Gilded Age

Gilded Age

Overview

In United States history
History of the United States
The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in the year 1776, although its territory was inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times and then by European colonists who followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The...

, the Gilded Age refers to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post–Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 and Charles Dudley Warner
Charles Dudley Warner
Charles Dudley Warner was an American essayist, novelist, and friend of Mark Twain, with whom he co-authored the novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.-Biography:...

 in their book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today is an 1873 novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner that satirizes greed and political corruption in post-Civil War America. Although not one of Twain's better-known works, it has appeared in more than one hundred editions since its original publication. Twain...

. The name refers to the process of gilding
Gilding
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...

 an object with a superficial layer of gold and is meant to make fun of ostentatious display while playing on the term "golden age
Golden Age
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and then the present, a period of decline...

".

The Gilded Age is most famous for the creation of a modern industrial economy.
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In United States history
History of the United States
The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in the year 1776, although its territory was inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times and then by European colonists who followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The...

, the Gilded Age refers to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post–Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 and Charles Dudley Warner
Charles Dudley Warner
Charles Dudley Warner was an American essayist, novelist, and friend of Mark Twain, with whom he co-authored the novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.-Biography:...

 in their book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today
The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today is an 1873 novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner that satirizes greed and political corruption in post-Civil War America. Although not one of Twain's better-known works, it has appeared in more than one hundred editions since its original publication. Twain...

. The name refers to the process of gilding
Gilding
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...

 an object with a superficial layer of gold and is meant to make fun of ostentatious display while playing on the term "golden age
Golden Age
The term Golden Age comes from Greek mythology and legend and refers to the first in a sequence of four or five Ages of Man, in which the Golden Age is first, followed in sequence, by the Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and then the present, a period of decline...

".

The Gilded Age is most famous for the creation of a modern industrial economy. During the 1870s and 1880s, the U.S. economy grew at the fastest rate in its history, with real wages, wealth, GDP, and capital formation
Capital formation
Capital formation is a concept used in macroeconomics, national accounts and financial economics. Occasionally it is also used in corporate accounts. It can be defined in three ways:...

 all increasing rapidly. For example, between 1865 and 1898, the output of wheat increased by 256%, corn by 222%, coal by 800% and miles of railway track by 567%. Thick national networks for transportation and communication were created. The corporation became the dominant form of business organization, and a managerial revolution transformed business operations. By the beginning of the 20th century, per capita income and industrial production in the United States led the world, with per capita incomes double that of Germany or France, and 50% higher than Britain. The businessmen of the Second Industrial Revolution
Second Industrial Revolution
The Second Industrial Revolution, also known as the Technological Revolution, was a phase of the larger Industrial Revolution corresponding to the latter half of the 19th century until World War I...

 created industrial towns and cities in the Northeast
Northeastern United States
The Northeastern United States is a region of the United States as defined by the United States Census Bureau.-Composition:The region comprises nine states: the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont; and the Mid-Atlantic states of New...

 with new factories, and hired an ethnically diverse industrial working class, many of them new immigrants from Europe. The super-rich industrialists and financiers such as John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

, Andrew W. Mellon
Andrew W. Mellon
Andrew William Mellon was an American banker, industrialist, philanthropist, art collector and Secretary of the Treasury from March 4, 1921 until February 12, 1932.-Early life:...

, Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist, businessman, and entrepreneur who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century...

, Henry Flagler, Henry H. Rogers
Henry H. Rogers
Henry Huttleston Rogers was a United States capitalist, businessman, industrialist, financier, and philanthropist. He made his fortune in the oil refinery business, becoming a leader at Standard Oil....

, J. P. Morgan
J. P. Morgan
John Pierpont Morgan was an American financier, banker and art collector who dominated corporate finance and industrial consolidation during his time. In 1892 Morgan arranged the merger of Edison General Electric and Thomson-Houston Electric Company to form General Electric...

, Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt , also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. He was also the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and one of the richest Americans in history...

 of the Vanderbilt family
Vanderbilt family
The Vanderbilt family is an American family of Dutch origin prominent during the Gilded Age. It started off with the shipping and railroad empires of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and expanded into various other areas of industry and philanthropy...

, and the prominent Astor family
Astor family
The Astor family is a Anglo-American business family of German descent notable for their prominence in business, society, and politics.-Founding family members:...

 were attacked as "robber barons
Robber baron (industrialist)
Robber baron is a pejorative term used for a powerful 19th century American businessman. By the 1890s the term was used to attack any businessman who used questionable practices to become wealthy...

" by critics, who believed they cheated to get their money and lorded it over the common people. There was a small, growing labor union movement led especially by Samuel Gompers
Samuel Gompers
Samuel Gompers was an English-born American cigar maker who became a labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor , and served as that organization's president from 1886 to 1894 and from 1895 until his death in 1924...

, head of the American Federation of Labor
American Federation of Labor
The American Federation of Labor was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. It was founded in 1886 by an alliance of craft unions disaffected from the Knights of Labor, a national labor association. Samuel Gompers was elected president of the Federation at its...

 (AFL) after 1886.

Gilded Age politics, called the Third Party System
Third Party System
The Third Party System is a term of periodization used by historians and political scientists to describe a period in American political history from about 1854 to the mid-1890s that featured profound developments in issues of nationalism, modernization, and race...

, featured very close contests between the Republicans
History of the United States Republican Party
The United States Republican Party is the second oldest currently existing political party in the United States after its great rival, the Democratic Party. It emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas Nebraska Act which threatened to extend slavery into the territories, and to promote more vigorous...

 and Democrats
History of the United States Democratic Party
The history of the Democratic Party of the United States is an account of the oldest political party in the United States and arguably the oldest democratic party in the world....

, and, occasionally, third parties. Nearly all the eligible men were political partisans and voter turnout often exceeded 90% in some states.

The wealth of the period is highlighted by the American upper class
American upper class
See: millionaire for more details-Millionaires:See also: MillionairesHouseholds with net worths of $1 million or more may be identified as members of the upper-most socio-economic demographic, depending on the class model used...

' opulence, but also by the rise of American philanthropy
Philanthropy
Philanthropy etymologically means "the love of humanity"—love in the sense of caring for, nourishing, developing, or enhancing; humanity in the sense of "what it is to be human," or "human potential." In modern practical terms, it is "private initiatives for public good, focusing on quality of...

 (referred to by Andrew Carnegie as the "Gospel of Wealth") that used private money to endow thousands of colleges, hospitals, museums, academies, schools, opera houses, public libraries, symphony orchestras, and charities. John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

, for example, donated over $500 million to various charities, slightly over half his entire net worth.

The Beaux-Arts architectural idiom of the era clothed public buildings in Neo-Renaissance
Neo-Renaissance
Renaissance Revival is an all-encompassing designation that covers many 19th century architectural revival styles which were neither Grecian nor Gothic but which instead drew inspiration from a wide range of classicizing Italian modes...

 architecture.

The end of the Gilded Age coincided with the Panic of 1893
Panic of 1893
The Panic of 1893 was a serious economic depression in the United States that began in 1893. Similar to the Panic of 1873, this panic was marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding and shaky railroad financing which set off a series of bank failures...

, a deep depression, which lasted until 1897 and marked a major political realignment in the election of 1896
United States presidential election, 1896
The United States presidential election held on November 3, 1896, saw Republican William McKinley defeat Democrat William Jennings Bryan in a campaign considered by political scientists to be one of the most dramatic and complex in American history....

. This productive but divisive era was followed by the Progressive Era
Progressive Era
The Progressive Era in the United States was a period of social activism and political reform that flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s. One main goal of the Progressive movement was purification of government, as Progressives tried to eliminate corruption by exposing and undercutting political...

.

Industrial and technological advances



The Gilded Age was rooted in industrialization, especially heavy industry like factories, railroads, and coal mining
Coal mining
The goal of coal mining is to obtain coal from the ground. Coal is valued for its energy content, and since the 1880s has been widely used to generate electricity. Steel and cement industries use coal as a fuel for extraction of iron from iron ore and for cement production. In the United States,...

. The First Transcontinental Railroad
First Transcontinental Railroad
The First Transcontinental Railroad was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska The First...

 opened in 1869, providing six-day service between the East Coast and San Francisco.
During the Gilded Age, the U.S. grew to world economic leadership. For example, American steel production surpassed the combined total of Britain, Germany, and France, and the U.S. led the world in many areas of technology. Railroad mileage tripled between 1860 and 1880, and tripled again by 1920, opening new areas to commercial farming, creating a truly national marketplace and inspiring a boom in coal mining and steel production. The voracious appetite for capital of the great trunk railroads facilitated the consolidation of the nation's financial market in Wall Street
Wall Street
Wall Street refers to the financial district of New York City, named after and centered on the eight-block-long street running from Broadway to South Street on the East River in Lower Manhattan. Over time, the term has become a metonym for the financial markets of the United States as a whole, or...

. By 1900, the process of economic concentration had extended into most branches of industry—a few large corporations, called "trusts", dominated in steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

, oil
Oil
An oil is any substance that is liquid at ambient temperatures and does not mix with water but may mix with other oils and organic solvents. This general definition includes vegetable oils, volatile essential oils, petrochemical oils, and synthetic oils....

, sugar
Sugar
Sugar is a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor.Sucrose in its refined form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet...

, meatpacking, and the manufacture of agriculture machinery. Other major components of this infrastructure were the new methods for fabricating steel, especially the Bessemer process
Bessemer process
The Bessemer process was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass-production of steel from molten pig iron. The process is named after its inventor, Henry Bessemer, who took out a patent on the process in 1855. The process was independently discovered in 1851 by William Kelly...

.

Increased mechanization of industry is a major mark of the Gilded Age's search for cheaper ways to create more product. Frederick Winslow Taylor
Frederick Winslow Taylor
Frederick Winslow Taylor was an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency. He is regarded as the father of scientific management and was one of the first management consultants...

 observed that worker efficiency in steel could be improved through the use of machines to make fewer motions in less time. His redesign increased the speed of factory machines and the productivity of factories while undercutting the need for skilled labor. This mechanization made some factories an assemblage of unskilled laborers performing simple and repetitive tasks under the direction of skilled foremen and engineers. Machine shops grew rapidly, and they comprised highly skilled workers and engineers. Both the number of unskilled and skilled workers increased, as their wage rates grew. Engineering colleges were established to feed the enormous demand for expertise. Railroads invented modern management, with clear chains of command, statistical reporting, and complex bureaucratic systems. They systematized the roles of middle managers, and set up explicit career tracks. They hired young men at age 18-21 and promoted them internally until a man reached the status of locomotive engineer, conductor or station agent at age 40 or so. Career tracks were invented for skilled blue collar jobs and for white collar managers, starting in railroads and expanding into finance, manufacturing and trade. Together with rapid growth of small business, a new middle class was rapidly growing, especially in northern cities.

The United States became a world leader in applied technology. From 1860 to 1890, 500,000 patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

s were issued for new inventions—over ten times the number issued in the previous seventy years. George Westinghouse
George Westinghouse
George Westinghouse, Jr was an American entrepreneur and engineer who invented the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry. Westinghouse was one of Thomas Edison's main rivals in the early implementation of the American electricity system...

 invented air brakes
Air brake (rail)
An air brake is a conveyance braking system actuated by compressed air. Modern trains rely upon a fail-safe air brake system that is based upon a design patented by George Westinghouse on March 5, 1872. The Westinghouse Air Brake Company was subsequently organized to manufacture and sell...

 for trains (making them both safer and faster). Theodore Vail established the American Telephone & Telegraph Company and built a great communications network. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer...

 invented a remarkable number of electrical devices, as well as the integrated power plant capable of lighting multiple buildings simultaneously; Thomas Edison, in addition to inventing hundreds of electrical devices, co-founded General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

 corporation. Oil became an important resource, beginning with the Pennsylvania oil fields. The U.S. dominated the industry into the 1950s. Kerosene
Kerosene
Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage, also known as paraffin or paraffin oil in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek keros...

 replaced whale oil
Whale oil
Whale oil is the oil obtained from the blubber of various species of whales, particularly the three species of right whale and the bowhead whale prior to the modern era, as well as several other species of baleen whale...

 and candles for lighting. John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

 founded Standard Oil Company to consolidate the oil industry—which mostly produced kerosene before the automobile created a demand for gasoline in the 20th century.

Economic growth


The Gilded Age saw the greatest period of economic growth in American history. After the short-lived panic of 1873
Panic of 1873
The Panic of 1873 triggered a severe international economic depression in both Europe and the United States that lasted until 1879, and even longer in some countries. The depression was known as the Great Depression until the 1930s, but is now known as the Long Depression...

, the economy recovered with the advent of hard money policies and industrialization. The Second Industrial Revolution occurred from 1870 to 1920 and included innovations like the use of electricity in factories. In addition to technological innovations, the United States led the Second Industrial Revolution in great part due to its abundance of natural resources. Since capital and natural resources are complements, the US manufacturing economy became more capital intensive as more and more natural resources were extracted. From 1869 to 1879, the US economy grew at a rate of 6.8% for NNP (GDP minus capital depreciation) and 4.5% for NNP per capita. The economy repeated this period of growth in the 1880s, in which the wealth of the nation grew at an annual rate of 3.8%, while the GDP was also doubled. Real wages also increased greatly during the 1880s. Economist Milton Friedman states that for the 1880s, "The highest decadal rate [of growth of real reproducible, tangible wealth per head from 1805 to 1950] for periods of about ten years was apparently reached in the eighties with approximately 3.8 percent."

Labor unions


Craft-oriented labor unions grew strong in the Northeast after 1870. These unions often used strikes as a method to attain higher wages, shorter hours, and union control over working conditions and hiring. One critical strike was the Great Railroad Strike of 1877
Great railroad strike of 1877
The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began on July 14 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, United States and ended some 45 days later after it was put down by local and state militias, and federal troops.-Economic conditions in the 1870s:...

, lasting 45 days and attended by violent attacks on railroad property until President Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was the 19th President of the United States . As president, he oversaw the end of Reconstruction and the United States' entry into the Second Industrial Revolution...

 sent in federal troops. In 1886, the Knights of Labor
Knights of Labor
The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence Powderly...

 tried to unite both unskilled and skilled workers, but grew so fast it could not manage its affairs. The failure of the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886
Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886
The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1885 was a labor union strike against the Union Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads involving more than 200,000 workers. In March 1886, railroad workers in the Southwest United States conducted an unsuccessful strike against railroads owned by Jay Gould,...

 and popular revulsion against the killing of police in the Haymarket Square Riot
Haymarket affair
The Haymarket affair was a demonstration and unrest that took place on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It began as a rally in support of striking workers. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting...

 caused the collapse of support for the Knights. In 1886, the Knights of Labor
Knights of Labor
The Knights of Labor was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Its most important leader was Terence Powderly...

 had as many as 700,000 members. By 1890, membership had plummeted to fewer than 100,000. The final major strike of the late 19th century was the Pullman Strike
Pullman Strike
The Pullman Strike was a nationwide conflict between labor unions and railroads that occurred in the United States in 1894. The conflict began in the town of Pullman, Illinois on May 11 when approximately 3,000 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company began a wildcat strike in response to recent...

 which was an effort to shut down the national railroad system in the face of federal court injunctions to desist. The strike was led by the upstart American Railway Union
American Railway Union
The American Railway Union , was the largest labor union of its time, and one of the first industrial unions in the United States. It was founded on June 20, 1893, by railway workers gathered in Chicago, Illinois, and under the leadership of Eugene V...

 (a few months old) led by Eugene V. Debs, and collapsed totally. These failures left the union field to the established railroad brotherhoods and the new American Federation of Labor
American Federation of Labor
The American Federation of Labor was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. It was founded in 1886 by an alliance of craft unions disaffected from the Knights of Labor, a national labor association. Samuel Gompers was elected president of the Federation at its...

, headed by Samuel Gompers
Samuel Gompers
Samuel Gompers was an English-born American cigar maker who became a labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history. Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor , and served as that organization's president from 1886 to 1894 and from 1895 until his death in 1924...

. Gompers wanted better deals for his members, not revolution, and his AFL unions gained strength steadily down to 1919.

Politics


Americans' sense of civic virtue was shocked by the scandals associated with the Reconstruction era: corrupt state governments, massive fraud in cities controlled by political machines, political payoffs to secure government contracts (especially the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal
Crédit Mobilier of America scandal
The Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1872 involved the Union Pacific Railroad and the Crédit Mobilier of America construction company in the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The distribution of Crédit Mobilier shares of stock by Congressman Oakes Ames along with cash bribes to...

 regarding the financing of the transcontinental railroad
First Transcontinental Railroad
The First Transcontinental Railroad was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska The First...

), and widespread evidence of government corruption
Whiskey Ring
In the United States, the Whiskey Ring was a scandal, exposed in 1875, involving diversion of tax revenues in a conspiracy among government agents, politicians, whiskey distillers, and distributors. The Whiskey Ring began in St...

 during the Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 Administration. This corruption divided the Republican party into two different factions, The Stalwarts led by Roscoe Conkling
Roscoe Conkling
Roscoe Conkling was a politician from New York who served both as a member of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. He was the leader of the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party and the last person to refuse a U.S. Supreme Court appointment after he had...

 and the Half-Breeds
Half-Breed (politics)
The "Half-Breeds" were a political faction of the United States Republican Party that existed in the late 19th century. The Half-Breeds were a moderate-wing group, and they were the opponents of the Stalwarts, the other main faction of the Republican Party. The main issue that separated the...

 led by James G. Blaine
James G. Blaine
James Gillespie Blaine was a U.S. Representative, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine, two-time Secretary of State...

. Accordingly there were widespread calls for reform, such as Civil Service Reform
Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act
The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of United States is a federal law established in 1883 that stipulated that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit. The act provided selection of government employees competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation...

 led by the Bourbon Democrats and Republican Mugwumps supporting Democratic reform candidates such as Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland
Stephen Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents...

. There was a sense that government intervention in the economy inevitably led to favoritism, bribery, kickbacks, inefficiency, waste, and corruption. The Bourbon Democrats led the call for a free market
Free market
A free market is a competitive market where prices are determined by supply and demand. However, the term is also commonly used for markets in which economic intervention and regulation by the state is limited to tax collection, and enforcement of private ownership and contracts...

, low tariff
Tariff
A tariff may be either tax on imports or exports , or a list or schedule of prices for such things as rail service, bus routes, and electrical usage ....

s, low taxes, less spending and, in general, a Laissez-Faire
Laissez-faire
In economics, laissez-faire describes an environment in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies....

 (hands-off) government. They specifically denounced imperialism
Imperialism
Imperialism, as defined by Dictionary of Human Geography, is "the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationships, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination." The imperialism of the last 500 years,...

 and overseas expansion. Many business and professional people supported this approach, although—to encourage rapid growth of industry and protect America's high wages against the low wage system in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

—most Republicans advocated a high protective tariff. Labor activists and agrarians expressed the same spirit but focused their attacks on monopolies
Monopoly
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...

 and railroads as unfair to the little man. Many Republicans also complained that high tariffs, for instance on British steel, benefited industrialists like Carnegie more than his employees who even at the time were regarded by many as being pitifully exploited.

In politics, the two parties engaged in very elaborate get-out-the vote campaigns that succeeded in pushing turnout to 80%, 90%, and even higher. It was financed by the "spoils system
Spoils system
In the politics of the United States, a spoil system is a practice where a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its voters as a reward for working toward victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party—as opposed to a system of awarding offices on the...

" whereby the winning party distributed most local, state and national government jobs, and many government contracts, to its loyal supporters. Large cities were dominated by political machine
Political machine
A political machine is a political organization in which an authoritative boss or small group commands the support of a corps of supporters and businesses , who receive rewards for their efforts...

s, in which constituents supported a candidate in exchange for anticipated patronage—favors back from the government, once that candidate was elected—and candidates were selected based on their willingness to play along. The best known example of a political machine from this time period is Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall, also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, was a New York political organization founded in 1786 and incorporated on May 12, 1789 as the Tammany Society...

 in New York City, led by Boss Tweed
Boss Tweed
William Magear Tweed – often erroneously referred to as William Marcy Tweed , and widely known as "Boss" Tweed – was an American politician most notable for being the "boss" of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in the politics of 19th century...

.
Presidential elections between the two major parties (the Republicans
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 and Democrats
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

), were so closely contested that a slight nudge could tip the teeter-totter to the advantage of the opposition party, and Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 was marked by political stalemate. Mudslinging became an increasingly popular way of gaining advantage at the polls, and Republicans employed an election tactic known as "waving the bloody shirt
Waving the bloody shirt
In the history of the United States, "waving the bloody shirt" refers to the practice of politicians referencing the blood of martyrs or heroes to criticize opponents. In American history, the phrase gained popularity with a fictitious incident in which Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts,...

". Candidates, especially when combating corruption charges, would remind voters that the Republican Party had saved the nation in the Civil War. During the 1870s, voters were repeatedly reminded that the Democrats had been responsible for the bloody upheaval, an appeal that attracted many Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 veterans to the Republican camp. The Republicans consistently carried the North
Northern United States
Northern United States, also sometimes the North, may refer to:* A particular grouping of states or regions of the United States of America. The United States Census Bureau divides some of the northernmost United States into the Midwest Region and the Northeast Region...

 in presidential elections. The South, on the other hand, became the Solid South
Solid South
Solid South is the electoral support of the Southern United States for the Democratic Party candidates for nearly a century from 1877, the end of Reconstruction, to 1964, during the middle of the Civil Rights era....

, nearly always voting Democratic. The political humiliations of Reconstruction were still fresh in many minds. Conversely, the Democrats invoked images of the "lost cause
Lost Cause of the Confederacy
The Lost Cause is the name commonly given to an American literary and intellectual movement that sought to reconcile the traditional white society of the U.S. South to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War of 1861–1865...

" and the glorious "stars and bars
Flags of the Confederate States of America
There were only three flag designs adopted, with later, minor variants made to those designs, that served as the official national flags of the Confederate States of America and used during its existence from 1861 to 1865...

" in much the same way Republicans "waved the bloody shirt." The corruption of the Republican organization led to the defection of a group of reformers called the Mugwumps that supported Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884. This victory gave Democrats control of the presidency for the first time since the Civil War (not counting the ascension of Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson was the 17th President of the United States . As Vice-President of the United States in 1865, he succeeded Abraham Lincoln following the latter's assassination. Johnson then presided over the initial and contentious Reconstruction era of the United States following the American...

 who was technically elected as part of the Union Party).

Overall, Republican and Democratic political platforms remained remarkably constant during the years before 1900. Republicans generally favored inflationary, protectionist policies while Democrats favored hard-money, free trade and other libertarian policies. The negativity and ambiguity of politics began a shift in the press to yellow journalism
Yellow journalism
Yellow journalism or the yellow press is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism...

, in which sensationalism
Sensationalism
Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are over-hyped to increase viewership or readership numbers...

 and sentimental stories took as prominent a role as factual news.

Immigration



Prior to the Gilded Age, the time commonly referred to as the old immigration saw the first real boom of new arrivals to the United States. During the Gilded Age, approximately 10 million immigrants came to the United States in what is known as the new immigration, some of them were prosperous farmers looking for fresh lands, and many of them were impoverished peasants looking for the American Dream
American Dream
The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each...

 in mills, mines and factories. Few immigrants went to the poverty-stricken South, though. To accommodate the heavy influx, the federal government in 1892 opened a reception center at Ellis Island
Ellis Island
Ellis Island in New York Harbor was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States. It was the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. The island was greatly expanded with landfill between 1892 and 1934. Before that, the much smaller original island was the...

 near the Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, designed by Frédéric Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, 1886...

.

Chinese immigrants


The construction of the Central Pacific Railroad
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

 in California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 and Nevada
Nevada
Nevada is a state in the western, mountain west, and southwestern regions of the United States. With an area of and a population of about 2.7 million, it is the 7th-largest and 35th-most populous state. Over two-thirds of Nevada's people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, which contains its...

 was handled largely by Chinese
Chinese people
The term Chinese people may refer to any of the following:*People with Han Chinese ethnicity ....

 laborers. In the 1870 census there were 63,254 Chinese men and women in the entire country; this number grew to 105,613 in the 1880 census.
Labor unions such as the American Federation of Labor
American Federation of Labor
The American Federation of Labor was one of the first federations of labor unions in the United States. It was founded in 1886 by an alliance of craft unions disaffected from the Knights of Labor, a national labor association. Samuel Gompers was elected president of the Federation at its...

 strongly opposed the presence of Chinese labor, by reason of both economic competition and race. Immigrants from China were not allowed to become citizens until 1950; however, as a result of the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark
United States v. Wong Kim Ark
United States v. Wong Kim Ark, , was a United States Supreme Court decision that set an important legal precedent about the role of jus soli as a factor in determining a person's claim to United States citizenship...

, their children born in the U.S. were full citizens.

Congress banned further Chinese immigration through the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; the act prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the United States, but some students and businessmen were allowed in.
Subsequent to the act, the Chinese population declined to only 37,000 in 1940. Although many returned to China (a greater proportion than most other immigrant groups), most of them stayed in the United States. Chinese people were unwelcome in many areas, so they resettled in the "Chinatown
Chinatown
A Chinatown is an ethnic enclave of overseas Chinese people, although it is often generalized to include various Southeast Asian people. Chinatowns exist throughout the world, including East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Americas, Australasia, and Europe. Binondo's Chinatown located in Manila,...

" districts of large cities.

Urban life


Society itself underwent significant changes in the period following the Civil War. One of the most significant changes came in the further urbanization
Urbanization
Urbanization, urbanisation or urban drift is the physical growth of urban areas as a result of global change. The United Nations projected that half of the world's population would live in urban areas at the end of 2008....

 of the northern cities. As a result of increasing demand for factory workers as well as mass immigration from Europe, the population of cities began to swell. Major American cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago even saw populations grow in excess of one million people. These rapid changes in cities brought about modern architectural and transportation features. Louis Sullivan
Louis Sullivan
Louis Henri Sullivan was an American architect, and has been called the "father of skyscrapers" and "father of modernism" He is considered by many as the creator of the modern skyscraper, was an influential architect and critic of the Chicago School, was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and an...

 became a noted architect using steel frames to construct skyscrapers for the first time while pioneering the idea of "form follows function
Form follows function
Form follows function is a principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose....

". One of his earliest works was the Wainwright Building
Wainwright Building
The Wainwright Building is a 10-story red brick office building at 709 Chestnut Street in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. The Wainwright Building is among the first skyscrapers in the world. It was designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan in the Palazzo style and built between 1890 and 1891...

 in St. Louis, Missouri. Elisha Otis
Elisha Otis
Elisha Graves Otis was an American industrialist, founder of the Otis Elevator Company, and inventor of a safety device that prevents elevators from falling if the hoisting cable fails. He worked on this device while living in Yonkers, New York in 1852, and had a finished product in...

’ introduction of safety measures on elevators also helped buildings reach newer heights.

American cities also expanded with the introduction of new transportation technology. From horse cars to elevated railway and later electric streetcars and subways, the cities constantly pushed outward. As immigration increased in cities, poverty rose as well. New immigrants were forced to live in the poorest urban areas including the Five Points
Five Points, Manhattan
Five Points was a neighborhood in central lower Manhattan in New York City. The neighborhood was generally defined as being bound by Centre Street in the west, The Bowery in the east, Canal Street in the north and Park Row in the south...

 and Hell’s Kitchen
Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
Hell's Kitchen, also known as Clinton and Midtown West, is a neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City between 34th Street and 59th Street, from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River....

 in Manhattan. These areas were quickly overridden with crime gangs such as the Five Points Gang
Five Points Gang
Five Points Gang was a 19th-century and early 20th-century criminal organization, primarily of Italian-American origins, based in the Sixth Ward of Manhattan, New York City. Since the early 19th century, the area was first known for gangs of Irish immigrants...

 and the Bowery Boys
Bowery Boys
The Bowery Boys were a nativist, anti-Catholic, and anti-Irish gang based north of the Five Points district of New York City in the mid-19th century. They were primarily stationed in the Bowery section of New York, which was, at the time, extended north of the Five Points...

 rose to prominence. Families were forced into crowded living conditions in the so-called "dumbbell tenements
Old Law Tenement
Old Law Tenements are tenements built in New York City after the Tenement House Act of 1879 and before the New York State Tenement House Act of 1901....

".

Women's Rights


During the Gilded Age, many new social movements took hold in the United States. Many women abolitionists who were disappointed that the Fifteenth Amendment
Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude"...

 did not extend voting rights to them remained active in politics, this time focusing on issues important to them. Reviving the temperance movement from the Second Great Awakening
Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening was a Christian revival movement during the early 19th century in the United States. The movement began around 1800, had begun to gain momentum by 1820, and was in decline by 1870. The Second Great Awakening expressed Arminian theology, by which every person could be...

, many women joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in an attempt to bring morality back to America. Other women took up the issue of women’s suffrage which had lain dormant since the Seneca Falls Convention
Seneca Falls Convention
The Seneca Falls Convention was an early and influential women's rights convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, July 19–20, 1848. It was organized by local New York women upon the occasion of a visit by Boston-based Lucretia Mott, a Quaker famous for her speaking ability, a skill rarely...

. With leaders like Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony
Susan Brownell Anthony was a prominent American civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century women's rights movement to introduce women's suffrage into the United States. She was co-founder of the first Women's Temperance Movement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as President...

 the National American Woman Suffrage Association
National American Woman Suffrage Association
The National American Woman Suffrage Association was an American women's rights organization formed in May 1890 as a unification of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association...

 (NAWSA) was formed in order to secure the right of women to vote.

The development and fast acceptance of the sewing machine
Sewing machine
A sewing machine is a textile machine used to stitch fabric, cards and other material together with thread. Sewing machines were invented during the first Industrial Revolution to decrease the amount of manual sewing work performed in clothing companies...

 during this period changed the domestic lives of women. Often overlooked in discussions of the advent of rapid industrialization, this product did more than any other single development (until women's suffrage) to change the daily life of the average American woman. The production of hand-sewn clothing and household linens chained all but the wealthiest of women to a life of toil which can hardly be understood today. Almost no domestic product, until the advent of the automobile, was accepted more quickly than this device. By 1880, according to a Singer Corporation
Singer Corporation
Singer Corporation is a manufacturer of sewing machines, first established as I.M. Singer & Co. in 1851 by Isaac Merritt Singer with New York lawyer Edward Clark. Best known for its sewing machines, it was renamed Singer Manufacturing Company in 1865, then The Singer Company in 1963. It is...

 sponsored book entitled Genius Rewarded, the Story of the Sewing Machine (1889), by James Scott, over 3 million American homes had a sewing machine, which had been available for less than 30 years.

Social thought


Science also played an important part in social thought as the work of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 became popular. Following Darwin’s idea of natural selection, English philosopher Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....

 proposed the idea of social Darwinism
Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism is a term commonly used for theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, seeking to apply the principles of Darwinian evolution to sociology and politics...

. This new concept justified the stratification of the wealthy and poor and coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Joining Spencer was Yale University professor William Graham Sumner
William Graham Sumner
William Graham Sumner was an American academic and "held the first professorship in sociology" at Yale College. For many years he had a reputation as one of the most influential teachers there. He was a polymath with numerous books and essays on American history, economic history, political...

 whose book What Social Classes Owe to Each Other (which was first published in 1884) argued that assistance to the poor actually weakens their ability to survive in society. Sumner argued for a laissez-faire
Laissez-faire
In economics, laissez-faire describes an environment in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies....

 and free-market
Free market
A free market is a competitive market where prices are determined by supply and demand. However, the term is also commonly used for markets in which economic intervention and regulation by the state is limited to tax collection, and enforcement of private ownership and contracts...

 economy. Not everyone agreed with the social Darwinists, and soon a whole movement to help the poor arose. Henry George
Henry George
Henry George was an American writer, politician and political economist, who was the most influential proponent of the land value tax, also known as the "single tax" on land...

 proposed a “single tax” in his book Progress and Poverty
Progress and Poverty
Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy was written by Henry George in 1879...

. The tax would be leveled on the rich and poor alike, with the excess money collected used to equalize wealth and level out society. In Chicago, noted attorney Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow
Clarence Seward Darrow was an American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, best known for defending teenage thrill killers Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks and defending John T...

 made vocal arguments that poverty and not biology created crime. Wisconsin-born author Thorstein Veblen
Thorstein Veblen
Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen was an American economist and sociologist, and a leader of the so-called institutional economics movement...

 argued in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class
The Theory of the Leisure Class
The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions is a book, first published in 1899, by the Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen while he was a professor at the University of Chicago....

that the “conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure" of the wealthy had become the basis of social status in America. In Looking Backward: 2000-1887, author Edward Bellamy
Edward Bellamy
Edward Bellamy was an American author and socialist, most famous for his utopian novel, Looking Backward, set in the year 2000. He was a very influential writer during the Gilded Age of United States history.-Early life:...

 wrote of a future America set in the year 2000 in which a socialist paradise has been established. The works of authors such as George and Bellamy became popular, and soon clubs were created across America to discuss their ideas, although these organizations rarely made any real social change.

The Third Great Awakening
Third Great Awakening
The Third Great Awakening was a period of religious activism in American history from the late 1850s to the early 1900s. It affected pietistic Protestant denominations and had a strong sense of social activism. It gathered strength from the postmillennial theology that the Second Coming of Christ...

 which began before the Civil War returned and made a significant change in religious attitudes toward social progress. Followers of the new Awakening promoted the idea of the Social Gospel
Social Gospel
The Social Gospel movement is a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that was most prominent in the early 20th century United States and Canada...

 which gave rise to organizations such as the YMCA
YMCA
The Young Men's Christian Association is a worldwide organization of more than 45 million members from 125 national federations affiliated through the World Alliance of YMCAs...

, the American branch of the Salvation Army
Salvation Army
The Salvation Army is a Protestant Christian church known for its thrift stores and charity work. It is an international movement that currently works in over a hundred countries....

, and settlement houses such as Hull House
Hull House
Hull House is a settlement house in the United States that was co-founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. Located in the Near West Side of , Hull House opened its doors to the recently arrived European immigrants. By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings. In 1912 the Hull...

, founded by Jane Addams
Jane Addams
Jane Addams was a pioneer settlement worker, founder of Hull House in Chicago, public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in woman suffrage and world peace...

 in Chicago in 1889.

See also

  • American Old West
    American Old West
    The American Old West, or the Wild West, comprises the history, geography, people, lore, and cultural expression of life in the Western United States, most often referring to the latter half of the 19th century, between the American Civil War and the end of the century...

  • History of the United States (1865–1918)
    History of the United States (1865–1918)
    The History of the United States covers Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era, and includes the rise of industrialization and the resulting surge of immigration in the United States. This period of rapid economic growth and soaring prosperity in North and West saw the U.S...

  • Nadir of American race relations
    Nadir of American race relations
    The "nadir of American race relations" is a term that refers to the period in United States history from the end of Reconstruction through the early 20th century, when racism in the country is deemed to have been worse than in any other period after the American Civil War. During this period,...

  • Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant
    Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant
    The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant began during the turbulent Reconstruction period following the American Civil War. Grant was elected the 18th President of the United States in 1868 and was re-elected to the office in 1872, serving from March 4, 1869, to March 4, 1877...

  • Presidency of Grover Cleveland
  • Ventfort Hall
    Ventfort Hall
    Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum is a historic, Jacobean-style mansion and museum located at 104 Walker Street, Lenox, Massachusetts. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places...

     (Gilded Age Museum)

Further reading


External links