The Gilded Age (1877-1900) and Progressive Era (1890-1914)

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The Gilded Age (1877-1900) and Progressive Era (1890-1914)

How did the United States change due to extreme wealth and power being controlled by a few industrialists?
Are we in a Gilded Age today?
How can progressive reforms fix problems such as those seen in the Gilded Age?
Gilded Age Defined

The late 1800s is often called the Gilded Age because of the great wealth of a few that masked the devastating poverty of the many. The blame for poverty was largely put upon the poor with ideas such as Social Darwinism and writings such as Horatio Alger Jr.’s “rags to riches” novels.

Gilded Age

Social Darwinism

Horatio Alger
Technologies of the Gilded Age

New technology would provide great changes during the late 1800s. The technologies helped cities grow, made communication faster, made travel faster, and increased the role of mechanization and electricity in our lives.

Bessemer process

Alexander Graham Bell

Thomas Edison

Businesses and the individuals that controlled them grew incredibly large and powerful in the late 1800s. The industrialists behind the businesses were sometimes called “captains of industry” because of the advancements that their businesses made, such as providing jobs and generating money that went to good causes. These industrialists were also sometimes called “robber barons” because of the negative impacts of their huge companies, such as ruthless business practices and involvement in political corruption.

Andrew Carnegie

Gospel of Wealth

John Rockefeller

J.P. Morgan

Cornelius Vanderbilt



horizontal consolidation

vertical consolidation

The growth of big business led to increased abuses of workers, often immigrants, in sweatshops. This included low wages and child labor. Labor unions would form and expand in response to these abuses, most famously the American Federation of Labor. The tactics used by labor unions were mostly ineffective due to the power and influence of the industrialists and the oversupply of immigrant workers. The government sided with the big businessmen, even using police and federal troops to force an end to strikes. Also, it did not help that unions often lacked the numbers they needed due to discrimination based on skill-level and ethnicity.


labor union

Knights of Labor

American Federation of Labor

Samuel Gompers

Eugene V. Debs

Great Strike of 1877

Haymarket Riot

Homestead Strike

Pullman Strike

collective bargaining

closed shop

yellow-dog contracts

Sherman Anti-Trust Act

Urbanization and Immigration

The growth of industry and much immigration brought about urbanization. As new immigrants moved to the cities, they met much nativism, one reason that ghettos defined the makeup of many cities of the time. The cities grew faster than they could accommodate the needs of a larger population, leading to many problems such as poor sanitation and deadly fires. Overall, there was not much done to address these problems in the Gilded Age, Frederick Law Olmstead being an exception. The concentration of population in cities did allow for some new recreations, including amusement parks and spectator sports.


New Immigrants

melting pot theory

Ellis Island

Angel Island



Chinese Exclusion Act

dumbbell tenements

Frederick Law Olmstead

Political Corruption

Politicians had the reputation for being corrupt in the late 1800s. Two reasons for this include rapid urbanization and laissez-faire government. Big businessmen routinely bribed politicians to meet their needs. Political machines ruled the cities. Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency is an especially corrupt time in politics marked by numerous scandals and excessive patronage. There were some reforms during the Gilded Age, though these were largely ineffective at producing any real change.

laissez-faire government

political machine

Tammany Hall

Boss Tweed


Whiskey Ring Scandal

Credit Mobilier Scandal


Civil Service system

Pendleton Act

Sherman Anti-trust Act




secret ballot

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Progressive Muckraking and Results

The Progressive Movement emerged as a response to the problems of the Second Industrial Revolution. People, such as the muckrakers, started making the public aware of how bad the problems were. The problems had gotten so bad that the public could not ignore them anymore. Reforms came about in new laws, progressive politicians being elected, and individuals taking action as seen in Jane Addams’ Hull House.



The Jungle

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Lewis Hine

Ida Tarbell

Jacob Riis

Social Gospel Movement

settlement house

Hull House

Carrie Nation


19th Amendment

Lincoln Steffens

Thomas Nast

17th Amendment

Robert LaFollette

Progressivism in the Federal Government

Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency would begin progressivism in the federal government. His Square Deal set out to control corporate abuses, protect consumer from dangerous products, and conserve our nation’s natural resources. William Howard Taft was Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor, though Taft upset Roosevelt by being more conservative than Teddy had hoped. When the Republicans picked Taft as their candidate for the election of 1912, Teddy formed the Bull Moose Party. This split the Republican vote and Wilson won. He would continue progressive reforms, most notably in finance and trust legislation.

Square Deal

“Trust Buster”

Anthracite coal miner’s strike of 1902

Elkins Act

Hepburn Act

The Jungle

Meat Inspection Act

Food and Drug Administration

Pure Food and Drug Act

Payne-Aldrich Tariff

election of 1912

Progressive Party (a.k.a. Bull Moose Party)

Federal Reserve Act

Clayton Anti-Trust Act
African-Americans in the Progressive Era

After slavery ended, African Americans were kept inferior by other means. These included voting restrictions, violence, and segregation. The Progressive Era push for reform was also seen in fighting inequality. Responses to inequality differed in the black community. Booker T. Washington represented the moderate approach, endorsing gradual improvements for African Americans beginning with economic equality. W.E.B. Du Bois represented the more extreme approach, endorsing immediate equality.

poll tax

literacy test

grandfather clause


Jim Crow

Plessy v. Ferguson

de facto segregation

de jure segregation

Great Migration

Ida B. Wells

Booker T. Washington


Tuskeegee Institute

Atlanta Compromise Address

Up From Slavery

W.E.B. DuBois

“talented tenth”

Souls of Black Folk

Niagara Movement

Progressive Era Innovations

Progressivism also led to reforms in business. This includes Henry Ford’s innovations, such as the five-dollar day, forty-hour week that began the trend of workers as consumers. Innovations would provide new technologies to buy and new ways to buy them.

Model T

Wright brothers

mail-order catalogs

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