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Industrialization in Gilded Age

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During the time period 1865 to 1900, United States was becoming the leading industrial and international power in the world. The U.S. had many raw materials that were important to industrialization, such as copper, oil, and coal. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from northern and western Europe with high levels of literacy and working skills easily blended into the rural American society and contributed to the growth of the nation. In addition, government policies supported and protected large businesses by protecting private property, supporting manufacturers with protective tariffs, and subsidizing railroads with land loans and grants. This period, often called the “Second Industrial Revolution,” is characterized as the “Gilded Age” because of its rapid economic growth and increase in wealth but also much social conflict involving the working class. Although the U.S. as a whole became a leading industrial power, industrialization also had many negative consequences. Industrialization left negative effects on U.S. society in the years 1865 to 1900 because of the formation of labor unions and strikes, political corruption via monopolistic practices, and worsened living conditions for the working class.

Industrialization had negative effects on U.S. society because of the formation of labor unions, strikes and parties. Document 6 is by Samuel Gompers, who founded the American Federation of Labor and was a labor union representative and a critic of industrialists who did not treat workers with respect or justice. He is addressing the International Labor Congress in Chicago regarding the industrial system’s abuse of workers and demanding better working conditions. The year 1893 was just a year after the Homestead Strike, when workers felt that they had the right to make demands by forming unions to speak up for their needs about their abusive working conditions. Because of the hard labor and danger in their work, the workers formed labor unions such as the American Federation of Labor and advocated for higher wages, shorter working hours, and better working conditions. In document 5, political organizers, the Populists, or the People’s Party, are trying to convince the public to support the Populist Party. The Populists were critical of the effects of industrialization and supported the working class. The concentration of economic power in the hands of monopolists and bankers was dominating the U.S. economy, and thus the farmers felt the need to form their own political party. In 1890, agrarian discontent in the South and West led to the Republican setbacks in the election of 1892, and delegates from states in the South and West met in Omaha, Nebraska to nominate candidates for the new Populist party. At the platform, they said that if people support the party, they will work to expand the government to meet the needs of the people and will justify the injustice. In document 2, David A. Wells, an engineer and an economist, points out that industrialization had negatively impacted the workers and is warning the public that industrialization is a threat to the workers. He says that manufacturing in factories has destroyed individualism, independence, and the workers’ pride in their work because they are only ordered to perform one specific job. In big manufacturing factories, industrial mechanization skilled workers were easily replaced by unskilled workers and this led to unrest among the workers. This was one of the factors that led to industrial unrest and strikes. Therefore, industrialization in manufacturing factories led to negative effects on many workers by taking away their independence and leading to the formation of labor unions. Documents 6, 5, and 2 conclude that during industrialization, big factories and corporations led to industrial unrest and horrible working conditions for the workers, which led to formation of labor unions and strikes and parties. These were harmful to society because they led to many deaths and violence. For an example, the Knights of Labor, the first National Labor Organization, was formed in 1869 in Philadelphia under Uriah S. Stephens. By the time Terence Powderly took over, its members rose up to 700,000. They wanted to protect the workers from retaliations, and advocated for eight hour workday, abolition of child labor, better working conditions, and higher wages. Its strike at Haymarket Square resulted in a bomb that killed several policemen, and another strike against the McCormick Harvester Company also resulted in deaths.

Another way industrialization had negative effects on the U.S. economy was because of the political corruption caused by monopolistic practices. In document 3, Joseph Keppler illustrates to the general public that industrial trusts were dominating the trade and were superior to the Senators. During this time (1889), Senators were appointed by party bosses, who were often controlled by monopolists. Keppler is critical and concerned about the effect of industrialists having so much control and that too many trusts are blocking the people’s entrance to the Senate. Business interests brought political corruption in the Gilded Age by having industrial trusts dominate the government. In document 7, George Rice speaks in the voice of the common man and a failed businessman who was driven out by Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. He warns other businesses of Rockefeller’s colossal corporation and says that Rockefeller was charging discriminatory rates and privileges. By 1897, trusts often used the colossal combination to reduce competition from other businesses by underselling to gain monopolies. There was unfair competition between small and big businesses, and so big corporations during industrialization had negative effects on small businesses. In document 4, Andrew Carnegie, a very wealthy man who owned a monopoly in the steel business with Carnegie Steel, which produced more steel than all the mills in Britain, is convincing the wealthy industrialists that the rich are in need for philanthropy and “should produce the most beneficial results for the community.” He says that it is the duty of the rich to share their wealth for public good and that the rich should be an example to the poor of their extravagance. Although he had a viewpoint that industrialization had positive impact in the U.S. society, he was the target of many workers in unions because he paid them with low wages, refused to help with the workers’ needs, and did not provide safe places for their labor. Documents 3, 7 and 4, show the how problems and debates about industrialization arose due to monopolistic practices. Industrialization led to a sharp increase in the gap between the rich and the poor, and large corporations, run by the wealthy, had negative effects by causing problems and debates.

A third way Industrialization had negative effects on U.S. society is seen in the worsened conditions for the working class, who were the backbone of the U.S. economy and 85% of the population. Document 1 shows the historical statistics of the United States that food, fuel, and lighting prices declined significantly from 1870-1899 while the cost of living expenses somewhat stayed the same. By lowering food, fuel, and lighting prices, it made living conditions worse for the farmers/laborers because their wages lowered while businesses and large corporations continued to thrive. As wages were being dropped, it led to the prices of crops dropping as well, which hurt the farmers heavily. Therefore, industrialization had negative effects on the living conditions of the working class because it made it hard for them to buy necessities due to having only a small amount of money. 

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