The Gilded Age and its Impact

The Gilded Age was a period after reconstruction from the 1870’s to the 1900. The United States was going through Industrialization during this time and we saw major changes in the economy, government, and technology also spiked. During this period we also saw massive poverty and unequal wealth; the rich were getting richer and poor poorer, there was a rise of extremely rich people who wanted to be monopolies, most of whom were referred to as Robber Barons meaning wealthy businessmen who made tons of money but were paying their employees very cheap, two notable Robber Barons during this period are Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockefeller. Both supported workers’ rights but on the other hand destroyed unions; Carnegie used most of his fortune in donations to libraries, schools, museums; in his article “Gospel of Wealth” he states that is it up to upper class citizens to engage in philanthropist work. Rockefeller was also involved in philanthropist work, but they both paid their employers very cheap and did very little to help those from lower class.

This age was a period of major Economic growth, Industrial development with the rise of cities, and also technology advancements.

During the Gilded Age businesses were booming, industrialization brought the invention fax machines, cellphones, playgrounds… railroad s were being built abundantly. Many businesses formed strategies to gain wealth and power such as Oligopolies where businesses agreed to not to compete against each other; they also came up with a system called Horizontal integration where companies that produced the same goods came together to increase the production of goods and services, on the other hand Vertical Integration is when one company controls all aspects of other companies, one example would be Andrew Carnegie and his steel industry. There was also a lot of competition which helped with pricing, innovation and wages, new management techniques were put into place such as systematic arrangement, the notion that time is money and slowly machines started replacing workers. Many businesses believed in Social Darwinism to justify their wealth, Social Darwinism is the idea that everyone has the resources and opportunities available to them to succeed and so if a person is poor it’s because they choose to. They also believed in laissez-faire, the notion that the federal government should have a hands-off approach on businesses.

During this time the need for workers boosted immigration; the country welcomed millions of workers from Europe (Germany, Hungary, Russia, Austria…), the working class was diverse and divided, there was the class of skilled workers / labor aristocracy who were usually U.S. born white men and they received higher wages. And there was a class of unskilled workers who were immigrants, children, women, blacks and Mexicans who worked very long hours and were paid very low, sometimes in script, they did dangerous work and were being exploited. Many of these unskilled workers were getting a lot of injuries; kids were losing their fingers… this led to states beginning to take action and pass laws against child labor, these laws were made in regards to safety in the workplace, monopolies, and the supreme court passed Munn v Illinois (1877) that approved the power of government to regulate private industries. Later, the federal government took action and passed the Commerce clause which authorized congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations.

Many corporations were starting to become monopolies and so the congress passed the Sherman Anti-trust Act which stated that business activity in restraint of trade is illegal, and was made to protect consumers. This act immensely hurt workers union, they were angry and this led to a massive strike in various nations across the country called the Great Railroad Strike. Workers began to take action, we saw people coming together and the birth of the working class movement was formed, with goals to assert labor rights and regulate businesses.

By the 1880’s, people began to unionize at local institutes but they keep women out, so women formed their own union and they linked their labor rights to religion and patriotism, they went on strike and boycotted, a few of them became militants, and in the late 1800’s, we saw the rise of the Knights of labor. They wanted to include everybody (workers) together no matter if they were skilled or not. Their leader Terrence Powderly believed the poor deserved education, land, temperance (no drinking of alcohol), wages labor… and this led to a roar in membership.

By 1886 the movement has expanded and we see the year of the great uprising of labor. May 1rst 1986, called May Day becomes national strike day led by Albert Parsons, workers were claiming that 8 hours of work a day is what is necessary. After May Day, police clashed with farmers at the McCormick Company, so farmers started to demonstrate at Haymarket place; someone threw a bomb then violence began, many police officers lost their lives.

A lot of people began to leave the Knights of labor and we saw the rise of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). They rejected the thoughts of the Knights and they wanted to fight for people who are skilled (mostly white men). The knights of labor became mostly filled with Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, women…

The AFL’s vision was challenges in Homestead, PA (1892), And Unionists won the battle against Pinkertons. In the Homestead strike.

Urbanization increased as immigrants were moving from rural to urban cities and African Americans were moving from the South. These people were leaving in tenements, there were ethnic communities and they were once again being exploited by boss tweeds.

The Gilded Age was a period when industrialization spiked with the creation of machines, and technological advancement, there was a huge increase in the economy, changes in the government. During this period we saw business owners rising to riches and taking advantage of the working class by paying them very poorly, and so the working class was fighting for their rights to be better paid and taken care of as workers. During this time we also saw the formation of many unions working together, there were unions that were only relatable to U.S. born white male skilled workers, unions for unskilled workers/ immigrants and unions for women.