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The late 19th
century witnessed the birth of modern America. It saw the closing of the Western
frontier. Between 1865 and the 1890s, Americans settled 430 million acres in the
Far West--more land than during the preceding 250 years of American history. But
to open lands west of the Mississippi River to white settlers, the Plains
Indians were pushed in a series of Indian wars onto restricted reservations.
This period also witnessed
the creation of a modern industrial economy. A national transportation and
communication network was created, the corporation became the dominant form of
business organization, and a managerial revolution transformed business
operations. By the beginning of the twentieth century, per capita income and
industrial production in the United States exceeded that of any other country
except Britain. Long hours and hazardous working conditions, led many workers to
attempt to form labor unions despite strong opposition from industrialists and
An era of intense political
partisanship, the Gilded Age was also an era of reform. The Civil Service Act
sought to curb government corruption by requiring applicants for certain
governmental jobs to take a competitive examination. The Interstate Commerce
Act sought to end discrimination by railroads against small shippers and the
Sherman Antitrust Act outlawed business monopolies.
These years also saw the
rise of the Populist crusade. Burdened by heavy debts and falling farm prices,
many farmers joined the Populist party, which called for an increase in the
amount of money in circulation, government assistance to help farmers repay
loans, tariff reductions, and a graduated income tax.
Twain called the late nineteenth century the "Gilded Age."
By this, he meant that the period was glittering on the surface but
corrupt underneath. In the popular view, the late nineteenth century
was a period of greed and guile: of rapacious Robber Barons, unscrupulous
speculators, and corporate buccaneers, of shady business practices,
scandal-plagued politics, and vulgar display.
It is easy to caricature the Gilded Age as an era of corruption, conspicuous
consumption, and unfettered capitalism. But it is more useful to think
of this as modern Americas formative period, when an agrarian
society of small producers was transformed into an urban society dominated
by industrial corporations.
David L. Phillips: "What California Railroads Have Done"
Handouts and fact sheets:
Americans After Slavery
Changing Status of Women
Responses to Industrialization
Gilded Age Lesson Plans from the Illinois Historical Digitization
your knowledge about the Gilded Age
Leon Fink, Ed., Major Problems in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: Documents and Essays.
This historical film tells the story of late nineteenth century Irish
coal miners in Pennsylvania who are accused of using terrorist tactics
to win better working conditions and higher wages.
1896: The Presidential Campaign
Extensive resources on the pivotal presidential election of
Cartoons of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Political cartoons from the late 19th and early 20th