Industrial Power and Its
Impact on American Society
The United States, 1876-1900
The Centennial Celebrated
The American Centennial
Exposition was one of key events
of the year, with a “world’s fair”
in Philadelphia made up of
dozens of buildings and pavilions
that extolled the progress of the
nation –its growth in size and
industrial, its population, its
social and economic
Industrial Progress
“In our arts, labors and victories, we find scope for
all our energies, rewards for all our ambitions,
renown enough for all our love of fame.”
Speech at Exposition opening, July 4, 1876
The “Dynamo”
After seeing the electric
generator that would power the
entire exposition, Henry
Adams (great-grandson of
former President John Adams)
said that the “dynamo” would
fundamentally change all
society into a “new
An “Age of Excess”
The Exposition celebrated
the unprecedented economic
growth of America, showing
new inventions, new patents,
new devices, and the new
prosperity that followed.
Farmers by then were
producing food, miners so
many raw materials, and
workers so many goods that
prices were dropping for
many necessities.
Party Differences
The major parties differed on
many issues but generally
agreed on a policy in which the
Federal government
encouraged economic
development by placing few
restrictions on business, trade,
or investment.
Newspaper cartoonists
popularized the elephant
symbol with the Republican
Party and the donkey symbol
with the Democratic Party.
Power of the Press
The Press had become powerful in its own right –
major newspapers and popular magazines (like
Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News)
could change national policies. Much as the
politicians disliked the press, they also patronized it,
to obtain public recognition and support.
End of Reconstruction
The 1876 election was so close that
a special Federal elections
commission had to decide who won
the Presidency. When the
commission awarded the victory to
Republican candidate Rutherford
Hayes, the Democrats demanded
concessions to accept the result –
Federal appointments and the
withdrawal of troops from former
Confederate states, ending the
“reconstruction” of the Civil War.
Suppressing Blacks in the South
Without Federal
Government protection,
freed Black slaves were
again denied any real rights
or freedoms. Hundreds of
thousands were given no
greater opportunities than to
be sharecroppers on cotton
farms – paying rents on land
that were often higher than
the prices they received for
the cotton they grew.
Jim Crow Segregation
“Black Codes” that the southern
states had enforced before the
Civil War were reintroduced in
the 1870s as laws that
segregated Blacks from White
society, forbade most BlackWhite interactions, and harshly
punished Blacks who violated
these “Jim Crow Laws.”
Groups like the Ku Klux Klan
enforced segregation with
lynching, etc. – southern courts
seldom punished such violence.
The Closing Frontier
In 1890, the Department of the Interior
announced that there was no longer a
discernible “Frontier Line” in the west. Many
took this to mean that opportunities to settle
new lands under the Homestead Act were gone.
The “closing of the frontier” meant that
immigrants were more likely to become
workers in urban industries than to live on
farms. The labor movement grew as a result of
the “labor surplus.”
Homestead Settlement
The 1862 Homestead Act
was intended to help
families settle Federal land
and farm it. Under the Act a
person could claim up to
160 acres and gain the title
for the land by living on it
for five years, improving the
land and paying the fees for
the title. Some 270 million
acres were settled in this
manner, but many failed to
hold the land for long.
Aid to Railroad Growth
Similar legislation encouraged railroad
growth by giving railroads one square
mile for every mile of track laid.
In this 1893 may of an Arkansas
county, the dark squares indicate the
land given to the Little Rock and Fort
Smith Railway Co. for extending its
tracks into new areas.
I return for the land, the US
government received free passage on
the railroads for Federal employees,
which was useful in moving troops,
Railroads Promote Lands
Having received millions of acres
of land for their track-laying, the
railroads offered land for sale.
Pamphlets describing lands and
their potential for agriculture
were prepared (in dozens of
languages) and distributed in the
US and Europe.
Some rail companies (like the
Northern Pacific RR) created
“model farms” to show how well
the potential farmer could do.
“Clearing” the Plains
The advance of the railroad
accelerated the wars between
the US Cavalry and the Plains
Indians. George Custer (left)
was among the most famous
“Indian fighters.” Custer was
confident that his 7th Cavalry
Regiment could defeat any
number of Sioux warriors and
set out to prove it in the 1876
campaign in Montana territory.
Little Big Horn
After Custer’s defeat at the Little Big Horn, most news
illustrations depicted the event in a noble manner.
The Sioux View
A depiction of the battle by a Lakota warrior better illustrates
the confused and disorganized nature of the fighting in this
Native American victory.
End of the Buffalo
The greatest blow to the Native Americans
was the destruction of the buffalo, as
suggested in this photograph of buffalo
The Wild West
The press again played a part in
creating the legend of the “wild
west,” by publishing numerous
articles about the Indian Wars and
advertising the many “dime novels”
about such western characters as
Wild Bill Hickok (left), Buffalo Bill,
and Wyatt Earp. In reality western
development was mostly about land
development, water resources, raw
materials for industry, and farming.
Labor and Industry
According to statistics
gathered at Princeton
University, wages for
industrial workers rose
31% from 1860 to 1881,
while prices rose 41%.
This meant that
workers had a harder
time paying for things
as time went on.
The massive numbers of immigrants, particularly
from eastern and southern Europe, provided
industry with a large labor force, but made wages
even lower and unions difficult to organize.
Political Machines
Many cities had long been
controlled by political machines
that delivered votes to selected
candidates in return for special
favors. But reform groups (and
some labor groups who wanted
higher wages) blamed immigrant
voters as the source of the
machines’ power, and so sought
to restrict immigration. The only
result of this was in the 1870s,
when the Congress yielded to
public pressure and banned
Chinese immigration for a
number of years.
Strikes in 1877
A major collapse of credit in
1872 brought on a financial
“panic” – a depression that
slowed the pace of growth (the
Northern Pacific Railroad
stopped work on its route
through Dakota Territory to the
west). Many businesses began
to cut wages in order to save
money. This sparked strikes
and violence in American
“Year of Violence”
Workers struck for higher wages on many of the
railroads and violent clashes ensued between
strikers and “scab labor.” By sending Federal troops
into one strike (to make certain that mail was
delivered), President Hayes brought the Federal
government into the labor-management dispute.
Unions and Political Issues
Both the strikers and business
owners referred to the “Paris
Commune” of 1871, when
French workers called for a
revolution against the state.
Owners warned that unions
would “bring communism” to
American society. Some
strikers hoped that this would
happen, but most union leaders
condemned the idea of
Types of Unions
•The Knights of Labor was the largest union in
the nation, with about 700,000 members by
1879. But its leaders were old reformers who
disliked strikes, promoted the organizing of
skilled labor with unskilled labor and wanted to
“harmonize”labor with management.
•The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was
organized in 1886 and limited membership to
skilled workers. They used strikes to attain
specific goals: higher wages, safer working
conditions, the 8 hour work day.
The Panacea of Inflation
Several workers groups wanted the
American money supply inflated,
either by the issuing of more paper
money (Greenbacks) or by coining
more silver. They hoped that
inflation would raise wages.
A “Greenback Party” was
established to advocate this
inflationary policy and the
Democratic Party also called for
inflation. The Republican Party
preferred policies that would keep
prices and interest rates low.
Economies of Scale
Immigrants made up much of the
labor in the construction of the
railroads. This photograph shows
three Chinese workers, a Black
American, and a foreman who was
likely an Irishman.
By 1890, the United States had
more miles of rails than most of
all Europe.
The railroad industry fueled the industrial revolution. Rails
and locomotives required steel and wood, rail cars needed
many materials, the telegraph lines along the rails required
copper and rubber, and all the system needed lubricants –
provided by oil.
A New Wealthy Class
Cornelius Vanderbilt made his first
fortune in shipping and trade with
China. He then began to build
railroads in New York. By the 1870s
he was one of the wealthiest men in
He was also a tough businessman,
never hesitating to ruin his
competition if it would gain him a
greater profit.
The Public Be Damned
When Vanderbilt competed with Jim Fisk for control
of rail shipping in the northeast, they both employed
bribery, coercion, and violence to gain an edge.
When newspapers complained that the battle was
hurting “public interests,” Vanderbilt replied “the
public be damned.”
Railroad Oligarchy
Railroads were the first industry to be
widely accused of “subverting
democracy” by dominating the
shipping of raw materials and having
enormous power over the costs of
shipping. By the early 1870s, several
Congressmen had introduced bills to
create a Federal organization to
regulate railroads. Other groups,
including the Grange, the Farmers
Alliances, and some workers parties,
wanted the government to take over
ownership of the railroads.
Living Like Kings
Breakers, the enormous
Vanderbilt summer house,
designed from an Italian palace
and built with imported marble
by craftsmen brought over from
The industrial millionaires lived lavishly, building homes like
European palaces and spending enormous sums for parties,
while their employees worked 10-12 hour days, 6 or 7 days
each week. Many industries employed children as young as
seven years old; factories made few provisions for safety.
The Steel Magnate
Andrew Carnegie was a Scots
immigrant who built the larger steel
industry in America. He made as
much as forty million dollars a year,
wrote essays and books about
competition and said that the
“bigger system [of production and
profit] grows bigger men, and it is by
the big men that the standard of the
race is raised.”
Robber Baron or Philanthropist?
Carnegie gave away millions of dollars to build libraries
and other public buildings. Critics charged he would
have helped more by paying better wages.
Creating a Civil Service
The assassination of President James Garfield in 1883
by an angry office-seeker convinced the Federal
government to establish a civil service system for
hiring government employees. Reformers hoped this
would also reduce corrupt influence in government.
Harper’s magazine charged
that huge industries were
becoming “trusts”
(monopolies) that had greater
power than the United States
government, able to bribe
Congressmen by giving them
free rides on the railroads,
paying for their campaign
costs, and in effect buying
their votes.
The Oil Trust
John D. Rockefeller built and
oil empire by owning oil
wells, the pipelines that
distributed the oil, and rail
cars that carried the barrels
of oil to industry. Before the
gasoline engine was
perfected, oil was still
essential – as lubricant for
machines, and as the raw
material for kerosene - which
illuminated the nation before
Edison invented the workable
light bulb.
Inventions That Benefited All
The first power generator
at Edison’s home, built in
1881 to illuminate his
Most major innovations helped all of the nation. Thomas
Edison’s perfection of his light bulb made him rich and
revolutionized productivity, making it possible to run
factories longer. But electric lights also revolutionized
education and changed American home life and leisure.
Haymarket Bombing
Artist’s conception of
Haymarket bombing in
Chicago, May 1886,
published in Leslie’s
Illustrated Newspaper.
In May 1886, a series of strikes for the 8-hour day
culminated in tragedy when a bomb exploded at a labor
rally in Chicago, killing eight policemen and injuring
dozens of others. Four anarchists were convicted and
hanged for the crime. Public opinion condemned such
violence but also favored making some concessions to the
labor movement.
Concessions to Labor
President Harrison and Congress
responded to the Haymarket
violence by making concessions
to labor:
--Created the Interstate Commerce
Commission to oversee rail rates.
--The Sherman Anti-Trust Act
which could prohibit trade
monopolies (but not
manufacturing monopolies).
-- The Sherman Silver Purchase
Act to inflate the economy by
issuing more silver coins.
-- Raising tariffs on foreign trade
by passing the McKinley Tariff.
Demon Rum
The Anti-Saloon League and the
Women’s Christian Temperance
Society mounted numerous
campaigns to persuade workers
to abandon “demon rum.”
Prominent local businessmen on
how people could save and
invest money saved from buying
alcohol. Municipal leagues urged
cities to build parks for “family
entertainment,” and some
industries built alcohol-free
“model communities” for their
Legislating Prosperity
Henry George, a journalist, wrote
Progress and Poverty which
argued that the “unequal
distribution of wealth” was
destroying the promise of
modern industrial growth. He
urged that some method be
found to redistribute the wealth
of the nation before the American
civilization collapsed in class
divisions and violence.
A Single Tax
George suggested that a
“single tax” on land would
allow the government to take
wealth from the rich and
provide it to the poor in
services and public projects.
Socialists and many workers
loved George’s proposal and
the “single tax” was raised in
several elections.
Edward Bellamy
In 1888, Edward Bellamy published his
utopian novel Looking Backward, a
detailed description of Boston in 2000
AD, when a fairly authoritarian
hierarchy ruled over a society that was
free of class divisions, poverty, and
major problems. How this was
brought about is not explained, but
the book was very popular and
Bellamy became a welcome speaker at
workers meetings.
Depression in the 1890s
Strikers at Homestead Steel Plant in
Pennsylvania attack Pinkerton Agency
guards, 1892. The violence at Homestead
convinced the governor of Pennsylvania
to send militia to Homestead and try to
prosecute strikers for murder and treason
against the state.
The onset of another financial depression in the 1890s led to
new strikes and violence. Labor blamed the hard times on the
McKinley tariff, while business blamed a drop in productivity
and the need to expand credit.
A New Weapon Against Strikes
When the American Railway Union struck the Pullman rail
car plant in 1894, the US Attorney gained an injunction
against the strikers under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and
ordered them back to work.
The Injunction
The Injunction became business’s major weapon
against strikes. If a judge agreed that a strike was a
“conspiracy that retrained trade” then the injunction
could be used to order them back to work – refusal
meant jail.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, designed to help labor,
was thus used against unions.
When the President of the American Railway Union,
Eugene Debs, urged strikers to ignore an injunction he
was jailed because his remarks encouraged a
“restraint of trade.”
In the 1890s the various farmers alliances unified into the
Populist Movement, which called for reforms to help agriculture –
regulation of banks and railroads, and low-cost loans for farmers.
It also contained a strong Americanist streak, calling for limits on
immigration and citizenship. By the middle of the decade the
Populists were a well-organized third party.
Populist Platform in 1896
Major Platform demands
We demand free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1.
We demand that the amount of circulating medium be speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.
We demand a graduated income tax.
We believe that the money of the country should be kept as much as possible in the hands of the people,
and hence we demand that all State and national revenues shall be limited to the necessary
expenses of the government, economically and honestly administered.
We demand that postal savings banks be established by the government for the safe deposit of the
earnings of the people and to facilitate exchange.
TRANSPORTATION—Transportation being a means of exchange and a public necessity, the
government should own and operate the railroads in the interest of the people. The telegraph,
telephone, like the post-office system, being a necessity for the transmission of news, should be
owned and operated by the government in the interest of the people.
LAND—The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the heritage of the people, and should not
be monopolized for speculative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited. All land
now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs, and all lands now
owned by aliens should be reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.
William Jennings Bryan
With a dramatic speech at the 1896
Democratic Convention, Nebraska’s
William Jennings Bryan captured the
Democratic nomination for president.
Because his speech showed great
sympathy for farmers, the Populists
nominated him for president as well.
Despite a well-publicized campaign, as
Bryan engaged a speaking campaign
across the nation, the Republican
candidate William McKinley won the
Money and Politics
Critics of the late 19th century
political system charged that
money was becoming the
determining factor in elections.
Mark Hanna (left) raised funds
for the McKinley campaigns,
and was credited with “paying”
for McKinley’s victories. While
this was not the first time that
an election result was credited
to money, “money and politics”
was becoming a major issue.
Columbian Exposition
A unifying element of the decade was the Columbian
exposition, a world’s fair-celebration of the 400th
anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World.
Entry Into World Power
The American press and leadership used the
Columbian exposition to commend the economic
growth of the nation – its industry now out-produced
that of any other country and much of Europe
War With Spain
In 1898, the United States went to war with Spain after the USS
Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor. The purpose of the
war was to put and end to the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean.
The “Yellow Press”
Modern newspapers helped
encourage popularity for the war
by printing emotional articles
coupled with editorials to
influence public opinion. One
argument for the war was to
expand the Monroe Doctrine,
another was to “bring civilization
to the benighted natives of Cuba,
and a third was for America to
secure its economic growth with
Opponents of the War
A number of prominent political
leaders and intellectuals
opposed the war because
colonies would undermine the
national commitment to
democratic development (some
did not want more ‘Latins’
added to the American
population. Speaker of the
House Thomas B. Reed (right)
spoke out against the war and
threw away a chance for the
presidency as a result.
Invasion of Cuba
The war was fairly one-sided
from the start. A large American
army (which had many officers
from the old Confederate armies)
landed in Cuba and prepared to
drive out the Spanish troops on
the island.
Making Heroes
As the US Army drove across Cuba, Theodore Roosevelt,
a prominent Republican in New York, became a hero for
the assault on San Juan Hill.
Acquisitions in the Pacific
In the Pacific an American fleet
destroyed the Spanish forces in the
Philippines. The conquest of the
Philippines provided expanded
possibilities for trade in Asia, which
the US reinforced by annexing the
Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
These acquisitions further worried
critics of the war, who argued that the
US was becoming a ‘colonial empire’
like those of Europe.
Results of the War
Under the treaty ending the war, Spain ceded
Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the
United States.
 To satisfy war critics, the Congress added the
Platt Amendment to the treaty, which promised
the U.S. would grant independence to Cuba.
 The U.S. also found that the people of the
Philippines did not universally welcome the
Americans – a war with “insurrectionists” took
place for several years.
Return of Prosperity
In 1900, McKinley and his
new running mate,
Theodore Roosevelt, won
the election by a
landslide, arguing that
economic recovery was
the result of the strong
tariff and increased tread
in Asia.
The New Century Begins
America was more confident as
McKinley was sworn in for his
second term. But there were many
issues still be to dealt with.

Industrial Power and Its Impact on American Society