Gilded Age

Illinois during the Gilded Age (Northern Illinois University)
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Note to myself: Insert these below where applicable

The Industrial Age in America: Sweatshops, Steel Mills, and Factories EDSITEment

May 10, 1869 | First Transcontinental Railroad Is Completed -

Today in History: May 10 Transcontinental Railroad (Library of Congress)

Transcontinental Railroad (American Experience)
My Website Spotlight blog post

Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876 (Stanford History Education Group)

Battle of the Little Bighorn (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Boomer Sooners land rush (New York Times)


U.S. had extensive natural resources

  • Coal, iron, timber, petroleum, and waterpower.

U.S. had abundant labor

  • Ex–farm families
  • Immigrants.

U.S. became the largest free trade market in the world.

  • Role of the railroad in knitting the country together.
  • A nationwide transportation network.

Investors liked the profit outlook.

Government at all levels helped business:

  • Money
  • Land
  • Stability
  • Upheld private property
  • Laissez–faire approach.

Accelerated technological innovation: new inventions

U.S. had capable business leadership

  • Called captains of industry by their admirers
  • Called robber barons by their critic

Let's talk about the difference in the terms: captains of industry versus robber barons

We will focus on several business leaders:

John D. Rockefeller
Andrew Carnegie
J.P. Morgan
Thomas Edison
George Westinghouse
Henry Ford
Frederick Taylor

John D. Rockefeller (oil)

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John D. Rockefeller (American Experience)
My Website Spotlight blog post

John D. Rockefeller obituary (New York Times)

John D. Rockefeller (Finding Dulcinea)

First Oil Well in U.S. Strikes Oil (On This Day, Finding Dulcinea)

Standard Oil Ordered to Dissolve (On This Day, Finding Dulcinea)

Andrew Carnegie (steel)

Andrew Carnegie: The Richest Man in the World (American Experience)
My Website Spotlight blog post

Andrew Carnegie obituary (New York Times)

Andrew Carnegie (Library of Congress)

The Gospel According to Andrew: Carnegie’s Hymn to Wealth (History Matters)

Carnegie Libraries (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Carnegie Libraries (Teaching with Historic Places)

J[ohn] P[ierpont] Morgan (investment banking)

J.P. Morgan (American Experience)

J.P. Morgan (Digital History)

J.P. Morgan

See also:

Back Stairs at Brucemore: Life as Servants in early 20th-Century America (Teaching with Historic Places)

Thomas Edison (DC—direct current)

Thomas Edison obituary (New York Times)

Electrical industry.

Importance of electricity to American industrial growth
Changes in American life style.

Thomas Edison biographical sketch (Library of Congress)

Thomas Edison (Library of Congress)

Thomas Edison Develops Incandescent Light-Bulb (On This Day, Finding Dulcinea)

Thomas Edison Announces Invention of Phonograph (On This Day, Finding Dulcinea)

George Westinghouse (AC—alternating current)

George Westinghouse (PBS)

Inside an American Factory Westinghouse Factories (Library of Congress)

Henry Ford. Mass production of the automobile.

Henry Ford obituary (New York Times)

Henry Ford (Today in History, Library of Congress)

Henry Ford (PBS)

Assembly–line methods (1913)
Model T cars cheap and readily available.

The First Model-T Ford Is Produced (On This Day, Finding Dulcinea)

Horseless Carriages and Ford's Model T (Chronicling America, Library of Congress)

Model T Road Trip (Henry Ford Museum)

Frederick W. Taylor

Frederick Taylor (PBS)

Frederick Taylor (NY Times obituary)

Guru: Frederick W. Taylor (Economist)

Emphasis on efficient production using
Scientific management methods
Time studies.


Let's check out these recent articles about Apple.

What comparisons to America during the Gilded Age.

Apple Accused of Ignoring 'Human Cost' of Manufacturing (PC World)

Apple’s iPad and the Human Costs for Workers in China (New York Times)

"8-Hour Work Day" (Today in History, Library of Congress)
This article sets the stage for our discussion of the labor movement.

Changing status of labor
  • Industrialization changed the nature of work
  • Power of employers increased
  • Worker independence and self-respect declined
  • Industrial workers were employees rather than crafts persons
  • Robot-like tasks made them feel like machines.
  • Emphasis on quantity over quality dehumanized the workplace
  • Workers resisted these trends
  • Worker resistance only led employers to tighten restrictions

Iron law of wages
  • Employees paid according to conditions of supply and demand.
  • Employers would set wages as low as possible

At a level where some persons would accept the work

Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900 (Library of Congress: American Memory Timeline)

Work in the Late 19th Century

Companies hired women and children to further cut costs
  • Prevailing free–market views stifled protective legislation for workers
  • Employers denied responsibility for employees' well–being.
  • Repetitive work decreased concentration and caused industrial accidents.

Child Labor (Ohio History online)

Child Labor in America, 1908-1912 (History Place)

No workers' comp at the time.
If you got hurt, tough luck.
  • Is beating down the worker a prerequisite for industrialization? Should we care how Thailand runs its factories today?
  • Courts reinforced iron law of wages

Denied workers the right to bargain collectively
Wages a private negotiation b/n employee & employer.

Important Supreme Court cases on the issue of management/labor

(1) Holden v. Hardy (1896)—ok to limit hours of miners, a dangerous job

(2) Lochner v. New York (1905)—cannot limit bakers' hours, not a dangerous job

(3) Muller v. Oregon (1908)—10-hour limit ok for women; protect their fragility.

A Look at Muller v. Oregon with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (C-SPAN)


Our Day: Turning Our Backs on Unions (New York Times)

Out of frustration, some workers began to participate in unions
Unionization efforts took various directions.

A. Knights of Labor

Terence V. Powderly (Ohio History online)

Terence V. Powderly Distances the Knights of Labor from the Haymarket Martyrs (History Matters)

Knights of Labor was broadly based: Accepted all workers

Knights of Labor (Ohio History online)

  • Opposed the idea of strikes.
  • Envisioned a cooperative society

Laborers would own the companies

2. American Federation of Labor (AFL)

Key name: Samuel Gompers

Samuel Gompers (AFL-CIO)

Samuel Gompers (Ohio History online)

American Federation of Labor was a craft (skill) union.

American Federation of Labor (Ohio History online)

Did not accept unskilled workers
Pressed for concrete goals:

Higher wages
Shorter hours
Right to collective bargaining.

Willing to work within the capitalist system.


Panic of 1873 (On This Day, New York Times)

Panic of 1873 (Teaching

New York and the Panic of 1873 (New York Times)


Summary of the Haymarket Riot:

Riot protested police brutality against labor demonstrators.
Police killed by a bomb thrown by supposed anarchists (want no govt)
Revived middle–class fears of unions.

Haymarket (Stanford History Education Group)

Haymarket (Famous Trials)
My Website Spotlight blog post

The Dramas of Haymarket (Chicago Historical Society)

Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair, 1886-1887 (Library of Congress)


Riot protested police brutality against labor demonstrators.
Police killed by a bomb thrown by supposed anarchists (want no govt)
Revived middle–class fears of unions.

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Chicago Anarchists on Trial: Evidence from the Haymarket Affair (LOC)

Anarchists (Chronicling America)

Today in History: December 30 Altgeld, Anarchists

The Dramas of Haymarket

Haymarket Affair (Chronicling America)

Haymarket (Famous Trials)



Homestead (Stanford History Education Group)

Steelworkers strike against Carnegie Steel Company.
Henry Frick hired Pinkerton guards to protect the plant.
Workers battled the guards.
National guard called out.

1. Background articles

The Homestead and Pullman Strikes

Homestead Strike (AFL-CIO)

2. From the Andrew Carnegie website (American Experience)
a. Overview (from the "People and Events"

b. Details (from the "Special Features" section) Strike at Homestead Mill

The Homestead Letters
The Hated Men in Blue
A New Judas Iscariot

The Strike at Homestead (OSU eHistory)



Pullman (American Experience)

Samuel Gompers: Editorial on the Pullman Strike (1894)

Pullman (Stanford History Education Group)

The Homestead and Pullman Strikes

Pullman Strike (Chicago Historical Society)

George Pullman (Finding Dulcinea)

Pullman Porters (Chronicling America LOC)

Eugene Debs and Pullman Strike (Finding Dulcinea)


Pullman Strike

Origins of Labor Day and Pullman Strike

Broken Spirits: Letters on the Pullman Strike

  • Against exploitative policies of Pullman Palace Car Company.
  • Government intervened on the side of management

To ensure mail deliveries (supposedly)
President Cleveland sent troops to put down the strike.

Pullman Porters (Chronicling America LOC)

See also:

Eugene Debs and Pullman Strike

Eugene Debs and Pullman Strike


Political Songs (2 screens)

Party Politics
  • Politics was the most popular form of local recreation,

More popular than baseball, vaudeville, or circuses.
  • Political torchlight parades, picnics, and speeches were exciting.
  • Close political party balance.
  • [Commentators compared the 2000 election results to that during the Gilded Age.
  • Neither political party gained clear control for any sizable time.
  • Presidential elections were close
  • Swing states (New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois) made the difference.
  • Political party choice dependent on religion and ethnicity.

Republican party

  • Party of evangelical Protestants.
  • Believed government could be an agent of moral reform
  • World must be purged of evil
  • Legislation necessary to protect people from sin.
  • Opposed parochial schools.
  • Supported prohibition of liquor.

Republicans and the Bible

Democratic party

Party of immigrant Catholics and Jews.
Opposed interference by government in

Matters of personal liberty
Use of leisure time
Celebration of Sunday.
  • Supported parochial schools
  • Opposed prohibition of liquor


  • Major realigning election in U.S. history
  • Winner: William McKinley—a Republican

McKinley conducted a traditional "front porch" campaign
McKinley supported the gold standard.
Republican platform emphasized
  • Federal government support of the economy
  • The virtues of the urban–industrial society
  • Progress and prosperity: a full dinner pail
  • Loser: William Jennings Bryan—a Democrat

Bryan broke with tradition; traveled across the country
Bryan supported free silver
Bryan argued for an older America
  • Farms as important as factories,
  • Rural and religious life outweighed sinfulness of the city
  • Common people, not corporations, still ruled.
  • Election of 1896 realigned national politics.

Old split: North versus South

The "Bloody Shirt"
Vote as you shot

New split:

East versus West
City versus farm

Election of 1896

1896 Presidential Campaign (Vassar)
My Website Spotlight blog post

To get some context, read the portion regarding the Election of 1896 from this biographical material about William McKinley.

Try to understand the 1896 material on its own terms, but--to a brief extent--consider the current 2012 Presidential campaign dynamics as a comparison.

William McKinley

The Republicans, Mark Hanna, and Labor

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan (Today in History, Library of Congress)

1896 Election (New York Times, On This Day)

Election of 1896:

Political Parties in the 1896 Presidential election campaign:

The Republican Party (main page)

The Democratic Party (main page)

The Populist Party (main page)

Bryan and the Bible
Bryan, Religion, and the Silver Question

McKinley Supporters and the Bible

Racial Prejudice

Plessy versus Ferguson
(Today in History, Library of Congress)


Women in the Campaign


The Currency Issue

Check out these sites; both gold and silver fluctuate in price:

Gold Standard

March 14, 1900 | U.S. Officially Adopts Gold Standard -

In Rise of Gold Bugs, History Repeats Itself -

Back to a Gold Standard? - Room for Debate -

FDR takes United States off gold standard — This Day in History — 6/5/1933

Economic Depression of 1893


Farmers and Laborers


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Search term: William Jennings Bryan 1896

1896 Election (New York Times, On This Day)

Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” Speech

William Jennings Bryan (Library of Congress)

Bryan (Vassar)


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William Mckinley (Miller Center, University of Virginia)

William McKinley (American Experience)

McKinley Administration (Chronicling America, Library of Congress)

McKinley Assassination

September 6, 1901| President McKinley Assassinated -

On This Day: President McKinley Fatally Shot by Anarchist