US History/Age of Invention and Gilded Age

President Grover Cleveland

President Grover Cleveland

In 1884, as the presidential campaign season approached, the Republican party chose former Speaker of the House James G. Blane as its candidate, with John Logan as the vice presidential candidate. Against them the Democrats ran New York governor Stephen Grover Cleveland for a presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate Thomas A. Hendricks. Cleveland and Hendricks won[1] with the combined support of Democrats and reform Republicans, the "Mugwumps."[2]

Grover Cleveland was the only Democrat elected to the presidency during the era of Republican political domination that lasted from 1860 to 1912. In fact, he won the popular vote for president three times, in 1884, 1888, and 1892. His last election in 1892 defeated Republican president Benjamin Harrison. He was thus the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, and is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents. (In that last election, Cleveland's vice president was Adlai E. Stevenson; Harrison's Vice President was Whitelaw Reid.) Cleveland's conservative economic stand in favor of the gold standard brought him the support of various business interests. The democrats then won control of both houses of Congress.[3]


Public Lynchings were rampant during this time, such as this 1893 lynching of Henry Smith in Texas.

Racism was a major blight of the 1890s', largely unacknowledged by the government in Washington. The freedoms which had been given to the former slaves by Emancipation were taken away in Southern states. Every one of them passed laws which disenfranchised African Americans, including poll taxes and literacy tests. The notorious Jim Crow laws, named for an old minstrel show song, started to take effect even in some states which had not seceded. Blacks were barred from public drinking fountains, bathrooms, and train cars, and directed by sign to "Negro only" facilities which were often dirty and defective. A new set of photographic post cards started going through the mail. These showed the results of public lynchings, largely of African American men. Many of these postcards show large crowds, some including White children, and the hung, mutilated, or burnt body of the victim. These proud shows seldom resulted in any prosecution of the attackers, who sometimes included local public officials.

In 1898 white citizens of Wilmington, North Carolina, resenting African Americans’ involvement in local government and incensed by an editorial in an African American newspaper accusing white women of loose sexual behavior, rioted and killed dozens of blacks. In the fury’s wake, white supremacists overthrew the city government, expelling black and white office holders, and instituted restrictions to prevent blacks from voting.



Rise of Industrial Power

The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. With the railroad finished by a golden spike, the east and west coast were connected by rail.

In the 1870's, as the Civil War receded into memory, the United States became a leading Industrial power. Advances in technology and new access to the immense resources of the North American continent drove American Industrialization. This industrialization brought the growth of new American cities such as Chicago, and the arrival of a flood of immigrants from all over Europe to man the factories. During the Gilded Age, businessmen reaped enormous profits from this new economy. Powerful tycoons formed giant trusts to monopolize the production of goods that were in high demand. Andrew Carnegie built a giant steel empire using vertical integration, a business tactic that increased profits by eliminating middlemen from the production line. Jay Gould grabbed the railroads, and then the resources brought by those railroads. Though industrialization caused many long-term positives, it did cause problems in the short-term.[4] Rich farmers who could afford new machinery grew even richer, while poorer farmers were forced to move to urban areas, unable to compete in the agricultural sector.

In 1878 the U.S. had entered an era of success after a long downfall of the mid 1870's. The number of manufacturing plants and number of people doubled. By the 1900s the South had more than 400 mills. Women and children worked in bad conditions for up to 12 to 16 hours per day. They only made about a half a dollar per day, equivalent to fifteen 2015 dollars.

The War of the Currents


During the 1880's and 1890's the War of the currents was fought between American Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse, then Titans in the American electrical industry.

Type Revolution

An 1876 Sholes Typewriter

In 1868 the typewriter was perfected by an editor named Christopher Sholes. This invention brought about a wave of new employment opportunities for women. The machine was made popular by several authors, most notably Mark Twain: the first to make a typewritten manuscript, and the first to send it to a printer. Not even the best and most accurate copperplate printer could fit as many words on a page as the standard typewriter. (For many years, a "typewriter" was the name for the person operating the machine.) It was cheaper to employ women than men as typists and telephone and telegraph operators. Along with this new machine also came other inventions such as the telephone and the telegraph. In the 1890s the number of telephone and telegraph operators went up 167 percent, and the number of women stenographers and typists went up 305 percent.

Internal Combustion Engine


Among the early innovations in technology was development of the internal-combustion engine. In 1885 a German engineer, Gottlieb Daimler, built a lightweight engine driven by vaporized gasoline. This development inspired American Henry Ford. In the 1880's, while he was still an electrical engineer in Detroit's Edison Company, Ford experimented in his spare time using Daimler's engine to power a vehicle. George Selden, a Rochester, New York, lawyer, had already been tinkering with such technology, but it was Ford who created a massive industry.[5]

Factory Jobs

An 1888 engraving, depicting a seat shop boss threatening an employee.

As industrialization increased, more job opportunities opened. Factory jobs were perfect for women and children, with their smaller hands and their lower pay rates. Despite terrible work conditions, increasing numbers of women moved from the home to factories. But while women became part of the factory floor, virtually none were trusted with management, or even with handling money. The factories also took in immigrants and used them as cheap labor. Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Germany and Jews from Eastern Europe were second-class citizens in the workplace, with very low wages and no benefits. Without safety precautions, workers often suffered serious injury and lost their jobs.

Workers adjusted to mechanization as best they could. Some people submitted to the demands of the factory, machine, and time clock. Some tried to blend old ways of working into the new system. Others turned to resistance. Individuals challenged the system by ignoring management's orders, skipping work, or quitting. But also, anxiety over the loss of independence and a desire for better wages, hours, and working conditions drew disgruntled workers into unions. [6]

In the cities, laborers and employers often clashed over wages, sanitary conditions, working hours, benefits, and several other issues. Laborers organized themselves into unions to negotiate with companies. The companies, however, attempted to shut down labor unions. Some imposed yellow dog contracts, under which an employer could dismiss a worker who participated in union activity.

In 1886, the American Federation of Labor was formed to fight for laborers in general. The AFL and other union groups employed as many tactics as possible to force employers to accede to their demands. One tactic was the strike. Some strikes escalated into riots, as with the Knights of Labor's strike in 1886 becoming the Haymarket Riots. The Haymarket Riots of 1886 occurred when an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb into a group of police officers. Eight officers were killed in the explosion and gunfight that ensued. As a result, eight anarchists were tried for murder -- four were sentenced to death and one committed suicide.

Significant Strikes

The Pullman Strike.

The Pullman Strike occurred in 1894, in response to Pullman Company workers' wages being cut following the Panic of 1893, an economic depression which was caused in part by excessive railroad speculation. Approximately 3,000 workers began the strike on May 11. Many of the workers were members of the American Railway Union, and although the strike began without authorization from union officials (known as a "wildcat strike"), the ARU eventually supported the strike by launching a nationwide boycott of Pullman cars on June 26. Within four days, approximately 125,000 ARU members had quit their jobs rather than switch Pullman cars. On July 6, President Cleveland sent Army troops to break up the strike, ostensibly because it prevented delivery of mail and was considered a threat to public safety.

The companies sometimes retaliated against strikes by suing the unions. Congress had passed the Sherman Antitrust Act to prevent trusts, or corporations that held stock in several different companies, from obstructing the activities of competitors. Though the Sherman Act was intended to target trusts, the companies sued the union under it, claiming that unions obstructed interstate commerce.

During the machine age, there were a number of strikes that took place due to the demands from factories and time clocks. It was hard for individuals to adjust to that system, and as a result, they challenged the system by ignoring management's orders, skipping work, or quitting. The desire and longing for better wages let to anxiety and frustration. Like farming and mining, industry was massive in size and changed not only the nature of the work but the person doing it. Soon, all of these disgruntled individuals formed specialized groups into unions. The different jobs varied in not only skill, but other things as well that were non-related to worker conflict; race, sex, etc. These jobs were such as working on/in railroads, steel factories, and automobiles. The outcome for many working in labor during the Gilded Age led to horrific labor violence. Industrialists and workers literally fought over control of the workplace. Many suffered due to the strikes and riots and it inevitably led to deaths, loss of jobs, and often continuous violence. For most American workers, the Machine age had varying results. At times there was no job stability and when costs of living would increase drastically there were even more problems. [7]

Prices and Wages Fall


Prices, and consequently wages, fell sharply in about the 1870s and stayed that way all the way through the 1970s. The prices of necessities in the late 1800s were: 4 pounds butter for $1.60, 1 bag of flour $1.80, a quart of milk for $0.56, vegetables $0.50, 2 bushels of coal $1.36, soap, starch, pepper, salt, vinegar, etc. $1.00, rent for $4.00 a week, and more. The average total of a person's wages was $16.00. By the time that person bought the necessities such as food and soap and rent, most, if not all, of the money would be gone.

Woman's Movement


The Woman's Movement, the group of women advocating women's suffrage and equality, continued after the Civil War. Even many women who were not interested in the Vote were creating clubs and crusades, advocating for public issues both before and after marriage. The argument of "separate spheres" for men and women, the rough public world for the former and the gentle domestic world for the latter, was being contested. Jane Addams argued that “If women have in any sense been responsible for the gentler side of life which softens and blurs some of its harsher conditions, may not they have a duty to perform in our American cities?”


This era saw the construction of some of the first skyscrapers

With industrialization came urbanization. The increasing factory businesses created many more job opportunities in the cities. Soon people began to flock from rural, farm areas, to large cities. Minorities and immigrants added to these numbers. Factory jobs were the only jobs some immigrants could get, and as more came to the cities to work, the larger the urbanization process became. In 1870 there were only two American cities with a population of more than 500,000, but by 1900 there were six, and three of these, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia had over one million inhabitants. Roughly 40 percent of Americans lived in cities and the number was climbing. These large populations in the cities caused the crime rates to go up, and disease was rapidly spreading. Not only did urbanization cause cities to grow in population, it also caused cities to grow in building size. Skyscrapers were being built in the cities and the idea of mass transit had started. With these mass transits being built it allowed people to commute to work from further distances. Suburbs were beginning to form and higher class families began to move to them to get out of the over crowded city but still gave them the ability to go into the city to work each day. City living was for the lower class the upper class had enough money to get away from all of the pollution and the city stench. This still holds true today in larger cities a lot of the nicer homes are located further out from the center of the city. For example, in the city of Chicago, you will find a lot of the nicer homes away from the city, and more towards the suburbs. In this case, this is because there are a lot of violence in the inner city. Therefore, people try to live more further out from the city in order to stay away from the violence.


A tractor from around the turn of the century. Mechanization of agriculture allowed less people to farm more land.

In the late 1880s and early 1900s, a typical farm would be about 100 acres. Farmers could only plow with the aid of a horse or a mule. Later on the internal combustion engine was used to create tractors. Unlike Southern cotton plantations, most farms raised a variety of foodstuffs, breeding cows, pigs and chickens, and growing turnips, potatoes, carrots, wheat, and corn. They were often self-sufficient. Farmers made their bread from their own wheat, and killed the runt pig for their own table.

While industry generally increased in importance, farmers struggled due to debt and falling prices. In the 1880s there were crop failures. Steamships and railways brought in wheat from abroad, lowering American farm prices still more. Economic transformation created industrial prosperity and new lifestyles, but in states still dominated by farming these changes also had a widespread negative effect. Crop diversification and a greater focus on cotton as a cash crop did not give many farmers any potential to get ahead.[8]

American farmers helped to create regulation of the railroads. When domestic farmers needed to transport their crops, they also had to rely on the railroad system. But railroads often charged outrageous prices. Farmers, small merchants, and reform politicians started to demand rate regulation. In 1877, in Munn v. Illinois, the Supreme Court upheld the principle of state regulation, declaring that grain warehouses owned by railroads acted in the public interest and therefore must submit to regulation for the common good. By 1880 fourteen states had established commissions to limit freight and storage charges of state-chartered lines.

Between 1860 and 1905 the number of farms tripled from two million to six million. In 1905 the number of people living on farms grew to thirty-one million. The value of farms went from eight billion in 1860 to thirty billion in 1906. Then as now, wheat was a major crop, creating such common food as bread, a major source of both starch and protein for poorer people.

Farmers had to rise early, often at four or five in the morning. Cows and goats had to be milked twice a day, at morning and at evening. Chickens' eggs were gathered every morning, cleaned, and packed in cases. Because they laid eggs, female chickens or pullets were more important than the male chickens or roosters. Because of this, and to keep roosters from attacking each other, poultry farmers would have only one rooster with several hens.

After the Civil War, more prosperous farmers gained more machinery to plant and harvest their crops. In 1879 the centrifugal cream separator was patented. In 1885, chicken raising became a lot more profitable due to the invention of the mechanized incubator. Complicated horse-drawn mechanical combines and threshers were used about this time. With the aid of machines a farmer could harvest about 135 acres of wheat; without them, he or she could only harvest about 7.5 acres of wheat in the same amount of time. The Montgomery Ward & Company mail order catalogue of 1895 listed various grist mills, seeders and planters, a hay pitcher, a hay tedder, and nearly a full page of mechanical churns.[9]


A 1899 map showing land claimed by the United States.

As time progressed, Industrialization caused American businessmen to seek new international markets in which to sell their goods. In addition, the increasing influence of Social Darwinism led to the belief that the United States had the inherent responsibility to bring concepts like industry, democracy and Christianity to less scientifically developed, "savage" societies. The combination of these attitudes, along with other factors, led the United States toward Imperialism, the practice of a nation increasing its sphere of influence.

The Orient

American troops scaling the walls of Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion.

In the Orient, Russia, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany all exercised influence.[citation needed] US Secretary of State John Hay endorsed the Open Door Policy, under which all foreign powers would exercise equal economic power in the Orient. The US thus protected its interests in China and maintained a balance of power there.

Chinese nationalists known as the "Righteous Fists of Harmony", or "Boxers" in English, who resented foreign influence, promoted hatred of non-Chinese as well as Chinese Christians. In June 1900 in Beijing, Boxer fighters threatened foreigners and forced them to seek refuge in the Legation Quarter. In response, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi, urged by the conservatives of the Imperial Court, supported the Boxers and declared war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers, and Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarter were under siege by the Imperial Army of China and the Boxers for 55 days. The siege was raised when the Eight-Nation Alliance brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Army, and captured Beijing. The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 specified an indemnity of 67 million pounds (450 million taels of silver), more than the government's annual tax revenue, to be paid over a course of thirty-nine years to the eight nations involved.[10]

Spanish Territories

The Battle of Manilla Bay helped secure the Philippines.

By 1825 Spain had acknowledged the independence of its possessions in the present-day United States. The only remnants of the Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere were Cuba, Puerto Rico, across the Pacific in the Philippines Islands, as well as the Carolina, Marshall, and Mariana Islands (including Guam) in Micronesia.

In 1898, the American battleship USS Maine was destroyed by an explosion in the Cuban Harbor of Havana. Although later investigations proved that an internal problem was to blame, at the time it was thought that Spanish forces had sunk it. On the advice of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war on April 11, 1898. Senator Henry M. Teller of Colorado added an amendment to the proposed U.S. declaration of war against Spain on April 19, which proclaimed that the United States would not establish permanent control over Cuba. The amendment stated that the United States "hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people."

At that time Spanish troops stationed on the island included 150,000 regulars and 40,000 irregulars and volunteers while rebels inside Cuba numbered as many as 50,000. Total U.S. army strength at the time totalled 26,000, requiring the passage of the Mobilization Act of April 22 that allowed for an army of at first 125,000 volunteers (later increased to 200,000) and a regular army of 65,000.

Depiction of the American Flag being raised over Fort Santiago in Manila on August 13, 1898.

On April 25, 1898 Congress declared war on Spain. The United States Navy won two decisive naval battles, destroying the Spanish Pacific Fleet at Manila in the Philippines and the Atlantic fleet at Santiago, Cuba. The U.S. then landed forces in Cuba, which fought the tropical climate and associated diseases as well as the Spanish forces. In the Battle of San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill), Lt. Colonel Theodore Roosevelt earned a reputation as a military hero by leading the attack on entrenched Spanish positions. The regiment to which Roosevelt belonged, the First U.S. Volunteers, was recruited throughout the United States and known as the Rough Riders because of the large number of cowboys to volunteer. The 10th Cavalry, a regiment of black soldiers, supported the Rough Riders in the attack. Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general of the Civil War, commanded U.S. forces in Cuba. Two of Robert E. Lee's nephews were also U.S. generals. The war ended eight months later with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. As a result Spain lost its control over the remains of its overseas empire. The treaty allowed the United States to purchase the Philippines Islands from Spain for $20 million. The war had cost the United States $250 million and 3,000 lives, of whom 90% had perished from infectious diseases. True to the letter of the Teller Amendment, American forces left Cuba in 1902.

The Spanish-American War was seen domestically as a sign of increasing national unity.



Kingdom of Hawaii

Iolani Palace was the residence of the monarchy of Hawai'i, and still stands to this day as the only royal palace in the United States.[11]

The Kingdom of Hawaii was established in 1795 with the subjugation of the smaller independent chiefdoms of Oʻahu, Maui, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kauaʻi and Niʻihau by the chiefdom of Hawaiʻi (or the "Big Island"), ruled by the dynasty of King Kamehameha the Great. In 1887 the Honolulu Rifle Company, a paramilitary force also known as the Honolulu Rifles, deposed the Hawaiian monarchy and forced King David Kalākaua to sign a new constitution at gunpoint. The bayonets fixed to their guns led to the term Bayonet Constitution. No voting rights were extended to Asiatics and the requirements for voting rights included land ownership. The Bayonet Constitution has become one of the most controversial documents in history.

Native-born, European-descended Hawaiian Sanford B. Dole, serving as a friend of both Hawaiian royalty and the elite immigrant community, advocated the westernization of Hawaiian government and culture. Dole was a lawyer and jurist in the Hawaiian Islands as a kingdom, protectorate, republic and territory. King Kalākaua appointed Dole a justice of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii on December 28, 1887, and to a commission to revise judiciary laws on January 24, 1888. After Kalākaua's death, his sister Queen Liliʻuokalani appointed him to her Privy Council on August 31, 1891.

A native Hawaiian with surfboard in 1890.



On January 17, 1893, the Queen, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, was deposed in a coup d'état led largely by American citizens opposed to her attempt to establish a new Constitution. Dole was named president of the Provisional Government of Hawaii formed after the coup, and was recognized within forty-eight hours by all nations with diplomatic ties to the Kingdom of Hawaii, with the exception of the United Kingdom.

The Americans in Hawaii asked the US to annex the islands, but President Benjamin Harrison's annexation treaty was stalled in the Senate by Democrats until a Democratic President, Stephen Grover Cleveland, took office. With Grover Cleveland's election as President of the United States, the Provisional Government's hopes of annexation were derailed. In fact, Cleveland tried to directly help reinstate the monarchy, after an investigation led by James Henderson Blount. The Blount Report of July 17, 1893, commissioned by President Cleveland, concluded that the Committee of Safety conspired with U.S. ambassador John L. Stevens to land the United States Marine Corps, to forcibly remove Queen Liliʻuokalani from power, and declare a Provisional Government of Hawaii consisting of members from the Committee of Safety. Although unable to restore Lili'uokalani to her former position, Cleveland withdrew the treaty.

The Territory of Hawaii or Hawaii Territory existed as a United States organized incorporated territory from July 7, 1898, until August 21, 1959, when its territory, with the exception of Johnston Atoll, was admitted to the Union as the fiftieth U.S. state.

Resource Booms

Klondike prospectors cross the Chilkoot Pass

There were a number of resource booms, resulting in the development of certain rural areas. Notable booms during this time include the Colorado Silver Boom, the Ohio Oil Rush, the Indiana gas boom, and the Cripple Creek Gold Rush. The Klondike Gold Rush was famous for showing there was value in Alaska with the discovery of Gold.


  1. "Super Review; United States History"
  2. Biography of Cleveland at, noted on August 3, 2014.
  3. "Super Review; United States History"
  4. “The Gilded Age & the Progressive Era (1877–1917),” founded on January 15, 2011,
  5. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009), 512.
  6. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009), 522.
  7. Mary Beth Norton et al., “A People and A Nation: A History of the United States; The Machine Age: 1877-1920,” ed. Mary Beth Norton et al. (Boston: Cengage Learning 2009),
  8. The Encyclopaedia of Arkansas History and Culture; “Post-Reconstruction through the Gilded Age, 1875 through 1900,” last modified on 12/17/2010,
  9. Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue and Buyers' Guide No. 57, Spring And Summer 1895. Unabridged reprint. Dover: NY, 1969.
  10. Spence, In Search of Modern China, pp. 230-235; Keith Schoppa, Revolution and Its Past, pp. 118-123.
  11. "Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawai'i (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved 18 September 2020.

Reconstruction · Progressive Era