US History/Age of Invention and Gilded Age

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Politics of the Gilded Age[edit]

The Political Machines[edit]

During the Gilded Age, politics were characterized by the political machines of the cities and states. The "spoils system" was still in use. When a political machine won an election, it could remove all appointed office holders, leading to change in make up of the body as well as the heads of government departments. At that time many political offices were also elected. Many elected officials were elected to represent their ward, and not by the entire city. This system led to the election of people personally known to their communities, as opposed to people voters had heard of but didn't know.

The machines in the cities tended to be controlled by the Democratic party which allied with new immigrants by providing jobs, housing, and other benefits in exchange for votes. This was a challenge to the power of the old elites, whose families had lived in the US for generations. Political machines routinely used fraud and bribery to further their ends. On the other hand they also provided relief, security, and services to the crowds of newcomers who voted for them and kept them in power. By doing this they were able to keep the peoples loyalty, thus giving themselves more power.

The political machines gave lucrative government contracts and official positions to supporters. Opponents of the political machines called this corruption, and wished to give a corrupt government contracts and official positions to people they preferred. One of the most well known machines was that of Tammany Hall in New York. Long led by William Tweed, he was better known as Boss Tweed. In addition to rewarding supporters, they saw themselves as defending New York City from the residents of upstate New York and the New York state government who saw New York city as a ready source of funds to benefit upstate New York.

Most bosses such as "Duke" Vare, Tom Pendergast, and Richard Croker had an official income that was very low but were still able to live in luxury despite this fact.

Republican political machines also existed, one of the most important was the Republican machine in Ohio run by Mark Hanna. Ohio had a comparatively large population and was very important in national politics. Mark Hanna was a successful businessman and political operator and long time friend of Rockefeller. He later helped mastermind McKinley's run for president.

There was a darker side to early politics in the Gilded Age in the form of Jim Crow segregation laws. Although slavery was now abolished, many whites still saw themselves as better than blacks and sought out new ways to oppress them. In the 1896 Supreme Courte case Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was legal as long as the institutions maintained separate-but-equal qualities. After the ruling segregation laws in the South began to pop up. Known as Jim Crow laws, they relegated blacks to sit in the back of street cars, separate public drinking fountains and toilets, and separate sections of cemeteries and hospitals. Jim Crow laws created even more of a separation and gave whites the opportunity to continue to treat African Americans as inferior.


There were a few big things that happened in the 1890's that had to deal with racism. Disenfranchisement was one of these big things. During this time, every Southern state passed laws designed to prevent African Americans from having the right to vote. Another thing that happened was that the Jim Crow Laws were passed. These were laws that segregated the whites from the colored. They required things like separate bathrooms and drinking fountains with signs stating whether they were for white or colored people. A campaign of lynching also began during this time targeting African American men.


In the 1870's, the United States became a leading Industrial power. Advances in technology drove American Industrialization, as did access to the immense and untapped resources of the North American continent. Industrialization brought the growth of new American cities such as Chicago, and the arrival of a flood of immigrants from all over Europe to man the factories. The Civil War had transformed the North into one of the most heavily industrialized regions in the world, and during the Gilded Age, businessmen reaped enormous profits from this new economy. Powerful tycoons formed giant trusts to monopolize the production of goods that were in high demand. Andrew Carnegie, for one, built a giant steel empire using vertical integration, a business tactic that increased profits by eliminating middlemen from the production line. Though industrialization caused many long-term positives, it did cause problems in the short-term.[1] Rich farmers who could afford new machinery grew even richer, while poorer farmers were forced to move into urban areas as they could not compete in the agricultural sector.

In 1878 the U.S. had entered a time of success after a long downfall of the mid 1870's. The number of manufacturing plants and number of people doubled. Also, by the 1900's the South had consisted of more than 400 mills. Women and also children worked in bad conditions for long periods of time, mostly about 12-16 hours per day. They only made about a half a dollar per day, which was not much in that day of time.

In 1868 the typewriter was finally perfected by an editor by the name of Christopher Sholes. This invention would bring about a wave of new employment opportunities for women in America. This machine was made popular by several authors but none more so than Mark Twain when he was the first to make and send a typewritten manuscript, which was “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, to a printer. Writers loved the typewriter because it could fit so many words onto one page compared to what they could do in handwriting. Along with this new machine also came other inventions such as the telephone and the telegraph. Jobs for women went up substantially. In the 1890s, while the number of women telephone and telegraph operators went up 167 percent, the number of women stenographers and typists went up almost twice as much at 305 percent.

This huge event, when women were getting more and more jobs, was during the era where white, middle-class women strove to branch out from the home. These women wanted to do more than just wash the clothes, keep the house clean, make all of the meals, and take care of the kids. These women wanted to be equal with men. This movement was referred to as “The Woman Movement.” In this movement women expanded their jobs, creating clubs and crusades, and receiving more rights such as voting. One of the motivations for women to begin this movement was that women believed that they were superior to men and that they should share their greatness with the rest of America instead of keeping it combined to the home. This later became one of their arguments for many things such as voting. Jane Addams argued that “If women have in any sense been responsible for the gentler side of life which softens and blurs some of its harsher conditions, may not they have a duty to perform in our American cities?” Arguments such as these would fuel the fire for women across America to continue to fight for rights and recognition.

Early innovations in the technology of the internal-combustion engine took place in Europe. In 1885 a German engineer, Gottlieb Daimler, built a lightweight engine driven by vaporized gasoline. This development inspired one of America's most visionary manufacturers, Henry Ford. In the 1880's, Ford, an electrical engineer in Detroit's Edison Company, experimented in his spare time using Daimler's engine to power a vehicle. George Selden, a Rochester, New York, lawyer, had already been tinkering with such technology, but Ford applied organizational genius to this invention and spawned a massive industry. [2]

As industrialization boomed, more job opportunities than ever opened up. Factory line jobs were perfect for women and children, mostly because the factory owners could pay the women less. Despite terrible work conditions, increasing numbers of women began to move from purely domestic workers to factory help. Although women now had a part in the workforce, sexual discrimination lasted. Where women had the opportunity to take some low positions, virtually no women were trusted with responsibilities such as managing, or even handling money. The factories also took advantage of immigrants and used them as cheap labor. Immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other European countries were considered second class citizens and this was evident in the work place. Immigrants received extremely low wages and no benefits, it was common for a worker to suffer a serious injury and lose his job if he was unable to perform.

Workers adjusted to mechanization as best they could. Some people submitted to the demands of the factory, machine, and time clock. Some tried to blend old ways of working into the new system. Others turned to resistance. Individuals challenged the system by ignoring management's orders, skipping work, or quitting. But also, anxiety over the loss of independence and a desire for better wages, hours, and working conditions drew disgruntled workers into unions. [3]

In the cities, laborers and employers often clashed over wages, sanitary conditions, working hours, benefits, and several other issues. Laborers organized themselves into unions to negotiate with companies. The companies, however, attempted to shut down labor unions. Some imposed yellow dog contracts, under which an employer could dismiss a worker who participated in union activity.

In 1886, the American Federation of Labor was formed to fight for laborers in general. The AFL and other union groups employed as many tactics as possible to force employers to accede to their demands. One tactic was the strike. Some strikes escalated into riots, as with the Knights of Labor's strike in 1886 becoming the Haymarket Riots. The Haymarket Riots of 1886 occurred when an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb into a group of police officers. Eight officers were killed in the explosion and gunfight that ensued. As a result, eight anarchists were tried for murder -- four were sentenced to death and one committed suicide.

The Pullman Strike occurred in 1894, in response to Pullman Company workers' wages being cut following the Panic of 1893, an economic depression which was caused in part by excessive railroad speculation. Approximately 3,000 workers began the strike on May 11. Many of the workers were members of the American Railway Union, and although the strike began without authorization from union officials (known as a "wildcat strike"), the ARU eventually supported the strike by launching a nationwide boycott of Pullman cars on June 26. Within four days, approximately 125,000 ARU members had quit their jobs rather than switch Pullman cars. On July 6, President Cleveland sent Army troops to break up the strike, ostensibly because it prevented delivery of mail and was considered a threat to public safety.

The companies sometimes retaliated against strikes by suing the unions. Congress had passed the Sherman Antitrust Act to prevent trusts, or corporations that held stock in several different companies, from obstructing the activities of competitors. Though the Sherman Act was intended to target trusts, the companies sued the union under it, claiming that unions obstructed interstate commerce.

During the machine age, there were a number of strikes that took place due to the demands from factories and time clocks. It was hard for individuals to adjust to that system, and as a result, they challenged the system by ignoring management's orders, skipping work, or quitting. The desire and longing for better wages let to anxiety and frustration. Like farming and mining, industry was massive in size and changed not only the nature of the work but the person doing it. Soon, all of these disgruntled individuals formed specialized groups into unions. The different jobs varied in not only skill, but other things as well that were non-related to worker conflict; race, sex, etc. These jobs were such as working on/in railroads, steel factories, and automobiles. The outcome for many working in labor during the Gilded Age led to horrific labor violence. Industrialists and workers literally fought over control of the workplace. Many suffered due to the strikes and riots and it inevitably led to deaths, loss of jobs, and often continuous violence. For most American workers, the Machine age had varying results. At times there was no job stability and when costs of living would increase drastically there were even more problems. [4]

Prices, and consequently wages, fell sharply in about the 1870 and stayed that way all the way through the 1970s. The prices of necessities in the late 1800s were: 4 pounds butter for $1.60, 1 bag of flour $1.80, a quart of milk for $0.56, vegetables $0.50, 2 bushels of coal $1.36, soap, starch, pepper, salt, vinegar, etc. $1.00, rent for $4.00 a week, and more. The average total of a person's wages was $16.00. By the time that person bought the necessities such as food and soap and rent, most, if not all, of the money would be gone.


With industrialization came urbanization. The increasing factory businesses created many more job opportunities in the cities. Soon people began to flock from rural, farm areas, to large cities. Minorities and immigrants added to these numbers. Factory jobs were the only jobs some immigrants could get, and as more came to the cities to work, the larger the urbanization process became. In 1870 there were only two American cities with a population of more than 500,000, but by 1900 there were six, and three of these, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia had over one million inhabitants. Roughly 40 percent of Americans lived in cities and the number was climbing. These large populations in the cities caused the crime rates to go up, and disease was rapidly spreading. Not only did urbanization cause cities to grow in population, it also caused cities to grow in building size. Skyscrapers were being built in the cities and the idea of mass transit had started. With these mass transits being built it allowed people to commute to work from further distances. Suburbs were beginning to form and higher class families began to move to them to get out of the over crowded city but still gave them the ability to go into the city to work each day. City living was for the lower class the upper class had enough money to get away from all of the pollution and the city stench. This still holds true today in larger cities a lot of the nicer homes are located further out from the center of the city. For example, in the city of Chicago, you will find a lot of the nicer homes away from the city, and more towards the suburbs. In this case, this is because there are a lot of violence in the inner city. Therefore, people try to live more further out from the city in order to stay away from the violence.


In the late 1880s and early 1900s, a typical farm would be just about 100 acres. Farmers had only one way of farming, which was by horse or a mule. Now, today we use tractors for the farm work. Farmers raised cows, pigs, chickens, and horses. They grew turnips, potatoes, carrots, grain, wheat, and corn. Farmers often ate off of their own establishment, because it was cheaper and it also was a way of life.

While industry generally increased in importance, farmers struggled due to debt and falling prices. The crop failures of the 1880s greatly exacerbated the situation.

The economic transformation taking place created prosperity and new lifestyles for some, but some states still dominated by farming, these changes also had a widespread negative impact. Crop diversification and the greater focus on cotton as a cash crop offered some potential for farmers to get ahead, but other forces worked against that success.[5]

Agriculture reformed the railroad system, when the farmers crop needed transported they had to rely on the railroads but the railroads implements outrageous prices. This caused farmers, small merchants and reform politicians to demand rate regulations. By 1880 fourteen states had established commissions to limit freight and storage charges of state-chartered lines. In 1877, in Munn v. Illinois, the supreme court upheld the principle of state regulation, declaring that grain warehouses owned by railroads acted in the public interest and therefore must submit to regulations for the common good.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the number of farms had tripled from 1860-1905 from 2 million to 6 million. In the year of 1905 the number of people living on farms grew to an outstanding 31 million. The value of farms went from 8 billion in 1860; to 30 million in 1906. Wheat has also been the main crop in the 18th century, because it can produce common foods such as bread, pastries, pizza and pasta.

Chickens' eggs were gathered every evening, cleaned and packed in cases. They were mostly stored in cardboard boxes. Female chickens were called pullets and the male chickens were roosters. Hen houses had individual bins so that each chicken could have their own form of privacy while laying eggs. Women often wore shoes while entering hen houses because it will often be messy and smelly in there.

Ever since the civil war, farmers have been using more and more machinery to plant and harvest their crops. In 1879 the centrifugal cream separator was patented. In 1885, chicken raising became a lot more profitable due to the invention of the mechanized incubator. Because of all the machines that were invented, a farmer went from being able to harvest about 7.5 acres of wheat to being able to harvest about 135 acres in the same amount of time. In short, the American farmer produced far too much for his own good.

In the 1920s, farmers did not do so well. A lot of farms did not have running water or electricity, and pay was low due to surplus. World War I had disrupted farming in Europe and the warring European nations greatly depended on American farming for food.[6] When peace came, demand for crops like cotton and grain suddenly fell but farmers kept planting at wartime rates[7], so they were left without money to pay off their loans or new devices like tractors. A lot of farmers were dependent on a main crop such as cotton, but in the twenties the price of cotton also plummeted because of new man-made materials that entered the market.

Thus, while industry generally increased in importance, farmers struggled due to debt and falling prices. The crop failures of the 1880s greatly exacerbated the situation. This caused farmers, small merchants and reform politicians to demand rate regulations. By 1880 fourteen states had established commissions to limit freight and storage charges of state-chartered lines.

In 1925-1927 George Washington Carver patented two uses for peanuts, and hundreds of more inventions from soybeans,pecans, and even sweet potatoes. Some inventions he made from peanuts and soybeans are paper, instant coffee, shaving cream, mayonnaise,and talcum powder. All of the procedures he practiced were never recorded by him in a notebook. In 1931 he made all kinds of inventions using soybeans, and peanuts especially. Some of these inventions are shaving cream, soap, other eating foods, and meat tenderizer. The meat tenderizer was often used for people, and especially women to use on their meat because back then this was a new thing to people. You would sprinkle some of this meat tenderizer on raw meat in order to help the meat to be soft.


As time progressed, Industrialization caused American businessmen to seek new international markets in which to sell their goods. In addition, the increasing influence of Social Darwinism led to the belief that the United States had the inherent responsibility to bring concepts like industry, democracy and Christianity to less scientifically developed, "savage" societies. The combination of these attitudes, along with other factors, led the United States toward Imperialism, the practice of of a nation increasing its sphere of influence.

The Orient[edit]

In the Orient, Russia, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany all exercised influence.[citation needed] US Secretary of State John Hay endorsed the Open Door Policy, under which all foreign powers would exercise equal economic power in the Orient. The US thus protected its interests in China and maintained a balance of power there.

Chinese nationalists known as the "Righteous Fists of Harmony", or "Boxers" in English, who resented foreign influence, promoted hatred of non-Chinese as well as Chinese Christians. In June 1900 in Beijing, Boxer fighters threatened foreigners and forced them to seek refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi, urged by the conservatives of the Imperial Court, supported the Boxers and declared war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers, and Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. The siege was raised when the Eight-Nation Alliance brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing. The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 specified an indemnity of 67 million pounds (450 million taels of silver), more than the government's annual tax revenue, to be paid over a course of thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved.[8]

Spanish Territories[edit]

By 1825 Spain had acknowledged the independence of its possessions in the present-day United States. The only remnants of the Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba, Puerto Rico, across the Pacific in the Philippines Islands, as well as the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands (including Guam) in Micronesia.

In 1898, the American battleship USS Maine was destroyed by an explosion in the Cuban Harbor of Havana. Although later investigations proved that an internal problem was to blame, at the time it was thought that Spanish forces had sunk it. On the advice of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war on April 11, 1898. Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado added an amendment to the proposed U.S. declaration of war against Spain on April 19, which proclaimed that the United States would not establish permanent control over Cuba. The amendment stated that the United States "hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people."

At that time Spanish troops stationed on the island included 150,000 regulars and 40,000 irregulars and volunteers while rebels inside Cuba numbered as many as 50,000. Total U.S. army strength at the time totalled 26,000, requiring the passage of the Mobilization Act of April 22 that allowed for an army of at first 125,000 volunteers (later increased to 200,000) and a regular army of 65,000.

On April 25, 1898 Congress declared war on Spain. The United States Navy won two decisive naval battles, destroying the Spanish Pacific Fleet at Manila in the Philippines and the Atlantic fleet at Santiago, Cuba. The U.S. then landed forces in Cuba, which fought the tropical climate and associated diseases as well as the Spanish forces. In the Battle of San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill), Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt earned a reputation as a military hero by leading the attack on entrenched Spanish positions. The regiment to which Roosevelt belonged, the First U.S. Volunteers, was recruited throughout the United States and known as the Rough Riders because of the large number of cowboys to volunteer. The 10th Cavalry, a regiment of black soldiers, supported the Rough Riders in the attack. Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general of the Civil War, commanded U.S. forces in Cuba. Two of Robert E. Lee's nephews were also U.S. generals. The war ended eight months later with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. As a result Spain lost its control over the remains of its overseas empire. The treaty allowed the United States to purchase the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20 million. The war had cost the United States $250 million and 3,000 lives, of whom 90% had perished from infectious diseases. True to the letter of the Teller Amendment, American forces left Cuba in 1902.

The Spanish-American War was seen domestically as a sign of increasing national unity.


The Kingdom of Hawaii was established in 1795 with the subjugation of the smaller independent chiefdoms of Oʻahu, Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau by the chiefdom of Hawaiʻi (or the "Big Island"), ruled by the dynasty of King Kamehameha the Great. In 1887 the Honolulu Rifle Company, a paramilitary force also known as the Honolulu Rifles, deposed the Hawaiian monarchy, forcing the King to sign a new constitution at gunpoint. Bayonets were fixed to their guns, which led to the term Bayonet Constitution, referring to King David Kalākaua's resignation and the establishment of new voting rights. No voting rights were extended to Asiatics and the requirements for voting rights included land ownership, making the Bayonet Constitution one of the most controversial documents in history.

Native-born Hawaiian Sanford B. Dole, serving as a friend of both Hawaiian royalty and the elite immigrant community, advocated the westernization of Hawaiian government and culture. Dole was a lawyer and jurist in the Hawaiian Islands as a kingdom, protectorate, republic and territory. King Kalākaua appointed Dole a justice of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii on December 28, 1887, and to a commission to revise judiciary laws on January 24, 1888. After Kalākaua's death, his sister Queen Liliʻuokalani appointed him to her Privy Council on August 31, 1891.

On January 17, 1893, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Queen Lili'uokalani, was deposed in a coup d'état led largely by American citizens who were opposed to Lili'uokalani's attempt to establish a new Constitution. Dole was named president of the Provisional Government of Hawaii that was formed after the coup, and was recognized within 48 hours by all nations with diplomatic ties to the Kingdom of Hawaii, with the exception of the United Kingdom. The Americans in Hawaii asked the US to annex the islands, but President Benjamin Harrison's annexation treaty was stalled in the Senate by Democrats until a Democratic President, Stephen Grover Cleveland, took office. With Grover Cleveland's election as President of the United States, the Provisional Government's hopes of annexation were derailed. In fact, Cleveland tried to directly help reinstate the monarchy, after an investigation led by James Henderson Blount. The Blount Report of July 17, 1893, commissioned by President Cleveland, concluded that the Committee of Safety conspired with U.S. ambassador John L. Stevens to land the United States Marine Corps, to forcibly remove Queen Liliʻuokalani from power, and declare a Provisional Government of Hawaii consisting of members from the Committee of Safety. Although unable to restore Lili'uokalani to her former position, Cleveland withdrew the treaty.

The Territory of Hawaii or Hawaii Territory existed as a United States organized incorporated territory from July 7, 1898, until August 21, 1959, when its territory, with the exception of Johnston Atoll, was admitted to the Union as the fiftieth U.S. state, the State of Hawaii.

President Grover Cleveland[edit]

Grover Cleveland, the New York governor at the time, was chosen to be the democratic nominee for the election of 1884. He was chosen with Thomas A. Hendricks for his vice president. Cleveland was competing with the republican nominees, James G. Blaine, the former speaker of the house, for president and John Logan for vice president. Grover Cleveland won the election of 1884.[9] Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837 and died on June 24, 1908 at the age of 71. He was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms (1885–1889 and 1893–1897) and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents. He was the winner of the popular vote for president three times—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and was the only Democrat elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination that lasted from 1860 to 1912. Cleveland ran in the election of 1892 with vice presidential running mate, Adlai E. Stevenson. They defeated the Republican President at the time, Benjamin Harrison and Vice President Whitelaw Reid. Cleveland's conservative economic stand in favor of the gold standard brought him the support of various business interests. The democrats then won control of both houses of Congress.[10]


  1. “The Gilded Age & the Progressive Era (1877–1917),” founded on January 15, 2011,
  2. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cenage Learning 2009), 512.
  3. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cenage Learning 2009), 522.
  4. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cenage Learning 2009),
  5. The Encyclopaedia of Arkansas History and Culture; “Post-Reconstruction through the Gilded Age, 1875 through 1900,” last modified on 12/17/2010,
  6. Shmoop Editorial Team. "Economy in The 1920s" Shmoop University, Inc..11 November 2008. (accessed November 22, 2013).
  7. Katers, Nicholas. "The Roaring Twenties and the Struggles of Immigrants, Farmers, and Other Interest Groups." Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo!, 30 Mar. 2006. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
  8. Spence, In Search of Modern China, pp. 230-235; Keith Schoppa, Revolution and Its Past, pp. 118-123.
  9. "Super Review; United States History"
  10. "Super Review; United States History"

Reconstruction · Progressive Era