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The Gilded age began after the conclusion of the Civil War and Reconstruction. It spanned starting from the late 1860s until the late 1890s. The Gilded Age is defined as the time period that the United States economy and population grew rapidly. It brought along many cases of exploited workers and as a result the wealthy grew richer. Political corruption had a massive presence as well during this time. But if we flip the switch on these negatives, the positives come into vision. The inventions generated during this time are one of the greatest outcomes of the Gilded Age.
One of the most important inventions was completed in 1869. On May 10, 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad was finalized in Promontory Summit, Utah. The railroad composed of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific lines. The Union Pacific Railroad began in Omaha, Nebraska and the Central Pacific Railroad began in Sacramento, California. The Transcontinental Railroad allowed for the rapid increase of settlement in the west. It also granted companies/individuals an easier method of transporting supplies/goods across the United States.
The next major invention came along in August of 1872. The Montgomery Ward was invented by Aaron Montgomery Ward with sights set on using the national railroad to spread his catalog to spread his products. His catalogs turned into a huge success and by 1888, the Montgomery Ward reached one million dollars in annual sales. It became the world’s first catalog business for mail order. Ward would purchase merchandise in bulk, then sell it to the customers. The majority of his customers came from rural areas because they were not able to access merchandise as easily as those living in urban areas.
It was not until 1876 that the telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. There were previous inventions by Antonio Meucci(1849) and Charles Bourseul(1854). Bell was the original patent for the telephone. The invention of the telephone was very crucial in many aspects. One major impact it had was is heavily reduced the amount of time it took to get a message sent a far distance. If one city had to inform another city across the country it could be done more efficiently.
The light bulb, in my opinion, was the most significant invention during the Gilded Age. Before it’s invention, the only ways to acquire light were the sun, candles, and lanterns that ran on gas. The use of candles brought along the risk of fires setting off. The presence of candles in a household made it prone to burning down. The light bulb allowed work days to last longer and could go on past sunset. So in a sense, light bulbs allowed the economy to improve by extending work hours. Another positive factor is using more light bulbs meant using less candles. So there were less fires as a result.
Now if we shift gears slightly, the invention of the Cigarette Rolling Machine in 1881 was vital to the economy. This machine was invented by James Albert Bonsack. During the Gilded Age, one of the most common pastimes was smoking cigarettes. Especially for those who worked in mines and factories since it was very cheap to purchase. With the introduction of the rolling machine, in ten hours there was the production of seventy thousand cigarettes. It allowed the cigarette demand levels to be met. Bonsack’s invention was motivated by an incentive; there was a seventy thousand dollar reward for whoever could invent a rolling machine. As the demand continued to increase, more machines were constructed.
There are plenty of inventions I can sit here and discuss about, but we would be here for ages. The Gilded Age was a very important time period in American History. Of course there were plenty of other impactful inventions, but the light bulb, telephone, Transcontinental Railroad, and cigarette rolling machine come at the top of my list. But it is important that we take a step aside from the positives and look at the downsides. The introduction of the light bulb forced workers to worker more hours and continued to get underpaid. The Transcontinental allowed for smuggling illegal items as well as people. It’s quite transparent what effects the cigarette rolling machine has had on today’s society. Cigarettes are causing one in five deaths each year in America. The mass production of cigarettes has literally killed Americans since its introduction and is still doing so thirty-eight years later.
Society would not be anywhere close to where it is today without these inventions. Their first introduction has allowed us to make innovations and advancements to modernize them. The Gilded Age is a time period not often recognized by people. Personally, I did not know what it was until we learned it in class. There needs to be more attention to time periods like so. People do not have enough appreciation for the roots of what they have today. It is very important to come to realization of the past of products that are simple to come across in today’s society.
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