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American Gilded Age

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American Gilded Age

America in the nineteenth and the early twentieth century saw electricity in homes, telephones, the transcontinental railroad, massive urbanization, and millions of immigrants! The era bears the term “Gilded Age” after Mark Twain and Dudley Warner’s book The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The implication was that prosperous and industrialized America was tarnished under the surface with corruption, poor working conditions, and social problems. While heavy industry skyrocketed industrial growth, this translated into poor conditions for the working class. The Gilded Age is most notorious for producing the wealthiest industrialists of the time, aptly called Captains of Industry and Robber Barons. Continue reading to understand what the Gilded Age meant for America!

American Experience in the Gilded Age

New Technology

American Gilded Age, East and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail, Study SmarterEast and West Shaking Hands at Laying Last Rail. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Technological advancements during the gilded age ushered in a new standard of living for Americans. The late nineteenth century saw an explosion of inventive creativity that brought inventions such as harnessing electricity, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and sewing machines. With access to commercial electricity, factories began situating themselves in large cities. As factories became commonplace, waves of immigrants arrived in America searching for work.

Did you know?

By 1880, the transcontinental railroad transported roughly $50 million worth of products each year. You could order almost anything and have it shipped across the country via train!

The country saw a rapid wave of industrialization with technological advancements such as railroads, steel, and new communications technology. For example, the railroad became the first extensive and significant technological advancement that saw use even in the Civil War and ultimately created an efficient method of quickly transporting goods across the country. Production processes, such as steel-making, saw an advancement known as the Bessemer process, which allowed for stronger quality steel. Also, the commercial use of electricity allowed businesses, offices, and other manufacturers to increase production and, consequently, working hours. Unfortunately, the extended working day deteriorated conditions and workers' lives.

Rose Memory Acronym:

This Acronym will help you remember the key technological advancements throughout the Gilded Age.

Railroads (Transcontinental)

Oil

Steel

Electricity

Did you know?

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, and towards the end of the 19th century, almost 50,000 telephones existed!

Urban life

Fueled by millions of immigrants and industrialization, the sweeping urbanization of the U.S. population caused movement toward large cities instead of rural areas. Due to the rapid pace of American urbanization, logical urban planning did not exist, leaving city infrastructure poorly equipped to handle the population surges. The result led to the poorest living conditions, such as overcrowded tenements and slums. Housing generally did not provide heating and sanitation, and with no access to medical care, millions died from diseases. However, while many slums had poor living conditions, others believed them to be crucial social hubs, especially for new immigrants.

"She argues that many urban dwellers proudly identified with their urban “slums,” which served as vital points of cultural transition for the new arrivals.” -Hasia Diner, Lower East Side Memories and Erin's Daughters in America, 2002

The above quote implies the importance of ethnic enclaves in urban areas throughout the Gilded Era. These areas gave immigrants a familiar place to transition into American life.

Tenement- A set of rooms with a building that forms a separate residence

Slums- An overcrowded street generally inhabited by a lower class

Immigrants in the Gilded Age

Immigrants flooded the United States in the millions throughout the Gilded Age seeking the "American Dream ."Roughly 11.7 million immigrants came to America during this period, with 10.6 million coming from Europe. Immigrants rarely brought substantial belongings or funds, making a new life in America a rough start. Most immigrants arrived in major urban centers like New York, Chicago, and Boston. Taking advantage of immigrants, business owners and managers paid meager wages for the most challenging jobs, long hours, and dangerous conditions. Owners took other precautions to keep immigrants from organizing and voicing opinions against their conditions. However, eventually, labor unions started to form and ultimately began to organize protests and strikes against the factories. The American Dream was Gilded, and many immigrants found it more complex. For example, low wages and deteriorating working conditions translated into poor living conditions, especially in urban slums.

Native American Issues During the Gilded Age

American Gilded Age, Native American Traditional Dress, Study SmarterNative American Traditional Dress. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

While America became an industrial nation, Native American culture, lifestyle, and lands disappeared with the Congressional passing of several social and political acts. In 1871, the Indian Appropriations Act imparted a crushing blow to Native American sovereignty as it dictated the U.S. government's attitude and policy regarding Native Americans. The act stated that the government no longer accepted or recognized Native American tribes as legitimate. All tribal lands belonged to the United States, not Native Americans. The government's refusal to acknowledge Native American independence made them subjugated to further congressional acts that sought to continue the erosion of Native American culture.

The Dawes Act of 1887, also called the General Allotment Act, gave the president the power to split up tribal lands and assign them to individual Native Americans instead of the entire tribe. The act allotted 160 acres for use as farmland and 320 acres for grazing to coerce Native Americans into gaining citizenship. However, to gain land ownership and citizenship, Native Americans lost their tribal identities as the government discontinued recognition of tribes. The Dawes Act subsequently tore land from Native American tribes and dissolved their culture overnight.

African American Life in the Gilded Age

American Gilded Age, Group of Florida migrants near Shawboro, North Carolina, Study SmarterGroup of Florida migrants near Shawboro, North Carolina, on their way to Cranberry, New Jersey, to pick potatoes. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing to seek civil rights, liberties, and economic opportunities in the decades following the Civil War, African Americans sought new ways of life in the South and other areas of the country. Unfortunately, racism hit a new high in the Gilded Age, and race relations intensified with the segregation provisions of Jim Crow laws. Often, facilities became racially divided, allowing whites and forcing African Americans to use separate stores, bathrooms, lunchrooms, and train cars. The repercussions for not following Jim Crow generally resulted in extreme violence.

Many African Americans felt tied to agriculture and remained in the South. The prior plantation system evolved into tenant farming that generally employed African Americans. The new tenant system required payments for the rental of land, equipment, and seeds. The system existed to keep tenants indebted with no financial way out. However, other African Americans looked to the blossoming industrial nation as a way out and left rural areas to seek new jobs.

Jim Crow- laws enabling states to enforce legal segregation

Tenant Farming- A system where a person (tenant) rented land from someone to farm

Stratification of American Society in the Gilded Age

Inequality among Americans peaked during the Gilded Age creating a significant gap in the social stratification of American society. The gap between the social classes in American society became the most pronounced throughout the Gilded Age. By 1900, only ten percent of the country’s population controlled ninety percent of America’s wealth.

Stratification- the arrangement or classification of something into different groups

Robber Barons and Captains of Industry

American Gilded Age, The Protectors of our Industries, Study SmarterThe Protectors of our Industries. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the Gilded Age, business opportunities proliferated, leaving prominent industrial leaders some of the wealthiest individuals in the world, even by today's standards. The immense wealth gained by individuals such as John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Andrew Carnegie underscored the financial inequality between the upper, middle, and lower classes. The men who accessed such great wealth soon became known as both robber barons and captains of industry.

Robber barons and captains of industry are business tycoons, yet each title defined a particular method of acquiring wealth. The term robber baron is effectively hostile, labeling businessmen who used questionable and unethical practices to create a monopolistic industry. Captains of Industry became labeled philanthropists and used their wealth to benefit society. Wealthy industrialists of the era were often called by both titles due to the gap in the social classes.

Food in the American Gilded Age

American Gilded Age, Dinner at Delmonico's restaurant in honor of Admiral Campion, Study SmarterDinner at Delmonico's restaurant in honor of Admiral Campion. Source: Wikimedia Commons

New advancements in technology and manufacturing and the mass consumption market brought a unique variety of foods. Before the Gilded Age, many relied on themselves for food and resources. However, people began relying on larger organizations to provide goods after mass industrialization in the late nineteenth century. New inventions of the Gilded Age brought about a food revolution that allowed for easily prepared food. For example, the food industry experimented with tin cans and frozen food to extend the shelf life of goods. However, with the diversity of food did not come equal accessibility. Income equality also translated into food disparity between the upper, middle, and lower classes.

American Gilded Age - Key takeaways

  • New technological advancements ushered in a wave of industrialization. These advancements included:
  • Congress enacted several pieces of legislation that affected Native Americans
    • Indian Appropriations Act announced that the U.S. no longer recognized Native American tribes as legitimate
    • Dawes Act gave the president the power to split up tribal lands
  • Race relations intensified with the segregation provisions of Jim Crow laws, and African Americans looked to the industrial nation as a way out of the South.
  • Inequality between social classes peaked during the Gilded Age
    • By 1900 only 10% of the country's population controlled 90% of the nation's wealth

Frequently Asked Questions about American Gilded Age

  1. The Gilded Age in America is the time frame from the 1860s to 1896 where massive industrialization, urbanization, and immigration changed America politically, economically, and socially. The era was termed the Gilded Age based on the implication that the surface in America shined like gold, but underneath corruption, poor working conditions, and social unrest prevailed. 

Immigrants in the Gilded Age did not abuse the American dream, but became abused by it instead. Being lured to America for stable opportunities, immigrants were often met with deplorable living conditions, poor wages, and difficult jobs.

New technology improved American life based on what social class  one belonged to. For example, the upper and middle classes reaped many benefits from new technology. However, the lower class, often those found working in factories, dealt with the negative side of technological advancements. Electricity provided the ability for businesses to stay open longer, but that equated to longer working hours for workers.

African American art was scant in the Gilded Age, but it eventually evolved into the Harlem Renaissance from 1917 to the 1930s. In the Harlem Renaissance African American art focused on their fight for freedom and their struggle for equality.

American life drastically changed in the Gilded Age due to the massive wave of industrialization and new technologies. Prior to the Gilded Age, many relied heavily on themselves for food and resources. However, advances created a nation of consumers. For example, new food technology created food that could be prepared easily. Railroads provided transportation, but also opened up a mass consumer market where almost anything could be purchased and delivered anywhere in the country. 

Final American Gilded Age Quiz

Question

The term "Gilded Age" was coined by what two authors? 

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Answer

Mark Twain and Dudley Warner

Show question

Question

What three congressional acts impacted Native Americans in the Gilded Age, and what did each one accomplish? 

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Answer

  1. Indian Appropriations Act- U.S. government no longer recognized Native American tribes as legitimate 

  2. Dawes Act/General Allotment Act- Split up tribal lands and redistributed them to Native Americans with the promise of citizenship. 

  3. Major Crimes Act- the U.S. government had jurisdiction over major crimes committed by Native Americans.

Show question

Question

What significant set of laws did African Americans have to deal with, particularly in the South? 

Show answer

Answer

Jim Crow Laws 

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Question

By 1900 what percent of the population controlled ninety percent of the wealth? 

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Answer

Ten percent 

Show question

Question

Explain why certain businessmen were called robber barons? 

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Answer

These men used unethical means to create a monopolistic industry. 

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Question

A captain of industry was defined as doing what with his wealth?

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Answer

Becoming a philanthropist and bettering the community as a whole 

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Question

What article did Andrew Carnegie write, and what was the main idea?


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Answer

Gospel of Wealth which theorized it was the responsibility of the self-made wealthy and upper class to participate in philanthropic endeavors 

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Question

What were the four most essential industries in the Gilded Age?


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Answer

R-railroads 

O-Oil 

S-Steel 

E- Electricity 

Show question

Question

The majority of immigrants arrived from what area?


Show answer

Answer

Europe

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Question

Urban life for immigrants was dominated by what kind of living conditions?


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Answer

Living conditions were poor with overcrowding, no heating, and poor sanitation.

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Question

Describe immigrants working conditions.


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Answer

Immigrants took the most challenging jobs with little pay and often had the longest working hours.

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Question

When did the Gilded Age take place?


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Answer

The 1860s- 1896

Show question

Question

Who patented a new method for creating stronger steel?


Show answer

Answer

Henry Bessemer

Show question

Question

What was one major communication advancement in the Gilded Age?


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Answer

Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone 

The proliferation of telegraph lines across the country

Show question

Question

What was a tenement in the Gilded Age?


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Answer

A set of rooms with a building that formed a separate residence. Tenements were generally overcrowded with poor heating and sanitation.

Show question

Question

Who were the four main Robber Barons of the Gilded Era? 

Show answer

Answer

Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller 

Show question

Question

What Robber Baron controlled 90% of the US oil? 

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Answer

John D. Rockefeller 

Show question

Question

Why were industrialists called Robber Barons? 

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Answer

They utilized ruthless and unfair business practices to increase their profit margins. 

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Question

What was the main outcome of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890?

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Answer

It prohibited formation of trusts, cartels, and monopolies

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Question

What was the purpose of the Insterstate Commerce Act of 1887?

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Answer

To prevent powerful railroad companies from joining together to control prices

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Question

Which of the following historical events did NOT have a major impact on the government's oversight of the economy?

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Answer

The Oregon Trail

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Question

Which of the following is true of the government's role in the econonmy?

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Answer

The government regulates businesses to ensure ethical practices

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What legislative committee oversees the economy?

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Answer

The Joint Economic Committee

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What were Captains of Industry? 

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Answer

Men who were generous with their wealth and practiced philanthropy 

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Question

Though viewed as unfavorable, Robber Barons ushered in industrial advancements during this time. Name two examples of this. 

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Answer

Andrew Carnegie successfully adopting the Bessemer Process in his steel company. 

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Question

Name the piece of legislation that wished to end unregulated business practices. 

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Answer

Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 

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What was the core purpose of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act? 

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Answer

End the reign of the Robber Barons

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Question

What was the name of John D. Rockefeller's business? 

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Answer

Standard Oil 

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Question

What union strike tainted Andrew Carnegie's reputation? 

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Answer

Homestead Strike of 1892 

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Question

What is a trust? 

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Answer

A monopoly or big business in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that made agreements to carry on exclusive power/control over a particular industry

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Question

During what time frame did Robber Barons and Captains of Industry exist?  

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Answer

18th-19th centuries

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Question

What industry did Cornelius Vanderbilt enter after being involved with the steamship industry? 

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Answer

Railroads

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Which Robber Baron preached about workers' rights to unionize? 

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Answer

Andrew Carnegie 

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What was a monopoly? 

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Answer

singular control/possession of the supply or trade-in service or commodity 

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Question

What three aspects of living was Social Darwinism applied to? 

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Answer

Economics 

Politics 

Society/Social Classes

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Who was the author of Social Darwinism?

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Answer

Herbert Spencer 

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What phrase dominated Social Darwinism?

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Answer

Survival of the Fittest

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What economical idea did Herbert Spencer believe in?

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Answer

laissez-faire capitalism

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Question

According to Social Darwinism, what were the two roles of government? 

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Answer

1. Protect the people from criminals 

2. Protect the people/country from invasion

Show question

Question

According to Spencer, taxation had what major impact on the wealthy? 

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Answer

Taxation was a seizure of wealth and only undermined the success of the fittest. 

Show question

Question

Who gained the most from Social Darwinism in Gilded Age America?

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Answer

Wealthy/Business Class

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Question

How did the working class respond to Social Darwinism? 

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Answer

formed labor unions

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Question

List three examples of Social Darwinism. 

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Answer

1. America's Eugenics Movement 

2. American Imperialism 

3. Adolf Hitler-Eugenics Movement and Holocaust 

Show question

Question

Which country embraced Social Darwinism as evidentiary support for wiping out an entire race? 

Show answer

Answer

Germany

Show question

Question

After what war did Chinese immigration increase in America? 

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Answer

Civil War 

Show question

Question

List the two factors that led to the drastic rise in Chinese Immigration? 

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Answer

1. Expansive economic and Industrial Growth 

2. Increased need for cheap labor

Show question

Question

What led to the creation of Chinatown in San Francisco? 

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Answer

California's high tax known as the Foreign Miners License Tax ($20/month)

Show question

Question

The Chinese made up what percentage of the labor force working on the railroad? 

Show answer

Answer

90%

Show question

Question

What major Anti-Chinese legislation was passed in order to ban Chinese Immigration? 

Show answer

Answer

The Chinese Exclusion Act 

Show question

Question

When was the Chinese Exclusion Act finally repealed? 

Show answer

Answer

1952

Show question

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