The transformation of the United States from an agricultural to an increasingly industrialized and urbanized society brought about significant economic, political, diplomatic, social, environmental, and cultural changes.
Key Concept 6.1: The rise of big business in the United States encouraged massive migrations and urbanization, sparked government and popular efforts to reshape the U.S. economy and environment, and renewed debates over U.S. national identity.
Large-scale production — accompanied by massive technological change, expanding international communication networks, and pro-growth government policies — fueled the development of a “Gilded Age” marked by an emphasis on consumption, marketing, and business consolidation.
As leaders of big business and their allies in government aimed to create a unified industrialized nation, they were challenged in different ways by demographic issues, regional differences, and labor movements.
Westward migration, new systems of farming and transportation, and economic instability led to political and popular conflicts.
Key Concept 6.2: The emergence of an industrial culture in the United States led to both greater opportunities for, and restrictions on, immigrants, minorities, and women.
International and internal migrations increased both urban and rural populations, but gender, racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic inequalities abounded, inspiring some reformers to attempt to address these inequities.
As transcontinental railroads were completed, bringing more settlers west, U.S. military actions, the destruction of the buffalo, the confinement of American Indians to reservations, and assimilationist policies reduced the number of American Indians and threatened native culture and identity.
Key Concept 6.3: The “Gilded Age” witnessed new cultural and intellectual movements in tandem with political debates over economic and social policies.
Gilded Age politics were intimately tied to big business and focused nationally on economic issues — tariffs, currency, corporate expansion, and laissez-faire economic policy — that engendered numerous calls for reform.
New cultural and intellectual movements both buttressed and challenged the social order of the Gilded Age.
The Industrial Revolution
Following the Civil War, government subsidies for transportation and communication systems opened new markets in North America, while technological innovations and redesigned financial and management structures such as monopolies sought to maximize the exploitation of natural resources and a growing labor force.
International Economic Expansion
Businesses and foreign policymakers increasingly looked outside U.S. borders in an effort to gain greater influence and control over markets and natural resources in the Pacific, Asia, and Latin America.
Formation of Trusts and Monopolies
Business leaders consolidated corporations into trusts and holding companies and defended their resulting status and privilege through theories such as Social Darwinism.
John D. Rockefeller
Sherman Anti-Trust Act, 1890
The Distribution of Wealth
As cities grew substantially in both size and in number, some segments of American society enjoyed lives of extravagant “conspicuous consumption,” while many others lived in relative poverty.
Panic of 1893
The American Labor Movement
The industrial workforce expanded through migration across national borders and internal migration, leading to a more diverse workforce, lower wages, and an increase in child labor. Labor and management battled for control over wages and working conditions, with workers organizing local and national unions and/or directly confronting corporate power.
Knights of Labor, 1869
Great Railroad Strike of 1877
Haymarket Square 1886
Homestead Strike, 1892
Pullman Strike, 1894
American Federation of Labor (AFL), 1886
The Southern Economy
Despite the industrialization of some segments of the southern economy, a change promoted by southern leaders who called for a “New South,” agrarian sharecropping, and tenant farming systems continued to dominate the region.
The New South
crop-lien system (sharecropping, tenant farming)
The Struggle for Control of Land and Resources
Government agencies and conservationist organizations contended with corporate interests about the extension of public control over natural resources, including land and water. Business interests battled conservationists as the latter sought to protect sections of unspoiled wilderness through the establishment of national parks and other conservationist and preservationist measures.
U.S. Fish Commission, 1871
Sierra Club, 1892
Department of the Interior
Farmers adapted to the new realities of mechanized agriculture and dependence on the evolving railroad system by creating local and regional organizations that sought to resist corporate control of agricultural markets.
Colored Farmers’ Alliance, 1886
Las Gorras Blancas (The “White Caps”), 1889
The Populist Movement
The growth of corporate power in agriculture and economic instability in the farming sector inspired activists to create the People’s (Populist) Party, which called for political reform and a stronger governmental role in the American economic system.
People’s (Populist) Party, 1891
Omaha Platform, 1892
William Jennings Bryan, 1896
Immigration and Migration
Increased migrations from Asia and from southern and eastern Europe, as well as African American migrations within and out of the South, accompanied the mass movement of people into the nation’s cities and the rural and boomtown areas of the West.
Social and Cultural Diversity
Immigrants sought both to “Americanize” and to maintain their unique identities; along with others, such as some African Americans and women, they were able to take advantage of new career opportunities even in the face of widespread social prejudices.
The Urbanization of America
Cities dramatically reflected divided social conditions among classes, races, ethnicities, and cultures, but presented economic opportunities as factories and new businesses proliferated.
Urban Middle Class
Urban Politics, Society, and Culture
In a urban atmosphere where the access to power was unequally distributed, political machines provided social services in exchange for political support, settlement houses helped immigrants adapt to the new language and customs, and women’s clubs and self-help groups targeted intellectual development and social and political reform.
National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), 1869
American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA), 1869
Women’s Christian Temperance Uniton (WCTU), 1874
Migration to the American West
Post–Civil War migration to the American West, encouraged by economic opportunities and government policies, caused the federal government to violate treaties with American Indian nations in order to expand the amount of land available to settlers.
Morrill Land-Grant Acts, 1862 and 1890
Frederick Jackson Tuner
The Conquest of the West
The competition for land in the West among white settlers, Indians, and Mexican Americans led to an increase in violent conflict. The U.S. government generally responded to American Indian resistance with military force, eventually dispersing tribes onto small reservations and hoping to end American Indian tribal identities through assimilation.
Great Sioux War, 1876-1881
Little Big Horn, 1876
Dawes Severalty Act, 1887
Massacre at Wounded Knee, 1890
Government Corruption and Reform
Corruption in government — especially as it related to big business — energized the public to demand increased popular control and reform of local, state, and national governments, ranging from minor changes to major overhauls of the capitalist system.
patronage (spoils system)
Tweed Ring (Tammany Hall)
Pendleton Act, 1883
Interstate Commerce Act, 1887
Australian (secret) ballot
initiative and referendum
Discrimination and Segregation
Increasingly prominent racist and nativist theories, along with Supreme Court decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson, were used to justify violence, as well as local and national policies of discrimination and segregation.
Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882
American Protective Association, 1887
Jim Crow Laws
Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896
American Social and Economic Theory
Cultural and intellectual arguments justified the success of those at the top of the socioeconomic structure as both appropriate and inevitable, even as some leaders argued that the wealthy had some obligation to help the less fortunate. A number of critics challenged the dominant corporate ethic in the United States and sometimes capitalism itself, offering alternate visions of the good society through utopianism and the Social Gospel.
Gospel of Wealth
Activists for Equal Rights
Challenging their prescribed “place,” women and African American activists articulated alternative visions of political, social, and economic equality.