If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:8:28

Immigration and migration in the Gilded Age

KC‑6.1.II.B.ii (KC)
KC‑6.2.I.A (KC)
KC‑6.2.I.B (KC)
MIG (Theme)
Unit 6: Learning Objective F

Video transcript

here's a graph showing the population growth in four US cities from 1860 to 1900 in 1860 before the Civil War New York City was the biggest city in the United States but even it didn't have more than a million people there wasn't a single city of more than a million in the whole country at that point compare that to just 40 years later when not one but three cities had passed the million mark and New York had nearly 3.5 million residents proportionally Chicago's population growth was even more drastic from only about 100,000 residents in 1860 it got 17 times bigger by 1900 with about 1.7 million residents traditionally Americans had been a pretty rural farming people but starting in the late 19th century there was a rapid shift towards urbanization by 1920 urban residents would outnumber country dwellers in the United States for the first time and today more than 80 percent of Americans live in cities so what led to this explosion in the population of cities in the decades after the Civil War the major factors behind this shift were industrialization immigration and migration now we've been talking about those three things in various forums in American history up until this point from the cool inventions of the first Industrial Revolution to the influx of Irish and German immigrants in the 1840s to the movement of Americans ever westward so industrialization immigration and migration weren't new forces in American society but there were unique aspects of all three of these processes during the Gilded Age that contributed to the development of cities in this era one thing that changed was the nature of work that people did during the Gilded Age there was a tipping point in the American labor market in 1880 for the first time ever the number of people who worked for someone else for wages people who had a boss and needed to do what they said to get paid outnumbered Americans who worked for themselves like farmers who could decide for themselves when to sow or harvest their crops the second real revolution which began after the Civil War was a booming era of expansion and industrial production so there were a lot of factory jobs available and most of those jobs were for unskilled laborers that is workers who don't require any kind of special training before they start a job so there was an overall transition from farm work that was self directed to unskilled factory work done for a boss another change during the Gilded Age was in who was doing the immigrating and migrating until the 1840s most immigrants to the United States had been Protestant Christians from northern and western Europe and they were relatively well-off financially after the Civil War a variety of factors abroad combined with the wide availability of jobs in the United States brought different types of immigrants to American cities these new immigrants as they were called tended to be from Southern and Eastern Europe Mexico and Asia and they differed from old immigrants in that they tended to be poorer have darker complexions and practice Catholicism or Judaism instead of Protestantism in addition in this era African Americans from the south began to migrate to northern and Midwestern cities all of these immigrants and migrants created a large industrial workforce but why did they all move to the city let's take a look at some of the push and pull factors that prompted people to uproot themselves and head to American cities during the Gilded Age first there were push factors or things that were pushing people out of their previous living situations a big one was poverty and just a lack of financial mobility at home farmers in many countries were hit hard by the mechanization of Agriculture which happened in this time period about a third of the people moving to cities were Americans leaving farms and heading to the city for industrial jobs another push factor was persecution and discrimination at home the Russian government took in creasing lis intolerant position towards Jews in this time period who were subject to mob violence and campaigns of ethnic cleansing in Europe in the American South the emergence of Jim Crow laws and an increase in lynchings were among the reasons that African Americans elected to leave after the Civil War but what were the poll factors that landed them in cities for one thing many struggling immigrants from abroad didn't have the money to go anywhere else so after they arrived they just stayed put but the main reason that people moved to cities is because that's where the jobs were with the development of steam power and electrification factories no longer had to be located next to waterways so cities developed as industrial hubs often cities would develop as the center for one specific industry like steel in Pittsburgh meatpacking in Chicago or clothing in New York people also found communities of support in cities earlier immigrants might send money and information to their families and friends back home helping them to move and get established this facilitated the development of urban neighborhoods where people from similar backgrounds spoke the same language ate the same food and provided each other with assistance in these ethnic enclaves people could get newspapers and even go to see theater performances in their native languages so let's finish by taking a look at two narratives of immigrants arriving in American cities in this time period the first one is from Lee Chu who immigrated to San Francisco from China at age 16 in the year 1880 he wrote when I got to San Francisco which was before the passage of the exclusion act I was half starved because I was afraid to eat the provisions of the barbarians but a few days living in the Chinese quarter made me happy again a man got me work as a house servant in an American family when I went to work for that American family I could not speak a word of English and I didn't know anything about housework I did not understand what the lady said to me but she showed me how to cook wash iron sweep dust make beds wash dishes clean windows paint and brass polished the knives and forks etc in six months I had learned how to do the work of our house quite well and I was getting $5 a weekend board and putting away about 425 a week I'd also learned some English I sent money home to comfort my parents but though I dressed well and lived well and had pleasure going quite often to the Chinese Theatre and to dinner parties in Chinatown I saved $50 in the first six months the second one is from Mary Anton who immigrated to Boston from what is now Belarus at the age of 13 in the year 1894 she wrote the first meal was an object lesson of much variety my father produced several kinds of food ready to eat without any cooking from little tin cans that had printing all over them he attempted to introduce us to a queer slippery kind of fruit which he called banana but had to give it up for the time being on our second day a little girl from across the alley came and offered to conduct us to school my father was out but we five between us had a few words of English by this time we knew the word school we understood this child who had never seen us till yesterday who could not pronounce our names who was not much better dressed than we was able to offer us the freedom of the schools of Boston we had to visit the stores and be dressed from head to foot in American clothing we had to learn the mysteries of the iron stove the washboard and the speaking-tube and above all we had to learn English with our despised immigrant clothing we shed also our impossible Hebrew names a committee of our friends several years ahead of us an American experience put their heads together and concocted American names for us all so what similarities and differences do you see between the experiences of Lee Chiu and Mary Anton why do you think they emigrated to American cities and what do you think their lives would be like going forward in the Gilded Age