police
officer; following riot killed dozens on both sides
• 8 anarchists tried/4 hanged for murder
• Public associates anarchists/violence with unions
Strikes Rock the Nation
• Homestead, 1892
– Carnegie’s partner, Frick cut wages
– Union called a strike, Frick called Pinkerton guards
– Anarchists (not with union) tried to kill Frick, union called
off strike
– Public associates anarchist with rising labor violence
• Pullman, 1894
– Strike slowing down mail delivery
– Judge uses Sherman Anti-trust Act for court order
forbidding union activity that halted RR traffic
– Court orders against unions continued, limiting union gains
for 30 years
Urbanization—the growth of cities
• Why did cities grow during the Gilded Age?
– Technology
• Electric trolley/train/subway allowed people to move
further out to suburbs (residential communities
surrounding a city)
• Skyscrapers
– Immigration/migration
• People came for factory jobs
• Tenements—low cost buildings to house as
many families as possible; little space,
communal bathrooms, poor ventilation
• Fire danger
• Rampant disease—no water treatment,
• Dumbbell tenement floor plan for light and
• Water treatment facilities
• Sanitation departments
• How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis; reported
horrible living conditions to promote reform
Political Result of Growth
• Political machines
– Unofficial city organizations designed to keep a
political party in power
– Headed by a “boss”
– Fought for control of city government and revenue
– “helped” poor and immigrants in exchange for
– Worked through exchange of favors
– Graft: money paid to political machines for
Getting Here
• Why did they leave home?
– Persecution (pogroms—violent massacres of Jews)
– Government policies/taxes
– Crop failure
– Lack of land/jobs
– Pursue the American Dream (each generation will
do better than the previous one)
Getting Here
• Crossing the Ocean
– 2 to 3 weeks
– Steerage—large open area under ship’s deck
• Arriving
– From Europe, most went through New York
– From Asia, most went through San Francisco
– Physical exam; sick could be sent back; language/intelligence
– Faced language and cultural barriers
– Faced threat of poverty, struggled due to competition for
jobs/living space
– Some skilled immigrants used their trade skills to open their
own businesses
Ghettos—urban neighborhood
dominated by an ethnic/racial group
• Formed from desire to live near people with
the same language and traditions
• Formed because of restrictive covenants
(homeowners agreed not to sell real estate to
certain groups)
• Formed when ethnic groups isolated
themselves because of threats of violence
European Immigrants
• 10 million between 1865-1890
– Mostly northwestern and central Europe
• 10 million between 1890-1920
– Mostly from central, southern, eastern Europe
Asian Immigration
• Majority from China or Japan
• Mid-1800s million Chinese workers brought by
railroad companies
• Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—under pressure
from labor unions, Congress prohibited Chinese
immigration (until 1943)
• 1906, San Francisco school board segregated
Asian students, angered Japanese government
• President Theodore Roosevelt’s Gentleman’s
Agreement—no segregation, but Japan would
stop giving laborers passports
Mexican Immigration
• Hired to work on farms, ranches, mines and
railroads in southwest
• 1917, US entered WWI
– Labor shortage, recruiting workers from Mexico
– 1910 Mexican Revolution/Civil War—lots wanted
to leave
Immigration Restriction Act of 1921 limited
immigration from Europe and Asia, increased
Mexican immigration
Nativism—individuals opposed to new
• Based on competition for resources created
tension and division
• Some faced exclusion from employment or
• Immigrants were encouraged to assimilate
into American culture
• Laissez faire government policy
• Illegal bribes paid to politicians by business
leaders common
– Credit Mobilier
• Fake railroad building company taking money to build
RR, bribes paid to Congessmen to keep awarding $ to
Credit Mobilier to keep building
The Spoils System
• When a politician won office, they were
expected to reward supporters with jobs,
contracts, etc.
• Led to corruption when dishonest people used
their jobs for personal profit
Reforming the Spoils System
• Civil service—government’s unelected workers
• James Garfield elected President 1880,
assassinated by a disappointed job seeker,
Charles Giteau
• Chester Arthur becomes President, supports
the Pendleton Civil Service Act
– Applicants for government jobs had to prove
ability to do the job
Helping the Needy
• Middle/upper class movement
• Social Gospel Movement
– Sought to apply the teachings of Jesus directly to
– Focused on ideals of charity and justice
• The Settlement House Movement
– Community center offering social services
– Reformers lived in the neighborhoods they helped
– Jane Addams, Hull House in Chicago
Controlling Immigration and Behavior
• Nativism
– Teach only English/American culture in schools
– Especially wanted to limited southern and eastern
European immigration (too different from mainstream
• Prohibition—ban on alcohol
– Some felt alcohol was the root of social decline; link
between saloons, alcohol and political machines
– Carry Nation, smashed bars with a hatchet
• Purity Crusaders
– Wanted to rid their communities of vice (immoral or
corrupt behavior—drugs, gambling, prostitution) and
political machines that often profited from it

Unit 1: The Gilded Age