Industrialization During The Gilded Age In America
“All that glitters is not gold.” American novelists Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner used this notion to mock American life during the 1870s in their novel The Gilded Age. The Second Industrial Revolution was beginning in America, and the rapid development of new technologies and innovations was improving the living conditions for all Americans. With this new industrial growth, Americans had big dreams and were excited about their futures. Many factors contributed to this industrial growth. Westward expansion had increased the amount of natural resources, such as coal, iron ore, copper, timber, and oil. High immigration rates created a large labor force. The capital was made available to American businesses through loans made by The National Banking System. Lastly, the government was pro-business, or at least neutral, and placed very little regulations on businesses. However, the government protected businesses under private property laws; provided loans, subsidies, and land grants to promote growth; and enacted protective tariffs on imported goods to encourage consumers to buy American goods. The support of the government, along with abundant natural resources, a strong labor force, and endless capital, allowed American businesses to thrive and contribute to the rapid industrial growth. With this industrial movement, America looked golden and promising for the future. However, Twain saw all the dirt and grit of the corruption, dishonesty, and exploitation that was lying underneath the layer of gold. In hindsight, his book title seemed an appropriate name for the overall state of this era; therefore, this time period is known as the Gilded Age. Although many suffered through this period, America was becoming the world’s largest source of manufactured goods. Industrialization during the Gilded Age transformed America and American businesses, American employers, and American workers.
Industrialization during the Gilded Age transformed America and American businesses. It affected every part of American life by changing the ways businesses operated and the kinds of products produced and used. The inventions of the telegraph, the telephone, and radio linked cities across America and in other countries. Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb led to the development of electricity in the form of direct current and alternate current. Homes, factories, and cities were lit with electricity and able to extend the hours of the day for work and play. Factories and mines were able to work longer hours and increase production. More Americans began moving to the cities to work for wages rather than work on farms for themselves. Having one of the biggest impacts on transforming American businesses was the expansion of the railroad. The railroads allowed goods to be quickly transported across state and country by land; therefore, factories and businesses did not have to be located on waterways to transport goods. Industrialization brought new technologies and inventions that allowed American cities to grow, to connect to other states and countries, and to increase in population.
Along with urbanization, industrialization offered great financial rewards to the American business owner. Supported by the United States government, entrepreneurs were able to invest in new businesses and new inventions. With the new technological inventions and machinery, business owners were able to hire unskilled workers for less pay, demand longer work hours, and to mass produce goods. Many entrepreneurs benefited and became very rich at the expense of their employees. Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were two American businesses who became very wealthy and powerful during the Gilded Age. With a great need for steel to build railroads, Andrew Carnegie, owner of Carnegie Steel, utilized vertical integration to build his steel empire. To guarantee the largest profit possible, Carnegie owned every level of production from the coal and iron mines to the railroad company that transported the steel. This allowed his steel company to grow and thrive without any interference. Using horizontal integration, Rockefeller, owner of Standard Oil Company, bought other oil companies or merged with other companies to become a monopoly. Eventually, this method was considered illegal with the enactment of the Sherman Antitrust Act because it interfered with free trade. Controlling their industries and gaining much political influence, both men were able to set their own rules. They paid employees extremely low wages, drove out the competition, and bribed government officials. However, their practices were unfair to their workers and created much tension between American owners and workers.
Although industrialization increased productivity and profit for the business owners, American workers were not as fortunate. As new inventions and machinery created more jobs, Americans and immigrants began flocking to the cities in search of jobs and opportunities. However, skilled workers were not finding jobs or were losing their jobs because business owners wanted to hire immigrants and unskilled workers, who were willing to work for less money. With little or no governmental regulations, business owners exploited their workers. Workers had long hours, low pay, no benefits, and unsafe working conditions. As the business owners were getting richer, the workers were living and working in horrendous conditions. Therefore, workers began to form unions that unified workers to fight for improved working conditions. These labor unions, such as the National Labor Union and Knights of Labor, would strike, picket and boycott to express their dissatisfaction. However, these plights did not affect the business owners. With an abundant workforce, business owners would fire troublemakers and hire other workers. The tension between business owners and workers continued to increase dramatically; consequently, strikes and riots became violent and deadly. Workers, business owners, and the government would continue arguing and disagreeing about labor unions for many more years.
Industrialization changed America, American business owners, and American workers forever. As cities and the big business grew, business owners became richer, and workers became poorer. However, the twentieth century would bring new laws and regulations that improved living and working conditions for the workers. Although age may not have been golden, there was a layer of gold. Industrialization created a better standard of living and eventually benefited all Americans.
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