The 19th Century Business Boom

The 19th Century Business Boom

    The Gilded Age lasting from the 1870’s to 1900 is an American transformational era where Americans juggled with political corruption in following the Civil War along with Industrialization, and Inventions that led to Expansion, and Growth.The most impactful development attributed to the Gilded Age was the rapid urbanization and industrialization of the U.S. 

    The primary factors that stimulated industrial and agricultural growth in the 19th century was an influx of immigrants from a myriad of European nations, the expansion of the national railroad, and industrialization. With the influx of immigrants, there was a surge in American population and more able bodies were available for employment and economic consumption. Prior to 1890,  American immigrants were skilled anglo-saxon workers from Northern Europe. New immigrants on the other hand, came from Eastern Europe with significant cultural differences, difficult languages, and faced severe discrimination. The expansion of the railroad produced a great measurement of industrial success. The national railroad network grew and industrialization expanded use of electrical power. Cornelius Vanderbilt pioneered the railroad industry prior to the Civil War.  He presided over shipping business throughout the country, as the on-going war disrupted sea trade and transportation, Vanderbilt invested in railroads. He continued to add and it grew to over 4,500 miles of railroad worth over $100 million, extending from Ohio to New York. Industrialization is the process of economic transition where factory and efficiency are dominant. Industrialization caused the growth of cities, increased world trade and problems such as monopoly, labor issues , and pollution resulted from it.

    Leading entrepreneurs who pioneered the growth of big businesses include John D. Rockafeller, Andrew Carnegie and, J. Pierpoint Morgan. John D. Rockafeller was the founder of Standard Oil Company.  He owned barrel factories, oil fields, oil storage facilities, pipelines, and railroad tanker cars. He had everything that had to do with the oil industry. This made him able to vend oil at a more appealing price than his competition through what is called Horizontal integration. Horizontal integration is one company’s control of other companies producing the same product. Andrew Carnegie was a successful philanthropic steel baron who grew up poor and worked his way up.  Carnegie invested money acquired loans to invest in stock of steel bridges, iron, oil, railroads, and telephone lines. He became wealthy by buying in bulk and producing mass quantities, which in turn lowered production cost and increased profits. He used vertical integration in which he acquired companies that provided materials and services upon which his enterprises depended on. Lastly, J.P. Morgan was a banker that bought the Carnegie Steel Company for a whopping $500 million in 1901.

    Amid the Gilded Age the government practiced Laissez-Faire until eventually they did not. Congress imposed high tariffs on imported goods, used the homestead act to industrialize the west, and implement laws such as the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 which outlawed all monopolies and trust that restricted trade. It was difficult to enforce because it didn’t define what constitutes a monopoly or trust. Because of this monopolies and trust continued to grow in  size and power. This was bad because it did not allow for competition and kept prices fixed.

Social class structure and lives of women changed in the late 19th century. At this point, women were on the brink of achieving the long time sought right to suffrage and political activity. With the help of Susan B. Anthony and others, women were able to attend college, took business and professional jobs, and participated in other public activities. At the same time, society still struggled with the controversial idea of child labor. The first child labor bill, the Keating-Owen bill of 1916, was based on Senator Albert J. Beveridge’s proposal from 1906 and used the government’s ability to regulate interstate commerce to regulate child labor. The act banned the sale of products from any factory, shop, or cannery that employed children under the age of 14, from any mine that employed children under the age of 16, and from any facility that had children under the age of 16 work at night or for more than 8 hours during the day. Although the Keating-Owen Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918).

Growth of Labor Unions and the rise of American Labor Movement occurred because of the alienation of workers in factory settings. The growth of the Labor movement led to the formation of first labor unions in America. The Haymarket Riot was a disturbance that took place on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago, and began as a rally in support of striking workers. An unknown person threw a bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers and an unknown number of civilians. Although there were many advantages to labor unions, some protests and demonstrations disturbed social tranquility and caused more harm than good. 

    In conclusion, the gilded age was an era of great social and economic change. Monopolies ran amuck, business was booming, and the economy was whipped into shape by the government from hands off to a more hands on approach. 

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