History of the United States
The industrial growth
that began in the United States in the early 1800's continued steadily
up to and through the American Civil War. Still, by the end of the war,
the typical American industry was small. Hand labour remained widespread,
limiting the production capacity of industry. Most businesses served a
small market and lacked the capital needed for business expansion.
Industrialization and reform (1870-1916)
After the Civil War,
however, American industry changed dramatically. Machines replaced hand
labour as the main means of manufacturing, increasing the production
capacity of industry tremendously. A new nationwide network of railways
distributed goods far and wide. Inventors developed new products the
public wanted, and businesses made the products in large quantities. Investors
and bankers supplied the huge amounts of money that business leaders
needed to expand their operations.
The industrial growth
had major effects on American life.
The new business activity centred on
cities. As a result, people moved to cities in record numbers, and the
cities grew by leaps and bounds. The sharp contrast between the rich and
the poor and other features of American life stirred widespread
discontent. The discontent triggered new reform movements.
The industrial growth
centred chiefly on the North.
The war-torn South lagged behind the rest
of the country economically. In the West, frontier life was ending.
America's role in
foreign affairs also changed during the late 1800's and early
1900's. The country built up its military strength and became a world
The rise of big business
The value of goods
produced by American industry increased almost tenfold between 1870 and
1916. Many interrelated developments contributed to this growth.
The use of machines in manufacturing spread throughout American
industry after the Civil War. With machines, workers could produce goods
many times faster than they could by hand. The new large manufacturing
firms hired hundreds, or even thousands, of workers. Each worker was
assigned a specific job in the production process. This system of
organizing labourers, called the division of labour, also sped up
Development of new
Inventors created, and business leaders produced and sold, a
variety of new products. The products included the typewriter (1867),
barbed wire (1874), the telephone (1876), the phonograph (early form of
record player) (1877), the electric light (1879), and the petrol-engine
rich and varied natural resources played a key role in the rise of big
business. The nation's abundant water supply helped power the industrial
machines. Forests provided timber for construction and wooden products. Miners
took large quantities of coal and iron ore from the ground.
A growing population.
than 25 million immigrants entered the United States between 1870 and
1916. Immigration plus natural growth caused the U.S. population to more
than double during the same period, rising from about 40 million to
about 100 million.
In the late 1800's, the American railway system became a
nationwide transportation network. The total distance of all railway
lines in operation in the United States soared from about 14,500 kilometres in 1850 to almost 320,000 kilometres in 1900. A high point in
railway development came in 1869, when workers laid tracks that joined
the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railways near Ogden, Utah. This
event marked the completion of the world's first transcontinental
railway system. The system linked the United States by rail from coast
The new railways
spurred economic growth.
Mining companies used them to ship raw
materials to factories over long distances quickly. Manufacturers
distributed their finished products by rail to points throughout the
country. The railways became highly profitable businesses for their
communication provided a boost for the economy. Railways replaced such
mail-delivery systems as the stagecoach. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell
invented the telephone. These developments, along with the telegraph,
provided the quick communication that is vital to the smooth operation
of big business.
The business boom triggered a sharp increase in investments in
the stocks and bonds of corporations. As businesses prospered, people
eager to share in the profits invested heavily. Their investments
provided capital that companies needed to expand their operations.
New banks sprang up
throughout the country.
Banks helped finance the nation's economic
growth by making loans to businesses. Some bankers of the era assumed
key positions in the American economy because of their ability to
provide huge sums of capital.
The South and the West
The war-torn South. After
the Civil War, Americans in the South faced the task of rebuilding their
war-torn society. The South lagged behind the rest of the nation
economically. Some industry developed in the region, but the South
remained an agricultural area throughout the period of industrialization.
farmers--both black and white--owned the land they worked. But in
general, the land of these small, independent farmers was poor. The best
land was given over to tenant farming--a system in which labourers farm
the land and pay rent in money or crops to the owner. The tenant farming
system had neither the virtues of the plantation system of pre-Civil War
days nor of the independent owner system. The tenant farmers lacked the
incentive to improve land that was not their own, and the owners did not
have full control over production. For these and other reasons,
agriculture remained more backward in the South than elsewhere.
The end of the
The long process of settling the United States from
coast to coast drew to a close after the Civil War. In 1862, Congress
passed the Homestead Act, which offered public land to people free or at
very low cost. Thousands of Americans and immigrants started farms in
the West under the provisions of the act.
settlement became so widespread in the West that it was no longer
possible to draw a continuous frontier line. The United States Census of
1890 officially recognized the fact that America's frontier had ended.
The settlement of the
West brought an end to the American Indian way of life. Farmers occupied
and fenced in much of the land. White people moving westward
slaughtered buffalo herds on which Indians depended for survival. Some
Indians retaliated against the whites by attacking wagon trains and
homes. But, as in earlier days, the federal government sent soldiers to
crush the Indian uprisings. In the end, the Indians were no match for
the soldiers and their superior weapons. Over the years, the federal
government pushed more and more Indians onto reservations.
Life during the industrial era
The industrial boom
had major effects on the lives of the American people. The availability
of jobs in industries drew people from farms to cities in record numbers. In
1870, only about 25 per cent of the American people lived in urban areas. By
1916, the figure had reached almost 50 per cent.
The lives of people
in the cities contrasted sharply.
A small percentage of them had
enormous wealth and enjoyed lives of luxury. Below them economically,
the larger middle class lived comfortably. But at the bottom of the
economic ladder, a huge mass of city people lived in extreme poverty.
business boom opened up many opportunities for financial gain. The
economic activity it generated enabled many people to establish
successful businesses, expand existing ones, and profit from investments.
Some business leaders and investors were able to amass huge fortunes. The
number of millionaires in the United States grew from perhaps about 20
in 1850 to more than 3,000 in 1900.
The middle class.
city people prospered enough to live lives of comfort, if not wealth. They
included owners of small businesses, and such workers as factory and
office managers. They became part of America's growing middle class.
The labourers who toiled in factories, mills, and mines did not share in the
benefits of the economic growth. They usually worked at least 60 hours a
week for an average pay of about 20 cents an hour, and had no fringe
As the nation's
population grew, so did the competition for jobs. The supply of workers
outstripped the demand. The oversupply of workers led to high
unemployment. In addition, depressions slowed the economy to a near
standstill in 1873, 1884, 1893, and 1907.
The everyday life of
the city poor was dismal and drab. The poor lived crowded together in
slums. Much of their housing consisted of cheap apartment buildings
called tenements. The crowded slum neighbourhoods bred crime. Overwork,
poor sanitation, and inadequate diet left slum dwellers vulnerable to
disease. Many poor children received little or no education, because
they had to work to contribute to their families' welfare.
farmers also suffered hardships after the Civil War. Advances in
agricultural equipment and techniques had enabled most of the farmers to
increase their production. However, middlemen between the farmers and
the consumers took a large share of the money earned from farm products. The
middlemen included owners of railways, mills, and gins.
The Gilded Age.
American author Mark Twain called the era of industrialization "The
Gilded Age." Twain used this term to describe the culture of the newly
rich of the period. Lacking tradition, the wealthy developed a showy
culture supposedly based on the culture of upper-class Europeans. The
enormous mansions of the newly rich Americans imitated European palaces. The
wealthy filled the mansions with European works of art, antiques, rare
books, and gaudy decorations.
however, had a far different idea of culture. They enjoyed fairs that
exhibited industrial machines, the latest inventions, and other items
related to America's material progress. The American people were eager
spectators at circuses, vaudeville shows, and sporting events. Baseball
became so popular after 1900 that it was called the national pastime. Also
after 1900, a new kind of entertainment, the cinema, began attracting
Government and the
After the Civil War, the Democratic and Republican parties
developed strong political machines. Members of these organizations kept
in contact with the people, and did them favours in return for votes. But
in general, political leaders strongly favoured business interests.
Government of the era
was also marked by widespread corruption. Ulysses S. Grant became
president in 1869. Members of Grant's administration used their
government positions for their own financial gain. Corruption also
flourished in state and local government.
A strong spirit of
reform swept through the United States during the late 1800's and early
1900's. Many Americans called for changes in the country's economic,
political, and social systems. They wanted to reduce poverty, improve
the living conditions of the poor, and regulate big business. They
worked to end corruption in government, make government more responsive
to the people, and accomplish other goals. By 1917, the reformers had
brought about many changes. Some reformers called themselves
progressives. As a result, the period of American history from about
1890 to about 1917 is often called the Progressive Era.
Early reform efforts
included movements to organize labourers and farmers. In 1886, skilled
labourers formed the American Federation of Labor (AFL)--now the
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). Led
by Samuel Gompers, this union bargained with employers and gained better
wages and working conditions for its members. Farmers founded the
National Grange in 1867 and Farmers' Alliances during the 1870's and
1880's. These groups helped force railways to lower their charges for
hauling farm products and assisted the farmers in other ways.
The drive for woman
suffrage became strong after the Civil War. In 1869, Susan B. Anthony
and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage
Association. The Territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote the
same year. Soon, a few states allowed women to vote, but only in local
Era. The outcry for reform increased sharply after 1890. Members of the
clergy, social workers, and others studied life in the slums and
reported on the awful living conditions there. Educators criticized the
nation's school system. Increasingly, unskilled workers resorted to
strikes in an attempt to gain concessions from their employers. Often,
violence broke out between strikers and strikebreakers hired by the
employers. Socialists and others who opposed the U.S. economic system of
capitalism supported the strikers and gained a large following.
As public support for
reform grew, so did the political influence of the reformers. In 1891,
farmers and some labourers formed the People's, or Populist, Party. The
Populists called for government action to help farmers and labourers. They
gained a large following, and convinced many Democrats and Republicans
to support reforms.
Reformers won control
of many city and some state governments. They also elected many people
to Congress who favoured their views. In addition, the first three
presidents elected after 1900--Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft,
and Woodrow Wilson--supported certain reform laws.
Local and state
Reformers in local and state government passed many laws to
help the poor. Such laws provided for tenement house inspection,
playgrounds, and other improvements of life in the slums. Some reform
governments expanded public education and forced employers to protect
workers against fires and dangerous machinery in factories.
Roosevelt, who became president in 1901, was a liberal Republican who
called for a "square deal" for all Americans. Roosevelt became the first
president to help labourers in a strike against employers. In 1902, the
United Mine Workers struck for better wages and working conditions. Roosevelt
asked the miners and the mine owners to settle their differences through
arbitration, but the mine owners refused. Angered, the president
threatened to have the army take over the mines. The owners gave in, and
reached a compromise with the miners.
Howard Taft succeeded Roosevelt in 1909. Although a conservative, Taft
helped further the cause of reform. In 1912, conservative Republicans
backed Taft for their party's presidential nomination, and liberal
Republicans supported Roosevelt. Taft won the nomination. The liberals
then formed the Progressive, or "Bull Moose," Party and nominated
Roosevelt for president. The Republican split enabled reform Democrat
Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency.
The reform movement
flourished under Wilson. The many reform measures passed during Wilson's
presidency included the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913, which lowered a
high tariff that protected American business from foreign competition.
During the 1870's and
1880's, the United States paid relatively little attention to foreign
affairs. In comparison to such European nations as France, Germany, and
Great Britain, the United States was weak militarily and had little
influence in international politics. During the 1890's and early 1900's,
however, the United States developed into a world power and took a
leading role in international affairs.
War of 1898 marked a turning point in United States foreign policy. Spain
ruled Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and other overseas possessions
during the 1890's. In the mid-1890's, Cubans revolted against their
Spanish rulers. Many Americans demanded that the United States aid the
rebels. On Feb. 15, 1898, the United States battleship Maine blew up off
the coast of Havana, Cuba. No one was certain what caused the explosion,
but many Americans blamed the Spaniards. On April 25, 1898, Congress
declared war on Spain. The United States quickly defeated Spain, and the
Treaty of Paris of Dec. 10, 1898, officially ended the war. Under the
treaty, the United States received Guam, Puerto Rico, and the
Philippines from Spain. Also in 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii.
A world power.
he became president in 1901, Roosevelt expressed his foreign policy
strategy with the slogan, "Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick."
Roosevelt meant that the country must back up its diplomatic efforts
with military strength. In 1903, the president used a threat of force to
gain the right to dig the Panama Canal. America took over the finances
of the Dominican Republic in 1905 to keep that country stable and free
from European intervention. These and other actions showed that the
United States had emerged as a world power.
War clouds in Europe.
1914, long-standing problems among European nations led to the outbreak
of World War I. Before long, events would drag the United States into
war and test its new role as a world power.