On average, the South’s bi-racial Republican state governments lasted just four-and-a-half years. During the 1870 s, internal divisions within the Republican Party, white terror, and northern apathy allowed southern white Democrats to returned to power. Retirement and death removed the more outspoken advocates of civil rights, such as Thaddeus Stevens, who died in 1868, from Congress. Corruption in the Grant administration divided the Republican Party and helped the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 1874. Corruption in the South’s Republican government also undercut support for Reconstruction. Northern outrage over southern intransigence gave way to helpless resignation or indifference.
As early as 1872, many former abolitionists believed that their aims had been achieved. Slavery had been abolished and Constitutional Amendment had established citizenship and voting rights. Democrats denounced “foreign” rule of the South by carpetbaggers and attacked corruption in President Grant’s administration. In 1872, “Liberal Republicans,” repelled by the supposed corruption of the radical regimes in the South, declared that the North had attained its goals and that Reconstruction should end. Many threw their support to the Democrats.
The nationwide economic depression of 1873 further weakened the Republican Party, and Democrats regained the House of Representatives in 1874. The financial panic of 1873 and the subsequent economic depression helped bring Reconstruction to a formal end. Across the country, but especially in the South business failures, unemployment, and tightening credit heightened class and racial tensions and generated demands for government retrenchment. Property owners in the South demanded that state budgets be cut and tax rates lowered.
... main divisive factor for the United States political parties: the democrats and the whigs. One of the supporters of Manifest Destiny ... was, democrat, James Polk who served as president from 1844 to 1848 ... slave oriented territories that would eventually became slave states, the South would have control of Congress. This is what Sumner called ...
Southern penitentiaries were dismantled and convicts were leased to private contractors. Spending on public schools and the care of orphans, the sick, and the insane was sharply reduced. Budgets for schools for blacks were cut especially heavily. It was the disputed presidential election of 1876 that brought Reconstruction to a formal end. The Significance of Reconstruction: If a mid-nineteenth century Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep in 1857, the year of the Dred Scott decision, and awoke in 1877, it would probably take him quite a while before he would believe reports of what had happened during the years he was asleep.
He would learn about a four year civil war that had freed four million slaves and destroyed half the South’s farm implements and livestock; presidential assassination; ratification of constitutional amendments abolishing slavery, guaranteeing equal rights, and extending the vote to African Americans; presidential impeachment; and a disputed presidential election. But when he looked around him, much would appear unchanged. Southern representatives had returned to Congress, and they were similar to those who had served before the war. In each of the southern states, the Democratic Party was securely in control. The overwhelming majority of African Americans would still be living in the South, working as farm laborers on land that they did not own. Of course, our latter-day Rip Van Winkle would eventually recognize that despite continuities, fundamental changes had taken place.
Chattel slavery had been defeated. The gang system of labor, enforced by the whip, was dead. Incredibly, about twenty percent of African Americans in the South managed to acquire land by 1880. And through the 1880 s, sizeable numbers of African American men in the South would continue to vote. Real gains had been won, even though full equality remained an unfulfilled promise. Like an earthquake, Reconstruction shook southern society’s foundations than subsided.
... the negative effects of the Black Codes. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 divided the South into five specific zones, disenfranchised many former ... equality. By 1877, the last of the states had complied with these regulations and Reconstruction was finally over. Although the women of ... newly freed blacks; they used the Black Codes. These codes stated that the black's wages would be kept low and ...
But it left the national landscape forever changed. Out of Reconstruction came the first statewide public school systems in the South as well as hospitals, penitentiaries, and asylums. The first black institutions of higher learning were founded. Equally important it was during Reconstruction that the institutional foundations of the modern black community in the South were laid, including independent black churches and a growing number of black landowners, businessmen, clergymen, and teachers. With the passage of the 14 th Amendment, mandating equal rights for all citizens, and the 15 th Amendment, forbidding states to deny the right to vote because of race, the possibilities for later attacks on discrimination had been established. Reconstruction’s failure also carried long-term negative consequences.
Racism became more deeply embedded in American society. The South’s economy became almost entirely dependent on a single crop, cotton, and an increasing number of Southerners were reduced to tenant farming. One political party, the Democratic Party, monopolized political power. Violence during this period kept immigrants from migrating to the region.
The roots of half a century of southern poverty had been planted. Labor in the Age of Industrialization Labor conflict was never more contentious or violent in the United States than during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when bloody confrontations wracked the railroad, steel, and mining industries. During the early 1880 s, there were about 500 strikes a year involving about 150, 000 workers. By the 1890, the number had climbed to a thousand a year involving 700, 000 workers a year, and by the early 1900 s, the number of strikes had climbed to 4, 000 annually. Some 500 times government sent in militias or federal troops to put down labor strikes. While most labor clashes took place in the mines and mills of the east and Midwest, bloody incidents involving private police forces, state militias, and federal troops also took place on the New Orleans and San Francisco waterfronts and in the mining districts of Colorado and Idaho.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, labor struggles were more acute in the United States than in many European countries. Today, in contrast, labor relations in the United States are more cooperative and less conflict-ridden than elsewhere. The story of how the United States forged an enduring and workable system of collective bargaining after more than half a century of bitter struggles is one of the most important themes in modern American history. Sources of Worker Unrest Many American workers experienced the economic transformations of the late nineteenth century in terms of a wrenching loss of status. For free white men, pre-Civil War America, more than any previous society, was a society of independent producers and property holders. Farmers, shopkeepers, and craftsmen generally owned the property they worked.
... he finds himself in a state of poverty, the worker is compelled to sell his labor for almost nothing, and ... wage, to be exchanged for the daily labor of the worker on the basis of so many hours ... is because I hope to draw from the labor of the workers sufficient profit to be able to live ... employers to sell the products of their workers, and consequently buy their labor, at the lowest price, constantly ...
About four-fifths of free adult men owned property on the eve of the Civil War. High rates of physical mobility combined with the availability of western lands to foster a sense that the opportunity to acquire property was available to anyone who had sufficient industry and initiative. After the Civil War, however, many American workers feared that their status was rapidly eroding. The expanding size of factories made relations between labor and management increasingly impersonal. Mechanization allowed many industries to substitute semi-skilled and unskilled laborers for skilled craft workers. A massive influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe saturated labor markets, slowing the growth of working-class incomes.
Echoing earlier debates over slavery, many working men and women feared that the great industrialists were imposing a new form of feudalism in America, which was reducing “freemen” to “wage slaves.” They demanded “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” and an eight-hour workday. Native-born workers, fearing competition from low-wage immigrant workers, sometimes agitated for immigration restriction. Many observers feared that the United States was on the brink of a ruinous class war. At the end of the nineteenth century, American workers intensely debated how they could best defend their interests in the face of powerful national corporations. One of the most contentious questions that late nineteenth-century workers debated was whether labor should agitate for higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions, or for more fundamental transformations in the nation’s economy. Some of the earliest labor organizations called for a “cooperative” rather than a corporate economy, built around worker-controlled producer cooperatives.
... were workers controlled a large part of the economy. The Knights of Labor were discredited after a series of failed railroad strike in 1880 ... fought for increased wages, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. On May 1, 1886 the AFL called for a national strike for a ... but the plight of the industrial worker into the national conscience. The support of labor among the population grew, and as this ...
Another source of controversy was whether unions should try to organize whole industries (what are called industrial unions) or organize particular skilled crafts (craft unions).
Unlike unskilled or semi-skilled craft workers who could be easily replaced by immigrant labor, skilled craft workers, the “aristocracy of labor,” had greater power to bargain with employers. What was at stake in these debates was the very meaning of American democracy in a modern, industrial society. Among the crucial questions was government’s role in labor disputes: Would government, at the local, state, and federal levels, align itself with labor or management? The Drive for Unionization For the last half-century, Americans have experienced a remarkable degree of labor-management peace and enormous rates of productivity. But this development did not come easily. It took decades of industrial strife, economic upheaval, and political battles to establish the right of workers to unionize and have some say in work rules.
It would not be until the 1930 s that the United States adopted laws that guaranteed the right of workers to bargain collectively. During the late nineteenth-century, union members seeking higher wages and better working conditions were described as anarchists or Communists. The term “Communist” referred not to advocates of Marxism, but, rather, to a violent upheaval that had taken place in France in 1871 known as Paris Commune. The struggle for the right to unionize was a remarkable achievement. It not only involved overcoming employers’ resistance, but also ethnic divisions within the working class itself. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the American working class was deeply split not just into the native and foreign born, but also into the “old” and “new” immigrants.
The old immigrants not only included English-speaking immigrants from Ireland and Britain, but also northern European immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. The new immigrants, who came primarily from southern and eastern Europe, included many Hungarians, Italians, Jews, and Slavs. Employers often hired workers from different ethnic groups to work in the same plant in order to make unionization more difficult. The depth of labor conflict in post-Civil War America is illustrated by bitter disputes that erupted in the nation’s rail yards and coalfields in 1877, the first year of the country’s second century. The Great Railroad Strike The total miles of railroad track in the United States increased from just 23 in 1830 to 35, 000 by the end of the Civil War to a peak of 254, 000 in 1916.
... Order of the Knights of Labor. It was founded in 1869 by garment workers in Philadelphia who believed that one union of skilled and ... strikes, health and safety laws, equal pay for equal work, no child labor under the age of fourteen, and government ownership of railroads ... place nine years later in 1886. On May 1, many workers struck for shorter hours. A group of radicals and anarchists became ...
By the eve of World War I, railroads employed one out of every 25 American workers. The industry’s growth was accompanied by bitter labor disputes. Many of the nation’s most famous strikes involved the railroads. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was the country’s first major rail strike and witnessed the first general strikes in the nation’s history.
The strikes and the violence it spawned briefly paralyzed the country’s commerce and led governors in ten states to mobilize 60, 000 militia members to reopen rail traffic. The strike would be broken within a few weeks, but it also helped set the stage for later violence in the 1880 s and 1890 s, including the Haymarket Square bombing in Chicago in 1886, the Homestead Steel Strike near Pittsburgh in 1892, and the Pullman Strike in 1894 usher in the world’s first Labor Day parade in 1882. In 1877, northern railroads, still suffering from the financial Panic of 1873, began cutting salaries and wages, prompting strikes and labor violence with lasting consequences. The Pennsylvania Railroad, the nation’s largest, cut wages by 10 percent and then, in June, by another 10 percent. Other railroads followed suit. On July 13, the Baltimore & Ohio line cut the wages of all employees making more than a dollar a day by 10 percent.
It also slashed the workweek to just to or two or three days. Forty disgruntled locomotive firemen walked off the job. By the end of the day, workers blockaded freight trains near Baltimore and in West Virginia, allowing only passenger traffic to get through. Also in July, the Pennsylvania Railroad announced that it would double the length of all eastbound trains from Pittsburgh with no increase in the size of their crews.
... a labor union. It is the Communication Workers of America (CWA). Labor unions were very useful at one time in our society. Labor unions ... were started as a way to protect the workers ... But with the creation of civil rights laws, labor laws the unions have outplayed their usefulness.Identify your role (if ...
Railroad employees responded by seizing control of the rail yard switches, blocking the movement of trains. Soon, violent strikes broke out in Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco. Governors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia called out their state militias. In Baltimore, a 20-year-old volunteer described the scene: “We met a mob, which blocked the streets, wrote Charles A. Malloy.
“They came armed with stones and as soon as we came within reach they began to throw at us.” Fully armed and with bayonets fixed, the militia fired, killing 10, including a newsboy and a 16-year-old student. The shootings sparked a rampage. Protesters burned a switch town, a passenger car, and sent a locomotive crashing into a siding full of freight cars. They also cut fire hoses. At the height of the melee in 14, 000 rioters took to the streets. Maryland’s governor telegraphed President Rutherford Hayes and asked for troops to protect Baltimore.
“The strike,” an anonymous Baltimore merchant wrote, “is not a revolution of fanatics willing to fight for an idea. It is a revolt of working men against low prices of labor, which have not been accomplished with corresponding low prices of food, clothing and house rent.” In Pittsburgh, where the local militia sympathized with the rail workers, the governor called in National Guard troops from Philadelphia. The troops fired into a crowd, killing more than 20 civilians, including women and at least three children. A newspaper headline read: “Shot in Cold Blood by the Roughs of Philadelphia. The Lexington of the Labor Conflict at Hand. The Slaughter of Innocents.” An angry crowd forced the Philadelphia troops to retreat to a roundhouse in the railroad complex, and set engines, buildings, and equipment ablaze.
Fires raced through parts of the city, destroying 39 buildings, 104 engines, 46 passenger cars, and over 1, 200 freight cars. The Pennsylvania Railroad claimed losses of more than $4 million in Pittsburgh. When the National Guard was at last able to evacuate the roundhouse, it was harassed by strikers and rioters. A legislative report said that the National Guard forces “were fired at from second floor windows, from the corners of the streets… they were also fired at from a police station, where eight or ten policemen were in uniform.” Militia and federal troops opened the railroad in Pittsburgh and Reading, Pa. was occupied by U.
S. Army troops. It appears that some 40 people were killed in the violence in Pittsburgh. Across the country more than a hundred died, including eleven in Baltimore and a dozen in Reading, Pa. By the end of July, most strike activity was over. But labor strikes in the rail yards recurred from 1884 to 1886 and from 1888 to 1889 and again in 1894.
Native-born Americans tended to blame the labor violence on foreign agitators. “It was evident,” said the Annals of the Great Strikes in the United States, published in 1877, “that there were agencies at work outside the workingmen’s strike. The people engaged in these riots were not railroad strikers. The Internationalists had something to do with creating scenes of bloodshed…
The scenes… in the city of Baltimore were not unlike those which characterized the events in the city of Paris during the reign of the Commune in 1870.” The Origins of American Trade Unionism It took American labor longer than industrialists to successfully organize on a national basis. By the 1820 s, craft workers in the Northeast had organized the first unions to protest the increased use of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in the production process. But these were local organizations. It was not until 1834 that the first national organization of wage earners, the National Trades’ Union, was formed. By 1836, the organization claimed 300, 000 members, but it rapidly lost membership during the financial panic of 1837.
In 1852, printers’ locals in twelve cities organized the National Typographic Union, which fought for a common wage scale and restrictions on the use of apprentices. It was one of five national unions formed in the 1850 s. Another 21 national unions were organized in the 1860 s. By the early 1870 s, about 300, 000 workers were organization, making up about nine percent of the industrial labor force. But during the financial depression from 1873 to 1878, membership in labor organizations fell to just 50, 000. The Knights of Labor During the 1870 s and 1880 s, American workers began to form national labor unions in order to effectively negotiate with big corporations.
The Knights of Labor was one of the most important early labor organizations in the United States. It wanted to organize workers into “one big brotherhood” rather than into separate unions made up of workers who had a common skill or who worked in a particular industry. The Knights were founded in 1869 as a secret organization of tailors in Philadelphia. At first, the union had a strongly Protestant religious orientation. But a decade later, when a Catholic, Terence V. Powdery was elected its head, the Knights became a national organization open to workers of every kind, regardless of their skills, sex, nationality, or race.
The only occupations excluded from membership were bankers, gamblers, lawyers, and saloon keepers. At its height in 1885, the Knights claimed to have 700, 000 members. Despite the Knight’s rejection of strikes as a tactic in labor disputes, the union won big victories against the Union Pacific railroad in 1884 and the Wabash railroad in 1885. The Knights had a wide-ranging platform for social and economic change. The organization campaigned for an eight-hour work day, the abolition of child labor, improved safety in factories, equal pay for men and women, and compensation for on-the-job injury. As an alternative to wage labor, the Knights favored cooperatively run workshops and cooperative stores.
The organization held the first Labor Day celebration in 1882. The Knights declined rapidly after the 1886 Haymarket Square riot in Chicago, in which 11 people were killed by a bomb. The American Federation of Labor, a union of skilled workers, gradually replaced the Knights as the nation’s largest labor organization. Unlike the Knights, which sought to organize workers regardless of craft, rejected the strike as a negotiating tool, and had a broad-based reform agenda, the American Federation of Labor was made up of craft unions and committed to “bread-and-butter” unionism. Its goals were narrower but also more realistic than those of the Knights.
It sought to increase workers’ wages, reduce their hours, and improve their working conditions. Haymarket Square An explosion in Chicago in 1886 helped to shift the labor movement toward “bread-and-butter” unionism. On May 1, 1886, thousands of people in Chicago began demonstrations in behalf of an eight-hour workday. The marchers’s logan was, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” On May 4, 1886, a deadly confrontation between police and protesters erupted at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. A labor strike was in progress at the McCormick farm equipment works, and police and Pinkerton security guards had shot several workers. A public demonstration had been called to protest police violence.
Eyewitnesses later described a “peaceful gathering of upwards of 1, 000 people listening to speeches and singing songs when authorities began to move in and disperse the crowd.” Suddenly a bomb exploded, followed by pandemonium and an exchange of gunfire. Eleven people are killed including seven police officers. More than a hundred were injured. The Chicago Tribune railed against “the McCormick insurrectionists.” Authorities hurriedly rounded up 31 suspects. Eventually, eight men, “all with foreign sounding names” as one newspaper put it, were indicted on charges of conspiracy and murder.
No evidence tied the accused to the explosion of the bomb. Several of the suspects had not attended the rally. But all were convicted and sentenced to death. Four were quickly hanged and a fifth committed suicide in his cell. Then, the Illinois Governor, Richard Ogelsby, who had privately expressed doubts “that any of the men were guilty of the crime,” commuted the remaining men’s death sentences to life in prison. Illinois’s new governor, John Peter Altgeld, pardoned the three surviving men.
A German born immigrant who had enlisted in the Union army at the age of 15, Altgeld declared, “The deed to sentencing the Haymarket men was wrong, a miscarriage of justice. And the truth is that the great multitudes annually arrested are poor, the unfortunate, the young and the neglected. In short, our penal machinery seems to recruit its victims from among those who are fighting an unequal fight in the struggle for existence.” After granting the pardon, he said to the famous attorney Clarence Darrow: “Let me tell you that from this day, I am a dead man, politically.” There was an immediate outcry. The Washington Post asked rhetorically: “What would one expect from a man like Altgeld, who is, of course, an alien himself?” The Chicago Triune stated that the governor “does not reason like an American, does not feel like one, and consequently does not behave like one.” In 1889, the American Federation of Labor delegate to the International Labor Congress in Paris proposed May 1 as international Labor Day. Workers were to march for an eight-hour day, democracy, the right of workers to organize, and to memorialize the eight “Martyrs of Chicago.” Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor The labor movement gained strength in the 1850 s in such crafts as typographers, molders, and carpenters. Fixed standards of apprenticeship and of wages, hours, and working conditions were drafted.
Although such agreements often broke down in periods of depression, a strong nucleus of craft unions had developed by the 1880 s so that a central federation emerged. This was the American Federation of Labor. Samuel Gompers (1850-1924) was the first president of the American Federation of Labor, the first enduring national labor union. He served as president from 1886 until his death in 1924, except for a single year, 1895. Born in London, he immigrated to the United States at the age of 13, and worked as a cigar-maker. He became the leader of the cigar-makers’ union, and transformed it into one of the country’s strongest unions.
Gompers believed that labor had the most to gain by organizing skilled craft workers, rather than attempting to organize all workers in an industry. He refused to form an alliance with the Knights of Labor. “Talk of harmony with the Knights of Labor,” he said, “is bosh. They are just as great enemies of trade unions as any employer can be.” Gompers repudiated socialism and advocated a pragmatic “pure and simple” unionism that emphasized agreements with employees — which would spell out for a stipulated period the wages, hours of work, and the procedures for handling grievances.
Gompers proposed that agreements contain clauses stipulating that employers hire only union members (the closed shop) and that any employee should be required to pay union dues. Employers advocated the open shop, which could employ non-union members. During the 1880 s and 1890 s, unions sought to secure and retain a foothold in such major industries as railways, steel, mining, and construction. It was in the building trades where the craft principle was most dominant that the American Federation of Labor developed its largest membership. Miners merged their crafts into the United Mine Workers of America, an industrial union that admitted to membership of those working in and about a mine, whether skilled or unskilled.
In 1892, the AFL’s affiliate in the steel industry, struck in protest against wage cuts. Following the bitter Homestead strike, the steel industry adopted an open shop policy. Craft unions were able to secure collective bargains on railroads, but when some workers a union of all rail workers, their effort collapsed in the Pullman boycott of 1894. But some efforts at unionization proved more successful, including efforts in organizing workers in immigrant sweatshops. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers demonstrated that the new immigrants could be effectively organized.
As trade unionism gained ground before World War I, employers in mines and factories established “company unions,” to handle grievances and provide certain welfare benefits. The most notable company union was in the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. Homestead In 1986, United States Steel, once been the world’s largest steel producer, closed down its steel mills in Homestead, Pa. , six miles from Pittsburgh. During the summer of 1892, the Homestead steel works had been the seen of an epic clash between labor and management that helped eliminate unions from the steel industry for more than four decades.
Originally built in 1880 and 1881 by local merchants, the Homestead Works was purchased by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who installed open-hearth furnaces and electricity in order to boost the plant’s efficiency and reduce the need for skilled labor. Carnegie’s steel mills produced armor for battleships, rails for western railroads, and beams, girders, and steel plates for bridges and skyscrapers. But Carnegie’s drive for efficiency also led to an armed confrontation at Homestead. In contract talks in 1892, Henry Clay Frick, the superintendent of the Carnegie Steel Company, proposed to cut workers’ wages, arguing that increased efficiency had inflated salaries. At the time, unskilled mill workers, who were mainly eastern European immigrants, made less than $1. 70 for a 12-hour day.
Skilled workers earned between $4 and $7. 60 a day. Frick also wanted to eliminate the union from the plant. When the negotiations broke down, Frick shut down the mill, installed three-miles of wooden fence topped with barbed wire around the mill, and hired 300 guards supplied by the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The guards were placed aboard two company barges in Pittsburgh for the trip up the Monongahela River to nearby Homestead. On July 6, the guards were confronted by hundreds of workers and townsfolk.
In the gun battle that ensued, seven workers and three Pinkerton guards were killed. Twelve hours after the battle for Homestead began, the guards surrendered. The union’s apparent victory was short-lived. Within days, 8, 500 members of the National Guard took control of the plant. When Frick was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in his Pittsburgh office, public opinion turned against the steel workers’ union. By November, the union had been broken and the mill had reopened as a non-union plant using African American and eastern European workers.
Union leaders were blacklisted from the steel industry for life. One of the strike’s consequences was that the steel mills shifted from an eight hour to a 12-hour a day, six-day workweek, with a 24-hour shift (followed by a day off), every two weeks. It would be some 44 years before the steel industry would again be unionized. Pullman 1894 was the second of four years of depression. The pinch was felt even by the Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured the sleeping cars used by most of the nation’s railroads. George Pullman responded by laying off several thousand of his 5, 800 employees and cutting pay 25 to 50 percent, while refusing to reduce rents charged employees, who lived in the company town of Pullman, near Chicago.
Then he fired three members of a workers’ grievance committee. On May 11, 1894, 90 percent of his workers went on strike. The strike spread nationwide when the American Railway Union refused to move trains with Pullman cars. Within a month, more than a quarter million other railroad employees had joined the strike. The government, under President Grover Cleveland, swiftly won a court injunction-ordering strikers back to work. When they refused to comply, he dispatched more than 14, 000 federal troops and marshals.
In Chicago, when soldiers fired into a crowd of 10, 000, 25 persons were killed, 60 badly injured. Hundreds were jailed, including union leader Eugene Debs, who subsequently founded the Socialist party. Railroad attorney Clarence Darrow switched sides and defended Debs, launching his career as a defender of underdogs. Social Worker Jane Addams led an investigation of the strike. Samuel Gompers and his fellow craft unionists at the helm of the American Federation of Labor spurned Debs’ plea for a general strike to protest enlistment of the White House and the courts on the side of management.
An Age of Innovation The late nineteenth century witnessed the birth of modern America. These years saw the advent of new technologies of communication, including the phonograph, the telephone, and radio. They also saw the rise of the mass media: of mass-circulation newspapers and magazines, best-selling novels, million dollar national advertising campaigns. These years witnessed the rise of commercialized entertainment, including the amusement park, the urban nightclub, the dance hall, and first motion pictures. Many modern sports, including basketball, bicycling, football, and golf were introduced to the United States, as were new transportation technologies, such as the automobile, electric trains and trolleys, and, in 1903, the airplane. They also saw the birth of the modern university.
In the span of a single decade, the country underwent a decisive series of shifts. Between 1896 and 1905 the economic depression of the mid-1890 s ended and the Populist movement collapsed. A great merger movement consolidated American business. The Republican party achieved a dominance in national politics that it largely maintained until the Great Depression. A new immigration from eastern and southern Europe altered the nation’s ethnic and religious composition.
Laboratory based science reshaped the practice of medicine. The United States emerged as a world on the international scene. Improved communication facilitated the rapid rise of national organizations, complex bureaucracies, and professionalization. At the same time, communication, entertainment, and transportation were revolutionized.
The Rise of Big Business Between 1869 and 1910, the value of American manufacturing rose from $3 billion to $13 billion. The steel industry produced just 68, 000 tons in 1870, but 4. 2 million tons in 1890. The central vehicle of this surge in economic productivity was the modern corporation. In recent years, Americans have often been told that we have entered a “new economy.” The older industrial economy, it is said, is giving way to a new global economy based on computers, the Internet, telecommunications, and entertainment. This is not the first new economy in American history.
Following the Civil War, a new economy emerged in the United States resting on steam-powered manufacturing, the railroad, the electric motor, the internal combustion engine, and the practical application of chemistry. Unlike the pre-Civil War economy, this new one was dependent on raw materials from around the world and it sold goods in global markets. The transformations that took place in American business following the Civil War involved far more than a change in industrial techniques or productivity. Business organization expanded in size and scale.
There was an unparalleled increase in factory production and mechanization. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the major sectors of the nation’s economy — banking, manufacturing, meat packing, oil refining, railroads, and steel — were dominated by a small number of giant corporations. The rise of big business was accompanied by the emergence of a new class of millionaires. At the beginning of the Civil War, there were only 400 millionaires in the United States. By 1892, the number had risen to 4, 047. The emergence of the modern corporation was accompanied by many positive developments.
Through mechanization, standardization, and economies of scale, economic productivity soared. Between 1890 and 1929, the average urban worker put in one less day of work a week and brought home three times as much in pay. The proportion of families confined to the drudgery of farm life declined by half. Families enjoyed comforts and conveniences that were unimaginable before 1890. By 1929, nine out of ten Americans had electricity and indoor plumbing; four-fifths had automobiles; two-thirds had radios; and nearly half refrigerators and phonographs. At the same time, infant mortality fell by two-thirds, and life expectancy increased by twenty years.
Said the president of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad: Have not the great merchants, great manufacturers, great inventors, done more for the world than preachers and philanthropists? Can there be any doubt that cheapening the cost of necessaries and conveniences of life is the most powerful agent of civilization and progress? Yet the rise of the big business also produced many anxieties. Corporations were accused of abusing workers, corrupting the political process, and producing shoddy, unsafe products. Many feared that corporate power allowed companies to fix prices and influence government decision-making. The Debate Over Big Business A great debate over big business took place during late nineteenth century. Among the issues that Americans debated was: 1.
Whether wealth come from exploitation or from patience, frugality, and virtue; 2. Whether bigness was the result of conspiracy or of pressures of blind economic forces; 3. Whether men of wealth and power be free to use their riches as they wishes or whether they should be taxed to support the public good. Henry Demarest Lloyd, a precursor for the muckraking journalists of the Progressive era, considered the lords of industry monopolists and profiteers, who monopolized blocked the road to success for those who tried to compete with them. Others, like Edward Atkinson, a successful investor and businessman, asserted that the great business titans made all Americans better off through their innovations in management, finance, and production. Lloyd and Atkinson helped set the terms for a long lasting public debate: Were the business leaders of the Gilded Age robber barons or creative industrial pioneers? There can be no doubt that the late nineteenth century business titans were business innovators, who, through their technical, administrative, and financial skills, achieved economies of scale, eliminated waste, and brought order and stability to large sectors of the American economy.
In large part, their wealth was the product of innovations that transformed business practice. Rockefeller developed the oil tank-car; Swift the refrigerated rail car; and Montgomery Ward the mail-order catalogue. As philanthropists in later life, some also served important welfare and educational functions. But big business’ critics accused the captains of industry of financial trickery, such as cornering and watering stock, and of political corruption and the bribing of legislatures.
They attacked them for the inhumane treatment of labor — including the imposition of heavy hours, wage cuts, lockouts and the suppression of trade unions. They also condemned them for using cheap immigrant contract labor to undercut wage rates and defeat strikes and the imposing monopoly prices. Above all, they were condemned as sinister monopolists who engaged in ruthless competition — choking off rivals by use of railroad rebates and drawbacks, control of raw material supplies, industrial espionage, and the forced purchase of competing firms. Many people likened J. P. Morgan, Jay Gould, and other business leaders to the “robber barons” of the middle ages, who set up barriers across rivers and forced boats to pay a toll in order to navigate the waterways.
A U. S. Senator described Morgan as a “thick-necked financial bully, drunk with wealth and power, [who] bawls his orders to stock markets, Directors, courts, Governments, and Nations.” Jay Gould He was the prototype for the “Robber Baron” and the corrupt railroad king. The railroad “pirate” Jay Gould stirred up the most enmity. He was painted as an unscrupulous pirate who manipulated and watered stock, deliberately running businesses down and building them up again to his own advantage.
Jay Gould considered himself to be most hated men in late-nineteenth century America. The press as a reckless speculator and brutal strikebreaker vilified him. To many late nineteenth century Americans, he personified the unscrupulous, greedy robber baron. In an age of scandal and corruption, Jay Gould was regarded as a master of bribery and insider stock manipulation. He paid off President Grant’s brother-in-law to learn the president’s intentions about government gold sales; he bribed members of New York’s legislature; and he tried to corner the gold market.
But Gould was much more than a robber baron. At a time when the rules of modern American business were just being written, he was one of the architects of a consolidated national railroad and communication system. One of his major achievements was to lead Western Union to a place of dominance in the telegraph industry. Born into poverty on an upstate New York in 1836, Gould was too sickly to go into farming. Instead, he went into surveying and then into tanning animal hides.
He speculated first in hides and then in railroad stocks, engaging in one of the most colorful struggles in American business history: a fight with Commodore Vanderbilt for control of the Erie Railroad. To prevent gangs of toughs sent by Vanderbilt from gaining access to his records, Gould placed cannons on the Jersey City waterfront and launched a flotilla of four vessels of armed gunmen. As quickly as Vanderbilt bought stock in the railroad, Gould illegally issued more. When Gould was placed under the custody of a court officer for this illegal act, he bribed members of New York’s legislature to change the law.
He reduced the wages of imported Chinese laborers in his mines to just $27 a month. He was damned as a speculator, rigging markets for short-term gains. But in fact he had a number of actual achievements to his name. He was actually an empire builder who sought to create railroad and communications system capable of meeting the needs of an expanding nation. He operated New York City’s elevated railroad and led Western Union to victory in its battle for control of the telegraph industry.