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Continuity and change in the Gilded Age

AP.USH:
KC‑6.1 (KC)
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KC‑6.1.II (KC)
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KC‑6.1.III (KC)
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KC‑6.2 (KC)
,
KC‑6.2.I (KC)
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KC‑6.2.II (KC)
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Unit 6: Learning Objective L
How much change did industrialization really bring during the Gilded Age? In this video, Kim discusses the impact of industrialization on work, migration patterns, and culture.

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  • leaf red style avatar for user layaz7717
    Would Mexicans, Asians, and African Americans (all nonwhites) work together? Were they just not allowed to work with whites? Or were they segregated between races as well? Were there any differences in the treatment of Southern and Eastern Europeans and Northern and Western Europeans?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      It is now and has always been beneficial to the elites (whether of race class or military rank) to maintain control by dividing any forces that could oppose them. Dividing white people by class, and dividing people of color by ethnicity, is a means of control. That's what's threatening to white elites in 2020; seeing oppressed minorities joining together across likes of ethnicity, gender, class and educational level to oppose those in control.
      (6 votes)
  • starky tree style avatar for user Zob Rombie
    As someone that is very much into and involved with making and listening to music, I have to ask. What was the status of music in America during the 1860’s up until the 1900’s? I know that there was plenty of orchestras and operas that filled theatres and stages, but I’m pretty confident that they were aimed towards the wealthy and social elite and that the poor and common folk were not regulars to these performances. What was the “popular” preference, or preferences, of common Americans during the time period?
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user Philip Griffin
    Why did the whites even up in the north think they were superior to African Americans when not to long ago, they were fighting to free them?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Ben McCuskey
      It could be said there was a fear of economic competition with Blacks and loss of relative social standing to Blacks among those Whites in the lower socio-economic group. When you're afraid of something you often demonize or at least scorn or belittle it to help ease your fears and give you a feeling that you are superior to it and therefore will triumph over it.

      These inherent feelings were also compounded and reinforced by those in power as part of an overall divide and conquer strategy. By seeking to exacerbate tensions among groups they wanted to exploit, "the owners" could keep these groups with lower socio-economic status separate and antagonistic to each other so they wouldn't unite and leverage their combined strength relative to those in power.
      (3 votes)
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Michael Fulcher
    Why didnt the African Americans escape north earlier? It seems like that would make sense.
    (1 vote)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user K
      Because of the risk of getting caught. If they were caught, they would be whipped, sold away, beaten, killed, or worse. The journey was also extremely hard. They had to know exactly who would help you. They had to be wary of traps and make no sound.
      (3 votes)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user 💫✨Betty✨💫
    How come only older white men were the best everyone else was outcasts we all were in someway cut from reality. Why?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      OK, let's try this.
      In the gilded age, things were set up in many societies so that women (no matter what their race) were not considered equal to men. This was true almost everywhere.
      In America, White was right (and people of color weren't.)
      Resources accrue with age, so older persons had more resources, and "money talks".

      So, "those with the resources who were members of the powerful race and gender set things up to cut off and cast off those who were not like themselves."

      You ask, "why?" It is because as sinful human beings, we prefer others like ourselves.
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user icy
    this more seems like a golden age the only thing I see what is not nice in the golden age is the race's colored or not female or not they shouldn't be = to the whites I think whites are not better than blacks if anything blacks are better than whites but I think in all colored people or not female or not should be treated fair so why is it called gilded age not golden age or it is because of the rights of the colored people that make it a gilded age?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Let's start here: "Gilded" age, not "Golden."

      Racism is as American as apple pie.
      "Male first" prejudice has also always been American.
      To find both of these in operation in the 1890s is no surprise.

      Your attitudes about race are commendable.
      Your preference for fairness is likewise commendable.

      The name "gilded age" is just a name, and can be applied only to the situations of a small coterie of White upper class people. For most Americans of the time: red, yellow, black, white; male, female and all other genders
      working, farming, lower class or middle, the "gilded age" was not good. As it was then (1890s), so it is today (2020s). The more things change, the more they remain the same.
      (1 vote)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Kabir
    Did the original approach of laissez-faire economics change during the Gilded Age? If not then why and what other changes were there?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

- [Narrator] The Second Industrial Revolution in the United States ushered in new technologies and new ways of living and working during the Gilded Age. Steel, electricity, and the telephone allowed railroads to crisscross the country, skyscrapers to rise out of cities, factories to hum along long after sunset, and business transactions to take place instantly over hundreds of miles. This was the time when the United States began its transition from a nation of rural farmers to a nation of city dwelling factory workers. So, at a glance, the Gilded Age seems like a time of radical change for the country. But, as historians, how can we tell just how much change really occurred from 1865 to 1898? One way we can do this is to track over time what changed and what stayed the same from the beginning of the Gilded Age to its end. Historians call this process examining continuity and change over time. When we study history, it's important to look at continuities, or things that continued on the same as they were before, because it's really easy to focus on how one aspect of society really transformed during a certain period of time and then forget to account for the fact that almost everything else didn't change at all, but it would be practically impossible to track the changes in every aspect of society. So let's dial in on a few areas. Since the major transformations came through technology and business in this time period, and those are both aspects of work, I'm curious about how the kind of work that people did and the way that they did it changed over the course of the Gilded Age. And since I know that cities grew a lot during this time period, let's also look at changes in living patterns. Where people migrated to and from and how they lived. I'm also curious about the extent to which these changes in work and living patterns affected the major ideas and culture of the time. Did people's beliefs about society change much during the Gilded Age? Or was the culture of the United States at the end of the 19th century pretty much the same as it was at the end of the Civil War? So let's look at the major trends in each of these areas at the beginning and the end of this time period so we can try to answer the question how much change did industrialization really bring during the Gilded Age? By the way, I'm not gonna go into a whole lot of detail on these trends because we're doing a really big overview of the Gilded Age here. So if you find that you're not familiar with something that comes up, just make a note of it and you can look it up when you have time. Okay, first, let's compare the changes in work and business from 1865 to 1898. Well in 1865, the United States was still a primarily a nation of farmers, although there were a good number of people in the North and the West who worked in mills, and mines, and on railroads. Many African Americans had transitioned from working as slave laborers on plantations in the South to working as sharecroppers, where they would work portions of plantations in return for a pretty measly share of the profits. In fact, most work in the United States was segregated by race. It was pretty uncommon for whites, African Americans, Chinese laborers, or Mexican American laborers to work side by side anywhere. In terms of the way businesses were organized, the Civil War had sowed some initial seeds of business consolidation. The industrial might that had helped the North win the Civil War made it easy for some large companies to begin turning natural resources into infrastructure. How did that compare to the state of work in 1898? Well there were still plenty of farmers and sharecroppers, although the mechanization of agriculture in the late 19th century had a negative effect on many farmers, sending them to the city looking for work. By the end of the century more people worked for someone else for wages than worked for themselves for the first time in American history. A lot of this factory growth was driven by new business practices like mass production on the assembly line, which broke complex tasks down into tiny steps so that no one required much training to work in a factory. A process known as deskilling. Women and children began working in factories as well, but as at the beginning of the Gilded Age work places still tended to be racially segregated and by the end of the 19th century businesses undergone major consolidation. Often using monopolistic practices to dominate industries and fix prices and wages. In response, many workers began to organize labor unions, but they had pretty limited success. So overall, I would say that industrialization led to some pretty major changes in the world of work, although work generally remained segregated and the process of transitioning from farms to factories wasn't entirely complete. During the Gilded Age there was a huge shift towards unskilled wage work and big corporations. Next let's look at living and migration patterns. In 1865 only about 20% of the population lived in cities. Most of the migrants to cities were Irish and German immigrants coming from Northern and Western Europe. Most African Americans continued to live in the South in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and the cities themselves had pockets of density and poverty, like New York City's Five Points neighborhood, but they weren't yet incredibly crowded. What about in 1898? Well, the percentage of the population living in cities nearly doubled, up to 40%. Several cities grew to more than one million people for the first time during the Gilded Age and who was coming to the cities changed as well. Political and economic trouble at home led many Southern and Eastern Europeans to head for the factories in American cities and African Americans also began to slowly trickle northward in order to escape sharecropping and Jim Crow. This massive influx of people meant that cities were very dense and many people had to crowd into tenements, unsafe, unventilated, ramshackle apartment buildings. In 1900, the Lower East Side of Manhattan was the most densely populated neighborhood in the world. So I would say that industrialization also led to quite the transformation in living and migration patterns. The factory jobs available in American cities drew new people to them from all over the country, and the world, and also changed the standards of living. Last, let's map the changes and continuities in prominent cultural ideas over the course of the Gilded Age. Although there are lots of different ideas and forms of cultural expression we could talk about, I'm gonna focus on ideas about the economy, and race, and immigration since those are so closely tied to the other two categories of analysis we've got here. Immediately after the Civil War, there was an intense push in Congress and in the North to ensure racial equality for African Americans with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, but there was also a very strong nativist or anti-immigrant sentiment among white native born Protestants who especially objected to the immigration of Irish Catholics. As far as the economy went, there were many people who argued in favor of laissez faire economics, that the government should engage in little to no regulation of the market and that was pretty much the prevailing government approach of the day. Alright, how does that compare to 1898? Well unlike in the immediate post war period, racial equality for African Americans had been abandoned as a mainstream idea with the rise of Jim Crow and rulings like the 1896 Supreme Court case, Plessy versus Ferguson, which approved segregation. Nativism was also still a force in American life and it had even intensified thanks to the flawed racial pseudo-science known as Social Darwinism, which suggested that people who were in high positions in society, both in terms of race and wealth, belonged there because they were the fittest. But there were a few reformers who were beginning to question the effects of industrialization like settlement house founder, Jane Addams or early muckraker Jacob Riis. So in terms of ideas and culture, it looks like there was actually more continuity than change over the course of the Gilded Age. There may even have been an overall regression in ideas about race and immigration in this time period. There were a few efforts to soften the pains of industrialization and urbanization, but they weren't yet widespread. Let's return to our question then and see if we can formulate a thesis statement to address the extent to which industrialization brought change from 1865 to 1898. From the evidence we've gathered, I'd say that the technological and business advancements of the Second Industrial Revolution brought enormous changes to the ways that people lived and worked in the United States, transforming the country from a rural farming nation to an urban industrial one, but the major ideas about immigration, race, and the economy didn't change as much. Segregation and nativist sentiment intensified over the time period and efforts to reign in the excesses of industrial capitalism were just getting started. The major social efforts to improve the lives and work of this new urban population would have to wait until the Progressive Era.