THE MACHINE AGE (1877-1900)
The Age of Invention and Economic Growth
 Thomas Edison revolutionized industry with the
light bulb and with the development of power plants
 Technological advances in the Age of Invention
generated mass production and economic growth
 Captains of industry (aka “robber barons”) amassed
wealth and power
Justified their standing through Social Darwinism
Some leaders, like Andrew Carnegie, preached the Gospel of
Industrialization and Corporate Consolidation
 Economies of scale dictated that with new, faster
machines running at capacity, the lower the cost of
the product
The lower the cost to produce, the lower the cost to sell, and
the more products sold
Relied on assembly line production
 Businesses grew rapidly, with very few government
restrictions, and became larger all the time
Supreme Court was also very pro-business
 Holding companies were created as one type of
business organization
Company owned enough stock in various companies to
influence all aspects of production and sale
Eventually led to monopolies, or complete control of an entire
 Horizontal and vertical integration were the most
common forms of business consolidation
Horizontal integration created monopolies within a particular
industry (e.g. Standard Oil under John D. Rockefeller)
Vertical integration allows other companies in the same
industry to survive and compete (e.g. Swift Premium)
 Problems were created by this consolidation of
Rapid growth required money which businessmen borrowed
Sometimes led to panics
Monopolies created a class of titans of industry, whose
interests clashed with those of society, at large
Public resentment increased and the government responded with
laws to restrict monopolies
 Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 forbid combinations or
conspiracies in the restraint of trade
Factories and City Life
 Manufacturers focused on cutting costs and
maximizing profits
Hired women, children, and immigrants
Factories were dangerous
 Cities were filled with crime and disease and dealt
with substandard housing and an expanding
Poverty rose as higher classes moved out of the city (largely
due to improvements in mass transportation)
Most residents were blacks, Latinos, and immigrants who
settled in ethnic neighborhoods
“New Immigrants” were from southern and eastern Europe
 City governments did not address the needs of the
Corrupt political bosses provided services in exchange for
votes (e.g. Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall in NYC)
 Labor unions were formed to counter poor treatment
of workers
Had little support outside of the workers themselves
Hired thugs and federal troops often broke strikes
Knights of Labor, who organized skilled and unskilled workers
from a variety of crafts into one union
 Became increasingly violent as strikes failed
 Haymarket Square Riot reinforced the view of unions as
subversive forces
 Later American Federation of Labor organized skilled workers
ONLY within a confederation of trade unions, or workers within a
certain trade
 Remained apolitical and focused on “practical” labor issues
 Led by Samuel Gompers
No early unions accepted blacks, immigrants, or women
 Charitable middle-class organizations also promoted
urban reform
Often led by women
Created settlement houses (e.g. Jane Addams and Hull House)
Community centers in poor neighborhoods that provided
schooling, childcare, and cultural activities
Lobbied for building-safety codes, better sanitation, and public
 Life improved for the upper and middle classes
 Had more money for luxuries and more leisure time
 Sports, high theater, and movies became popular
 Newspaper industry grew under Joseph Pulitzer and
William Randolph Hearst
Used “yellow journalism” to sell papers
Jim Crow Laws and the South
 Most Machine Age advancements affected the North
 Agriculture was still the main economic activity in the South
 Reconstruction did help industrialize the South
Created textile mills and tobacco processing plants
 Post-war southern economy forced many small
farmers to sell their land to wealthy planters
Landless farmers were forced into sharecropping using the
crop lien system
Landlords kept the poor in a state of virtual slavery
 Southern states and cities began passing Jim Crow
laws, which discriminated against blacks
Supreme Court helped promote discrimination in several
14th Amendment did not protect blacks from discrimination by
privately owned businesses and blacks would have to seek equality
from states, not the federal government
 Reversed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which opened the door to
legal segregation
 Said that “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites were
legal in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
 Southern blacks became involved in the quest for
equal rights
Booker T. Washington promoted economic independence
through training and education as a path to equality
He founded the Tuskegee Institute
 People criticized him for being accommodationist
W.E.B. DuBois was Washington’s more aggressive rival who
demanded equal rights and political representation
Helped found the NAACP
Railroads and Developments in the West
 Ranching and mining were growing industries in the
 Railroads caused huge changes in the West
They were privately owned but were built at public expense
Federal and state governments provided substantial assistance
 Although the railroads were paid for with public money, individual
proprietors rejected any government control
 It took years for railroad rates to come under regulation, so
monopolies formed and gouged consumers (especially farmers)
Buffalo were hunted to near extinction, which created more
tension between Native Americans and white settlers
Federal troops were sent into the region and fighting broke out
 Although Native Americans won some battles like Little Big Horn,
the federal army overpowered them
Depot towns became vital cities
Spread culture and technology across the country
Developments in railroad technology accelerated the industrial
US created standardized time zones to help people follow the
rail schedules
 American frontier disappeared as new territories and
states were created
Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the American frontier
was gone in his Frontier Thesis, but that it had been important
because it:
Shaped the American character
 Defined the American spirit
 Fostered democracy
 Allowed people to flee from urban problems
 Farming and ranching were the primary occupations
in the Great Plains
Government realized they had to entice more settlers to
relocate to this region and passed two significant pieces of
Homestead Act (1962) gave 160 acres to anyone who would
develop that land for five years
 Morrill Land Grant (1962) set aside land and provided money for
agricultural colleges
 Native Americans lost their land and their way of life
 Initially, treaties were made with Native Americans as settlers
treated them like sovereign nations
 When war broke out, the government tried to force Native
Americans onto reservations
This system failed
Helen Hunt Jackson brought attention to this abuse in A
Century of Dishonor
Dawes Severalty Act (1887) broke up reservations and
distributed 160 acres of Native American heads of families
Settlers had to live on it for 25 years to own it and to become
American citizens
 Sought to assimilate Native Americans, who resisted
The Gilded Age (1869-1896)
 Looked good on the surface, but masked corruption
and patronage beneath
 Political machines and bosses ran cities
 Big business bought votes in Congress and fleeced
 Workers had little protection from their employers
 US was led by a series of weak (and not necessarily
corrupt) presidentsand
Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Harrison
 The popular outcry against corruption forced the
government to regulate itself and business
Many states imposed railroad regulations
Railroads challenged these and often won in court
Interstate Commerce Act (1887) set up the ICC to supervise
railroad activities and regulate unfair and unethical practices
This was the first federal regulatory law in US history
Pendleton Act created the Civil Service Commission to oversee
exams for potential employees
 Susan B. Anthony helped lead the women’s suffrage
The Silver Issue and Populism
 Industrial and agricultural productivity increased
 This led to a drop in prices, which locked farmers into longterm debts with fixed payments
Farmers began supporting a more generous money supply
 This would make payments easier and would cause inflation,
which would make farmers’ debts worth less
 Wanted to use silver coins because silver was plentiful and
mined in the West
 This issue had regional and class divisions
 Banks opposed this
 Farmers organized around the silver vs. gold issue
 Grange Movement started as cooperatives, but eventually
endorsed political candidates and lobbied for legislation
 Farmers’ Alliance was more successful and grew into a political
party called the People’s Party
This was the political arm of the Populist movement
 The Populist party eventually forced Washington to
listen to the farmers
Supported coinage of silver, government ownership of
railroads and telegraphs, graduated income tax, direct election
of senators, and shorter workdays
 The US entered a four-year economic crisis in 1893
Populists became more popular with their call for easy money
Progressive parties like the Socialists, under Eugene V. Debs, drew
 Populists backed Democrat William Jennings Bryan
against William McKinley in the Election of 1896
Bryan ran on a Populist platform
Based his campaign on the call for free silver
Gave the “Cross of Gold” speech
His loss, along with an improving economy, destroyed the Populist
This election marked the starting point of the Republican party’s
support of big business
The Wizard of Oz is an allegory of Populism
Foreign Policy—Tariffs and Imperialism
 As America transitioned from farming to industry,
the tariff issue became more important
Dominated politics as industrialists competed in an
international market
Democrats supported lower tariffs while Republicans
supported high protective tariffs
McKinley Tariff (1890) raised tariffs by almost 50%
Wilson-Gorman Tariff (1894) lowered tariffs slightly but
imposed a 2% income tax
 Americans embarked on a policy of expansionism
 Looked overseas to find new markets for their goods
 William Seward had set the precedent for increased American
participation in the Western Hemisphere
Purchased Alaska and invoked the Monroe Doctrine to keep
France out of Mexico
America practiced expansionism as it spread outward
economically, which most Americans supported
America transitioned to imperialism as it took control of other
countries, which was more controversial
Based on ideas of Alfred Thayer Mahan, who believed that a strong
navy was crucial to a country’s economic strength
 US focused on creating a strong navy and then turned outward